Love and Work in January

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Nagpur railway station , January 1st 2018

The year started same as  the last 10 years.  This time around it was not on a bus or a train but on an flight. Then followed by a train journey. Its been a beautiful start to the year. It is said in our culture that , the first day of the year decides the pattern of how the rest of the year will be like.

I dont know about the rest of the year, but January was very much full of travel . Literally I had only 3 days to myself in Raipur rest on the move. I was traveling on work most of the month and one small family trip. I was traveling to the following places:

  • Telengana for Frank Water Work
  • Yavatmal district for Rally For Rivers Work
  • Family Road trip in Maharashtra

To be honest I don’t want to be complaining about all of this. I enjoy work. I am a workaholic or activity-holic. If I do not prepare myself for the time off my work days, I can actually be very lost.  But it works good for my time when at work.

Telengana trip to Frank Water:

The journey I have had with Frank Water over the last 5 years has been an experience  where I have seen things change in the programs over this time. This trip at some level was a reflection of the journey of Frank water and how far we have come from our RO days.  Now we work with tribal people in remote areas to make them water secure villages.

If I were to tell what really makes my time during these visits, its the ripple effect of water security projects on women and children. Girl children go to school, atleast fetching water for household chores is  no more is a reason for them to stop going to school!

Yavatmal visit for river revitalization work:

 

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Panoramic view of  confluence of  Painganga river ( dry bed on the left) and Godhavari river

As a early step to assess the region, the status of rivers and also understand the geogrsphy I went with the Rally for Rivers team to this region. Visited the length and bredth of Yavatmal district visting tributaries of Godavari river and Painganga river.

I have been part of the core group since the inception of rally for rivers, as a technical and policy person. I have a good hold on what it takes to get  water security projects implemented in a village. But rivers, is a different ball game altogether.

It requires coming together of so many governmental departments, diverse set of stakeholders and financial implications need polling of funds from varied sources. This entire volunteering assignment in a way has opened up so many avenues for learning and putting into use my larger environmental engineering and policy skills to use for something very real and something very NOW.

Family Road Trip in Maharashtra

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A ghat on river Godhavari near Nashik

After all the work trip I had my family from Bangalore visit my parents in Mumbai. So a customary Mumbai darshan trip that included lephanta caves and the cruis ride  followed up some local shopping on the streets of Dadar etc and  some good street food happened.  After that a quick self driven road trip to Nashik region and temples around there happened. Inadvertently this trip took me to the temple where river Godhavari  originates, Thriyambakeshwar. It was good to be on the road with the family.

Overall the month was quite hectic, but it was so worth it. When I see some very intense old people who seem to have more energy and bandwidth to do what they do, I am inspired to push myself further and stop complaining.

 

 

 

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Wrap Up 2017

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Like this green hillock with little sense of identity,  I feel my personality and identity seems to be less prominent, more vague like these hillocks this year.

Its been a while since I blogged here. 2 years ago (before June 2015) , my problem will upkeep of the blog was my lack of confidence in articulation. In the last two years ( until July 2017) the randomness in the blog was due to very very hectic schedule that involved studying and working ( with Frank Water) and also picking up freelance consulting work. And hence that time I have been back to working with Frank and was busy working with the team of experts and Isha Foundation on the policy document for their nation wide campaign to revitalize rivers – Rally for Rivers (RfR).

 

There have been some major events in my personal life since the end of the RfR campaign. I moved to a new small town Raipur. I am settling in here and I am yet to establish a routine with respect to work, house keeping ( literally), working out, and find time of hobbies- painting, biking, singing and swimming- that attend to that aspect of my life that work usually cant attend to.

I am done ranting about why I have not written a word here since April. I wont be promising about if I will write regularly again. The only thing I know is that life on some fronts look streamlined. Subconsciously I have always wanted these streamlining in my life to be able to take on bigger things and responsibilities in my life. Now that I have them, life is staring into me asking me “what next”? This forces me want to reflect on  my work, and projects until now. Thus this first ever “Wrap up” post.

If I were to look at the year that went by, I would like to broadly reflect on three major streams – MPP (Masters in Public Policy) thesis on sustainable agriculture,  changes in WASH job, volunteering for the creation of  policy document on Rally For Rivers , resuming work on Weaver technologies and motorcycle journey to Himalayas. As much I would like to write a long essay that seamlessly flows like any long essay article. I am quite tuned into thinking in list-ized and bulleted manner. Hope that doesn’t annoy anyone reading this post.

