Geo-Spatial reporting with R

Many times we need to plot geo-spatial data in analytics. Information like sales per region, income distribution makes more sense when they are plotted on a map. We can do this quite easily in

R. Let us see it in action.

First of we need data about the map. There are many libraries from where we can download this data

for our personal use. Here we will use data from http://gadm.org/  Here there are data at different levels of details available for most countries. Let us use data for India. To load this downloaded data into R, first open R in R-Commander and change your working directory to where you saved the file


setwd(“/home/soumyanath/Downloads/R_Maps”)
and then read the data into a variable with

ind1 <- readRDS(“IND_adm1.rds”)

Let us check what kind of data has been loaded with

class(ind1)

It will show

[1] “SpatialPolygonsDataFrame”

attr(,”package”)

[1] “sp”

As it is SpatialPolygon, let us load library(sp)

library(sp, pos=4)

library(methods, pos=4)

Now, the question is, how do we see this data? There is a function to plot spatial data, we use that

spplot(ind1, “NAME_1″, scales=list(draw=T), colorkey=F, main=”India”)

will show a map. Actually I do not like it, it shows a truncated view of Kashmir, but then we are

using data from an USA repository and I have no means to influence them. We shall revisit this part at a later stage on how to correct the maps, but for now, let us make use of what we have. To manipulate data we need to know properties of the data that we have. We can look into the loaded data with names function. It shows:

> names(ind1)

 [1] “OBJECTID”  “ID_0”      “ISO”       “NAME_0”    “ID_1”      “NAME_1”    “HASC_1”    “CCN_1”     “CCA_1”    

[10] “TYPE_1”    “ENGTYPE_1” “NL_NAME_1” “VARNAME_1”


We can also check property of the data by using

summary(ind1)

This will show various properties of data loaded. Right now we are interested in knowing ID for the states so that we can use it to color the maps with our data. We can user print(ind1) to view complete data, but in this case it will be a huge print. In this example we will use state ID “HASC_1” to plot our data. We can see the values with:

print(ind1$HASC_1)

Right now we do not have any data so we populate a excel sheet and fill data with state ID, fill some sales data and assign a color value based on sales amount. In reality we will probably use a data base to get this data. We save data into csv format and read it in R by:

pdata = read.csv(“filename”)

confirm data has been read correctly

We add a new property color.data into the dataframe ind1 based on color values taken from csv file

ind1$color.data =pdata[pdata[1]==ind1$HASC_1,3]

Now we plot the map with these color. The command is

spplot(ind1,”NAME_1″,  col.regions=ind1$color.data, colorkey=T, main=”Indian States”)

We have the result here

Same concept can be extended to district level for more granular analysis.

In our next blog, we shall see how to link this map projection with database to get real time analysis

Flower Recycling Options

Today in the news feed I saw a news that I thought I shall dwell a bit. The news was about a new venture setup by two friends Ankit Agrawal and Karan Rastogi. They are from a place that is pretty close to my heart — Kanpur.  The city is one of the typical polluted industrial city that has grownup organically without much planning. But what these guys did is commendable.

These friends realized that our religious minded people do not like to dump flowers in garbage. They would dispose these flowers in river. The flowers, approximately 80, 00,000 tons  that gets dumped in rivers cause enormous pollution. They have setup a venture to collect these flowers and use vermi-culture to convert it into good organic fertilizer.

It is a novel idea, but I would say it is also a waste of sorts. Flower has many things that we value – smell and color are two most visible thing in flower. Dried and grounded flower powder is often used as gulal that we use during holi. Essential oil from flower can be extracted by many different methods, like:

  • Enfleurage
  • Expressed Oils
  • Steam Distillation
  • Solvent Extraction
  • Fractional Distillation and Percolation
  • Carbon Dioxide Extraction
  • Phytonic Process

More details about it can be found in Nan Martin’s blog.

As we have a huge stock of flower, extracting this oil could lead to substantial increase in our GDP. After extracting the oil we may use the flower for making organic dye, that can be used in our textile and other cottage industries, part of it can also be used to make organic gulal. Only after we have actually extracted the usable parts, we should feed the rest to worms. Worms do not need the perfume and color, we do.

Recycling is good but making full use of the potential is better.

