Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Death is Faithful

जिंदगी तो बेव़फा हैं एक दिन ठुकरायेगी
मौत मेहबूबा हैं अपने साथ लेकर जायेगी
मर के जीने की अदा जो दुनियां को सिखलायेगा 
वो मुकद्दर् का सिकंदर, जान-ए-मन कहलायेगा

These are immortal words by the great Indian lyricist Anjaan.  The crude translation is

Life is unfaithful, one day it will leave you
Death is a lover, it will take you with it 
The one who will teach the world
How to live after dying
will be called the king of destiny, my dear"

This is not my first post on death. Unfortunately, i
have seen death from very close quarters in the last few years. I have earlier written about death and my contradictions with life and death. 

This post is about a bird , a female Asian koel which took its last breath in our house in full presence of my family and couple of friends. It was sad to see her die. But it was inevitable and her time was up. 

It was 10:30 AM on a sunday and as usual we were late for a function and were hurrying up. As i drove my car past the neighbourhood, my wife  spotted a strange hurt bird on the road. I did not bother much about it. 

We returned in the afternoon and couple of my friends were at home. As we were chatting on the road, we spotted the bird again. It was a female Asian Koel. She was in a very bad condition. We tried to give her some water . But she refused. 

We did not know what do about it. We did not want to see her die. We did not want to leave her on the road. So my friend picked it up and got it to our house. I called my cousin who is an ornithologist. We sent her the pictures . I asked my friends on facebook on what i could do about it. 

Unfortunately, we learnt that the bird was in her last stages and had given up food and water. 

However, my fried tried to give her some water but she violently refused. The fact is, Asian koel birds in their last stages give up water and food and wait for their inevitable call. They know when their life mission is over and will wait for their lover (death) without food and water. 

She took her last breath as we stood in our little garden silently observing her. We had made friends with her and let her go in 4 hours. It was a strange feeling. 

As the lyricist Anjaan said, Our Koel left food and water for her lover (Mehabooba) . It is so strange that the hurt bird was on the road all day and we ignored her. The guilt of ignoring her will always haunt me.

When we came back in the afternoon she was waiting for our nursing. She finally took her last breath in our house. Probably this is what is called destiny. 

Our friend thought us two priceless lessons. We must not have ignored her when we first saw her dying on the road. It is so sad that we were more interested in attending a ceremony leaving an old and hurt life on the road. 

The exit from the world should be graceful. By design or default, our little friend thought us the importance of leaving a graceful footprint before leaving the world. RIP my Friend. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Generation Gap

What is generation gap ? Getting a 10 minutes lecture (sermon) for being 5 minutes late for an appointment from a senior citizen (a very senior engineer) is generation gap. 

This post is about a brilliant engineer and equally witty gentleman by name H.Jayakumar . The title may not be the best suited for this post , however this is the best i can think over. 

I was supposed to meet Mr Jayakumar (68 years) at 6:15 AM at his residence on Saturday 4 April,2015. The appointment was fixed on 2 April at his office. He had given me a map for his house and later in the day had sent me an e-mail with the co-ordinates. 

This was my third meeting with Mr Jayakumar. My First meeting was in a training program couple of weeks back. I was impressed by the energy in his talk and the passion he had for engineering. The 68 year old gentleman had arrived at the training hall at 9:20 AM for the 10:00 AM lecture by public transport from his house 22 kms away. He mentioned in the class that he had never been late to his work in his career as an engineer of four decades. Mr Jayakumar had retired as the joint director of Central power research institute (CPRI) in 2008. 

I was so impressed by his talk that i requested him to  perform a earth resistivity test in one of my sites. He readily agreed and my third meeting was fixed at his residence on 4 April at 6:15 AM. Mr Jayakumar an orthodox brahmin had finished his morning ablutions  and sandhyavandane (Prayers to the sun god) and was ready by 6:00 AM. He called me at 6:00 AM to find out my coordinates. When i reached at 6:20 AM, he very politely acknowledged my indiscipline. 

