Archive for June 20, 2013

Fuel for food | The Hindu. Excerpt

Switching to renewable energy sources  in the country’s midday meal programme will save millions of rupees. But only a few kitchens are doing anything about it, says Keya Acharya.

This is a story of facts and figures and sheer size. Of an auditorium-sized room dense with hot steam from cooking. Of seven tonnes of cooked rice and four tanker-loads of steaming sambar that needed 70 pairs of hands for cutting two tonnes of vegetables. Of a further 250 kg of masala used daily, along with 1000 coconuts, 3000 stainless steel vessels, and 30 one-tonne vehicles carrying food to 300 schools for 200,000 children in Karnataka, 75,000 of whom are from Bangalore alone. This is the kitchen of the Adamya Chetana Trust at Basavangudi in Bangalore, working with the State government in the midday meal (MDM) programme.

India’s flagship MDM is the world’s largest such programme, feeding 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools around the country, with a central budget of Rs. 13,215 crores. The Central Government gives cereal grains to each State, along with financial help for setting up kitchen-cum-storages, and LPG in some areas. Each primary school child’s meal is allotted Rs. 3.70, and Rs. 4.70 for standards VI to X. State Governments pitch in with fuel and financial assistance. A basic cereal menu of 100 gm of uncooked rice per primary school child and 150 gm for higher classes is mandated. Accompaniments of dal or sambar , vegetables and curd are standard in menus in the southern States, while northern Indian schools have chapatis .

Photo: Monica Tiwari

Some ten kilometres from Adamya Chetana, en route to Kanakpura, the Akshaya Patra (AP) kitchens of ISKCON resemble cooking factories, with each storey of the building handling one part of the cooking process. Huge chutes connect each floor through the ceiling, sending food materials down to the next process. Thus, the top floor, with huge silos of grain, handles the ‘dry-cleaning’ of eight tonnes of rice and two tonnes of dal daily, then sends this down the chutes for washing and then down again directly into steam vats for cooking. Using 500 litres of oil daily for cooking (2000 litres if it is a ‘special rice’ day), this AP kitchen cooks 120,000 daily meals for government schools in south Bangalore alone. A GPS with special software tracks its 35 trucks, while all staff are connected through ‘walkie-talkies’.

But there’s something more impressive than these volumes, these mind-boggling logistics. Till a year ago, Adamya Chetana used 350 litres of diesel per day, or an equivalent of 60 LPG cylinders for generating steam for the giant vats used in steam-cooking. The fuel costs alone per meal then worked out to 60 paise per child. Last year, Adamya Chetana switched to biomass briquettes for steam generation and to biomass pellets for cookstoves for ‘tarkas’ needed in chutneys and dals . Using one tonne of briquettes (at Rs.5.50 per kg) per day to generate 12,000 kg of steam from a boiler requiring 10 HP to pump in water, energy costs have come crashing down to an incredible eight to nine paisa per child in 2013. “When we cook for thousands, every paisa counts,” says Tejaswini Ananthkumar, head of Adamya Chetana.

Energy costs come down further if the numbers are higher: on diesel in 2006, fuel costs were 60 paise per meal, which then came down to 20 paise per child for 50,000 meals cooked on LPG, and today the kitchen in Bangalore cooks 75,000 meals on nine paise for fuel cost per meal, using steam and two smokeless ‘chulas’ designed by ASTRA at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. At the AP Kanakpura kitchen, 4000 kg of briquettes are used to ensure food is cooked at an optimal 93 degrees Celsius, so that it remains safe for eight hours.

…………………Though centralised kitchens, such as these two, are only in urban areas constituting less than 25 per cent of MDM, switching to renewable energy even in urban MDM will amount to savings of millions of rupees to the public exchequer.

The picture is dire in rural areas, where there are now 577,000 MDM kitchens (with 24 lakh helpers). Almost all are run on firewood, some on dung-cake, or on government-supplied LPG, with fuel costs currently estimated to be 30 to 40 paise per meal, says Sejal Dand, Gujarat State Advisor to the Supreme Court Commissioners.