Retreat to Kolkata

 

After month long stay at Auroville I realized that it is not the place of my Karmabhumi.
We decided to move on.
Call of Pondicherry beach was alluring. We decided to spend a couple of days at Pondicherry.
This was also to correct our partiality towards Auroville. I had spent lot of time for Auroville
but never interacted earlier with Shri Aurobindo Society.  My stay at Pondicherry was to correct
that anomaly. 
Best way to interact I found is to stay at “The Retreat” guest house. This place is at
probably the best location in Pondicherry. Bang on the beach, just beside Secretariat. Backside of
the guest house opens toward Roman Roller library. Most of the important place is within 5 min
of walk from there. SAS head-quarter is also in the same building.
All the rooms in Retreat faces sea, one just needs to peep out for a fabulous sunrise picture.
Puducherry to Kolkata is 1830 Km. Google claims it to be a 30 Hrs drive, but I decided to
keep the drive to approx 400 Km/day.  Before the return we also wanted to spend a day
at Golden Sand beach of Mahabalipuram. Bay of Bengal is just great at Mahabalipuram.
One could easily imagine why it used to be the favorite spot for the sea traders.
There is a hotel just beside the shore temple, we decided to stay there.
The reason was mainly good access to beach.
Most tourist spots and main market is also quite near to shore temple
Mahabalipuram sea is also good for surfing. Wanted to explore if this will suit my current
fitness level. After watching the process I gave up the thought of trying it.
This beautiful beach is littered with garbage. The experience would have been
pleasant if someone bothered to clean the beach.
Aug 28th is my son’s birthday. He is in Chennai. We planned to celebrate the day with him.
My friends from BHU, Venkat and Ranga paid us a visit at Hotel.
Venkat had a visit from prospective international customer and 
Ranga is trying to create some extra hours to supply massive orders 
that is in his hand. It was very nice of them to make time 
from their busy schedule for us.
Greta’s classmate Shampa and our ex-neighbour Madhumita also dropped in for a quick chat.
Mohan is my classmate from BHU. He was out of station on previous days. Joined us in breakfast before we left Chennai.
Our first stop was at Vijaywada. Road was good but it was a long drive.

 

We discovered a nice restaurant at Rajahmundry – Mee Food Magic.
Good food, Amazing service – the place is being setup, ambiance was not so nice
but the behavior was like a good friend or close relative.
Loved having the food there.
Next stop was at Vizag. Hotel was very near to port.
A Chinese bulker slowly making its entry.
God knows when we shall have more container carriers
instead of these bulkers.
OTDC Kalinga gives a back to home feeling. The place is just 5 hrs drive from Kolkata.

A month in Auroville

Auroville is in the border of Tamilnadu and Pondicherry. It is around 5 Km from beach, part of it is right beside the sea. Auroville is best known for its tourist attraction – Matrimandir, that looks like a golden globe. Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity. Living in Auroville is a unique experience that is difficult to narrate in mere words.

I had been in Auroville earlier with a tourist mindset, this time we went with a mindset to live there. Biggest challenge in Auroville is to find a place to stay. There are number of guest houses but they do not give any information on rate or availability. We started off by writing directly to number of them. Most did not bother to reply, a few did. We picked one that promised to have most attractive value proposition. It is a place called New Creation, that runs a boarding school-cum-orphanage. The money we give goes to upkeep of the orphanage. Staying there gives a feel of tour with a flavor of philanthropy.

Auroville is made up of number of communities. New Creation Community was started with in view to give  ‘first Aurovilians’ (i.e. the local people present on the Auroville land) a bridging place where they slowly and gradually could become aware that Auroville is for all people of good will and that, if they are willing, they can become Aurovillians themselves. The best approach to that was to create an educational environment, like a primary school, boarding and sports facilities. In order to meet the financial needs to run an undertaking where everything is free, including a Primary school for 240 children and a school with 30 small kids in a new ‘Free Progress’ experiment, they have created some income generating activities such as guests facilities.  There are 16 double rooms and 4 single rooms, all mosquito-proof, with fans, attached bathrooms, and a guest dining room with filter water and kitchen. There is a gymnasium, a sport ground with volleyball, basketball, 2 tennis courts, a running track and a small swimming pool.

We stayed in a double room with kitchen. There were huge trees all around the place and a place to park my car. Our morning used to start with pleasant sounds of bird and squirrel chirping, down side was the bird droppings that had to be cleaned from my car. Bird dropping contains rather large amount of uric acid, that needs prompt attention. Probably some covering or canopy would have helped, but we did not bother much about it for our rather short month-long stay.

The rooms were with basic amenities. There are many architectural experiments that has its own pros and cons. Hexagonal shapes probably saved some bricks while covering larger area. But this poses problem with rectangular furniture. What is good for beehive does not necessarily good for human being. Traditional wisdom of keeping the floor level higher than ground and roof overhangs were missed out by the rookie architect. These resulted in some avoidable visits of wild life  and occasional dripping roof during heavy rain.  This goes to reinforce the strong design concept. That many local custom and practices are there for a good reason. One need to understand them before trying to do anything better. Painting in the room are done by the students of New Creation. Some of them really looked promising.

There is a story that says a wise Zen monk was given opportunity by God to the see both Heaven and Hell. ‘What are the differences between Heaven and Hell?’, a young Zen monk asked an aged Buddhist priest who was renowned for his wisdom.

