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.

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.

A view of Auroville

I got a opportunity to spend a few days in Auroville – the universal city in the making. I have been reading a lot about Auroville, mainly from sustainable living groups. Then there was a International Conference on Frontiers of Statistics and its Application (ICONFROST 2012) at Pondicherry. This double reason was good to make me book myself for a few days at Pondicherry.

Auroville is a riddle that do not disclose itself to outsiders. If you go there as a tourist all you see is a golden globe situated in middle of a forest. The city around is invisible.

All you will ever see are trees. There are some two million of them planted by Aurovillians that was once a barren land in last 40 yrs. This social forestry has made the land cultivable. Auroville now produces most of their requirement locally.

There are quite a few restaurants and industry that produces products that are sold all over the world. Auroville is one of the pioneer in Earth Stabilized Bricks. It produces presses that make these bricks without

 using any fire. Normally it will use locally available clay, that will not leave any unnatural residue. Thus making it one of most environmentally sustainable building technique. Here you see a pillar that some time can be used as watch tower.

Actually this is a water tank that do not use iron or concrete. Bricks are are made of compressed stabilized earth.

These architecture is supported by UNESCO as the technology of choice. On right you see a building made of arches. This one do not use any concrete. All bricks are made of stabilized earth.

If you come to Auroville as tourist for a quick view, you will never notice these. Nor you will appreciate the pleasure of morning call of peacock from your roof.


Car is used in a little unconventional way in Auroville. Below is the recommended use of car. For personal mobility one is expected to use bicycle. For someone like me, who has lost those muscles which once upon a time powered 180Km/day trip, scooter or motorcycle are a loathsome option. It is pretty easy to rent a bike @Rs 100-200/day.

If you stay at Auroville do not forget to have food at Solar Kitchen. Here you get simple food – dal chawal stuff. That is cooked using solar heat. The slow cooking in combination of organically grown vegetables gives it an awesome taste, which can only be experienced.

One word of caution when you interact with the locals. It is not like most cities though. Take my tour guide for instance. Bunty as he is known in Auroville. This guy who landed up in shorts and slippers to take me around for a guided tour. The tourist guide was making a little too many noise that was not sounding like a tourist guide. A little prod later he let me know, he had worked in Godrej as its Sales RM – after IITB, IIM-A he got fed up with corporate life and landed up as tour guide in Auroville.

One can not leave Matrimandir away while being in Auroville. It is the soul of Auroville. A concentration center, it is not a temple in usual sense. This magnificent golden dome is in the center and will attract you for its beauty. It is a marvel of architecture and involves some pretty hi-tech engineering. Whole thing is nicely explained at Auroville website so I won’t repeat it here.

It is better to leave technical details away and enjoy the beauty in its full grace.

Aurovillians are very sensitive about this symbol being taken anything other than symbol. They do not want it to be a temple where one will come and offer prayer.

Before one enters this structure one needs to attend a 22 min video session which explains its significance.

Auroville makes pretty good use of solar power. Although it is located very near to coast wind speed in not good here. At this speed wind turbines are not so attractive as power source. But thanks to only approx four hour of power supply from grid, Auroville has developed pretty good backup with solar power. Most street lights are from solar panel. This gives reliable 4-5 Hrs of street lighting.
Current population in Auroville is only 3000 It plans to become a city with 50000 population. There is a master plan that has come into effect some 4-5 yrs back. Current development happens as per master plan. At right, you see a model on how the city will look like.
Main place for outsider is called visitor center. It is a place for all touristy kind of work. As I walked into the compound, I was greeted by a nice gong. 
This is the biggest wind chime I have seen.
For stay one has many choice, starting from 5 star island spa to comfortable house. I stayed in a guest house in Samasti community. Nice house type of ambience. You have solar heated hotwater. That remains hot even at 5:00 am in the morning. 
Here is some pot sculpture within the compound
Pondicherry is just 10Km from Auroville. Takes about 30min in a scooter. If someone gets a bit bored or needs some special things it is easy to make a trip.
Aurobindo ashram is a must visit, if you are from Auroville.
At beach you have some nice status of people who never visited here during freedom struggle.
This is some nice work of branding to extend the aura beyond its reaches.
Here the author is also motivated by the great men to record his presence in the place.
French presence can be guessed from the Notre dame copy of the church.
Auroville is a universal city. Other countries have been given some place to showcase its culture.
Here is a building from Tibet.
Canada has also showcased its culture in its designated place. From here one can guess its care for human unity.
American fair is typical in its use of hi-tech and wheels. The building is build by Americans students. USP being walls made of tetrapack – that seems to protect the environment.
Thankfully AV does not have much use of tetrapack either.
For cultural show, there is a amphitheater that can seat about 300 people.
AV has its own beach, where one can enjoy the sea without typical noise and crowd. It also has some blue lagoon type huts for spending the night at beach.
Pondicherry beach has been washed away due to some faulty planning AV beach is still there.
AV do not use money. There is no circulation of money and every Aurovillian has equal rights to its resources. 
For day to day need Aurovillian becomes member of a shop called pour tous. Unfortunately, here all only means Aurovilians. This looks like a shop but one need not pay here. One can take whatever one needs.
Here is another view of pour tous to show the range of products stocked for consumption.
Fresh vegetables grown within AV are also available here for distribution.
ICOFROST conference was good, with some 300 people from various countries.