…………….“Assuming each child gets 200 grams of cooked food, at least 24 million kg of food is cooked daily”, says Rao. “Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food is being processed every day by the government at public expense, and still the government has no fuel policy, not even one on its agenda.”

In spite of a national renewable energy policy, highlighted by the national action plan on climate change and committed to reducing 25 per cent of carbon emissions, mindsets are straggling. Twenty two out of 29 States have failed even in their policy obligations to purchase at least 5 per cent renewable energy from the national grid, with the national capital Delhi being the worst offender, having virtually no renewable energy supply in its chain. The mid day meal appears to be no exception to the current milieu.

Tejaswini adds, “There is little research on renewable energy cookstoves. Unlike the fuel energy sector, there is no lobby to push this. On the one hand, the government gives subsidy for energy, on the other, it pays no attention to alternatives,” she complains, highlighting the need for building a local industry to help the MDM.

“Coconut shells, even tender coconut husks, can be used as alternative fuel,” says Tejaswini. “This will reduce fuel costs, remove urban organic waste, promote local industry, and very importantly, it will reduce our country’s need for foreign exchange in petroleum imports,” she says.

Irregular supply to large-scale applications is currently the biofuel industry’s bugbear, with numerous biomass systems unable to run at par. But, as biofuel manufacturers point out, the organised growth of the industry is hampered by a lack of government help for collection, storage, transportation or marketing, thus making the middleman king in this industry too.

Davangere’s Surya Biofuels says it manages only by stocking bio-waste during harvesting season for crops such as groundnut and paddy, while Manjunath Oli of Alternate Fuels in Bangalore says they designed their own briquette-machines at Nagpur. Oli also complains of the lack of government price controls on husking mills. “They put any old price they want (on the waste),” he says.

Appropriate technology, meanwhile, is receiving some attention. Svati Bhogle of the Bangalore-based TIDE (Technology Informatics Design Endeavour) and her team designed an energy-efficient biomass cookstove, currently being marketed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. “Our data from schools show a saving of 3.6 tonnes of firewood per school per year, a reduction of one hour’s cooking time and a safe cooking environment,” says Bhogle.

From 2011 to early 2013, SSMI’s recommendations on fuel savings, nutrition and health became input for a series of interactions involving academicians, technologists, NGOs and the ministries of women and child development, human resources and new and renewable energy. SSMI hopes to establish a methodology through baseline studies to be undertaken in Andhra Pradesh, which could help towards policy subsequently.

“For several years now SSMI has been raising its voice about the problem of fuel energy,” says Rao. “It is time for the Government of India to get serious.”

Meanwhile, the two early ‘MDM conservation pioneers’, Adamya Chetana and Akshaya Patra, are trying to become ‘zero waste’ operations. Akshaya Patra composts its kitchen waste, while piggery farms collect all Adamya Chetana’s kitchen scraps, and starch from the rice is re-used in the sambar . This year, the trust is deciding on ways to reuse 65,000 to 75,000 litres of water everyday.

AkshayaPatra has recently found a solution, treating and reusing 80,000 daily litres of starch back into vegetable-washing, and is looking for ways to reuse its treated water, two lakh litres daily, back into the kitchens. Conservation in the MDM is a distinct possibility.

IndiaGetGreen blog

[1] Golden Temple of Sripuram is a spiritual park situated at the foothills of Malaikodi, a village within the city of Vellore in Tamil Nadu, India. Sripuram received “Exnora Green Temple Award” and “Exnora Best Eco-friendly Campus of India Award”

Green-o-Meter : The eco-friendly features include Solid Waste Management (SWM), Liquid Waste Management (LWM), rainwater harvesting, bio-gas generation, organic farming, herbal gardens, paddy fields and tree plantations, hill and campus afforestation and harnessing of solar energy. Manure and water for cultivation are generated internally.

