Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Gandhi Fellow in Jaitpura--introducing the school

Schools matter, because without good schools, how will our children figure out how to solve the problems we've created?  And when I speak of 'our children', I do so in the broadest terms--those of us who are parents want our sons and daughters to have opportunities to learn in good schools, of course.  But all of us will be better off if every child in this nation--on this planet--is given the opportunity and tools they need to wonder, learn and create. There are many reasons for that.  Maybe one of the millions of bright children born in villages every year will grow up to solve the world's--or at least her village's--environmental problems.  And of course, no democracy can function with voters who are incapable of independent thought and action.  There have been books written about this, I'm sure, but I'll just skip the hyperlinks and appeal to your common sense: people who can't add, subtract, think, are bound to get cheated--by the anyone who comes around selling a liquor...a religious sect... a political line. 

Many of you know Kabir Arora, who's been a student leader in Delhi for the past few years.  He's now begun a two year Gandhi Fellowship working in village schools and communities.  Kabir has agreed to send us updates about his work. His first piece appeared here.  Today he introduces us to the school where he is posted, a school where learning takes place without computers.  In fact, it takes place without electricity or toilets.  What's required?  A building, teachers, and above all, some very curious children.

My school is located in Jaitpura village under Udaipurvati Tehsil.   Name not very different
My School in “Firdaus” of Udaipurvati
from other Government Schools in Rajasthan, Boring!

Life there full of energy and creativity. Every child has an adult hiding in him/her. The journey in the school was all about exploring that hidden treasure of maturity. Mischievous ideas in innocent minds make a good base for a vibrant classroom. 

Let me take liberty to introduce you to each and every kid of my class.

2nd standard:

1. Hansu Ram: Intelligent and fast learner, when done with the assigned work
creates trouble and distracts all others who are lost in their work.
2. Sonu: Cute girl who loves to follow the instructions.
3. Sonam: Older than other students of 2nd standard, intelligent and competitive. Very vocal.
4. Pawan: Mischievous student-slow in mathematics, my favorite, I see myself in him.
5. Mukesh: Exciting and amazing glow on face, when learned something new.
6. Naveen: Not much interested in studies but love sports, fastest runner.
7.Kiran: Always keen to play with colors, initially bit hesitant, now one of the most vocal student of the classroom.
8. Seema: Talk very less but a beautiful smile for everyone.
9. Kishore: Made for Guru ji's instruction.

There are around 13 kids in the class but only 9 show their faces daily.

3rd standard:

1. Garima: Very moody and naughty always up for messing my thoughts. Love to
dance and sing.
2. Mamta: Intelligent and keen to study. “Padai Karni Hai!”
3. Anupriya: Best friend of Garima and do “back-bitching” about me when I’m
standing in front of her. Owns a “Ghodi”.
4.Pramod: Confused!
5. Sunil: Intelligent but a crazy kid who wants to show intimacy towards me by
6. Vipin: Son of the “Master ji”, see me as his personal property.
7. Virendar: Silent and rarely show his emotions, very much attached to me. Cutest
kid in the school. Innocence flows like a deep river from his eyes.
8. Baljeet: Never in a mood to study. Up for “Dour” (race).
9. Monica: Get absorbed completely in whatever she is doing.
10. Manisha: Not interested to even listen to others, live in her own world, hitting
everyone. Anger on nose!
11. Priyanshu: Shows his face once in a week.
12. Babita: Just came for a week, very keen to explore the world of mathematics.

Brief picture of the most amazing kids I ever met. They have their own charm which is
yet to be explored. Flowers yet to be bloomed!

Apart from 2nd and 3rd I used to take Geography class of 8th standard. 29 kids in the class, so tough to write about each and every individual. But very chilled out class, girls and boys all very vocal and loud.

School Staff:

Meena Ji, not able to recall his full name. Passionate about dogs, attached to kids, sometimes hit them-many times found in classroom of 1st - 2nd standard after mid-day meal. Teach with conventional methods, still better, at least taking a class.