Some nice discussion on Stats and OR

Followed by cultural program from the students was a break from AV

Some nice dance

Followed by some more

Followed by a nice Veena

But a visit to AV is incomplete without a meditation trip in Matrimandir. The visuals are stunning and atmosphere is very different. Lotus temple also has a nice ambiance but this one is gripping.

At inside chamber you have this huge crystal globe being lit by a heliostat.

But this is not a temple of a religious place. AV do not recommend following any religion. At matrimandir you are urged to meditate to the tune of Sri Aurobindo’s mantra — Anandamayi Chaitanyamayi Satyamayi Parame


“Apne safed hati dekh liye” — “Have you seen the white elephant” A short dark man in shorts suddenly darted in front of JRD Tata as he was making his round in the shop floor of Jamshedpur Plant. Most thought this is a mad man, those who knew him thought this time pranks of this man has got beyond tolerance.

The senior officers quickly wisked away this man. There were talks of taking disciplenary action against him. But the personal managers advised against it. To the adivasis around Jamshedpur, this man was a uncrowned king. Any undue punishment will have huge adivashi backlash, so they chose to ignore it as a prank from a half mad character. That was Debilal – a sweeper in Plant-III of Tata Motors.

Debilal was in his mid-thirties, he was very sincere in his job and will always be humming some song. Although he was a janitor, he will occasionally pull some pranks on officers. There used to a bully officer who loved to shout at the people on smallest slip. One day Devilal got a dog with a shirt and specs . On back of the shirt written “Mukho” with big letters and let loose the dog in shopfloor.

In the nearby villages Debilal was counted as a man with great wisdom. People will come to him for all kind of advice. No one took any penal action against him and learnt to live with these  pranks as sign of madness.

Next day, as Debilal came to clean the room I asked him why did you tell such thing to Tata. Here is the dialog:

Me:     Why did you jumped in front of  Big Boss

Debilal: I was refering to the new Forge Plant you people have put up. I thought he is wise man and would listen to me.

Me: What is wrong with the Plant

Debilal: It is a White Elephant. Just a costly show piece that does no good

(I thought, this has gone too much – this illeterate sweeper is questioning wisdom of Engineers.  The plant he was referring was fully automated forge plant that produces Front Axle Beam and Crank Shaft. In early 80s, that was the best technology one could get.

Moreover, fresh from PG in Industrial Engg, I thought, let me teach this fellow not to mess with professionals. To teach him a lesson, I started to question in the ragging style.)

Me: Really! How do you say this plant is costly. It has all robots – latest technology in the world

Debilal: Maybe it has lot of new technology, I am a stupid fellow, I can only count on what it produces at what cost

Me: (Oh my God! What does this fellow know about cost)  What is to cost

Debilal : OK! let us start from the begining – there is the old plant that produces Crank Shaft. How many burners are there in the old plant and in the new plant to heat the material

Me: (I was taken aback – not sure) You tell me

Debilal: In the old plant there are 8 burner, in the new furnace there are 12 of them. That’s because new furnace a wide opening for the robotic arm, in old furnace operators could manipulate material with a much smaller opening. In addition old furnace was round like a “Handi” New one is a straight one that only heats the shop, not the iron.

Me: (Now cautious) OK, Fuel cost is not all you know

Debilal: Well, old plant just needed half a bay, new plant requires two full bay

Me: New Plant do not require any man.

Debilal: Who says – It still require two operators to take care of occational miss, then it requires one person to continiously do maintenance and has a maintenance staff of five to do maintenance on regular basis. In the contrary, old plant was much simpler, just required five operator and only a weekly maintenance. The only thing the new plant has over the old one that it do not require the skilled forge smiths, you can run the plant with engineers and operators without any experience. But it takes more people.