Nevertheless, we reached the site at 7:30 AM. True to his passion, he was immediately on the job. He took out his instruments , drove the pegs himself, took the measurements and his job was done by 7:45 AM. He explained the tests, interpreted the results and packed up by 8:00 AM. 

Mr Jayakumar raised in the ranks in CPRI out of his knowledge, skill, hard work and competency. As he mentioned many times during his lecture, being just a diploma in electrical engineering, he rose to the rank of joint director and was instructing Phd and masters degree holders. No doubt, Jayakumar is very sound in his engineering

Mr Jayakumar reminded me of my dad. I had earlier written in one of the posts that with many domestic reposibilities and daily chores to attend for, my dad was never late for any appointment domestic or professional. In fact he was well before time.  With no domestic chores to attend for, with all possible facilities , with most modern gadgets to track my time, i am seldom on time to any appointment. 

With all possible tools , i do not think i am any close to the engineering skill that my dad had. With no sophisticated tools, with no land line phone let alone a mobile phone, my father was manager par excellence. I do not think i can ever attain his level of managerial skills inspite of half a dozen computing devices at my disposal and almost a supercomputer in the pocket.  This is generation gap... 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bridging the funding gap

I think it was sometime in May-June 2012 . I was on a city bus getting back home from whitefield (Bangalore). In front of me on the next row were two engineering students. A boy and a girl. They were from Bangalore and seemed to be pretty well grounded. They were returning back after attending an interview for some kind of scholarship. I overheard their conversation initially and quickly got involved in their discussion. 

The discussion was about their tuition fee and other expenses involved for their education. I learnt  that the fees for their college was something like Rs 45,000 per year. Not a small amount for Engineering education in Karnataka.  I learnt that it was not easy for them to afford this kind of money. 

I remember that when i finished my engineering , our fees was 9000 rupees a year. I understand now that , in the same college the fees for the same course is something like 40,000 rupees per year. 

I am sure that many students who come to colleges in Bangalore can very well afford their tuition fees. But there are many people like the ones whom i met in the bus who face difficulty. There are many many more who do not even try for professional courses because they cannot afford the tuition fee.  I know quite a few of them including my wife who turned down her medical seat in KIMS in 2002. I would have probably turned down my engineering seat if the fees in 2001 was 25,000. 

Since then i am musing with this idea of Alumni groups playing a part in bridging the funding gap. My idea is something like this.  Our batch passed out of college in 2005. Say in 2010 when everyone is reasonably well settled , we form an alumni group and collect small amounts from 30 people (Batch mates). Say we collect 1000 from each. That becomes 30,000 rupees for that year. With this We can fund one student for the year 2010. Next year, that is in 2011 we together pool 33,000 rupees. That will be take care of same student or another student for the year 2011. If the 2006 pass out students form an alumni association in 2011 and collect 33,000 rupees, that will help another student in 2011. So in 2011 we can fund two students. Like that in 2012 we can fund three students (From contributions of 2005, 06 and 07 batches). This can go on. At least half the class can be easily funded in a decade's time.  

This is just an example . The alumni groups can be formed immediately after passing out. Many alumni groups can be formed together drawing students from various batches. There can be process refinement , tuning etc etc. 

This would also help the old students to have a connection with the college and college folks. There can be potentially more academy-industry interaction and mutual learning. There could be more such cascading effects

I admit that all this is easier said than done. We were a very active, extraordinarily articulate and well knit group back in college. Few of our professors still admire us for our audacity and articulation. But getting people on board few years after college has been a challenge. But i genuinely feel this can be done. If every batch of students from every college in every branch commit to this idea, we can bridge the higher education funding gap to a large extent. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Where there is a will, There is a way..