Two Lady Teachers, five male teachers.
All of them take classes except one-PT Master, his only activity in recent weeks, was to guide kids for tree plantation.
One special teacher, worth mentioning; he regularly visits the class for
reading the newspaper and solve crossword puzzle as if passing time in school. Maths teacher-too keen to know more about my kurtas and deodorant, but a good teacher whenever in the class. Always ready to test my knowledge in front of whole school.
Summary of the school:

Staff is very much interested to know about the caste background, but discrimination on
its basis is very rare. Nothing of that sort was observed during my LQ. Can't comment
on the social “status” of any one. Ignorant about Caste dynamics in the school.
All kids have goats, some have buffaloes, cows, few with camels and one “owning” a
horse; Bajra ready to be harvested in their fields-I'm not sure how to create a picture of
economic background of my students through this information.
Girls are in minority at primary level but in majority at secondary level. Reasons are
known and unknown.

School is having a very good reputation, produced state toppers, cricketers who played till state level, one IITian in the list of itineraries.

Enough of infrastructure to support more than 120 kids, 8 teachers and a Gandhi Fellow. No toilets. No electricity connection. Who says whole of Rajasthan is electrified?
Computers are waiting to get unpacked. Good mid-day meal which includes thick
chapatis and sabzi- depends upon the mood of the cook. Whenever in a mood to
stretch less, she cooks rice with dal. Food is never tasty but clean and hygienic; reason-
teachers share the food with the kids.

Next week: the writing--and drawing--on the wall.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Best Dhabas in Delhi: Gandhi Di Hatti, Lajpat Nagar Central Market

At the end of one of Lajpat Nagar Central Market's many lanes, you will find what may be the best lassi in South Delhi. There are many other things to try at Gandhi Di Hatti, but the lassi is what I keep going back for, again and again.

Environmentally speaking, Central Market gives a green a lot to think about. On the pavement, plastic toys from China are sold next to crafts made in local villages. There are shops full stationary and shops full of  household and kitchen products, some imported, some made locally.   Though Sarojini Nagar is better known for its export surplus, Lajpat Nagar has its share of inexpensive clothing and cloth. A person could spend hours at Central Market and come away with nothing on one visit and a large sack of clothes for under 200 rupees on the next.  Thousands of people do this every day.  About once a month, one of those people is Mrs. Batti.  And more often than not, I go along to keep her company.

On the whole, Central Market is far better than a shopping mall, environmentally speaking; it is mostly non-AC, and it has a higher proportion of local goods on offer than most elite malls.  Of course it's not perfect.  Export surplus, for example, is cheap only because it is the excess production of a global economy based on excess consumption--hardly sustainable! But my better half loves it, and one has to know when to keep one's mouth shut for the sake of familial harmony, no?

I like crowds, but I don't like shopping.  While Mrs. Batti is sampling the clothes in the 45 rupee shops, I roam the market looking for something to do other than talk to the guys selling belts. (I only have one waist, I say! I already have two belts--why would I need another?)  Usually I treat myself to some sort of street food.  In the summer, I might go for some bhutta,  in the winter, I like a plate of warm shakarkandi, some roasted peanuts, or aloo tikki on a bun. 

But whatever I'm eating, I almost always get myself a tall, creamy lassi from Gandhi Di Hatti.  It's not the cheapest lassi in town: after several price hikes due to inflation, a full steel glass will set you back 25 rupees. But a lassi like that is nearly enough to fill you up! If you can't handle quite so much, a smaller plastic cup costs Rs.14. 

Gandhi Di Hatti was recommended to my wife years ago by one of her friends. It serves all kinds of things, including Paneer Tika (Rs. 10), Bread Pakora (Rs. 7) and Bread Roll (Rs. 7). But like I said, I nearly always just order a lassi.

