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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Love and Work in December 2017

As much as 2018 started with a bang, it was no way preceded by any lull or silence. There was furore of activity in December as well. As I sit down to write I have forgotten half of things that happened in this month. Thankfully my flickr  photostream comes to my rescue.

Work travel in December was a continuation of the one that begun in November. The things I did in December are:

  1. International Permaculture Conference (IPC)  in Hyderabad
  2. Meetings ( with a new team) in Maharashtra
  3.  Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region
  4. Andaman Islands on a holiday
  5. Weekend motorcycle ride to Tiratgad, Chhattisgarh

1.IPC 2017 in Hyderabad

I went to this conference based on my mentor’s instruction to attend this workshop to know more about organic farming and natural farming. It was quite nice to see people from so many countries who practice permanent-agriculture ( permaculture) there. But somehow it felt like these people although they are doing their bit of good by practicing permanent agriculture had not really given enough thought on how to take it to the world. It is not that every organisation working on a issue take the onus to thinking for the entire world. But the sense I got from sitting through some of their sessions was that the folks who are practicing or endorsing permaculture seem to be living in a bubble.

The key speakers in the conference were Vandana Shiva and Rajendra Singh. They spoke in their oratory fashion boxing the criminals ( corporations ) and victims ( the farmers ) in clear containers. As usual  such simple narratives beget thunderous  applauses form the audience. But they gave a signal if they were serious about their  in the press-meet. There was this young journalist from Economic times who drilled these people on their speeches and asked what they thought was the way forward to address the problems they mentioned in their speeches.  The responses they provided were highly disappointing and made me feel sincerely sad about the state of activism in this country. None of them had a plan to solve the problem they have been shouting about for decades. All of them in their sixties and seventies were still regurgitating the same things they spoke a decade or more ago. The discourse is anti-state, anti-corporation and pro-poor/farmer. But they could not articulate WHAT should be the pro-poor steps to address the problems of the people they stand for. I wonder if they were really serious about solving the problems at all??

2. Meetings with ( new team) in Maharashtra: One of my volunteering work  on an environmental project took me to few meetings in Maharashtra, in the role of a policy professional.  Unlike my usual work routine where I am either alone or  with just another colleague ( most an old friend), I was not with a team composite of people with experiences 20 years more than mine and one other guy who is just a year older than me, but a veterans whose experiences can be easily pegged to be 10 years more than me, especially with respect to people management and running a big department. I must say I have never smiled or laughed so much in my work life before. These guys were just fantastic. With lifelong experiences and having being in very key positions in big Multinationals or having made change to lakhs of farmers or forest dwellers, they were just normal people. No baggage, no gloating images of themselves. Earlier my commitment to the project was because of my mentor and the environmental cause of it. But not its gotten only better. I have walking talking libraries of experiences embodied in these humble people. These people have seen how things happen in the ground , the hurdles and issues in solving any problem. But they are interested in solving the issues , quietly and consistently without making much noise.

I know this coded post with very little work details may not be a great interest to a reader, but this part is a reminder about the fun time I had with this team and exciting times that lay ahead.

3. Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region: The work in Maharashtra gave me an opportunity to meet the people in two parts of Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region. Maharashtra can be loosely divided into Western, Maratwada, Vidharba and the Konkan region. The project I mentioned above took me to the meetings in these two regions. The saying about India is that every few kilometers the culture, customs, language and flavour of food change. If one were to take this statement seriously, the observations I am about make will look obvious. But think about it, even within a state how people work, the resources  distribution,  limelight a region gets  and access to skilled manpower differ and there is a clear advantaged and disadvantaged region. If anyone wishes to work in a region, understanding these aspects become imperative. The time spent on understanding the background of a region will go a long way in designing and setting expectation from any work done in a region.

Larger characteristics of a two regions within a state that are quite stark.Western Maharashtra due to historical context and importance and proximity to Mumbai has strong hold of government establishments, political clout good number of educational institutions and therefore skilled manpower, established and professional Voluntary organisations, good access to both government and non governmental funds, good set up of technical agencies that work on development issues.

In the case of Vidharba region (infamous for its farmer suicides) is literally one of the backward regions of the country. This region is far from the capital, little urbanisation and industrialisation in comparison to Western Maharashtra, has access to plush government funds to mitigate farmers’ plight but little access to big non-governmental funds. The skilled manpower in the region is also not many , except some very conscious individuals who have by choice moved and set up small organisations in the region to work on the issues of the region. But the lack of access to big funding to voluntary organisations has lead to NGOs working with each other like friends and the informal networks are quite strong here. The lack of funds is a necessary condition but not sufficient condition for such kind of behaviour in the region. So to see such friendly, networked way of functioning that is facilitated by whatever means is worth noticing and lauding.