‘There are no material differences,’ replied the old monk.

‘None at all?’ asked the puzzled young monk.

‘That’s right. Both Heaven and Hell have a spacious hall with a big pot in the center in which noodles are boiled, giving off a delicious scent,’ said the old priest. ‘The size of the huge pan, the number of people sitting around the pot and the bowl of sauce placed in front of each diner are the same in both places.’

‘The odd thing is that each diner is given a pair of meter-long chopsticks and must use them to eat the noodles.’

‘To eat the noodles, you must hold the chopsticks properly at their ends,’ the old monk told the young Zen monk.

‘In the case of Hell’s kitchen, people are always hungry because no matter how hard they try, they can’t get the noodles into their mouths,’ said the old priest.

‘But isn’t it the same case for the people in Heaven?’ the junior monk inquired.

‘No. They can eat because they each feed the person sitting opposite them at the table. That’s the difference between Heaven and Hell,’ explained the old monk.

Heaven and Hell is created by the neighbor you have. We were fortunate to have an exceptional family as neighbor – Ashish, Lopa and Ishan. They were very helpful and excellent friend. Lopa is a teacher of the “Experimental School”. Individually they are exceptionally good human being. It is wonderful experience to know them personally and understand their attitude towards life.

Entrance Road towards New Creation is littered with garbage tied to trees. These are offering to God fulfill various greed. As a reflection to the inner nature, the place looks ugly. Hope someday someone will look at the ugliness and pray for the good of everyone and restore the place to its natural beauty. Till such time the trees mutely carry the burden of human greed and folly.

Inside Auroville it is a mixed bag of people and their motives.  Much like the flower that bloomed in the New Creation Garden. Part of it is bright and colorful, part of it is rotten and ugly. It is a city, just like any other specimen of human habitat, perhaps here in a more cosmopolitan and concentrated manner. Future of mankind has to find a solution to the problem that our civilization now faces and come out with a answer. According to Shri Aurobindo this will be the New Creation, seed of this lies within the current human being.

 

As you go ahead from ECR road entrance after New Creation School and the tree with offerings you find a nice colorful temple. It is my observation that people of tama guna is attracted and motivated by fear, hatred and anger. This is typified in this temple – animals and punishing demigods are prominent, deity is hidden inside a rather small temple.

A little ahead you find the new temple of consumption – Tanto Restaurant. Tanto is a Pizzeria Chain run by a Italian gentleman Daniel. Daniel came to India for a tour and had fallen in love with the country. He missed his home food so started a Pizzaria. Slowly he started making cheese for his Pizzas and Pastas. Incidentally the spaghetti that he uses are made in his factory. Part of it are sold in outside. Tanto is a beautiful case of backward and forward expansion. He has been in business for around 10 yrs and already having a turnover of around Rs. 20 million/yr.  He has 3 restaurants in Pondicherry and contemplating of opening in other cities. Considering he started his business without any kind of capital this is really impressive.

Beyond Tanto, you see a couple of small shops and hotels and then what you find is a road to nowhere. That is what Aurovillians call the road that cuts across Auroville. Perhaps the road typifies the current situation in Auroville.

When Mother was there she gave the goals to Aurovillians. It was her wisdom to plant trees on what was once a barren land. She also gave the direction to build the beautiful Matrimandir.  Aurovillians took her command unquestioningly and executed it meticulously. What we see in Auroville is the result of that Karmayoga – work done without any consideration of result and reward.

Greenery around Auroville is as much commendable as the Matrimandir that most tourists make a bee-line to see. They see the gold foil dome and most leave thinking it to be a golden globe. Only few tourist bothers to visit Matrimandir for concentration. Greenery and Matrimandir is like some scenery that you see beside this nowhere road.  Some units like Tanto, Aureka, Earth Institute, Maroma are like this lotus. If you care to look at them, they are beautiful at their own right. Lotus and Marshes are all part of nature, one cannot have one without the other. But like the road, Auroville lacks a greater common purpose. Mother is not here anymore in person to guide the community towards its goal of new creation. In this confusion, each pursues their own objective. Like a colony of ant, each pulls Auroville towards its direction of RIGHT, at the end it does not seem to move anywhere.

Life in Auroville is anything but boring. There are cultural shows. Many young foreigners uses Auroville as springboard for entry to India. Auroville has a special VISA status and some special property act. By this act a foreigner can work in Auroville without getting an Indian Work Permit. Many use this status to showcase their talent, get local press coverage and taste their acceptance before applying for work permit. Many will give training from within Auroville rather than spending their effort and money for Indian work permit. Here you see a Japanese performer, Yuhei Motoyama, giving Taiko performance.  This event is sponsored by Japan Airlines and Japan Foundation.

Apart from special performances there are movie shows, cultural fests that dots the social life of Auroville. Everybody is welcome to these shows and participation is the keyword. Focus is to keep the events simple that involves most people. It also gives people a platform to showcase their talent, get some reality check and provide necessary training ground.