How to find get there:
You can find Gandhi Di Hatti by wandering the market looking for the blue and white sign that reads, "MALAIDAR PUNJABI LASSI."  Or you can walk straight into the market from the police station until you nearly reach the other main road. On your right, you will see the toilet pictured  at left under a "Bikanervala " sign. Take a right and head into the first lane you come to--some of the best lassi in town awaits you at the second stall on your left.

For more reviews of some of Delhi's best food carts, tea stalls, dhabas, and dives, check out our Best Dhabas in Delhi series.  And if you'd like to contribute a guest review, drop us a line!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

India: Third most powerful (and greenest) nation say reports

US Report Finds India 'third most powerful nation'!
National Geographic finds India to be 'greenest' country in the world!
Is there anything in this news to be proud of?

The other day, an 'official US report' found India to be the third most powerful country in the world. The report based it's assessment on things like GDP, population, military spending, technology, etc. There must be more than a few happy faces in South Block this week, in spite of the other troubles that are currently plaguing the land--no, I'm not going to list them all, just read the newspaper.

Long time readers of the Dhaba will have little trouble inferring my opinion on the kind of 'power' apparently assessed by this report.  Yes, a country with a lot of people, a large military, and a large GDP can influence the world economy and politics. But power like that is worth little if we can't feed and house our people. Yes, our economy--as measured by GDP--is growing. But even GDP is a very limited indicator of national health, especially if you look at the numbers superficially.  (For a slightly deeper look, see our 'The world is not fair and GDP is stupid: GDP for nine year olds.') 

In the long term, I don't think the assumptions that this and many other studies rest on--that you can measure the strength of nations by their consumption of consumer and military goods--makes any sense at all.  Which leads me to the news, which came out earlier this year, that India is the 'greenest' country in the world.

Yes, it's true: for the second year running, India has come first among 17 countries in a comprehensive environmental assessment of consumer behavior carried out by National Geographic. The National Geographic "Greendex" is based on a survey of 17,000 consumers and looks at housing, transport, food, and goods.  Brazil ranked second, and China took third.  The US, not surprisingly, came in dead last, though they are, it seems showing some improvement.
In fact, it is easy to be a bit cynical about these results. After all, much of our sustainable behviour is due to things other than a conscious effort to be green.  Saloni Tandon, writing on Delhi Greens, put it nicely when she asked, "Are we helping to protect the environment by chance or by choice?" Nagraj Adve spelled things out even more bluntly in a guest post he wrote here at the Dhaba last year:
The report by the Committee on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganized Sector revealed that a jaw-dropping 836 million people in India consume less than INR 20 a day, of which 444 million ‘marginally poor’ people consume less than INR 15. Needless to say, at INR 15-20 a day one cannot contribute much to global warming, however hard one might try.
Fair enough.  Under-consumption by millions of poor people too poor to consume even basic necessities should never be celebrated. And Tandon makes a good point: "When we say that we Indians are less likely to install a home water heating system we forget to mention the fact that we hardly need it!"  
But need has never been a prerequisite for consumption.  A few years back, I overheard an American expat at a party complaining that the geyser in her bathroom hadn't been working for the past few days.  It was a sultry August evening, and someone finally asked why she had such an urgent need for hot water.  "But my AC is so strong, I can not stand to bathe in cold water!"

Yes, it is true, that some of India's "eco-friendly" behavior is based on poverty. But these days, more and more Americans seem eager to blame the world's environmental problems on China and India. It is important that people living in those countries be given every opportunity to understand what they are doing that is not working.  

And I do think it is important to celebrate the positive things we are already doing. If we try to follow a Western development model, we will fail, and likely we will destroy the world's environment in the process. We need to learn from both the old and the new; In fact, when you really get down to it, traditional ways of doing things are often more environmentally friendly than "high-tech" ways of doing things; and their superiority is not, in most cases, a result of "chance."  Traditional knowledge, like newer learning, is the product of human intelligence; traditional knowledge just has the added benefit of being time-tested!  That does not mean we should give up on science, just that we need to be thoughtful about adopting new, resource and technology intensive ways of solving problems; if you've got  a working clothesline, why would you need a solar cell powered clothes dryer?