MPP Thesis on Sustainable Agriculture: This was a simple immersion endeavor I consciously took to step out of my “WASH expert” zone to put to use my larger environmental engineering degree and knowledge gathered in MPP to understand the larger ecosystem of agriculture and the so called sustainable agriculture space in India. I started working on this space since 2015 November and I quite enjoyed this  longterm immersion. Studying and going to school is fun, but what does the schooling do one only comes out when one puts the knowledge gained to use. This project gave me that opportunity. Also, working on this thesis involved – pouring over many books, interviewing farmers,  interacting with experts, bureaucrats, technocrats, digging into policy and traveling – to my native ;Tanjavur region; in Tamil Nadu, & to 15 odd districts in Rajasthan. And this due course I found a lifetime mentor. Something I have been searching for a longtime.

In a way this project  has given me way beyond what set out to learn. It made me dig deeper into the sector and also provided a 360 degree perspective, softening my sharp opinions with a buttload of realism.

WASH job: At Frank Water, we have two staff based out of India. The other India based advisor is quite articulate and sharper. Working with him and the other India Project Manager sitting in Bristol has gotten better over the years. The Bristol based manager slowly is transitioning to become a friend and working with India advisor has only made me become more thorough with work. The change in the framework to manage partners using Adaptive Project Management has improved the engagement levels of partners and their staff across the entire hierarchy.  The WASH programs are also becoming more diverse making the work more interesting.

Policy work with Rally for Rivers (RfR): Volunteering with the policy team at Rally for Rivers along with my mentor and experts was rewarding. This engagement gave a taste of what realtime policy making entails. Not just about realistic understanding and writing of policy, but what could happen to something which is high profile and has the attention of the larger public and media houses. I have never had an experience this intense in the last few years. Early in the career I have had similar but short-lived experiences of intense work, working with a friend on many projects. But the experience this time around in RfR was of solo kind ( although with a team). I got pushed, pressured, and worked with unreal deadlines and timelines. I could survive, with the help of grace and the team’s support.

The experience of working on this project although under high pressure environment was so rewarding, I literally had a withdrawal syndrome post the rally. This experience at different levels has left me so much richer than what I was when i started work on this. One of the many important things I have learnt working on this live policy project is that, any solution to a problem never gets successfully accepted not in a vacuum.  For a solution to be heard and taken up, it matters how the problem is defined at different levels ( to the politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats, important stakeholders and  the larger public) and how the solution is present to the same group. When I say “how it is presented” – I mean the language, the attitude, leveraging strategic points that speaks specifically to each group’s interest.

On a specific thing that i have learnt and expanded my appetite level volunteering on this project is the eye for details and clean up the mess I have created again and again and again! Patience, an elusive trait for me was a compulsory requirement while working on project like this.

Weaver Technologies:  With 2 year sojourn in education finishing the startup that I have been part of for over a decade is taking a different shape now. Consulting and other work endeavor is moving to a different level.

Motorcycle journey to Himalayas: Writing about this needs a post all dedicated to itself. Whie I keep going on short weekend rides to nearby places, this one was a long wished trip that I have never really though I would end up getting on to. But this also got executed like this was a project that needs to be finished before a given deadline. The experience of being on the trip is something I have not yet reflected until today. This was a trip of two – Suhas and I. I have been on similar such motorcycle trip to Himalayas in 2012, but that was solo. This was a whole 5 years hence. This trip was exhilarating, exciting, scary, eery, lonely and rewarding. The trip was from Bangalore to Leh via Manali and return to Chandigarh via Srinagar. I felt as if I went through two different countries ( other than India) in this trip.

We started out on the trip with very little preparation, and we came back home in one piece. It is only grace that made it happen. If I were to do this trip again, it will be less rushed, more prepared with knowing my  bike and a lot longer and would avoid riding on the world class national highways in the plains of the country.

Wrap up 2017:  The year seemed a lot about work, expanding the sectors of work and little bit of fun and some major changes in personal life. The time spent working seemed so fulfilling that even when on breaks I was looking forward to going back to work. I got burnt and pressured at work, but seems like the workaholic has been woken up again after many many years.

It seems all the desire to have my year that has – on the road, seeing the world and being with nature for larger part of the time is now taking a back seat. Working and being part of meaningful projects seem to take centre stage. I would none the less like to pick up singing again though. In 2018, I would like to have discipline, better time management during less pressure periods and get back a good workout routine and not forget to be on the road now and then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kaveri dispute- Karnataka and Tamilnadu – Part 2

I had a late evening bus on 24th night from Bangalore ( Karnataka) to go to Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). In the last minute the bus got cancelled as the buses with Karnataka Registration were not being allowed in Tamil Nadu. This was as a consequence of Karnataka declining to share the water until 28th of this month post the Supreme Court verdict.