4. Andaman Islands on a holiday

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 A holiday that was totally organised by the  brotherinlaw to Andamans was an awesome break. We just had to pack our bags and make ourselves present in the island. The natural beauty of these islands made me dream about working from these islands for a year or so. The island looks like coastal towns of India from a decade ago.  The ride across the Baratang island to experience the closed Jarava territory was revealing and made one raise a lot of questions about this tribe.

The apparent  functioning of government system (from the interaction one had with the locals) seem far superior to the functioning of the state in the mainland. I would like to dig deeper and read more about it. But it seems, one need not look outside the country  for a functioning welfare state, it is right here in these islands. I am making this statement, mainly due to one stark fact. Everyone  use the ration shops. Everyone gets their rice and sugar from the ration shops for their personal consumption. Everyone who is well to do or not uses the ration shops. May be I am wrong in making this observation centric to my conclusion about functioning of the government in this state. I will validate this in a post when I get time.

While visiting the Marine Bio-reserve and recollecting about tsunami effect on these islands , the thing that kept coming back to me was, the issues of environment are so difficult to perceive. The islands look beautiful, green and lovely. Where is the biodiversity loss, who and what are being harmed due to changing climate. As a lay tourist, I cant see it so why will I believe it? If we really want our people to be conscious of the vagaries and loss of biodiversity and be responsible in our act in fragile regions, the issues of environment need to be made felt.

5. Weekend motorcycle ride to Tirathgarh, Chhattisgarh

This is the magnificent #chitrakootfalls. It is magnificent. Returned to this place after a decade or so, was beautiful. Can you make out the #rainbow formed by sun rays falling on the dispersed water particles (#prismaticeffect ) been so long since I use

 This should have been the first note on the month. The month started with a long motorcycle ride with my partner to Tirathgarh and Chitrakoot falls from Raipur. These falls is quite beautiful and the ride was definitely worth it. Some observations on the state from the ride is , most of the roads from Raipur to these falls are good, towns and villages that we crossed are kept clean and compared to most other tourist places these falls are kept really clean and well. At Chitrakoot falls there are shops with art works from the state. The Bastar art work from this state is simply classic, subtle and of course beautiful. These art works are mainly from the Kondgaon region that one crossed on the way to these falls from Raipur. One can also drop by and meet the artisans and artists who produce these art works.

So thats was December and thus ended 2017.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Field work and its shades of emotions

Field Work, interviewing a natural farmer in his shop, while he sells his non-chemical vegetable produce from his small outlet in Tanjavur

Interview with Murugan, a natural farmer in his vegetable shop

I usually try to keep my emotions aside when writing posts here at the TMN wordpress. But I have been flooded by many emotions during the field visit and also day after it. But I think emotions have been fundamental in most of the decisions I have made , especially regarding my career, work or study. I have never been practical , i.e. I never calculate “return on investment” on any activity of my life. Field visits have always made me more sensitive. But this time around the experience was very intense. I don’t know why! I am  unable to point to, what is ,what is it that I am experiencing. But , back in the city listening to myself complaining about the weather and other petty things , I  feel irritated. I want to hold on to those feelings evoked in the field even in my very urban and comfortable surroundings. I also feel lost in the city and there is a deep yearning  to  go back to places of feeling sensitive and being receptive and taking things as they come with little judgements.  This is a repetitive experience. I am trying to write down here to reflect, become aware and be conscious of the internal process.

I am back from the field visit from south of Tamil Nadu, in Thanjavur, I am lost. Its been more than 10 days away from this city and I feel lost. I am frozen. Going into field and begining work in different geography and in the rural setting happens quite seamlessly. But the switch from rural to urban settings takes effort. A conscious effort. At least one day goes in trying to understand the trouble in switching to the routine of the city.

As I try to gather myself to do work and study, I am trying to catch hold of some of the myriads of feelings that have engulfed me.

The lady : This time around in my field visit for my dissertation I had a lady volunteer come along with me from the day one until I finished it to help me get to all the farmers I had to interview. She was doing such efficient coordination, my work got done seamlessly. I was weighed down by the sense of gratitude towards her, the way she took interest and facilitated in meeting the farmers. I was so weighed down by this help of hers, I cried. I cried thanking her by the end. Just the way she was, made me wonder , if I will ever be like her ever. Offering to a cause with such dedication and intensity although it may not mean much to me. It looks like she was having a beautiful experience just being involved, although the task she was up to may or may not be of much consequence to her endeavors.