That's why we spend so much time talking about low-tech examples of greentech, like matkas, ceiling fans, clothes lines, water coolers. For essays about these and other kinds of low-tech green, have a look at our special page, here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Green Poetry by Trisha Bora

margot and the nuclear so and so’s by the seaside
low trumpet. maudlin moon.
jellyfish crawl through wry skies
and cast stars into a bedlam night
azure, cerulean, teal, emerald -
deepwater horizon shades belie
its dark skin and rotting root. 
spring hymns perish - catapult
from our pockets and flap
ultraviolet on the sludgy sand -
and beacon light rests a moment
on a bobbing skiff alive with the
rogue verses of a pirates’ chantey
‘oh I steered from sound to sound
as I sailed. and all the ships I found
on this way I did burn as I sailed.’
margot and the nuclear so and so’s
dip their greasy bruising knees
in the ruffled froth of a spewing sea.
they’ve been undone by the girl
with charlatan skirts that spin
dreams like a roulette wheel.
salmon dawn breaks reluctantly.
the fishermen return with heavy nets
and the mariner puts to bed his rime.
Author's note: The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is one of the biggest environmental disasters of this century. While four hundred different wildlife species, such as whales, tuna, shrimp, dozens of species of birds, land animals such as the grey fox and white-tailed deer, and amphibians such as the alligator and the snapping turtle have been put on the endangered list, BP and the US govt. play a game of 'whodunnit'.
Trisha Bora is an editor and writer who has been away from her hometown – Assam – for many years now and currently lives in Delhi. Her poems have been published at Ultra Violet, Poetry Super Highway, Pytra Journal, nth position, Asia Writes, Nether Magazine, among others. She often reads her work at the Delhi Poetree Society. 

To read more of the Dhaba's green poetry, go here


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Today, a virtual, green birthday party--the Dhaba turns one

Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of the Green Light Dhaba, so you can consider this to be our virtual birthday party. 

In the last 52 weeks, we've published a whopping 158 posts--all from an uncompromisingly green perspective.  Those include interviews, poems, photo essays--and good, old fashioned editorials about the state of the world.  Sure, a few of those were knocked out in an hour or less--but most took a lot longer than that--our BRT photo essay, for example, took at least 12 hours to complete, and that's no joke.

There are two main reasons why it made sense to run 2-3 posts a week, every week, during the first year. First, it is hard to build an effective 'blog machine,' (links in, search rank, subscribers, readers, etc.), without consistency. And audience matters--why else would I spend so much time reading and writing and linking?  If there were no readers reading, I'd just go back to grumbling under my breath. Much, much easier, that. Second, there has just been so much to write about this year--from toxic scrap to ceiling fans to the Commonwealth Games--once I got started, I realized I could write a post a day, every day, forever, if I just had the time!

But I don't, of course--have the time, that is.  There are so many other things a person needs to do in a day, really.  So this year, my target is lower: instead of 2-3 posts a week, I'll do one--or maybe two if inspiration or outrage strikes particularly hard.  That would change, of course, if I got more regular contributions to the dhaba.  In fact, I'd love to run 2-3 posts a week that I didn't write!  For some ideas about I'm looking for, check out this page; or see what others have already contributed here.  We aren't the Huffington Post, of course, but you will be read by interesting people.  An average post here gets over 100 views; guest posts tend to do double that--and often better.  And every so often, something goes viral and ends up in all kinds of interesting places.  So write for us.  It's good for you. It might even make a difference.

I know, I know, I can hear voices in the back grumbling that it's time I shut up so we can cut the cake and get on with the celebration.  Fair enough. But before I turn off the lights and light the candle, one short word about gifts--after all this is birthday party.