Here you see capoeira performance being given by Aurovilleans. Auroville promotes capoeira for its use in self defense.  It an art that evolved in Brazil in order to ward off colonials. It is characterized by its fast and fluid movement, in the form of dance. Aim is to maim the attacker with minimal contact.

Auroville has some sandy beach. Unfortunately these are used by local fishermen to dry their fish. There are two beach guesthouses – Sreema (Tanto) and Repos. The stench  can be overwhelming at times, but other than that, the beach is good. It is unfortunate that there is no alternative to offer that will take care of the stench other than a conflict between tourist attraction and fishermen’s livelihood.

Some people are not bothered of the stench and prefer to live there. The beach remains sparely populated with this olfactory deterrence.

To get a flavor of city life one can visit Puduchery. It is about 10 Km from Auroville. Beach front is closed to traffic between 6:00 PM – 6:00 AM and resembles a mela.


At Le Cafe one can enjoy some fine coffee and sea breeze.

For a taste of French life, Pomande Resturant is a good choice.  Sitting there one could enjoy the sunny beach from the comfort of an air conditioner.

Our daughter, Sukanya came down from Pune to celebrate her birthday with us.  Being in Auroville we could enjoy both the city life and the life of a quite laid back town.

Pondicherry has a rather magnificent university for its size. As a bonus our friends daughter, Purva is studying there. Met her after a gap of 10 yrs. It felt as if we had a time travel of 10 yrs past.

 

Being in New Creation we grabbed the opportunity to celebrate our daughter’s birthday with the school kids. Evening was a party time with the kids. The community head (Steward – as he is called in Aurovillian lingo) Andre, joined us to grace the occasion.

The road to nowhere takes you from one highway to another. If you follow the beaten down metaled road and the road signs, you will miss the Auroville altogether. Here is a road that goes inside Auroville. Road signs are for visitors to take them to a car park. Unmetaled red road is the main road to get inside Auroville. The security guard standing there is to stop any car from entering the sacred road. One needs special permission and a sticker to enter Auroville with a car. That sticker is available from a office located at the center of Auroville. Just like this road, Auroville has excelled in wrapping itself in many Catch-22 rules and processes. One can spend their lifetime in getting to understand them.

Once inside, you are greeted with red road, complete with proper drainage. Auroville is gifted with people who knows their job, unlike current bunch of city planner that are scourge of most Indian cities. Our present city planners make roads without proper drainage that in turn make the city resemble Venice during every monsoon.

Auroville has a master plan that resembles like a galaxy.  Current development has been rather haphazard which was more driven by opportunity rather than plan. Currently Auroville is trying to consolidate according to the city planned under Mother’s guidance.  Auroville is supposed to be a city of 50,000 people. Given the attitude and current composition this looks to be a long journey. Currently there are only 2500 odd Aurovillean, locals seem not very keen to join the team and current bunch of Aurovilleans do not seem too keen towards that end.

There is a circular road that is supposed to run around the main facilities. This road has been paved with compressed earth blocks. Part of it remains incomplete due to land acquisition issues. The road looks rather narrow for a city that will have 50000 people.  Maybe city planner take a serious look and give due consideration for future.

Shri Aurobindo and Mother always advised for community kitchen. They wanted people to give less thought on food and channelize their mind and energy for other work. Solar kitchen takes this idea one step ahead with sustainable community cooking.  It derives its name from the big Solar Bowl on its roof, which provides part of the steam for cooking on all the sunny days of the year. The other part of the steam needed, is provided by a diesel fired boiler. Throughout the year approximately 1000 lunches are prepared daily, of which 540 go to the schools, 200 go out by tiffins and 260 to 300 are consumed in the Dining Hall. It uses vegetables and grains grown organically in and around Auroville. There is a choice between western items like pasta, mashed potato or fresh salads and items like idli, dal or chutneys. Daily curd and freshly made juices are available.

Just beside solar kitchen there is Auroville Super Market – Pour Tous Distribution Center.  This supplies all daily necessities of Aurovilleans. One has a choice of taking food from PTDC instead of Solar Kitchen. PTDC offers more variety like Sushi, Muffins, Steamed Vegetables and such thing. A typical lunch cost around Rs. 70/- at PTDC. Actually, it is not proper to talk about money in PTDC. Long term guests and new comers pay a monetory contribution commensurate with their consumption. For Aurovillean the service is kind of free. Circulation of money is discouraged within Auroville. Money is a powerful instrument that is essentially tamasic in nature. PTDC is created as an experiment to curb unnecessary buying habit. If a particular Aurovillean consumes more than average. He/She is given feedback to restrict their consumption.

