I love (not like) Aramco

I hardly read papers now. Whatever little news I follow is through what Google throws on its phone feeds. And then once in a while when I do read papers it is with shock and awe. And then sometimes it can lead to a lot of my time being taken away from urgent tasks to write notes like these. A waste. Nothing changes in this characterless country. The only take away? Never read the papers in the morning. At least not when you have a long to do list.

Two news pieces combined wonderfully in the past 2-3 days. I could see some headlines on the new Aramco investment of $44 billion investment in an Indian (or is it a Republic of Konkan) refinery. I think this was the first article I read.

$44 Billion?! Now where did they get that kind of money from? Somehow the money must have gone in to now come out? Here my vices and addictions have made me a pauper who can only sustain his dream projects on small donations from friends and there they have $44 billions! Now I should also learn to make that kind of money.

The interesting part was about how oil at $ 50 a barrel and oil at $ 80 a barrel makes a difference for Saudi Arabia and helps them support financing for some internal agendas. Every business and cause needs funds to sustain itself. And Indians sustain the Saudi business and cause(s) very well. They wholeheartedly subscribe. They love Aramco.

And then I saw this news item while going for this novelty called a newspaper at breakfast today. I had come from travels after a while and sitting for breakfast at home thought of also glancing through the papers. Saw this particular headline on page two, almost choked, went through a spin of thoughts and folded the paper to keep it aside to have my breakfast peacefully. Enough anguish, enough material to write this note. No need to even read the article.

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The headline was just regurgitating a similar headline from May 2015. Maybe there had been some new development (no) but the ground situation has been exactly the same, maybe even worse. I had even been invited to write a damn article on the development then in the Mumbai Mirror. Thinking that it will make a difference. It even started on the cover page not a sidey page 2 bottom.

I could speak at length about the joke that the Bombay HC is and bring in a dozen other pronouncements by it as case studies but why waste more time?

Walking for me is just not an activity, it is poetry, it is medicine, it is sustainability as a cause, it can be a topic for fiscal implications and most certainly a topic for how the transport planning of our cities should be carried out.

In 2012 I made an attempt to give shape to Walking Project as an advocacy movement, which will accelerate the development of pedestrian friendly roads in Indian cities. I had just come out of a showdown at my job at World Resources Institute where I got into a bad fight with the people who had taken control of a walkability improvement project I had developed with a lot of passion and fondness and were ruining it. The organisation itself is an elegant waste of money. Elegant is the word to note, not waste. As long as elegance is there waste is fine.

Since May 2015 (when I wrote the article on walkability as a fundamental right) and now when I read the article today, Indians have put billions of dollars into the pockets of Saudis and for Walking Project I have raised just about Rs. 100,000 from 5-6 odd individuals. And so the Saudi’s now are in a position to apportion a part of the money they have collected from Indians themselves and make an investment in a refinery of theirs. And here I sit fretting and fuming and wasting more time after reading a news article.

Much patriotic Indians (Mumbaikaars) have shown no support for a home grown initiative, which could at least endeavour to stop the flow of some of those dollars. I still sit on plans of a model road in each of the 24 wards, Andheri Kurla Road, E Moses Road, Senapati bapat Road and so on. Not to mention that in my mind I have plans all mapped out for important roads and junctions in 10 other cities I have visited since 2012.

There is a facebook group with 700 odd people. No activity takes place on the group now because I have decided not to engage people who cannot show character to contribute even 100 rupees a year. And they on their own do not have what it takes to show initiative and dare.

Two years back a think-highly-of-itself (which doesn’t) Rotary Club invited me to speak, two members got impressed with Walking Project and promised Rs. 25,000 each and that’s about it. No news after that. Another member suggested he could help with big sponsorship support but only for a co-founder tag. Ok sure. Self before Service.

The more character and intellectually challenged folks ofcourse do keep asking how any support for an advocacy movement will bring any immediate difference to their own experience of walking. It is like a quid pro quo. I pay the Saudi’s an xyz amount for every litre of fuel and that allows me to with much pomp and show drive around my luxury sedan. If I give you 10,000 rupees what is it that you have to show for the road outside my office? Nothing? Well you get nothing then. Please do not waste my time. I LIKE the activity you are doing. You can have my LIKE, the money is for the Saudi’s.  

While Indians have been luxuriously funding the Saudi business and cause(s), they – or the few I manage to reach through social media and personal interactions – are truly lousy at supporting any of my businesses and causes. Only a handful show the character and temerity to rise above.

