Saturday, 26 November 2011

Is it the place or the people?

I am supposed to write reflection papers as part of my leadership course. The guideline says that we do not have to answer all the questions that we pose - "the questions are a sign of curiosity and a continued desire to learn". That'z interesting.. so, I don't have to answer all the questions I have.. hmm.. I think I will get back to my assignment later.

In all my travels, I have wondered if it is the people or the place that makes an impact on me. Most places (if not all) have made me happy probably because of the freedom and independence they give me.. or may be because I get closer to myself, as Alan Alda says - "You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself."
mix of old and new in Toronto
In a way, places are like people. There are some places that you fall in love with at first sight; and some you start liking with time. New York city for example.. I have not been particularly interested in the US but when I stepped onto the streets of New York, it got me immediately - it was love at first site (spelling intentional)! I don't understand how it happened. A city full of buildings and roads and cars and cyclists and people.. Same with Mumbai I guess.. NYC and Mumbai are often spoken of in the same breath, as both places offer a lot of opportunities, welcome anyone who dares to dream, are resilient, etc..
And there are places like Toronto, which I took some time before I started liking it, bit by bit. Sometimes it was the long walks on the quiet streets, sometimes it was the beautiful fall colors, sometimes it was the way the old and new blending so well with each other..
And the people are one of the nicest I have met, second only to the Swiss.

the evening of Nuit Blanche in Toronto
Cities, like people, have character. In Economics class, I tend to feel even countries have character and our prof doesn't seem to like any!!
Anyway, I am not sure whether cities shape the character of the people or people shape the character of the city. As the Canadians say, it depends :)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

1 week at the York campus

It has been a week since I landed at the York University campus and one thing that has been hard to miss is the cute composting cone scattered across the campus. These cones are open from the bottom and one has to just drop organic waste into it. I did not want to attract too much attention by digging deeper into it. Will find out more once I get to meet more people.
The university has a strong focus on sustainability and has many related ratings to its credit. My room mate confirmed that this is indeed a good place to learn about sustainability. So, provisions for garbage segregation is one thing that I expected at the campus. Though there isn't any facility (or I haven't figured out yet) for composting within the residential buildings, I have made it a point to keep organic waste separate and drop it in the nearest composting bin.

The next interesting thing that I discovered is a
within the campus. Individual plots can be rented out for 20$ and one can grow whatever one wants, the weather and the deers/rabbits permitting. I might start by watering and deweeding the community part and earn my way to an individual plot - if I find the time for it. I have been warned repeatedly by my seniors about 18-hr work days once school starts.

Moving around using public transport has been fairly easy considering the campus is located on the outskirts and the nearest subway station is a good 20 min bus ride. The bus stops are many and close to one another - my reasoning is that it is very difficult to walk even a few meters in winters. I have also heard some stories about wild animals sneaking up to you. TTC, the Toronto Transport Corporation offers discounted re-usable tokens that cost 2.5$ (3$ without discount) for a one-way ride. It is interesting the way the transfers - from one bus to another bus, from bus to sub-way and vice versa - work. When transferring between a bus and a subway train, things work on trust - they trust that you have paid for your one-way ticket. I did take some time to adjust to this system. The transfer ticket (for transfers between buses) is hard to mess around with, as I found out when I (unintentionally) used an expired transfer ticket. Of course with a monthly pass or a day pass, it is much easier and cheaper to move around.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Myths about planting banana

My mom had been against planting the banana plant in our house for reasons as strange as Vaastu. I always thought (and still believe) that Vaastu is more science and less faith. Banana plants have been humbly serving as grey water filters for long. The outlet in almost all bathrooms in villages are redirected to a cluster of banana plants. People even pee in these bathrooms - I used to find it disgusting, until I understood the reasoning recently. Normally, even kitchen dishes are washed under the banana plant. The phosphates in the soaps and detergents are great for the banana plants and the Nitrogen in the urine is always welcome. Though this concept is being revived by people working in this area such as Biome, it is fast disappearing in villages, sadly.

I got around the first hurdle to plant the banana plant by getting one planted in my cousin's empty plot next door. No house yet, so no Vaastu complications.
I built a crude clothes washing area around this and slowly moved most of our laundry there.
Next, when I wanted to extend the filter to handle more soapy water, I wanted to plant more banana plants along with some Canna and reeds.