Debilal: Not only the plant is costlier to operate, it produces less job per hour. Robots produce only 30 odd piece  per hour against 45 piece in the manual operation. Moreover it requires special billets without any bend in the new line. Old line could manage with some small bend in billets.

(Now my ego totally shattered – I realize this non-matric sweeper, has just taken a class on benchmarking. Still I had not learnt the lession. As last resort I try –)

Me: OK, I take the new plant may be more costly. Actually there are more thing to cost than the comparison you did. But tell me, what is your stake in blocking Tata’s way. What you have to get out of it.

Debilal: This land belongs to me, we people have created this land from forest. You people from outside have come with your money and knowledge and converted the paddy field to a truck factory. We are thankful to you. But at the same time, if people are not working to best of the intension then it is my duty to raise voice and object.

Debilal: As I see it, this new plant is only good in replacing skilled adivasis with urban, unskilled, college educated folks. Had it been more productive, I would have still accepted it, but as it stands, this new plant is not even as productive as the old plant. This I can not tolerate. If Mr. Tata did not listen me on one to one basis, he will have to face mass movement in future.

Saying this, Debilal left the room, humming – “Bombay se aya mera dost, dost ko salam karo…”

Now, I felt what Adi Shankara must have felt in the bylanes of Varanasi. I saluted Debilal in my mind and hold him as one the great teacher I have come across.

Kidneys of Kolkata

Kidneys of Kolkata

Posted On Saturday, May 30, 2009 at 12:11:16 PM

The East Kolkata wetlands fed by sewage water is a picture-pretty place
Divya Fernandez  
Kolkata and its unending supply of legendary fresh fish-did you ever imagine this had any connection with the sewage generated by this overcrowded city? Well, its true – Kolkata has the world’s largest collection of fish farms fed by sewage water!  Large areas of vegetables are grown on garbage and paddy fields are irrigated by sewage effluent.
All this at the East Kolkata wetlands at the edge of the city – a place few people, even Kolkatans, have bothered to visit.
When I first heard about it, my reaction was, “Oh, must be a mucky, smelly swampy place.” When I actually went deep into the wetlands, walking along the bunds, guided by Bonanidi who has been here hundreds of times and fought a case for it back in 1992, it simply took my breath away.
You have to see it to believe it. And it didn’t look dirty at all. A network of small square cut ponds, edged with water hyacinth, paddy fields soaked in water, all interspersed by bunds, little bamboo bridges, tree-lined canals. You forget you were just half an hour ago in a big bustling city like Kolkata.
I felt humbled, but I was truly humbled when I saw people – yes human beings – living in an intricate relationship with these wetlands as if their life depended on it. It is their forefathers who helped build the wetland as it is today and has been nourished from generation to generation.
The region is part of the mature delta of the River Ganga and the wetlands are the interdistributory marshes in the delta.
The streams which were once active became inactive after the shifting of the main river and consequent loss of headwaters from the Hoogly. The tidal action of the Bay of Bengal earlier caused salinity and tides in these lake areas.
The earliest known accounts of these Salt Lakes go back to the year 1748 when it was a vast area, teeming with fish and birds and extending right up to a mound known as Dumduma, near which Burmese and Mug traders arriving in boats used to anchor.
The East Kolkata Wetlands as it is known today comprise nearly 115 sq km. Using the purification capacity of wetlands, Kolkata has pioneered a system of waste disposal that is both efficient and environment friendly, at no extra cost. The cost of setting up a sewage treatment plant today would be about Rs 400 crore and require Rs 1,000 crore in yearly maintenance.
Kolkata, the second largest Indian city containing 14 million people generates roughly 680 million litres of sewage. One-third of the city’s sewage and most of its garbage is converted into 20 tonnes of fish and 50 tonnes of vegetables.
This provides for about 60 g of fish  and 300 g of vegetables daily for about 5 lakh people.The wetland foliage has spongy roots that can accumulate heavy metals in their tissues at 100,000 times the concentration in the surrounding water and also house nurseries of fish among them.
Eichhornia crassipes or water hyacinth found here, is known as the Jekyll and Hyde of the wetland world because though it helps remove toxic materials in some wetlands it is often a costly adversary in others because of its phenomenal growth. In the East Kolkata Wetlands, the fishermen prevent the hyacinth that edges their bheris (The fishermen use gates to direct the foul smelling sewage into their tiny shallow water fishponds called bheris) from clogging the ponds by ingeniously and simply holding them back with bamboo fences. 
Rare mammals like the Indian marsh mongoose, small Indian mongoose , palm civet, and small Indian civet are found in and around the area. Threatened reptiles like the Indian mud turtle are found. Birdwatchers regularly come to watch the local as well as migratory birds that visit the wetlands. More than 40 species including coot, grebe, darter, shag, teals, cormorant, egrets, gulls, jacanas, snipes, tern, eagle, sandpiper, rails and kingfishers are seen here.
One-fourth of Kolkata’s total requirement of vegetables reach the city with minimum cost of transport. Fish reach the stalls straight from the auction market – there is no expense on cold storage or fish feed, Yet Kolkatans are ready to pay a good price because they can see how fresh it is.
Not many city dwellers realise that these wetlands are the lungs and kidneys of Kolkata. Over the years, people have been eyeing this area as free space – whether for building an eye hospital or as a place for old cows and goats!
They even wanted to build a World Trade Centre in the middle of the wetland! In 1992, the Kolkata High Court designated 12,500 ha of the wetland as a conservation area, after the judge himself visited the area. Like I said, seeing is believing!
The court order prevents changes in landuse. Yet developers encroach on its edges and development speculation never ceases to dog the area, with an active promoter-real-estate-developer lobby waiting in the wings. 
Now Dipayan Dey, environmentalist and LEAD India finalist, through the Indian chapter of the NGO SAFE is working on a project that aims to restore to restore and develop the East Kolkata Wetlands so that this precious habitat remains intact and also help sustain the communities that depend on it.
Keeping in mind that the beauty of the wetlands attracts many tourists who come for bird watching, boating, picnicking and photography, with the help of the local community, they have put together thatched huts, which are rented out to visitors. Women of the fishing communities have been trained in hospitality and catering and the families will provide these services to eco-tourists for a reasonable charge. In this way the ecosystem is taken care of while also sustaining the community.
This area is internationally recognised as the only Ramsar entry from India for wetland wise use and the only one that is by the side of a city. The people of the wetlands do not care about all this, they only want to be allowed to coexist with nature. Though Kolkata may not be aware of its lungs and kidneys, for these people, it is their very life.