It was hot and satisfying:, 40 degree Celsius in the region, we were on a motorcycle, going from farmer to farmer meeting, interviewing and taking notes. It was tiring, physically fatiguing. On top of this I was also menstruating in this period. This was making the effort even more physically taxing. But I was satisfied, by the end of everyday, I was dead from work . What better way to end a day other than getting worn out by work!

The farmers:  were so generous with time and their offering us food, whatever they had to eat themselves, coconut water, buttermilk, bananas, and what not. This was as a part of interactions for my research where I am trying to understand the math of what farmers earn from toiling on their small land in a year.  I have not known anyone of them from before, this was the first time I am meeting them all.But without fail every one of them was offering something for us to eat or drink. One farmer meets me in between selling his fresh vegetable produce and answers my questions in the gaps between his customers, handing us some bananas to in between all the questioning. Another mechanic-farmer meets us in between his shop hours and answers patiently and shares his passion for the farming and pulls out and shows excitedly book by Fukuako’s natural farming, saying he wants to move to that form of farming next.  These people have small pieces of land,  3 acers or 4 acers. Not much really. But they have a passion to do something right. They are patient enough to share their experience between their business hours too.

Some of us may want to rationalize their willingness to meet me as a “small town phenomenon” or a “village phenomenon” where people from these regions are happy to meet us because we are from the “CITIES”. But this rationalization of the behavior can’t explain all aspects of their behavior, but the element of curiosity alone.

The hosts: I was living in a household of a doctor-teacher couple, who hosted me and took care of me so well. This is the first time I am meeting them. When in field, all of us know, a place to rest and write by the end sometimes is a luxury. They gave me a room for the entire period of stay. They were happy to host me, just because I was studying farming and its viability etc. Again I was feeling overwhelmed by the ease with which they let me into their house and handed me their house keys without batting an eye lid.

This is a repeated experience with my work, especially in rural areas. People are generous and welcoming and caring. Whereas they need not be this way. There is certain amount of guilt for getting the hospitality from the people who are vulnerable than myself. I don’t know if I can really work towards addressing even part of ONE of the issues they face.

Can I be at peace if I get all this support for my field work by paying up the services I received from the lady, farmer to the hosts? I don’t think so, even then  I can be at peace. Even I were to pay for all these services, their way of being kind and generous in non material aspects cant be paid for at all, this was the majority portion of what these people offered.These people are doing whatever they are doing without any expectation.

When I turn back look at all my visits in the past, I see there are so many people, so many of them who have made my work happen seamlessly over the years. I am weighed down heavily by all their support over these years. I don’t know, how to go abut this feeling. The feeling of indebtedness, the feeling of guilt of not having done enough, the feeling of wanting to do all the wrong right.

All of these feelings eventually are forgotten when the awkwardness of the cities is eroded by daily living in it. I wish I don’t forget the generosity of all the people and just do my work even more sincerely and meticulously and be of some consequence to all the effort and help offered by so many people. I want to wake up everyday with a sense of gratitude and love and devotion to all of the people who have come to nurture me in so many ways. I would rather want this sense of gratitude to drive me to do my best, to do what is possible.  I sincerely want to give my best. Lets see how long this bout of gratitude from the field remains.

Expressway…speed… biking …symphony

A road through an Indian village where we can not do an average more than 50kmph

I was on the Mumbai-Pune expressway last week. Its not permitted for 2 wheelers to ride on this road. But sitting on the seat beside the bus driver and with the whole windscreen to myself is a delight, and I cant have enough of it. I wish I could ride on this road on my motorbike.

Speeds of 90kmph or more on a motorbike on well paved roads gives an adrenaline rush, only a biker can understand. With all the four wheelers crossing you at 120kmph or more, it makes me feel vulnerable, highly alert  to everything happening around me- left right, front, behind , below , across the road, on the bylanes 100meters ahead and 100 meter behind. With helmet, jacket and gloves on the vulnerability is partly shielded, none the less its hardly near complete safe. The wind that slaps you from the front and from the right when a mammoth of a truck passes you is the music that I ride the bike to.  Its been more than six moths since I rode long distance. But the very thought of being on the road, make my eyes go wider, and every cell of my body gets excited about it.  Indian roads do not give enough opportunity to do such speeds for long distances. One highway where in certain stretches this experience is possible is NH4.

The experience is about speed, but a lot more about the realisation of how vulnerable and transient is life. This realisation stays on for sometime after a ride and it changes the ways one goes about life. It translates into  gentler mannerisms, care for things and people and humbler attitudes.

These speeds are dangerous, until one does enough distances on lesser speeds, one should not attempt these speeds; especially not on Indian roads. I would not suggest even a adept biker to do something like this. I only do this on very short streches that are  scantily populated and less trafficked.