My business does not prey on human weaknesses, it requires a certain character on part of the consumer. And that is where lies its shortfall. Weakness is aplenty in the people of India today, character too little. #sanskari

Yes a lot of this use of fossil fuels and outflow of money is needed to sustain the living paradigm we have adopted but a great deal of it is also waste. While we might question the paradigm and there may be differences of opinion on philosophical grounds there is no disagreement that the paradigm can be made a whole lot more energy efficient.  And it can be made energy efficient by only supporting those who will work on that agenda. Not by chanting Hanuman Chalisa.

Walking and cycling friendly cities, ecological waste management, would be so much more energy efficient and prevent millions of litres of diesel being used in the first place but some of us are left to doing pilots and giving quotes to newspapers while the big boys sign billion dollar contracts.

It is easier for a fossil fuel powered model of the world to be sustained because it can be funded. Dry up the funding and the Arabs would be like me and others in the ilk. Issuing requests for donations to sustain their enterprise and ideas.

Some side thoughts towards the end. The Arabs have learnt a lot from the Americans over the decades. After being fooled and used wholesale by the Americans they now have learnt to use the same tricks successfully to become (more) powerful. Everybody learns from the wonderful Americans. I am a product of American thought and action, though of the kind which does not find popular flavour. And so the Arabs have now started deploying the learning on gullible doormat nations like India who can be fooled and used any amount.

From money taken from the Indians they will not be able to create jobs for the same Indians and create a new loyal bureaucracy of people who have always loved to come out of the woodwork and serve up any new colonial master as long as they can get status and some money for lifestyle.

Buddhiheen tanu jaani ke pawan kumar….

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Swacch Bharat – Can we have Work Area Management?

See the two pictures below

First picture from March 2012 in Hong Kong. The truck below is coming out of a major construction site in Kowloon.

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When the trucks leave the construction site they are squeaky clean leaving no trail of dust back on the road.

Now look at the truck below. June 23rd 2016 just before the monsoon started.

Site: Under construction Gundecha School by Gundecha Builders. Next to Mega Mall, Andheri/Jogeshwari (West), Mumbai

The truck comes out of this gate

And leaves a trail of mud on an otherwise clean road

The effect lasts for almost 500 metres. See the three towers come closer.

    

And then there is this man who is then employed to clean up. This is how we do it in India. There was always somebody to pick up our shit. The corporate offices of developers are plush.

How do they do it in Hong Kong? All trucks coming out of a construction sites have their tyres and under parts thoroughly cleaned with powerful hose jet spraying. The trucks only leave the premises when there is no loose mud left anywhere on the tyres. Go back to the very first picture and see the condition of the tyres. They are cleaner than the road.

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All construction trucks leaving the site are thoroughly hosed to remove all mud and dust.

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And that is how the roads a dust free and a pleasure to walk

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Not like this

I have highlighted the issue in past entries as well and for about a decade now. Dust management, mud management, material management, noise management, labour safety management.

I have stopped criticising the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan or the Smart Cities program because both have their fundamentals wrong and are not worth discussing. Addressing issues like work area management is what makes our surroundings clean and our cities smart.

This is an issue to be taken up by MCHI and CREDAI. This is the least Corporate Social Responsibility that large developers can show. And the municipal corporation needs to have some sense of forming and enforcing appropriate rules rather than doing stupid photo ops with celebrities and brooms.

Thoughts on the Uttarakhand floods

The Uttarakhand floods have not seen me in remorse or much concern over the fate of the pilgrims and locals stuck in the disaster and I thought of capturing some of my thoughts and utterances.

I have not been very religious all my life choosing to slip away into atheism most of the times but ever since childhood Shiva was my favourite God with the characteristics and stories associated with him. His simplicity, love of mountains and the cool and straightforwardness were clear attractions for me. Also was the fiery side of him. Shiva is the destroyer of the ego and ultimately the universe and the slayer of demons.

Today those demons are the Hindus themselves, stubborn, unrelenting, unprincipled and with bloated egos like no body else. What the Lord did at Kedarnath was to turn these demons around and give them a hard kick on their backsides telling them to fuck off from his valley. The resilient pests that humans are and the determined Hindus will return back I am sure and in another two years everything will be back in the same form.

Today it seems Shiva is playing the dance of death but that compares no where to the dance of death being played by humans themselves. 7 billion of them have been reducing many other species to remain just in their thousands and many of those are also on the way to annihilation.

Hinduism as a religion owes everything to nature. It observed nature, learned everything it knows from it and in turn paid obeisance to it in the form of various rituals. One would expect that the followers of such a religion would have a better understanding and respect for nature. Remove love and respect for nature from Hinduism and it turns into a bundle of useless two paisa worth rituals and mantras, which is the state today.

Since childhood it has been my observation – the more mainstream Hindu you are the more selfish, unprincipled and a scumbag you will be. The pilgrimages themselves have become an industrial assembly line operation. There was a time when those who made it for the pilgrimage were revered back home and people touched their feet, because of the enormous difficulty associated with making one. Now all you need to do is call your local tour operator.