On the same circular road and slightly away from solar kitchen there is Auroville library. This library has a fantastic collection of books on Sustainable living, alternate economy, religion and spiritual philosophy. Apart from “serious” books, it also has a good collection of fiction. It contains more than 30,000 volumes in eight languages – English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Russian and Tamil.

Auroville has number of industries thriving under its fold. Spirulina cultivation is one such unit. It sells its product under the brand name of Aurospirul.

There are some typical incense stick, decorative candle and paper product making units. It also had a thriving dress making industry that came up with a unique combination of European and Indian  styles. Most of these are now closing from the copy-cat competition from Pondy.

When you go to visitor center you will hear this large wind gong. This is made at Swaram – an shop that makes musical instruments for Auroville.

 

Talking about Visitor Center will be incomplete without a reference to its rather uniqui building material. The bricks that you see are not ordinary fired brick. Entire Visitor center is made of Compressed Stabilized Earthen Blocks (CSEB). CSEB is a environment friendly technology that used local soil to produce bricks without using coal or fire wood.

Auroville Earth Institute is one of the center of excellence in promoting use of such material.

There is a machining and fabrication shop Aureka that makes machinery for these earthen block. Current machines are manually operated hand pressed or semi-automatic hydraulic ones. It is working on a fully automatic block making press. I was working on its controller. You see here the machine being prepared for full scale trial.

Initial phase of Aurovilleans who came was given a rather large piece of barren land where even a blade of grass did not grow. They toiled and turned the place full of trees. As result of their hard labor water level of the area has risen and the place has become fertile. In this empty land, initial settlers built large mansion for themselves which is not sustainable for a city of 50000 population. Initial settlers feel entitled to a life of comfort, commensurate to the work they did in Auroville or else where. Current houses for the newcomers that you see in the picture are being built in the style of multi-storied flat. Availability of large supply of low-paid workers from nearby villages help to sustain the colonial lifestyle. There is a latent resistance among these Aurovilleans to let go of the comfort, help to raise living standard of the local population and assimilate them within the fold of Auroville.  There is equal reluctance from the locals to let go of money, inheretance and freedom to work anywhere. There is no clear solution that will be acceptable to both. Ideal solution would be where people live like family members, share the resources equally and work together for betterment of everyone. Such thing are easier said than executed in practice. Perhaps some divine intervention is store for the big change to happen. What is true for Auroville is true for rest of the civilization. World is poised for a divine intervention only its time may not have come.

 

Coming to Divinity, one gets reminded of Siva – lord of destruction that paves way to New Creation. The place is full of Akanda flower(Calotropis gigantea), the flower of Siva. I could not stop myself from sharing a picture here.

Perhaps as reflection to our mood a close specimen from nearby species choose to visit our place. You can see the tension in its face. Watching carefully from a distance about the happenings below.

It clearly did not like what it saw. Certain amount of aggression is visible. That is a typical animal instinct that is still prevalent even with us.

 

But it proved to be a wise monkey. I would say it understands aggression is not the best practice. Something we homo sapiens often forget. It choose diplomatic display of displeasure instead of proceeding with raw aggression.

Like a wise animal afterwards it went to mind its own business completely ignoring the surrounding. There is no fun in trying to change everyone all change begins with himself.

Decisions are always difficult to make. Some decisions are liner, they make incremental change and the effect is reversible. Some decisions are catastrophic. Once taken, these catastrophic decisions dictate future course of actions. There is no way to retract and go back from where you have started in catastrophic decision. Most decisions that affect life in real sense are such catastrophic decisions.

These are like these delicate droplets on a lotus leaf. They look apparently stable but a small ripple will make the drop running either towards the center or towards the edge. Once it moves, there is no way to stop it.  Perhaps this is the reason, people postpones making the move and clings on the tested belief and ideology, fully knowing time has come to get rid of these and move on. It is a classic example of tamasik feedback loop. Where inaction is caused by fear, uncertainty and doubt. It is this inaction that fuels degradation and chaos. This chaos further strengthen the grip of fear and uncertainty.  Way out of this downward trend is rajasik force. Rajasik force driven mainly by hope and greed. Current civilization is now standing at a cross road where the cycle of greed has encompassed every thing and do not motivate people for doing things that are good for others. Need of the hour is Rajarshis. Persons who are able and motivated to work without looking for reward.  Auroville was formed to incubate such Rajarshis. Current civilization needs such people, dedicated souls who work for their own passion and not for reward. Auroville has such people, but the number is certainly not higher than what is visible in rest of the society. Auroville does not have an environment that will attract other like minded Rajarshis to migrate and assimilate with Auroville. It  has some individuals striving for it, but the task looks beyond the capacity of human effort. Maybe some divine force will pave way for such change.