[2] The Tirumala temple, in the south Indian city of Tirupathi, is one of Hinduism’s holiest shrines. Over 5,000 pilgrims a day visit this city of seven hills, filling Tirumala’s coffers with donations and making it India’s richest temple. But since 2002, Tirumala has also been generating revenue from a less likely source: carbon credits. For decades, the temple’s community kitchen has fed nearly 15,000…

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Zen Flash





In modern society
most of us don’t want to be in touch with ourselves;
we want to be in touch with other things
like religion, sports, politics, a book –
we want to forget ourselves.

Anytime we have leisure,
we want to invite something else to enter us,
opening ourselves to the television
and telling the television to come and colonize us.
~~ Thich Nhat Hanh – Being Peace

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Taking a knife to a classic | The HinduExcerpt

Thoughts on Hitchcock’s Psycho, Gus Van Sant’s remake of the film, and the ruthlessly butchered version shown on television

Psycho is widely seen as the progenitor of the modern-day slasher film, yet watching it today, I wonder if that credit shouldn’t actually go to the movie Hitchcock made immediately after — The Birds, where the “slashing” came through beaks and talons instead of a knife gripped by an unforgiving hand. In a sense, yes, the famous shower scene opened the sluices for everything graphic and gory we see today, but behind it all is a nagging moral tone that seems very much a vestige of the 1950s (Psycho was released in 1960) — hardly “modern-day”.

…………… The most touching aspect of Psycho is that the heroine, Marion Crane, dies after she decides to go back home and hand over the money she’s stolen and face the consequences.

Today, though, God is largely absent from the screens, and when we see bad things happen to people, we do not think of it as His vengeance. The Birds is truly a modern-day movie, in the sense that it’s all chaos. Birds swoop in and attack and then, just as suddenly as it all began, it ends. People are punished — apparently — for nothing at all, for nothing more than simply existing with the usual shades of human foibles.

They do nothing more to invite misfortune on themselves than, say, the victims of the serial killers in The Silence Of The Lambs or Se7en or Zodiac (though the serial killers themselves could probably be traced back to Psycho). That’s what we see and know today, that innocent folk suffer and die all the time, and that’s why The Birds, more than Psycho, appears to me the progenitor of the modern-day slasher film.

These thoughts came about a few weeks ago when I was unwell, confined to the indoors and thrown at the mercy of television channels. There’s clearly some kind of unwritten law that the day(s) you’re actually free to watch hours of television, there will be nothing worth watching — but by some stroke of luck, I stumbled into Gus Van Sant’s 1998-remake of Psycho, a “modern-day slasher film” at least with respect to the year of its release.

The film, as you may know, is a scrupulous attempt to replicate the Hitchcock classic. The non-numerical lettering of the date is the same: FRIDAY DECEMBER THE ELEVENTH TWO FORTY THREE PM. The cop who questions Marion, who’s fallen asleep in her car, still wears creepy dark glasses that block out his eyes. But it’s in colour — so we see, for instance, that the bars that fracture the screen in the opening credits are green. And the stolen amount has increased from $ 40,000 to $ 4,00,000.

Despite what’s been said, Van Sant’s film is not a shot-for-shot remake. In the opening scene in this version, Marion and her lover are in bed, after making love. In the older film, the implication is still that they’ve made love, but because of censorship restrictions, they couldn’t be shown in bed together — and we see him standing beside the bed.

Then there are changes in the characters. In the older film, we get the feeling that Marion was making it up as she went along, whereas here, she has a crafty gleam in her eyes, an I-pulled-it-off look. The theft seems premeditated, and thus we don’t feel sorry for her when she’s killed. And because of this change, we don’t understand why she repents, why she wants to go back and return the money.

For 1998, it’s strange that Van Sant didn’t feel free enough to do more with the scares, because, seen today, the original Psycho is hardly scary, more interesting as a director’s showcase than as a thriller that will make you jump out of your seat. The new film, therefore, is little more than a curio. And it was even more of a curio on TV, after the censors got through with it. This is what happens in the famous shower scene: Norman’s mother comes into the bathroom, she lifts the knife, Marion screams, and… we cut to Mother leaving.