Perils of high productivity

We are often tutored to raise our productivity and be as effecient as possible. Nature works otherwise.

Let’s take the case of one marvellous insect: Locust

The very name is enough to run a chill through the spine of people living on farming. It’s hard not to have at least a grudging respect for the desert locust. It has survived on Earth for millions of years, thriving in the heat and aridity of the world’s most inhospitable deserts. For the most part, the insect known as Schistocerca gregaria goes quietly about its inscrutable insect business, a solitary and inconspicuous brown speck concealed in clumps of widely scattered desert vegetation, subsisting on even the most noxious weeds when necessary. Each insect capable of eating its own body weight (about 2 grams, or .07 ounces) in vegetation each day, a swarm that size could consume 192 million kilograms of vegetation each day, or more than 423 million pounds. Now consider that in the last century alone, there were seven periods of numerous plagues, the longest of which lasted intermittently for 13 years.

Our admiration can only be carried so far, though, when this seemingly shy and inconspicuous insect reveals its surprising dark side. Throughout recorded human history, and surely long before, locust plagues have periodically poured forth from their arid confines and invaded areas where people live, farm, and graze their livestock.

Desert Locusts are widely found in north Africa, Deserts of Arabia and North-West India, mainly in the state of Rajasthan.

Such was the devastation caused by this insect, that in the Thar Desert is called Marwar. The word Marwar is derived from Sanskrit word ‘Maruwat’. English translation of the word is “region of death”.
Map of Locust Distribution
During quiet periods, called recessions, locusts are confined to a 16-million-square-kilometer (6.2-million-square-mile) belt that extends through the Sahara Desert in northern Africa, across the Arabian Peninsula, and into northwest India.

The default state of the desert locust is to be solitary—to have a strong aversion to others of its kind. But when conditions are right (or perhaps ‘wrong’ would be the better word), swarms invade countries on all sides of the recession area, as far north as Spain and Russia and as far east as India and southwest Asia. As many as 60 countries can be affected. Swarms regularly cross the Red Sea between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and are even reported to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the Caribbean. Monitoring locust habitat during recessions means monitoring a large, forbidding expanse of arid and semi-arid terrain, often in conflict-ridden, developing countries with little infrastructure or technology.
Problem with Locust is the destruction of crop. It eats the plant so effeciently that leaves no trace of any greenery, and causes most plants to die, making the entire region barren. This has been a major cause of environmental degradation.

Photograph of Feeding Locusts

Many historians point out the existence of coal in Marwar region. Thus clearly indicating this land which is now desert was once had thriving vegetation. Locust attack was possibly one of the cause of turning it into desert.

This goes to say: effecient exploitation is not the right thing to do.