 "Where there is a will, there is a way" this is probably the most quoted proverb in the world. I am not sure if my academic training really thought me the true meaning of this proverb. However, i am lucky to meet many people from different walks of life who are walking testimony to the truth in the statement. 

I was in Mumbai last week for a quick day trip to attend a meeting. I had taken an early morning flight and was returning by the evening flight. It was a tiring day and for my return flight, i had cleared the security an hour and half in advance and was waiting for my flight in the overcrowded terminal. 

As i was strolling by, i noticed a pretty ordinary looking Spa by name 'Heaven on earth'. One middle aged man was standing inside it. When i asked him if the spa was open for a foot massage, he just shied away rather pretty rudely. We normally do not expect such behaviour at airport shops. He returned in a couple of minutes with a blind woman. I was astonished to understand that the man who shied away was deaf and dumb and he returned with a blind woman by name Sarala to address my queries. 

Meet Mrs Sarala from Aurangabad who works as a therapist at 'Heaven on earth' Spa at terminal 1B of Mumbai Airport. She is born blind who works in the spa for 8 hours a day Monday to Saturday. 

Sarala was very courteous and enquired my flight details. At that moment the spa manager arrived with the service card . I asked for a 30 minute foot massage. The manager assigned Sarala as the therapist. 

Imagine giving a foot massage without knowing how a foot looks like. (Think of explaining a colour to a blind person) . This is almost un-thinkable for a normal person. Sarala cannot see, rather she has never seen anything in life. Sarala was no doubt extremely good at her job. At the end of 30 minutes, i had met a wonderful person who was an embodiment of grit and determination. 

Sarala is from Aurangabad who is born blind. She stays near Bandra with her husband. Sarala has undergone a special training for one year where she has been trained in massage therapy. She knows all the pressure points in the body even by their technical names. Subsequently she has undergone a training for 2 months at the heavens earth spa specialising in foot and back massage. 

Her day starts from 6 AM. She has to finish all the daily chores, make breakfast for herself and her husband, pack the afternoon lunch and reach Bandra station by 8:30 AM. She takes a local train to vile parle. She will reach Parle station by 9:30 AM. She then takes a bus to the terminal 1 of Mumbai airport which takes her another 15 minutes. She then has to walk for 5 minutes to get to the gates from where the on duty CRPF person helps her to the spa. She will reach here workplace by 9:55 AM. Her duty starts from 10:00 AM. Her return trip starts at 6:00 PM and she reaches home by 8:00 PM. 

At the end of the massage session, i asked her if i could write a post on her with a  photograph. She smiled and said, "i do not know how my photograph looks like rather i do not understand the meaning of "look" and i anyway cannot read your blog so it does not matter to me".  What could i say? I was speechless. 

Though i had developed great respects for her by the end of 30 minutes, i offered her a tip. I handed over a 500 rupee note. She felt the note and told me in Hindi "Dena hai to saab 100 rupaiya do" (Give me only 100 rupees if you really want to give). I was dumbstruck and gave her a 100 rupee note. 

She handed me the bill and asked me to revisit the next time i come to Mumbai. I later learnt that there are about 40 such physically handicapped massage therapist spread across all terminals of Mumbai airport each one a personification of will power and self respect. 

 I boarded the flight with mixed feelings and counting my blessings. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Solar Project at Chandpur Village

The below post is about a recent project that our company executed in a remote village in Himachal pradesh . Most of the content below is copied from my company's blog. 

Chandpur is a small but beautiful village located in the army town of Palampur in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. The linger leisure (lodge) has opened a facility there. It is situated in a valley about 8 Kms from the Palampur town. Its a beautiful lodge in the foothills of himalayas overlooking a beautiful stream of water.

Because of the terrain and the distance , there is no state power grid there. That is there is no electricity in the area. In this context ,Linger assigned us the work of designing and installing a solar power system for the facility.

The power requirement there was not much. It was just 6 rooms to be used only in the weekends. All the rooms had LED bulbs of 3 to 5 W. So, essentially we had to design a battery system to be charged from solar radiation to support all the loads in the weekend.