Stabbing, clearly, is too much for Indian television, never mind that our masala movies such as Rowdy Rathore, featuring far more graphic violence, are allowed to run almost untouched.If Psycho is known for anything, it’s the shower scene, and now there’s no shower scene. ……………..

All play, no work | The Hindu.   Excerpt :

   …….Walking into Sutradhar is like walking into an Enid Blyton novel. Colourful fish dangle from the ceiling. Wooden shelves overflow with stuffed animals, puppets, blocks, puzzles and wooden cars. A poster listing “101 ways to praise a child” marks the entry to the staff offices. This non-profit retail and workshop space in Bangalore sells toys and games and conducts workshops for children aged 10 and under.

With young children, toys (dubbed teaching and learning materials) have an important role. Play is how they learn,” says Mandira Kumar, founder and chairperson of Sutradhar. The organisation also conducts research related to early childhood education. Their central theme is the ‘power of play’.

Sutradhar says their toys have been designed for specific purposes. For instance, babies watching the hanging fish learn how to focus their eyes on colour and movement; toddlers rolling wooden cars learn motor skills, and so on.

Kumar says that when it comes to early childhood, “India doesn’t have a great knowledge base.” Few are aware that the most critical development in children happens before the age of six — when they learn vocabulary, motor skills, and social skills essential for their future. “I’m really an advocate of the young child; If you don’t do it in the early years you’re only going to address the situation later,” Kumar says.

The lack of focus on early education first struck Kumar when she was travelling the country as the all-India education coordinator for Child Rights and You (an organisation that remains Sutradhar’s biggest funder). Although she saw many initiatives focusing on primary education, she rarely encountered programs dedicated to improving education for the early years. She founded Sutradhar in 1995 to be what she calls “a single-window resource centre” for supporting and promoting national efforts in this direction.

………Educators are hungry for these types of techniques. Sarah Misra, the head of curriculum and training at Chrysalis High School in Bangalore, says, “Children in pre-primary are the most curious, and the biggest quality you need in science is curiosity. Yet, none of the preschool curricula has science.” Sutradhar’s science workshop gave her more than just great ideas for her classroom: it also changed her approach. “It taught me how to step back and let the child take over. Teachers usually rush in and give information, but we must let the child experience things,” she says.

Shanti, the facilitator in charge of primary grades in a free school run by the NGO Drik Pathshala, says she was amazed at children’s capabilities. “Even four-year olds can do division for three, four digits using the exercises from the workshop,” she says.

Not all educators are so optimistic, though. Kumar says that some struggle with the content. “Unfortunately in India, because the teacher has not been educated in a playful environment, play is sometimes seen as alien..”

Sutradhar’s material is especially appealing to educators and parents who have children with disabilities, something Kumar says customers revealed. In response, the staff designed everything from puppets for a psychologist to a parachute for a movement therapist to beads for a special educator.

Sutradhar’s staff routinely conduct months of research while designing materials. They also publish reports, and Kumar is writing a book.

Chattarji says Sutradhar’s training sessions unite educators — from NGOs serving the poor to elite private schools — in a common mission.

However, Sutradhar’s focus on young children excludes them from RTE, which covers children 6-14. “We are concerned that RTE does not specifically address issues of early childhood learning,” Chattarji says, a view she shares with organisations ranging from multilateral NGOs to trade unions. Including early childhood in RTE could help pre-primary educators advocate more training, smaller classes and better facilities. More importantly, it would recognise that education begins before class one.

Rainbow wedges

rainbow wedges.

from small beginningsClockwise from the left: The Deccan Pen Stores at Abids, Halim Siddiqui, The Deccan pens pens range, Limited edition pens from Conway Stewart. Below: a 1932 photograph of the store, a 1924 Urdu poster for Duro Pens, FrancePHOTOs: G. RAMAKRISHNA

    Penning their story | The HinduExcerpt:

Cityscape With an 85-year-old legacy, The Deccan Pen Stores in Abids is the oldest pen shop in the city.

