Trash-busters @ OMR, Chennai

OMR Greens write-up0001A reader of TOI article – OMR residents go on trash-busting drives – left a comment, asking “Where does the garbage and trash go? How do you transport it ?”   Philo Stalwin,  a resident of Kelambakkam, provides the answer:  In a mail to  OMR Greens   Stalwin says the garbage that the local panchayat collects from households and streets is dumped in make-shift landfill  by the side of  a lake  behind the Puravankara residential complex that is under construction. The trash heap is set on fire ,  every other night, burning the dump to make space for more garbage.

Trash that is burnt,  unsorted,  may include used tyre,  plastics,  spent battery,  expired medicine , and substances generating toxic fume that spread in the wind in populated neigbourhoods.  Isn’t it time people living in emerging high-rise buildings took congnizance of this smouldering health hazard ?

Skeptics ask  OMR Greens,  ‘what is the big deal in trash-busting  when garbage gets dumped at the same spot the day after it is done’?  Trash-busting is not a waste disposal solution,  but a token initiative by a community group,  to create public awareness  that waste disposal problem  can only get worse, and eventually,  unmanageable,   if we continue to  ignore it.  And   a solution has to be sought with community participation.

OMR Greens is for  a cluster approach to creating infrastructure,  for effective waste and sewage disposal. Government and civic bodies never allocate adequate funds .  Trash-busting is our ways of mobilizing support for setting up area-specific,  locality-wise waste-to-energy plant.  It is  a residents  initiative to bring together,  neighbourhood people,  panchayat, and property developers , as joint stakeholders  in creating and sustaining  social assets such as  waste-to-energy plants,  sewage-free neighbourhood lakes,  community tree-planting in public space.

Hand-in-Hand,   an NGO runs  Mamallapuram waste-to-energy unit  fed on kitchen waste collected from households,  restaurants, and hotels.  They generate energy enough to light their 3-acre unit,  and also the street that leads from the plant to ECR. The land for the waste conversion unit has been given by the local panchayat. The Mamallapuram waste-to-energy plant is located on land that was used as a trash dump by the civic authorities.

Kelambakkam panchayat can learn a lesson here.   What they can do :

1) Set aside ,  for waste-energy conversion plant,   a part of the land that is now used for dumping and burning trash;

2) Seek guidance of  NGO – Hand-in-Hand, Exnora  IndrakumarVivekananda Kendra  –  to prepare a project proposal, and costs estimate.

3) Convene a ‘town-hall’ public hearing,  to share with residents  project details,  and proposal for a monthly waste-disposal charges  (like OMR Expressway toll)  to be  collected from residents,  shops, eating houses and corporates located in the panchayat area; and

4) Levy social infrastructure fee on property developers, in proportion to the scale, size and the number of apartments.


Students for community service

posterA couple of college boys  (KSR College, Tiruchengode)  hit upon a community initiative to address food wastage by customers in restaurants.  They got a poster printed ,  showing  photo of a needy child  with empty plate.  The message :  ‘Please don’t waste food….wrap it’.

Palaniappan, and  Mohammed Ali, both engineering students, with Merwin Wesley,  found waste of  food by people visiting restaurants unacceptable and decided to do something about it.  The boys designed and printed about 4,000  ‘don’t-waste-food’ posters and distributed in restaurants and eating house in several Tamil Nadu towns, through a network of volunteer students.  They have mobilised over 100 volunteers in 17 towns.

Muhammad Ali – 0-8122139893- and Palaniappan – 0-9500488803 –   registered a society SEEDS.   They conduct awareness programme  to curb wastage of food, household  energy consumption  and conserve  other resources.  Their student volunteers  visit old age homes. With guidance from college alumni, SEEDS conduct counseling sessions in schools for Plus 1 and Plus 2 students  on choice of courses and subjects for higher education.

Interestingly,  the focus of SEEDS  initiative is on smaller towns – Dharmapuri, Erode, Darapuram, Bhavani, Attur, Mettur, Udmelpet, Hosur and Sathy. They  have volunteer representation in some  bigger cities as well – Trichy,  Selam,  Coimbatore, Tirupur,  and Chennai  (volunteers – Sibi Rajan and Rahul).

SEEDS approached 20 schools in Mettupalayam,  Erode and Tirupur,  asked students to come up with 15 suggestions to conserve electricity… School students are involved in household energy auditing in their neighbourhood, and community tree-planting in their localities.  During Deepavali,  SEEDS ogranised  door-to-door and distributed 5,000 pamphlets on how firecrackers pollute environment.

Says SEEDS president Muhammad Ali:  “We don’t approach the Government; instead we go to people. They have supported us. Some people have thrown the pamphlets back on our faces, we take it in our stride.”