Legend of Irumbai and Sadhana Forest

When  you travel Pondicherry from Chenni or Bangalore via NH 66, you will cross a place called Irumbai, which is around 6km ahead of Auroville. Irumbai is famous for its temples which were built around AD 1000 – 1500. Irumbai has an interesting legend of Kaduveli Siddhar, a famous yogi who lived in the area some four to five hundred years ago.

According to the legend, Kaduveli Siddha was performing harsh (hatha) yoga under a peepal tree for days. The heat of his body was so intense that no rains came and the people were exposed to hardship and drought. The situation was so bad that it finally came to the ears of the King, who ruled from Edyanchavadi village. No one dared to disturb Kaduveli in his penance as he chanted the mantra of Eswara, and soon an anthill started to rise up around him. Finally a temple dancer, named Valli, devoted to the Lord Shiva, decided to do her best to get the attention of the yogi, and to rescue the King and his people from the adverse effects of his tapasya. Valli was successful in transforming the Yogi to a family man. Meanwhile the God of Rain was relieved from the torture he felt from the heat of the yogi’s tapasya, the rain fell in plenty, and the people were happy once again. In order to celebrate this event the King ordered a big Puja to be held at Irumbai temple, which was to be followed by a classical performance by Valli in which she would act out the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, in the form of Nataraja. During the performance, however, one of her anklets fell off, and she started to lose her balance and rhythm. Kaduveli, who saw the Lord Shiva in Valli, picked up the anklet and put it back on her feet. This exposed him to the ridicule of the King and court for having touched the feet of a dancing girl, and he was heckled and jeered. In the rage he invoked the Lord Shiva to come out of his temple and prove his innocence by causing a rain of stone. Immediately the lingam in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple exploded, and wherever its fragments fell became desert. No greenery will grow around these spots, including a crater at a distance of three kilometres from the village, still to this day known as “Kaduveli”. The King got frightened and begged the pardon of the Siddha, bowing down to him with all his entourage and pleading with him to quench the effects of his anger and curse. This appeased Kaduveli, who, repenting of his anger, said that what was done was done, but that in the future, people from far-off lands would come and make the desert land green and fertile again.

It is strange this peace of land was lying there for all these years with lunar landscape till two great souls, Yorit and Aviram Rozin started their reforestation work around year 2003 on 70 acre of arid, eroded land in the outskirts of Auroville. The land resembled Martian landscape with red soil, where not even a blade of grass was visible. Here is a picture taken in 2004 from Sadhana Forest archive that will give you some idea of what it looked like.

Yorit and Aviram was not the first person who tried to rejuvenate this place of land. Some one thought the place looks like African Savana and tried to plant Acacia. They hired a plane and seed bombed the place. Acacia seeds are hard to germinate, in the arid land these seeds were just wasted and were lying dormant for years.  Yorit and Aviram started their work with focus on restricting land erosion and water conservation.  Acacia is a hardy plant that can survive in near desert condition. For the same reason Acacia is also known to be a potentially invasive species, which is taking over grasslands and abandoned agricultural areas worldwide, especially in moderate coastal and island regions where mild climate promotes its spread. Australian/New Zealand Weed Risk Assessment gives it a “high risk, score of 15” rating and it is considered one of the world’s 100 most invasive species. Extensive ecological studies should be performed before further introduction of acacia varieties, as this fast-growing genus, once introduced, spreads fast and is extremely difficult to eradicate.  Some species of Acacia contain cyanogenic glycosides, which, if exposed to an enzyme which specifically splits glycosides, can release hydrogen cyanide in the “leaves”. This sometimes results in the poisoning death of livestock. It is not clear, even to the current volunteers of Sadhana forest on what ecological impact assessment was performed by Govt. or by the people involved before this alien species from Africa was allowed to be planted in such large quantities in this part of the world which does not have the bugs and other plant species that can resist its invasion and live with Acacia symbiotically.

Sadhana forest team has decided to live in the forest.  They take it more as a social issue rather than a technical issue. They live with the trees and rest of the inhabitants of the forest. As a society and in harmony with nature. The idea is to feel and discover the problem forest faces and solve these on the go.  Sadhana forest team organizes regular trip to the forest on Fridays. The idea is to educate people about conservation and living harmoniously with nature. The trip starts with toilet training. At Sadhana forest they use dry composting pits for toilet. Here our pre-tour guide Shiva is explaining us on how to use the toilet. Dry composting pit use very little water. This is very important for villages (and cities) with water shortage.

We aim for toilet for every house hold. Some of the villager has to walk kilometers to fetch a bucket of water. If we ask people to use this bucket of water to flush shit, then the idea of toilet for each home also goes down that drain. For those area where water is scarce, we need toilet that use very small amount of water. At Sadhana forest they use 1 liter of water for shit. The WC that we use normally is put on alternate usage.

For washing dishes they use ash and organic soap. Any left over food goes to composting pit. Dish is dip washed in four tub.