I had taken this new masters course in public policy partly to zoom out of my present frame of reference which is established from my work at grassroots. The other reason was to work in areas of environemnt other than water. Since the Kaveri issue has resurfaced this year, it looks like water is become a centre to many crisis of our times. Some researchers and activist have been talking about the dooms day being just around the corner. Especially verdicts on water being the centre of future wars. Scholars like Peter Gleick, Asit Biswas and other have been writing extensively about crisi and how to go about it. I thought we would pick what these people say and work it out somehow.

I somehow always felt this will not be the case. We will some how figure it out, get our act as a species. No! This Kaveri/ Cauvery water issue is only making all these doomd day verdicts come true.

I was sitting one day thinking how do we go about these issues of crisis of water. I felt its quite complex the whole issue of water. Its so entertwined with every aspect of life and activities we humans conduct. To be honset we have done enough to understand the root  causes of the crisis – the loop holes in the way we address drinking waer security, the change in croping patterns and crops in the command area of Cauvery river and other water uses. In short it is flawed decissions on water usage and mismanagement of resource and also mismanagement  within institutions using the water for different purposes. There have been solutions studied and proposed to address all these matters both technicaly, and institutionally. The paradigm of integrated water resource management gives a framework to work on all issues simultaneously.

But still, Why are these solutions not picked up? Where is the inertia, what is the threat in changing to newer paradigm of operation? It feels like its in our minds. The inertia is in our heads. I wonder, how do we go beyond the finger pointing excercise and think for our own selves and look for a solution which  will make sense to ourselves in the long run too?

The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

A proposition that seems to come to me again and again is that of “propaganda” as the mode of operation. Why dont we use skills of the O&Ms and Lowe Lintas kind of agenceis to work on the heads of the population to address issues of this kind? Why do we engage them to change mindset of people only to make “fairness” a fad thing or to sell chocolates? I am tempted to drop this documentary that I have been studying for the last few weeks to push the idea of propaganda. It speaks a lot on what can be done to manipulate the “crowds”. Why not use the same for a meaninful purpose. If not done responsibly this can spin out in a wrong direction and out of control. But for now this is all is coming to me as a solution again and again.

 

 

Kaveri dispute- Karnataka and Tamilnadu

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Kaveri Pipeline work. Courtsey: BWSSB.org

The water dispute of Kaveri between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is more than a century old. Somehow the issue is racked up only in period of scarce monsoon. Else both states sit quiet and continue to do what they were at without giving a hard look at what are they are doing with their agriculture. 

There have been many agreements between the states, tribunals set up to resolve issues, and supreme court intervening in the case and giving some random judgements without much scientific reasoning. These have been during the periods of distress again. 

When I looked at this issue in 2008 I thought we could solve the matter with tribunals. But when I look at this matter again – the canvas looks much different. The legal aspects and general managerial aspects of the canvas were then not quite clear. But now there seems to be a nuanced understanding. First of the legal aspect of it – why is there no judgement / tribunal verdict on water sharing specific to “rainfall shortage years” or “distress years”? If the clause and details of the hearings were based on scientific studies conducted on the basin, one can come up with the possible sharing quotas based on the yearly rainfall that the basin sees. Second is, why are both states not seeing that- the paddy ( in Tamil Nadu) and sugarcane (in Karnataka) are not the crops one would grow using a non-perineal river source. There as a reason why raggi was grown so prolifically in these parts of the country. Raggi and other millets did not need so much water like paddy or sugarcane needs.

Also, another matter is that of the classic conflict between upper riparian and lower riparian states. The upper riparian state like Karnataka always have the control of – how much water they CHOOSE to give, and lower riparians have to seek courts and tribunal’s intervention to get water to meet their state needs. 

When I spent sometime this morning looking at the tweets from kanadigas on the #cauveriverdict, I could only laugh at their ignorance. On both sides there are farmers, both sides need water for drinking water purpose. It is not easy to say who is correct or not. While Karnataka has around four major rivers flow in its state, Tamil Nadu’s rivers are not as many. The Kaveri that is damned in Karnataka is not even serving all the four districts equally. It is Bangalore that gets most of the Kaveri when developed in stage I, II and III. This without rectifying the 65% unaccounted for water loss ( through rusted, old pipelines built by British) in Bangalore is not a fair argument. Bangalore’s lakes which were augmenting the water requirements of the city are fast vanishing to meet the real estate needs of the city. Had the lakes been in place, the pipelines in good shape and compulsory rainwater harvesting done by all, the dependency of  Bangalore on Kaveri/Kabini would have been reduced substantially. This would have eased the conflict too. While the larger managerial issues are never addressed, all people do by the end of the day to go on strikes and burn public properties to make their point and get what they want. This is no rational way to arrive at any solution. 

Situation in both the states , its political response and people’s response is quite saddening and disappointing to the least! 

PS: I am a Tamizh. So read this article with a pinch of salt.