Technically this was not a challenge for us. This was a straightforward standalone system with very small capacity. Considering only weekend crowd and low loads and after discussing with the owners to optimize consumption, we arrived at a design of 500 Wp.  However, we had many other operational challenges like;
  • Distance: We are a Bangalore based company and the site was in Palampur 2800 Kms away in a remote village. 
  • Availability of material: The closest town to our site was Palampur. Though it is a Town/Taluk, we would not get either solar panels or batteries or inverter . We could not even get DC wires there. 
  • Terrain: The Site was 80 feet below and 500 feet away from the nearest road. The site had no access by road . There was no pathway as well. 
  • No Power: Obviously there was no power for the installation. 
  • Mud building: The lodge is built with locally made mud bricks and bamboo and the walls are finished with mud plaster (mixed with little cement and cowdung). Drilling or driving nails into these walls posed a challenge. The roof of the building was made of slate which is a brittle material. Slate roofing along with falling daytime temperature made working on the roof a challenge. 
  • Cost : We had a tight budget for the project.
Inspite of all the challenges, we decided to go ahead with the project. We badly wanted to do this project since this was our first project in North India. The non technical challenges added charm and adventure to the project. But how did we go about doing the project? 

The greatest challenge was to get the panels to the site. Nowhere in chandigarh and palampur we could find 250Wp panels. We had to transport the panels from Delhi. "Vikram Solar", one of the largest panel manufacturing companies in India had their office in New Delhi. We contacted them through our office in Bangalore and they gave us a good deal. But they would not transport the panelsWe tried through some of our contacts in Delhi to ship it to Palampur but of no avail. We contacted DTDC office in Delhi. They gave a very exorbitant quote. Somehow we agreed. But finally they also pulled out saying that it was a very fragile item to ship.

My colleague Kiran rao  was in Dharamshala for some work. He made a quick trip to Delhi to see how best he could ship the material. It was trouble for him throughout. He managed to somehow repack the panels. But the Vikram solar office was in South Delhi. He had to get to Kashmiri gate about 25 Kms through the heart of New Delhi and Old delhi to load the panels on the Bus. Each panel was 22 Kgs , 1.2 M in length and 1.0 M in width. The delhi traffic rules says that one cannot transport materials on the highway between 4 and 8 PM. Unaware of this rule, Kiran rao hired a small van to transport the panels. The van guy stopped half away and would not take the material further. 

So there was our Kiran in the middle of new Delhi with two heavy panels. No other transporter would oblige. At about 7 PM , kiran rao got a transporter with a special Pass. He finally landed at the bus stop at 8 PM. He left the panels in the bus stop and rushed to the hotel to check out. Thankfully the panels were intact by the time he returned but he missed the bus to Palampur. He had to get a Volvo bus only since the panels could fit only in its trunk. But there was no other Volvo bus.

Kiran made a bold decision to put the panels in a normal bus. He climbed the bus, put the panels and tied it up. Trusting god he set out to Palampur. The bus rolled into Palampur by 9 AM the next day. Kiran himself climbed the bus and unloaded the panels. The first thing he did was to check the panels with a multimeter if the bad roads had damaged the panels. Thankfully ,everything was intact . All the effort was worth it. The panels then were transported first by a Van and then it was carried by three men down the valley to the site.

The greatest task was achieved after much Drama. However, this was just half the work. We still had to get the tools, the inverter and the batteries. We shipped the battery operated tools from bangalore. We shipped the inverter too from Bangalore for a very huge price. The couriers did not reach the destination since it had to cross a military station. So Kiran rao had to pick up the consignments from the courier office in Palampur and take it to chandpur through the military station after giving declaration. The batteries came from Patankot. Udham singh, the local worker carried the 75 kilo batteries down the valley (2 of them).