Secretary Palaniappan: “I used to spend my pocket money on mobile recharge and snacks. Now, I save it to buy gifts for school children as we conduct a number of competitions for school students.”

Homestaying Kerala: Kannur

Between the beach and the backwater is Blue Mermaid, our host at Kannur, Kerala.

Krishna was an anytime errands boy  for everyone.  He could fetch or fix anything anyone at the Homestay wanted. A bunch of techies from Bangalore, out on a boys weekend out, wanted a case of beer bottles. Kathy needed help fixing her baby’s mashed potato meal;  we had Krishna tell us how to get solar heated water running in our bathroom tap.

And then the electrician from town (some 7 kms away) who came to do a repair job in the afternoon had left without connecting all wires. The snag was discovered only after dark and frantic calls to the electrician went unanswered. When they failed to get someone else,  Krishna,  though not an electrician,  offered to give it a try. His effort worked,  and that was how we got the power back that night.

Set up a couple of years back the 8-room Homestay facility – Blue Mermaid –  is comfortable,  if you can put up with occasional power failure –  declared and unscheduled.  Hostess Indu Pradeep Kumar  says they have plans for back-up power generator to ensure uninterrupted power supply. I don’t think they have WiFi coverage,  though they happily let you use their office desktop.  I made full use of  Indu’s office computer to upload loads of pictures from camera to my pen drive.

For a place that is still a work in progress Blue Mermaid attracts a steady flow of guests,  notably from abroad. During our two-day stay there,  we had as guests a family of six from Paris,  a British couple with a 16-month old son,  and a group of techies from Bangalore.  A UK tour operator’s rep. on inspection trip of homestay facilities in India was given the only available bamboo cottage, normally reserved for honeymooners . India,  he says,  is  getting to be , increasingly,  a preferred destination for tourists from the UK and Europe.

Dining table chat that went on long after our plates got empty was, for me, the CSP (core selling point) of this seaside homestay at Kannur. – Photo – Lakshmi Krishnan.

If I were to list  Blue Mermaid’s CSP (core selling proposition)  I would place dining table chat with guests  above all other factors.  Wife and I spent hours  at the table,  chatting  with the French family of six ,  of which four are children aged between 13 and five. They are on a 10-month vacation,   away from home in Paris.  The French couple have taken long leave from office  –  he is a company executive,  and she is into advertising.  Their children carry their school in an iPad.  They get their course material online;  and the children have permission from school to do their term exams online,  from wherever they are.

The 13 year old  appeared for her last exam while vacationing in Goa.   She gave a 0ne-hour  biology test, online,  during our stay at Blue Mermaid.  Her father says he can’t remember the last time he had spent so much and such good time together with his family,  uninterrupted by office work –  ‘on leaving Paris I handed in to my office ,  not only my car key,  but my  Blackberry as well’.  They told him he could keep the  B’berry – ‘I told them, no, thank you’.   The company executive from Paris says he has been able to do very well  without a phone and the Internet. If the French couple with whom we spent so many hours  talking remain unnamed, it is because  it didn’t occur to either of us  to  find out  each others names.  We exchanged e-mail IDs,  just in case their wanderings brought this French family to my patch of the world, Chennai.

With the British woman,  Kathy,  we talked of  bamboo bikes.  I mentioned about my meeting in Wayanad with bamboo craftsman Lenin , and our chat on the possibility of fabricating bamboo-framed bike in his workshop.  Kathy evinced such interest that she went into online research on bamboo bike manufacture in the UK. Marketing is not Kathy’s line of work.  Having spent the past year in setting up an NGO-run school at Palladam, near Coimbatore,  Kathy and her husband are on their way back to Britain.

Meanwhile,   she is doing a course on partnership counseling. Kathy referred to the need for  ability to  give a hearing to  others’ viewpoint,  to sustain any relationship , particularly, of  man-wife relationship. At a study group in the UK,  a group of  young married couples were tested for their propensity to listen to one another, at least  for 60 seconds without interrupting. It  found the participants  averaged no more than 17 secs. of uninterrupted listening to each other.

I asked if Kathy,  as partnership expert,  had any  advice to offer to a couple,  married for four decades  (42 years, said wife, correcting me)  Kathy said she wanted to interview us,  to know our secret.   If every marriage lasted as long as ours,  Kathy would find herself jobless.  Which is , presumably, why she looking at the UK for a career.  As she said,   nearly 50 percent marriages in Europe ended in divorce.

Related YouTube clips:
Indu, the hostess – 2.31 mins.
Krishna, anytime errand boy – 3.10 mins.
Techies, weekending – 1.28 mins.
toddy tapper Asokan – 1.09 min
Kathy & Rex – toddy-tasting – 4.05 mins.
Lenin, bamboo craftsman – 1.03 Mins.
Kathy’s take on bamboo bikes – 5.47 mins.
Stony path to the beach – 0.38 min.
Stonewall view of beach – 2.07 mins.
Setting sun – 1.11 min.