For those of you asking what to give an environmental dhaba, the best thing you could do would be to resolve to think more about the earth we live on and the people, plants and animals we share it with.  And if you are in a really generous mood, you can take this post, or any post you like (the best ones are grouped in the categories at the top of the page) and send it on to a dozen people!  No, this is not a threatening chain letter-type thing.  I am not going to tell you about the guy whose mother died after he failed to send on one of our posts, or about the woman who won a million pound/dollar/rupee/ruble lottery after she did pass on a post. But if you like what the Dhaba does, today would be a great day to spread the word.

Now, 1-2-3...the lights are off, the candle is lit; I'll leave the singing to you!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

5 links to follow, and why

1.  M Rajshekhar on Food Security
When we consider policies meant to insure 'food security' for all people, we find the problems are enormously complex.  But it's something we all need to think more about. Chhattisgarh’s 'right to food' programme. Rajshekhar covers interesting ground, and his piece raises important questions...How does Chhattisghar's flagship food programme affect different kinds of farmers and farm labourers? How does it impact the economy in general? Is it making food crops more or less diverse?  Are these effects given, or could they be modified under a modified food distribution regime?  This is good reporting; read it and pass it on.

2. and 3.  A personal narrative and a photo essay on children at Commonwealth Games construction sites.
When I read 'Footpath,' Mridula Koshy's short narrative about her walk through the CWG construction zone on Khel Gaon Marg, I immediately thought of 'Bricks for Bread and Milk,'  a photo essay, which ran in Foreign Policy earlier this year. When I went back to look at that essay last week, I was surprised by something I hadn't noticed before: many of the people leaving comments couldn't believe the photos or tried to minimize their impact.  One said, "These pictures cannot be from India. They must be from Pakistan, or Bangladesh or from some other downtrodden place...." Another compared the children of CWG workers, who spend their days at construction sites, to the children of reporters, who spend the occasional Saturday in the newsroom with one parent when the other can't mind them. 'I'm a journalist, and I have seen many of my colleagues bring their kids to the office on a Saturday just like that.' Just like that--except of course that the children of his colleagues don't get struck down by trucks hauling construction material as they play in the newsroom. Whether or not you've seen the kids on Khel Gaon, you won't think of them in the same way once you've read Koshy's piece and looked at the FP photo essay

4. Frontline on Unilever's poisonous factory in Tamil Nadu
With the flu and dengue going around, thermometers are getting a lot of use.  'Poisoned Ground'--the cover story in the current issue of Frontline about the continuing problems caused by an old Hindustan Unilever thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu--reminds us that even good things like thermometers often come with a price.  Back in 2003, Unilever had to admit it had a problem and went so far as to ship tonnes of mercury contaminated soil back to the US.  But Unlilever seems to be having a hard time accepting their responsibility for the contamination and health problems that remain.  I know Frontline has a reputation for being boring.  I prefer the word 'thorough,' though I can't say I read it cover-to-cover.  But this article--and the102 footnotes that accompany it-- remind us why it's good Frontline is still around.  Let's hope the mainstream press gives this issue the attention it deserves.

5. What research says about how--and how not to--study.
 It's exam time in many Delhi schools, so this article, which ran in The Hindu, but was originally published here in the New York Times, is timely. It's gotten a lot of attention for a lot of different reasons.  Students, if you read it, you may actually take away a few useful study tips.  Did you know that you will learn better if you study the material in more than one location than you will if you study only in one location? And teachers, this article is a reminder to give mixed practice:
Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.
In other words, endless word problems (or just sums) that only use subtraction is not good practice--and there's research cited that proves this.  Far better to give less work and mix it up.  And last minute mugging (something I'm seeing a lot of this week in my own home) may work--but not for long:
Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out...“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material” when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it before.” 
The problem, of course, is that our whole system is built on cramming for high-stakes tests.  Testing itself is not bad--and this article makes that clear.  But it's much better to ask students to demonstrate deep understanding of a smaller amount of content than it is to ask them to study a huge amount of content in a shallow manner.  Parents, teachers, and older students would do well to read and consider this article.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Climate, water and the need for serious humour

Toxic Link on Traditional Delhi Water Systems
Bhagwad on the Arrogance of Skepticism
Bill Maher on what baby-making theories have to do with theories of climate change

I've written two funny posts in a row, and this one ends in a very funny video.  So it only seems fair that you put up with a few short paragraphs of serious business about climate change, weather and water.