We got the mounting structure fabricated nearby. But no one would paint it. So kiran himself painted it himself.

Kiran finally integrated all the items. The mud plaster gave a lot of trouble but also made the work aesthetically pleasing (It was very easy to camouflage the conduits).
There were some hiccups. Some tools were missing and some connectors failed. I was in Delhi on some personal work . I got in touch with a distributor in Delhi and got the connectors. I  made a trip to Palampur to close the project. 

Myself and Kiran hired a bike at Palampur. We got around the town and picked up all the electrical items required. We trekked down to the site with long conduits on our shoulders. The final touches were given . All the missing links were closed and the beautiful house deep in the hills of Himachal pradesh lit up on a chilling winter night.

It was a very very satisfying project for our team. But for Kiran Rao, we could never have completed this project. Kiran deserves full credit.

Thanks to linger and Kiran, we also got a chance to visit the beautiful towns of Palampur and Dharamshala. Thanks to Kiran and Linger, i got a chance to ride in the hills of Palampur and Mcleod Ganj. The ride, the landscapes, the paragliding , the birds, the hills ,the temples and of course the cute little project made a wonderful experience. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Just another one among us (Billion!!)

Linger at Chandpur, Palampur
We are such a diverse country with more than a billion people. Each state in our country is bigger and more diverse than many of the European countries.  Traveling in India is an amazing experience. The diversity in culture, tradition , customs , music, dance, cuisine, dressing, people, attitude , religion is mind boggling. It is a miracle itself that such diversity has come under one flag and one country. 

Last week , i was on a trip to Himachal pradesh. The beautiful landscaped country is well known for its majestic mountains and chilling winters. I visited three towns in the kangra district namely Palampur, Dharamshala and Mcleodganj. All are predominantly military stations with a small civilian population. Later two are also well known as spiritual centers for the presence of monasteries and chinmaya mission

Each of these towns have many villages under them. I had been to a village called Chandpur in Palampur. It is a very small village blessed with amazing diversity of flora and fauna (Like most places in Himachal pradesh). I stayed at a beautiful lodge called Linger in the mountain valley. Apart from the many birds and trees, i met many local people. I spent three days with a lovely family comprising of Uttam singh, his wife pavan and his kaku (i do not know kaku's name. I know him just as kaku). This is another beauty of this land. We do not need to know people's names. We can very quickly relate to them. In five minutes, Uttam singh's kaku became my kaku as well.

The theme of this post is Kaku. There is nothing unique or special about Kaku. He is just another man from the hilly town. But i was meeting someone senior from the hills for the first time. For an orthodox south Indian, meeting a himachali in an obscure village in the foothills of Himalayas is a very enriching experience. Other than belonging to the same country and worshipping the same god (Rama and Shiva), all our practices are different. 

Kaku from Chandpur
Kaku is 76 years old.  A very orthodox man who spends two hours in the morning worshipping. He believes in the ghosts and the like of the hills. As he confessed at one point of time, he was alcoholic and use to drink all night. He says , now his health and god does not permit him to consume alcohol.

By profession even today, he is a chaukidhaar (Watch man). He stays few hundred meters from his work place across the stream.   He is up by 5:00 AM and takes bath in the chilling water of the stream (It was 7 degrees when i went there and snowfall had started in the upper hills.) The temperature drops further by January and February . But kaku insists that he would have bath in the stream. 

Kaku is also a good singer. He sits by the fire every evening singing the folklore and the local bhajans. He enjoys his beedi too sitting by the fire. 

We had to literally cajole kaku to sing a Himachali (Kangri) Bhajan for us. After a lot of insistence, kaku did sing something for us. It was a pleasure to listen to him sitting by the fire in the chilling evening. Kaku was also graceful to throw some light on the meaning of the song. 

There are many many such people scattered in the vast plains and hills of this country quietly singing their way in life. They are contented , untouched by the pollution and corruption in the country. 

                     Kaku Singing his Bhajan