There is no dearth of banana plants in our locality, but another myth had to be broken. My mom tells me a banana plant has to be planted by an elderly person only. I thought hard but couldn't figure out why and she wouldn't tell. So, today, I went to a neighbor's place to pick up some saplings and the owner, an old lady also said the same. After much prodding, she said that there is a belief that people die soon after they plant banana, Banyan, Tamarind, etc.. I did not want to hurt her feelings, so came home promising her that I will get it planted by someone else.

My rather progressive aunt, who lives in a village, is visiting us and I asked her what she feels about this belief. She agreed that these plants and trees are planted by elderly people only, but the reason she gave was slightly different. She says it was more out of respect and the fact that elderly people would have done a lot of good work in their life and hence they 'deserve' the right to plant these useful plants. This was better. So, I went ahead and planted 3 of them (I think I deserve to).

Monday, 11 April 2011

Don't save the girl child

First, Women's day, and then the population census results. And all the analysis and the alarm bells and more campaigns to save the girl child.

I have started to wonder if we, as a society, really want the girl child. If marriage (and kids) seems to be the destiny for her, then why get her educated and why give her freedom in the first place? If the M word is the first thing that comes to a couple's mind when they get to know they have a girl child, I feel it is better to nip the 'problem' in the bud.
There is an advantage to not let the girl child come into the world, which may not be obvious immediately. Less girl children implies less kids and our population problem will be solved. We could just wrap up all the programs to save the girl child and divert all the money into making female infanticide official. My only worry is, the future ending up as depicted in the movie Matrubhoomi: A nation without women.
And then there is the so called progressive male who seems to have a tough time catching up, as this article (in Kannada) brings out crisply. Similar thoughts were echoed during a discussion with a high achieving woman from Bangalore.

I do not want to generalize or sound like a feminist, but I have to admit that I have come across very few progressive men (and progressive people, in general).
I wish the tribe increases.

Friday, 8 April 2011

To help or not to help..

I am faced with a dilemma..

The micro entrepreneur near my place who makes a living through her crude lunch/snack home now wants to expand her business to include cool drinks - of the aerated drinks kind. She has already thrust us with a significant amount towards the cost of the refrigerator and is banking on me to get her a good deal.
Now, first of all, I do not subscribe to all those aerated drinks - some of which contain 'natural identical flavoring agents'. Secondly, I feel it is a waste of power to cool these drinks which 'taste best only when chilled'. She has managed to get free power from the construction site where she has put up her shop. Nevertheless, why waste power to cool something that is not adding any value to one's health, but is only filling the pockets of stars in the name of advertising and marketing.
I did manage to tell her subtly to sell buttermilk cooled in earthern pots - she said she has already tried it and there are no takers.

I can't really give her gyan about health or environmental concerns when all she is worried about is making a few extra bucks that she can spend on her kids' education.

So, the best I can do is to get her a good deal by finding a used refrigerator.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

3 mistakes of my composting

When I moved from vermi composting to Daily Dump - I thought I had found the perfect solution without having to do anything.. almost. Daily Dump is a cool product, comes with a neat manual and troubleshooting tips, but I must admit that initially, I did not follow all the instructions by the word either because I was lazy or because I did not attempt to understand the science behind the whole thing or both.

First mistake - Not enough dry leaves:
I initially thought this was for containing moisture in order to restrict the population of maggots (maggots actually aid the composting), yet I was careless and failed. When I started adding dry leaves/saw dust, I saw better results. I later got to know that the carbon in the dry leaves is required to offset the Nitrogen rich kitchen waste by providing fuel for the composting process. On cold winter mornings, one can actually see the vapour rising as one stirs the pile.

Second mistake - Not enough water:
I was so scared of maggots that I deliberately kept the pile a little on the drier side and was happy to not see many maggots. And the result - a very high soluble salt content (measured in terms of electrical conductivity) in the compost. The normal levels are less than 1 m mhos/cm but my compost had a value of 12!!

Third mistake - excluding citrus peels completely:
I somehow thought citrus was bad as it would make the compost acidic because I read that we need to balance it by adding baking soda. Actually, a slightly acidic compost and hence a slightly acidic soil is actually good. I did use the peels in our dishwashing powder along with soap nuts and shikakai. However, the compost turned alkaline with a pH of 8.47.
So, these days, I put the odd lemon peel into the pile.