One may tend to question the need for subjecting oneself to this hardship. I think the idea is to develop that keep sense of scarcity of water in the mind of every volunteer so that they are in tune with the problem being faced by the trees.

As we walk down the narrow forest trail, we are stumped by speed breakers. These are quite big and we were wondering which municipality has planned them.  Very soon we came to know the speed breakers are meant not for us, it is basically meant for rain water. As rain water flows it gets restricted by these breakers and reduces the run-off.  The team uses various types of technique to ensure the water that falls on ground is retained with the forest.

There are two ponds in the forest to retain the retain water

These ponds hold water during monsoon. This helps to keep ground water level high during dry spell.

Here is a bund created to retain the water within soil and reduce runoff.

Here another voluenteer and current director of the Indian project explaining the water conservation measures to tourists.

To plan trees they have come with a innovative technique of drip irrigation. Drip irrigation sounds good, but when you try to practice it on 70 acre of land with not so obvious economic benefit the idea looks daunting. They use these plastic bottles with a wick to bottle feed the baby plants. These are required till the root reaches ground water and the tree is able to survive on its own.

Beside water consumption they also practice eco-friendly method of cooking. The stoves here are rocket stoves that burn wood very efficiently and without smoke. Just one small log of 1 inch dia is enough to prepare food for 20 odd people with these stoves

Roofing sheet that we saw is made of compressed polythene/plastic junk.

The picture on the left may look very familiar to people from Africa. Let me assure you, this is what Sadhana forest looks currently.

With all the water conservation measures working and some trees tended with baby sitting care, the piece of land is now ready for life. The Acacia seeds that were air dropped earlier are now sprouting every where.

 The place looks like Africa with this thick Acacia cover.  Sadhana forest team has decided to take advantage of the situation as it unfolds.  The trees provide much needed bio-mass and water retention capacity. That help other trees to grow at present.   The team is aware of the danger that an alien species may pose. Acacia do not fare well with storm that is very frequent in this coastal region.  Currently the plan with Acacia is to take advantage of what is available but plant more trees that are of local origin. There is bound to be some trouble in cohabiting with an aggressive species like Acacia this drama of life and yoga will unfold layer by layer as the team passes through different phases.

Here you see two fully local people that’s me and my wife – Courtesy a fellow traveler from UK, who was kind enough to click the shot.

Here we are in the auditorium-cum-living quarter of Sadhana forest enjoying a dinner served by the Sadhana forest team.  This big hut is made of bamboo and palm leaves. Lights are powered by solar cells. There is no fan, but we realized it after a long time. With natural ventilation from these tall roof fans are not required.

This goes to show simple life is not necessarily full of hardships, all we need to do is to question what is important for us in life and what is not. There is a urgent need to Value Engineer our life style to reduce the environmental cost of our life style. We may find that it is still possible to live harmoniously with nature that will sustain our lifestyle. If such life style is sself sustaining, we may need to ponder the need of such luxury.  While in Sadhana we saw a film titled “No Impact Man“, based on a book by Colin Beavan. This is about a family that changes their lifestyle to get zero carbon footprint over an year, while living in Newyork.  While I do not fully subscribe to the asutre lifestyle being projected and suggested, I do think there is a need to rethink and apply our innovation to reduce our carbon foot print. Sadhana team has been able to reverse it all together, my good wishes for them in their journey, but this is a social issue that require a bit of effort from each of us.

Automating Building Manufacture

At Auroville I took the work on automating their CSEB manufacturing machine – Auram 6000. Compressed Stabilized Earthen Blocks are fast becoming popular for their obvious benefits. These blocks have superior thermal insulation than concrete. With proper design, they compare well with Concrete on earthquake tolerance. These are normally made from locally available material, thus reducing transportation cost. Curing time for earthen block is low.  As these blocks have better dimensional accuracy, it is possible to use these blocks without using mortar. These help to improve productivity and at the same time is the technology is friendly to environment.

Aureka makes manual and semi-automatic CEB presses. These can make around 65 types of normal and specialized  bricks. It has now come with fully automatic machine that will be able to produce around 500 full size (1′ x 1′) blocks in a hour. An average size 2500 Sq.ft building will normally require 15000 blocks. Automatic CEB machine can produce these bricks in 30 Hrs. At this rate CEB will rival the construction speed of concrete. In order to use mortar-less construction the blocks need to be within +/- 1 mm accuracy. Molding sand and soil to this level accuracy proved to be a challenge.