     ………………….Walking into the new branch at Greenlands, you notice fading black and white posters hanging on the right wall of the store, giving visitors a taste of their 85-year old history. After a few years of selling fountain pens door-to-door, Siddiqui set up his first shop in Abids in 1928. “During that time, Abids had F.D. Khan Cloth stores, a library and our shop,” recalls Halim. “This picture was taken in 1932 when we got our first English speaking salesman, all the way from Bombay,” he says, as his eye travels to the old poster.

…………“He would design them and send them to Europe for manufacture with the Deccan brand name.” Today, The Deccan Pen Stores has a 30-year old manufacturing unit and makes their own pens. “But we make only fountain pens,” Halim reminds us, “because we personally recommend that anyone who enjoys writing must do so with a fountain pen.”

However, the most important facet of the store, according to Halim is the pen repairing section. “It is the backbone of our business,” he reiterates. “In the Thirties my father travelled to Europe and brought back many tools and repairing tables which serve us till date. My eldest brother who sits at Abids shop, gets pens worth Lakhs of rupees from all over the globe for repair,” he points out. Halim himself recently repaired a 1903 model Waterman pen which came all the way from France. Like his brothers, he learnt the craft of pen making and repairing by simply dismantling pens and putting them back together.

Why sell pens in a time when people are writing less and less? Although the value of pens as writing instruments has gone down, people still collect and gift pens, Halim tells us.

“These days the customer knows more about the pen than I do because they have looked it up on the internet,” he concludes.

The Swadeshi connection

Andhra Pradesh holds a special place in the history of fountain pens in India. Not too far away from Hyderabad, in Rajahmundry, pen maker K.V. Ratnam, made what came to be known as the ‘Swadeshi’ pens. They were called so because when Gandhiji gave a call to boycott foreign goods in 1921 he called Ratnam and advised him to make pens that would be useful and affordable to the common man.

Ratnam then made an ebonite pen and sent it back to Gandhi who wrote back on July 16, 1935 saying “Dear Ratnam, I must thank you for the fountain pen you sent me… I have needed it and [it] seems to be a good substitute to the foreign pen, once in the bazaar. Yours sincerely, M.K. Gandhi.”

Ratnam pens have since gained popularity all over the country with dignitaries like Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, V. V. Giri, S. Kasturi Iyengar of The Hindu , Archibald Nye, Governor of Madras and Gandhi himself were all said to have owned one. One of the first pens he made was sold to Nyapthi Subba Rao Pantulu, a freedom fighter and one of the founders of The Hindu . The Ratnam family continues to make high quality pens out of their home in Rajahmundry.

A date with pens

1702: The oldest surviving fountain pen was made by M. Bion, the chief instrument maker of the Kind of France.

1819: John Scheffer made significant advancements which enabled the user to control the flow of ink by pressing a button

1832: John Jacob Parker made the first self-filling fountain pen. Until this, pens were filled using funnels or eye-droppers

1884: Lewis Waterman receives a patent for making the first fountain pen which was truly reliable and leak proof




It’s time for sound intervention | The Hindu.   Excerpt:

Acouple of years ago, 18-year-old Ram couldn’t communicate and was even incapable of making eye contact. Now, after many sessions of Carnatic music therapy, this boy with autism shows expressions on his face and is able to speak a little. Fifteen-year-old Tejas has got over her stammer, while 50-year-old Lalitha has gone back to her cheerful self after undergoing depression following menopause.

This transformation was brought about by Carnatic musician and music therapist Rajam Shanker, who works with various medical and rehabilitation professionals and organisations in India and abroad. A member of the World Federation of Music Therapy, Life Member of NADA Centre for Music Therapy and Research and other organisations, Rajam has made presentations on therapeutic aspects of Carnatic music at prestigious forums such as the European Music Therapy Congress at Cadiz, Spain, and the World Congress of Music Therapy at Seoul, South Korea.