Pilgrimages then were a walking project, which naturally kept a control on how many people could enter this fragile ecosystem. At most mules were used. This helped by not creating a buildup of GHGs locally. Now jeeps and buses and trucks liberally add GHGs locally. More people means more heating and cooking requirements, which means more fossil fuels and more gases. For all the love of their religion ask people to do the pilgrimages like the Sadhus do or how even how ordinary people did it once and it will not be taken well.

A hundred years ago India’s population was about 250 million (for a unified India) and only a marginal percentage of that population made it for a Char Dham Yatra. Today the population is a 1000 million plus and a phenomenally larger percentage of the population makes it for the Yatra. Does it make any sense? Clearly there is a need for strict annual entry quotas. A percentage should be auctioned to raise funds for investing in local ecology.

Most Hindus of the type attending these pilgrimages will not understand what words like fragile ecosystem and carrying capacity will mean. Worse still they will not be interested in learning or doing something about it. They have got a laundry list of demands to be made from the Gods – Do Not Disturb. Marriages have to be made, children to be born, their American education to be prayed for, the current stock of gold in the family should double by next year, careers, businesses, the lists goes on. There is no time for some thought for the environment and policy.

The whole of the mountainous Uttarakhand region was celebrated as Dev Bhoomi due to the unparalleled richness of biodiversity and life that was found here – floral and faunal. It was always a fragile ecosystem which was never meant to be trampled in herds. The lack of roads meant that there was a natural check on how many people could enter the courts of the Gods. Today those rich forests which sustained the rivers we revered are being hacked away. The rivers themselves have all been dam(n)ed and channeled and re-channeled. I dont even think there is anything left to worship and celebrate over there. The Dhams should actually be shut down.

People are generally bad at participating in or influencing public policy. In the absence of the public playing any role it is the vested interests with short term interests who take over. The tour operator and the priest now shape public policy. The Brahmins are supposed to uphold Dharma but that is in the texts.

For all the 90’s and 00’s when environmentalists were shedding tears at the mindless destruction being wrought on the mountains, no where were these pilgrimaging (pillaging) Hindus to be seen. Not without reason do some people like me find themselves happy at the turn of events. Nature is hostile to life, ruthless and cruel but the celebration of life there can never be rivaled by anything that the human machinery creates – much of which is pretentious anyways.

For those who would like to make this into the usual retort that environmentalists care more about the birds and the bees and less about humans I think the time for that retort is interestingly and finally coming to an end. We are entering a phase where all those who celebrated themselves as some great lovers of humanity forever moved by the conditions of humanity will be eating their words. If anything it is abundantly clear that environmentalists are far more compassionate and have a long term sustainable well being of human – and more importantly other species as well – in mind.

Hindus and Hinduism in a Hindu Heartland

My latest assignment takes me to the Kalbadevi area of Mumbai. Amongst the oldest areas of the city, it could be more than two centuries old. The area was originally the only commercial business district of the city and in spite of the city growing far more in all directions and with much more business districts it still retains its status as the prima donna of trading areas. It is the bastion of members of India’s most prominent trading communities, the Gujarati’s, Marwari’s, Punjabi’s, Sindhi’s and the Jain’s.

The area (even Kalbadevi’s immediate neighbourhoods) does thousands of crores worth of turnover daily in almost every conceivable material and commodity that the country produces, exports or imports.

My assignment is about a project looking into how the area can be systematically redeveloped as per a Master Plan. My role is to engage the community in the area so to understand their views and demands from the redevelopment exercise. Besides, my key area of interest remains environmental sustainability and the project has an interest in incorporating best practices, such that the environmental impact of the new planned development is minimal.

I have a historic connect with the area since my father was born and lived most of his youth a little away from where my site office is. I too would have been born in the area but thankfully wasn’t. As a kid in the 1980’s I would visit this area during vacations or odd times and would be pretty disgusted with the crowds, the dirt, the strained urban nature and complete lack of any civic sense amongst most of the residents of the area. And to top it there would be a certain sense of pride and arrogance in the way they lived – just because they live in Kalbadevi and South Mumbai. I would wish death to most of the people then, and a great fire to the area. None happened and the area is as dirty and the people as incapable of finding a solution for their area. Though my father passed away last year.

My father was every bit the solution finder and imaginative about urban issues as I am except that all he wanted to do was to show his knowledge and impress his ideas upon people. He was no different from the average Kalbadevi-ite in being able to take initiative (at least on such issues).

When I compare my childhood memories then I feel the area has certainly improved in its civic sense and cleanliness a lot. Then I would see these really vicious people whom you couldn’t say a thing if they threw waste from their windows on the street. Or the streets were much dirtier and littering more prevalent then. I think globalisation and the exposure to the world (through TV for most) has made the area cleaner.