More mistakes and remedies can be found at DailyDump..

The NPK values were satisfactory with Nitrogen being higher than normal but I am happy since our soil lacks N.
I have started using earthworms on semi decomposed waste, so this time, the compost should be of much better quality.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Connecting with the older generation

These days, I find myself doing quite a bit of domestic work at home. Not that I am complaining.. more on that in another post. One of my activities includes going to the local flour mill. Our visits to the flour mill have increased ever since we switched to natural and bio-degradable alternatives for washing hair - a mixture of soapy nuts(Reetha in Hindi/Antwaal in Kannada), Shikakai and various dals. I have also finally managed to convince my mom to switch to a similar mixture for dishwashing too. And that is what took me to the flour mill today - to get a mixture of soapy nuts, shikakai and dried orange/lemon peels done. As usual, the 83-old owner of the flour mill greeted me with his one-toothed smile :) I have always appreciated him for his hardwork, dedication and cheerfulness even at such a ripe age. Today, we spoke a lot more than usual. After the usual questions about the Reva, it was my turn to ask questions. Going by his nature and his age, I guessed that he should have been part of our freedom struggle, and I was right. I have always had a fascination for freedom fighters - my respect made stronger by a freedom fighter who was our neighbour who drove many community initiatives. So this old man had spent 20 days in a Bellary jail and one day in Bangalore Central jail. There was a sparkle in his eyes when he talked about being in jail.
There was more to come. When I enquired about his freedom fighter's pension, he said he had not opted for it saying the same money can be used for someone else who has probably lost a limb in the struggle for our freedom. His reasoning is that he is still capable of earning for himself and his share of the pension can be given to someone else who is in need. Before I left, I did tell him that we are also fighting a different kind of freedom struggle - a struggle to 'save the earth' for ourselves and our future. Even I said this, he threw away his plastic tea cup on the road. But, I told myself - this is a mess that we have created and it is our responsibility to solve it. They have already done their bit in the 1940s.

Back home, I happened to have one of the many heart-to-heart conversations with my grandmom. Today, she told me about how she (and many others in her generation) struggled to raise half a dozen or more kids, sometimes single handedly as the husband led a care-free life. Compare that to today's woman who has access to specialized hospitals to help deliver children and playhomes and grandparents to take care of the kids. She laughed when I told her that fathers get paternity leaves too.

At the end of the day, I felt that every generation has its saviours and strugglers who make it easier for the next generation.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Help from unexpected quarters

The kids in our locality have developed a liking to our house because they believe they are free to do anything at our place. One of them even mentions the USP of our house to her friend as a place where there is lots of ಕಲ್ಲು and ಮಣ್ಣು (stones and soil) to play. So, I am not surprised when they voluntarily come and lend a hand in the garden. The girls carefully water the plants while the boys enjoy playing with tools.

However, what I witnessed today was funny and touching at the same time. I regularly pick up cow dung from the streets and occasionally some dry leaves as well, for our compost. Our locality has many Neem trees and one such tree was chopped partially leaving a lot of leaves on the side walks. As I picked up the dried leaves, many people glanced, smiled, asked questions and went away. But, three little 8 or 9 yr old girls (from migrant laborer families) stood there, wondering whether to talk to me or not. They just couldn't take it that a person from a 'well-off' family was 'sweeping the street' as they perceived it. The most proactive of them finally came to me and asked me "Aren't you from the brick house"? I said yes. She continued. "Why are you doing this? You will become dark." I told her that I have always been dark. She argued "No, I have seen you before, you were not like this. You don't do this. I will do it for you." I smiled and let her help me. We talked about her studies for sometime and how much she likes studying and going to school. Then she made me another offer, again to prevent me from becoming dark. She wanted to wash utensils and clean our house, after she comes back from school, as she does in another house. I told her we do our own work and if she really wants to help, she can help me in the garden. And I told her I will help with her studies. Then she asked me in a small voice if I would charge tuition fees.

She also told me that they hoisted a flag in school for Republic Day which is why today was a holiday for them. I hope she studies well and doesn't have to wash dishes forever.