Climate change is one of those issues that we keep coming back to, not because we want to, but because it's just so important.  As the climate changes, the earth will change in unpredictable ways.  For a place like India, where millions and millions of people are happy if they get two--to say nothing of three--meals a day, unpredictable is obviously a terrifying word, especially when it comes to things (like rain) that affect food crops. We all like to predict when our next meal is coming.

It's not surprising that climate change will lead to change in weather patterns in many parts of the world. Yes, the sun will still shine; it will just feel warmer in most places. And the rain will still fall, just not in the same way or in the same places that it used to.  (There's a lot of research on this, and I'm not up to hyperlinking it all right now.  The posts up at our climate page are full of links.) 

Nobody is really sure what all this will look like, but it seems clear that rain fed farms will be the hardest hit.  If you don't have access to irrigation, you are stuck when it doesn't rain or when it floods; it's not easy to pack up your farm and move it to a wetter--or dryer--location.  This will likely be a huge and growing problem in decades to come: nearly 80 million hectares out of India's net sown area of around 143 million hectares rely on rain water, as they have no access irrigation.  And there is clear evidence that the water table throughout north India is falling, so even irrigated farms are in danger.

Of course, water is not just a problem in rural areas.  We in Delhi suffer our own water woes.  If you want to learn more about this issue, Toxic Link is holding a program on September 15 at IIC in Delhi that looks interesting.  It's called, "Traditional Water Systems of Delhi." You can read more about it over at the Delhi Greens site.  Here's something from Toxic Link's description of the event:
"A little water is a sea to an ant.” An eco system is made up of many small parts, which could be erroneously thought of as insignificant. Within the intersection of mega scale urban planning and the impacts of climate the almost lost traditional water systems of Delhi need to be revisited urgently.

Of course, a lot of people want to believe that climate change really isn't a problem.  I'd like to rant here, but will contain myself.  Instead, I'll send you to Bhagwad's Expressions.  He looks at the tendency of some people to believe they know more than scientists about climate change just because they've read a lot of stuff on the internet or seen a lot of YouTube videos. Actually, he says it much more clearly than that--you should read it and the discussion it's generated.

Finally, let's look at two videos. The first is sent to us by Bhagwad.  If you haven't seen Bill Maher talk about climate change, you should watch this. In it, he explains what theories of baby making teach us about climate change.  Sometimes, funny people can say serious things best.

And here's a totally different way of looking at climate: Red Card.  (Thanks Minal).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Top 5 Commonwealth Games Pet Peeves

Today, we're 'nitpicking' the CWG: Theme Song Drama, 'Heritage Toilets', and more--

I've written a lot of essays about the Commonwealth Games over the past year.  You can read them all here.  Even the funny ones, like last Thursday's post on the CM's PR problems, have really been about serious issues.  Issues like waste, corruption, and exploitation, and pollution.

But now our leaders are telling us it is the time to"stop nitpicking" and start celebrating.  That sounds like a good idea, but it made me realize that I've been so busy writing about the really "big" issues, that I've actually not given myself time to do any proper "nitpicking"!  So before I can stop, I'd better start. Besides everyone knows what happens to nits that you don't pick...

So today I'm going to vent a bit about all those small--and in some cases medium sized--annoyances that have come with the Games. Just once.  Then, if necessary, I'll get back to serious critiques of serious things--or, failing that, irreverent critiques of serious things.  

In reverse order, here are my Top 5 CWG Pet Peeves:

5.  Shera the MascotI first felt the Games were in trouble the day I saw Shera the mascot. I confess: I cringe just a little each time I see him. He looks like he was designed by a student in fifth class--maybe he was. But a teacher should have given a bit more help! Appu was much more appealing. 