Chennai Velankanni Fest.: Long queue at toilet

Poratable toilet booths lined up along the route to an Olympics venue,  from West Ham Underground Station, London. It was a 22 mins. walk to the venue.  Events organisers had timed the walk.

Agreed, we don’t need to learn  from London.  But then the chruch at Besant Nagar,  and the Chennai corporation, it seems,  never learn from anyone,  even from  their own experience. The pilgrims turnout for the 11-day Velankanni Church festival has been increasing every year. Yesterday  ( Saturday),  pilgrims who converged in their thousands on Elliot’s beach,  to camp there for the mid-night mass at the church,  had to make do with a single public toilet  in the vicinity.  A media report citing a devotee  from Chetpet had this to say – “We pay Rs.3  and stand in a queue of 50 to reach the toilet….with just six cubicles each for men and women…. the toilet became unusable by 9 pm….We had to relieve ourselves near the sea”.

A wedding hall is like railway platform

As in a railway platform,  most people you meet at a wedding hall represent a floating crowd. People with whom you strike instant conversation,  exchange credentials and promise to meet,  but rarely do,  until the next wedding,  when you go through the rigmarole all over again.  Such is the way I usually meet with some of  my wife’s  Sulur cousins.  They are a lively bunch, and a well-knit group.  I can count on spending an hour with them at  wedding receptions. They rarely miss weddings and other social dos in our extended family.    Weddings are  designed to bring together distant relations who are otherwise not in touch with one another.

At a recent wedding of a nephew  I ran into Venkat,  son of my wife’s  Balu chittappa.  Venkat and our son are of the same age-group; and they were schoolboy friends when our families were based in the same city – Hyderabad – in mid-1970s. After an year in Hyderabad  journalism took me back to New Delhi,  from where we moved to Bhopal,  Chandigarh,  and Chennai.  The last we had seen of  Venkat  was over 11 years back,  at my son’s wedding in Bangalore.

At our recent meeting in Chennai Raghavendra wedding hall,   Venkat  introduced us to his wife and college-going son.  Based in Coimbatore Venkat  is a radio journalist specializing  in sports.  He is  a veteran of  Commonwealth Games,  Army international athletics meet, and world Cup Hockey,  having covered these events for All India Radio.  During off-sports season Venkat  produces radio plays  broadcast from Coimbatore AIR station.  Venkat and I spent over an hour together ; and,  true to the  script of wedding hall meetings,  we promised to stay in touch.  He invited us to visit him in Coimbatore.   It didn’t occur to me to take  his address.  But then,   if we do take him up on the invite ,  I know where to find Venkat in Coimbatore –  local AIR station.

Venkat wanted  my  contact details,  URL of this blog,  but ,  in that crowded hall,  we couldn’t find anyone with a paper and ball pen.  And we don’t carry our address book/ card to wedding receptions, do we.

Big boys carry their own bags

In my Chennai neighbourhood I see parents  carrying bags,  as they walk their daughters/sons to the school bus.  Wonder when or how these school-goers would grow up.  At times ,  I want to  tell these kids they are big now, and  making mom or dad carry their schoolbags made them look small,  weak and helpless.   But then my wife,  more sensible of the two,  holds me back.

As parents,  we have all been guilty of pampering our children in varying degrees.  But I don’t remember carrying our only son’s  bag, not even in  his pre-school  year .  My wife usually took him to the nursery school.  What I do recall is,  when he started college, we travelled  with him to BITS, Pilani ;  stayed in his hostel for a day, tasted the mess food;  and  met a couple senior ‘wingies’ (staying in his hostel wing).  My bright idea was to persuade them not to subject our son to the kind of ragging  we witnessed on the campus.
But then,  as I later heard our son say,  the  wingies  I had met targeted  our son the moment our backs were turned on the Pilani campus.  So much for my bright idea.  Now I know, how  parents can help, if they stop being their children’s  baggage-keepers.

After first and second  semester  holiday,  on his return to Pilani  my wife and I  used to see  off our son at the Chennai Central Station. That most other students on Delhi-bound TamilNadu Express  made it to the station on their own wasn’t lost on our son.  But there was no way he could stop us from dropping him at the station.  On one of these train trips, I believe,  after the second semester,  a Pilani girl had her berth next to my son’s,  in 3-tier sleeper compartment. My wife, fussing over our son,  got down to setting his baggage for him, securely,  under the seat. The girl did this, for herself – arranging her baggage. What’s more, no one had come to see her off.  That was when our son put his put his foot down,  so to speak.  No more bag-carrying for him.  That was the last time he allowed us to see him off.  For the next three years he spent in Pilani, our son’s train to Delhi  left the Chennai Central, without our presence at the station.  The girl  on the train  was Anu Hasan.