In this machine I am using PIC 16f4877a microcontroller to control the hydraulics. Micro-controller helps to automate movement of different rams. These speeds up the process and relives the operator from monotonous lever shifting work.  First day when we tried, the operator pointed out that for some specialized blocks, machine needs to be stopped at a certain stage for manual intervention. So I had to modify the microcontroller program. Next we tried a small sample batch. Position variations were very high. I noticed that the sensors were placed in a manner that is responds to change in position quite slowly. Oriented sensor positions to improve the sensitivity issue. Next issue was the problem of inertia in the control circuit. As sensor detects position, it responds by closing a relay in hydraulic. How much the ram will travel after receiving stop signal depends on:

  1. Response time of solenoid
  2. Viscosity of oil
  3. Plasticity of soil

These three variables depend on ambient temperature, humidity, condition of machine, amount of water added in soil. In simple words, it is impossible to control the inputs to provide consistent output purely on sensor feedback. Solution was to introduce some physical limiters at vantage points. This CEB press operates at around 100 bar pressure. In these pressures it is quite easy to damage structures unless proper design precautions are taken. These physical limiter, in turn required  modifications in the structure. After taking care of all these, machine started producing blocks with proper dimensional control. Here you see the trial run on the prototype setup.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/TgU-5S8YU9I?feature=player_embedded

With 65 different types of blocks to produce, next challenge was to find a convenient process to set the block height and mold depth. Each block require different setting. Sometime setting may need to be changed to take care of type of soil being pressed. For this I found it best to consult the person who will actually do the setting. After some brainstorming we settled on a process that is easy to use in field with minimal equipment. The process was documented.

Next stage was to take the machine for a full scale trial. CEB press works with auxiliary equipment –  crusher is used to break solid lumps of soil and dry mixture is used to mix sand and cement uniformly with the soil. These are required to feed CEB press at its required speed.  Here you see the full setup for production trial.

Kolkata to Auroville by car

After months of deliberation to finally decided to move to Auroville. Auroville is a big place with facilities spread out kilometers away. You need a means of modern transport to live and work there. Although two wheelers are preferred over there, we decided to take our car. We need car, because our aged parents can’t ride a scooter anymore.

Kolkata to Auroville is about 1850 Km, 30 Hrs drive. We planned to break it in 3 days trip of  8-10 Hrs drive. Our first stop was at Chilka, next was Kakinada and then at Chennai.

At Chennai we were to drop our son at his hostel and then proceed to Auroville.

It was a long journey and we had luggage for two new settlers: My son was to move to hostel and we – twp oldies were to move to Auroville. In my estimate, we need to carry plenty of luggage, so I put a overhead carrier.

We started off a day before RathaYatra – July 17. As I was about to leave Kolkata, I heard some rattling sound overhead. Stopped the car and found the overhead luggage carrier has come loose. It’s clamps were not sturdy enough to take load of the luggage. Fortunately there were just three of us in the car. We could somehow fit the odd boxes inside. My years of experience with tetris probably helped.

This time the idol at Puri is getting a new body. So it is Nabakalebar time. Nabakalebar happens about 20yrs apart, Bhubaneswar/Puri must have been flooded with devotees. On the way, we were given pamphlets about the arrangements. I must admit, this was quite impressive.
We avoided Puri and went to Chilka instead. Chilka OTDC cotteges were grand! Families with small kids should spend few days there.
There are small cottages with sprawling lawn, overlooking vast Chilka lake. Place is nicely maintained
On the other side of guest house, there are small hills.

There are some very old trees. One old Eucalyptus is pride of the site.
One fellow got interested with the new visitors and was spying on us from crows nest.

My car is getting ready for a dip at Chilka. (Maybe?)
You can see the old man enjoying his morning
Road between Chilka and Kakinada is very scenic 
My son Supratik drove most of the time, reliving me to concentrate on my photography
Near the cities the road was 6 lane. This allowed us to drive continuously on 100+ KMPH. In the retrospection, I was thanking that  the overhead carrier broke off. It saved us lot of time and fuel.
Second stop was at Kakinada, it was a bit off the highway.  I booked it because, I could not get a descent hotel around Rajamundry. Anyway after we reached, hotel at Kakinada also proved anything but descent.  There was a cafe at ground floor of the hotel, at night that cafe got transformed into a cowshed. Wish I took the pictures earlier. 
Rajamundry at that time was the site of Pushkar Mela. Few lakhs of people were there trying to take a dip at Godavari.  The river water must have turned salty with all the sweat that went into the river. Hope they get their desired salvation for the effort. Due to the rush the drive was slow. As Murphy would have determined, it was also the longest drive. I choose to drive most of it and so no picture on the way. Finally, we reached Chennai around 11:30 PM.
with NK and his family 
Chennai was some small reunion. We met our ex-neighbor from Jamshedpur after a gap of almost 25yrs.  NK is running his network security company SNSin. He seems to do a great work of it and now fully entrenched in Chennai.
Greta met her school buddy – this too after a quarter century.  All smiles

Here is Shampa, with her daughter and hubby Sekhar

Chennai to Auroville is a short 2Hrs drive. We took the ECR road for its view. It was a short one, so did not stop to take a picture.