Now as I spend ‘quality time’ in the area (almost 12 hours a day at times) in the area I cannot once again but observe in detail the people of the area, their behaviour, their thought patterns, their levels of civility, their imagination levels and their display (or lack of it) of those more elevated levels of behaviour that humanity fervently chases.

The area is pre dominatly Hindu and Jain and I get intrigued about the role of religion and culture in the current state of the area. I live further north of the area in the suburbs in a building which has a compound space where cars can be parked and kids can play. On one side of my building there is a 5 acre garden and immediately facing my 3rd floor balcony is a small garden with palm trees. As I write this sitting in my balcony I think about how contrary the atmosphere is in Kalbadevi.

Kalbadevi reeks of sewage and rotting garbage as they mix in narrow gaps between two buildings called house gullies. These house gullies are areas where the sewage and water pipelines for the buildings pass through. Some of the individual tenements of the buildings find themselves with one window besides the house gully and people do not think twice before throwing garbage into these. Over time the garbage mixes with sewage leaking from decades old pipes and the combination stinks only to be cleaned by the Municipal authorities once in a while. Rats find it a very convenient home.

The people live in dingy buildings with dark and foreboding staircases. Most buildings are supported with stilts and other props which keep them from falling. Most people live in 200-400 sq. feet tenements and share common toilets. An average of 4-5 people live in tenements of this size. For most people at least a generation or two has lived like this. I wonder what kind of lives these people must be living in these units.

Businessmen have over the years carried out their trading from such places and become multimillionaires able to afford posh flats close by and travel all over the world. But the wealth has had no impact in their attitudes towards their neighbourhood.

The area doesn’t have any open spaces and playgrounds. Children play gully cricket on Sundays or sometimes go to Azad Maidan and other grounds a little bit away. While a century back most of the commercial and economic activity was limited to some of the well defined markets in the past few decades a number of the residential tenements in buildings have been converted to various commercial usages including storage of cotton yarn and other products. Labour and business visitors throng the area during the day.

When we come up with the idea of a planned redevelopment of the area I wonder how these people have anyways lived like this all these years. What kind of a culture do these people belong to which allows people to live in these kind of conditions for decades without finding solutions? Is it the same culture which proudly talks of the Mohenjo Daro civilisations, which provided for exemplary levels of drainage 5000 years back.

I have for long been a vocal critic of the jingoism that passes of for Indian culture and Hinduism and its supposed greatness over western culture and other cultures. And in Kalbadevi that supposed greatness gets not only questioned but also cremated. When a culture and people get so busy to get into one upmanship and petty rivalry and arrogance at the cost of even not being able to live in clean and decent surroundings then there is not an iota of greatness in that culture.

The jingoists present India and Hinduism as the one stop shop for solutions to all the problems of the world. We gave the world the zero, which in itself is such an over riding contribution, that the world just need not doubt us about our ability and ask for anymore proof. But still the benign and generous and most intelligent people that we are we can give you the yoga and Ayurveda to take care of all your health problems. Our intelligent techies run the wheels of the world. Our culture is unparalleled and we are a country which respects it elders and where the family is most sacrosanct unlike the defiled West. Number of half truths and unchallenged statements.

Kalbadevi is full of super religious Hindus. I consider myself a rational Hindu – considering the Gods to my friends whom I say hi and bye to and whose counsel I seek in times of need. The Hindus of Kalbadevi are different. They are a bit too much into their gods and temples and rituals and a bit too less in loving their fellow beings. They are vicious lot who like the quote goes “mooh pe ram aur bagal mein choori” can never be trusted with what ill they may have in their minds for their fellow residents.

And when I hear of the same people talking of the problems like the Amarnath yatra and the damage Muslims are doing etc. I wonder what is stopping them from doing some good for their own selves in their own secure bastion? The Muslims or other imagined enemies are not responsible for the ridiculously bad living conditions in which these people live in a completely Hindu area. For all the talk of benevolence neither the tenants or the landlords display any of the characteristics which the thousands of spiritual gurus – which the area follows cultivates – propound. Members of castes and sects, and sub castes and sub sects are so wedded to their narrow community and dogmatic that they will not cooperate with another Hindu also.

I think it is these characteristics – which too me somewhere have become representative of Hindus- which are turning out to be the biggest enemy of Hinduism.

I cant help splitting up when I hear people talk of making the temple at Ayodhya and collecting funds for the yatra and other such things. If Ram was around he wouldn’t have come to so much as even shit in this area. If one were to believe that God exists everywhere then the wealthy and not so wealthy of Kalbadevi need to first do something about the squalor they have reduced their temple to, with absolutely no help from Babar or his tribe.