Sheila Hailey’s  I Married a Bestseller   devotes a chapter on bringing up  children .  Shiela,  insisting that her children  helped them around the house,  assigned daughter Jane to dust daily Arthur’s study,  empty his wastebasket,  and set her  author father’s table  as organised as he wanted it,  using a checklist to get it right.  When she reached 13 Jane was given a monthly clothing allowance,  and was taught to sew.  Jane was made to realize she could get more out of  her monthly allowance, if she made the clothes  herself.
Steven,  at age 10,  maintained the family swim pool, testing chlorine and acid levels,  adding chemicals when necessary,  and backwashing the filter.  Mom urged him to work for an allowance,  and Arthur encouraged his son to use tools at an early age.
Hailey who authored AirportHotelWheels  and several other bestsellers made it a point to  dine  with his children – aged ten, eight, and six –  and often shared his thoughts on the  book he was doing.  For children family dinner gave an opportunity to discuss with parents what they wanted to do in class and off-school.  The whole family spent quality time, feeling  relaxed.

Christ didn’t live in OMR neighbourhood

Naren Satya (centre) and Mitul manning the security desk at Mantri Synergy main gate on OMR.

I don’t suppose a gated community is designed to promote good  neighbourly relations.  That residents in my apartment complex barricade themselves behind an iron gate, manned by security staff, 24×7,  shows that  we don’t think much of neighbours,  of  our neibhourhood.  I am not suggesting those in gated communities  loath their  neighbours,  but they  don’t love them either.  And  Chennai’s OMR,  where I happen to live,   is mushrooming with gated communities.

Our residential complex,  Mantri Synergy,  has come up next to Hindustan University campus at  Padur,  an urbanising village.  And Mantri’s residents  aren’t  friendly with students as well as villagers in our neighbourhood.  Our security staff at the main gate are accustomed to dealing with boisterous  college guys  from next door  zipping through our driveway in noisy motor bikes; or creating a scene with the security staff at the main gate.

More recently,  we had a protesting group of neighbourhood villagers trying  to gate-crash into Mantri’s, bad-mouthing us for discharging effluent  from Mantri’s sewage treatment plant (STP) into the main road, raising  a stink in the neighbourhood. Our real-estate developer  didn’t provide for proper pipeline to carry excess flow from STP, and this  has resulted in the effluent discharge in  our neighbourhood.   Affected villagers, I gather,  have threatened to protest-dump their solid waste on our road-front.
‘ Love Thy Neighbour’  isn’t the ground rule in our gated community.  Which is why, I guess , Jesus H  Christ wouldn’t have been our neighbour on OMR.

Lesser mortals, however,  opt to live in a gated community because it gives them  a sense of security.  And every residential community in OMR  evolves its own security procedures.  At Akshayas,  they say,  a visiting tradesman or service technician  gets an entry pass to be signed by apartment resident, and returned at the gate on exit.  Elsewhere,  a plastic visitor’s badge is handed out  on entry, and collected  back after the visit,  at exit gate.

Our AC technician Rahim,  who has been around places says the security  routine at Mantri Snergy  is fairly cumbersome, clerical, and therefore time-consuming.  Idea is,   complicated procedure makes residents feel  more secure.  It took Rahim over 20 minutues, and a run-around in mid-day sun – from the gate to my D block apartment, and then to PropCare –  to complete the security requirements . And , by the time he was through with the security routine we had a power shutdown.   Rahim and  helper Suresh had to come the next day to service our air-conditioner,  and, presumably, they went through the security drill,  all over again.  No servicing guy can get his entry form stamped  at PropCare during lunch hour – 1 and 2 p m – and no one  is allowed in after office-hours,  6  p m.

A service technician declares his  name, cell number, flat owner’s name and number at the main gate. Details are entered in a  ledger, and also filled in on a printed permit form, which is  rubber-stamped at the gate and handed over to the technician for signature of the apartment owner.  The  permit form is then taken to PropCare –  Mantri estate maintenence office at the clubhouse – where it is rubber-stamped again.  Rahim was allowed out,  after his job was done, when he handed back at the exit gate  the permit paper – twice-stamped,  and signed by me.

The permit form Rahim brought for my signature  contained an undertaking that read:  I hereby authorise the above personal to work in my flat …..I will completely abide by the ‘interior guidlines’. I take full responsibility of (should read ‘for’) their character, incidents & actions. And below the dotted line on which I signed was this  punchline, in bold letters – SAFETY IS IN YOUR HANDS.