……………Carnatic music has always been acknowledged as a structured art form with a fantastic repertoire of ragas, swaras , shruti and talas . “This structured framework allows for calibrated delivery of music therapy. Its potential for infinite improvisations also allows it to be tailored to suit different individuals, making Carnatic music an effective tool for therapy. Besides, Indian classical music has a spiritual connect,” says Rajam, who uses Carnatic music to treat autistic children and adults, slow learners, those with neurological problems, and those undergoing depression. Based on an individual’s age, health and emotional status, work schedule, colour and food choices, body constitution, etc, Rajam arrives at the precise raga and the right pitch for treatment. She starts by making the person listen to the raga. Those undergoing treatment are gradually made to sing if they can. While singing is more potent, it is not an absolute necessity; lyrics of the song are not sacrosanct; and musical training or knowledge is not a prerequisite either. Rajam employs nada anusandana, the ancient tradition of evoking sound from the body’s energy centres. She explains, “The human body responds to physical and neural communication, and music, deployed in a calibrated dosage evokes a positive response.”While singing is more potent, it is not an absolute necessity; lyrics of the song are not sacrosanct; and musical training or knowledge is not a prerequisite either



Love ur post ,true , we are all spiritual companions and the only danger lies in succumbing to philosophical /spiritual snobbery , as one advances. But you’ve also given the solution – process of self-inquiry as Ramana Maharshi taught J.krishnamurthi’s constant dissection of our thoughts .

New Earth Heartbeat

This is a message to anyone who might feel called upon to step forward as a teacher of yoga. Looking back at my various wonderful teachers over the years, whether Sri S. Rajagopalan in yoga, or Chungliang Al Huang in tai ji and also teachers from my school and college days there is one thing that stays with me till today: who they are. In other words, those who brought themselves into the learning situation with their whole perfect/imperfect living being are the ones who imparted something of value to me for my life. Others merely imparted some more or less good ideas or techniques that served to entertain me for a while during which I continued my never-ending search for the Essential Point.

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Nion Alchemy

Solitude. Something that many modern Buddhists within the western world seem to crave and find elusive. I, however, have nothing but solitude. In fact, I’ve had nothing but solitude, reflection, meditation and pondering for the last five years straight. And finally, now, I can embrace solitude wholly and happily for what I can bring with it. But…

Throughout the solitude, throughout the pain, throughout the long, lost winding path I have finally come to this place I am at now. Awake, alive, happy, safe and secure that myself is enough because in fact… there is no self. But…

Now, even realizing that, I can’t help but finding myself wanting a friend. A real friend. I have a couple people that I am friendly with, but I’ve been broken and alone and shut inside of myself for so long. I shut myself off from the world when I lost ‘everything’ I…

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Through the Peacock's Eyes

The seventh of the eight limbs of yoga is Dhyana.                                                            Dhyana (Jhana in Buddhism) isYogini meditation, where the ego and the mind are at rest, and thoughts come and go in pure self-observation. Practicing Dharana, or concentration, can serve as a transition from the chattering mind state to the quieted mind state of Dhyana. With practice this self-observation meditation can lead to a completely still mind, empty of all thought.

It is not easy to get into the Silence. That is only possible by throwing out all mental-vital activities. It is easier to let the Silence descend into you, i.e., to open yourself and let it descend…It is to remain quiet at the time of meditation, not fighting with the…

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Zen Flash

“True meditation is not a ‘doing’, not a task to accomplish or a process leading towards some future goal or state for the hungry seeker – it is pure, child-like fascination. Fascination with thoughts, with sensations, with feelings, with sounds, with fascination itself – with what is, right now. It is radically being here, and noticing in fascination the desire to get ‘there’ arising and dissolving.Noticing all the ingenious attempts of thought to escape this moment; noticing that even these desires are radically welcome in the silent open space that you are; and noticing that even ‘I am the one who notices’ or ‘I am the controller’ are more thoughts, which, like everything else, are deeply allowed to arise in you, and deeply allowed to dissolve.This is meditation without a meditator, and it is the light that never goes out.”~ Jeff Foster

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