4. Theme song drama. Lay off of A R Rahman.  Yes I know Oh yaaro, yeh India bula liya’  is not the catchiest song in the world.  No, school children are not doing cute dances to it, and nobody I know has gotten it stuck in their heads--in other words, it's not 'Waka Waka' and it's not 'Jai Ho'.  But you know something is wrong with the world when a Group of Ministers starts asking for re-writes to a theme song for a sporting event.  Can't they spend some of that time cleaning up the mess in Bhopal?  We all know the only reason this song getting so much attention is that we were hoping an amazing theme song would somehow save us.  It won't.  Let's get over it.
Dig, re-dig, dig again!

This water bubbles and stinks.
3. Details, details! All over Delhi, too many things "little" things aren't getting done because the MCD is working "round the clock" on the CWG.  Like the service lane at right, which has been dug up several times in the past year.  When it was dug up last, sometime in May, nobody bothered to put the tarmac back.  It's not a "big issue" like the CP fiasco, but it's annoying.  Or look at the blocked sewer main, pictured at left.  That is not rain water, my friends, it is stinky sewer and it's been bubbling away for at least 100 days.  So far, no response from the Delhi Jal Board in spite of numerous complaints from neighbors.  Things like this are happening all over Delhi. It stinks.

2. Silly Traffic Fines.  Last Friday, Delhi policed announced: 1) those driving illegally in special CWG lanes would receive Rs. 2000 fine on the spot; and 2) those who failed to give way for ambulances would be receive Rs. 100 fines--though there will probably be an "education" campaign first.  I guess it's good to see the Delhi police admitting there is a problem here--I almost never see anyone give way for an ambulance in Delhi.  But the fact that a fine for getting in the way of a CWG vehicle is 20 times that of the fine for getting in the way of a person in need of urgent medical care is silly.  If CWG lanes are important, keep that fine.  But Rs. 100 for blocking the way of a potentially dying person? That might work for auto rickshaws and two wheelers, though I doubt it.  But for the owners of private cars? No way!  For them, 100 rupees is the equivalent of a fancy espresso drink--or the daily wages they pay to one of their servants--certainly not the kind of deterrent that will lead to a change in behavior!

'Heritage Toilet' in Def Col.
1. Five Star Toilets--The MCD has promised to build 50, Five Star, "heritage toilets" around Delhi. Officials say that not only will the toilets be "better than those found in five star hotels," but they will be 'green'.  According to this report in Mid Day:
The toilet block is designed with a green concept, fitted with solar panel for lighting and central air-conditioning. "It has a sewage treatment plant and rain water harvesting facility too," said Shitul Patel, representative of Patel Engineering Limited, another partner of the project.
Mid Day says the toilets will cost a crore each. The official  that spoke with me on condition of anonymity (OK, he was a chokidar) said he'd heard the Defence Colony toilet would cost at least five crore.  Who knows.  Who cares? The last time I was there, a couple of weeks back, the toilet was still not ready. I was disappointed, because I was curious to see what a 5 Star Toilet looked like. My son was also disappointed; he needed to pee.  I told him he could hold it or sneak into Barista.

Whoever thought of this silly idea? The Mid Day article says there will be a coffee outlet or flower shop above these toilets.  What kind of a business plan is that?  First, Defence Colony already has plenty of flowers and coffee. Nobody is going to tell their friends, "Hey, let's meet for coffee above the giant toilet in Def Col!" And do you really want to tell that special someone that the flowers in your hand were bought above a '5 Star Toilet'? Not so much gross, as tacky, that. As for welcoming tourists to Delhi, can you really imagine anyone saying, 'Here's a photo of us in front of Red Fort; here we are in front of Qutab Minar; and here we are in front of a giant 5 Star toilet made to look like it's an ancient monument--Delhi is so World Class! And they have good coffee, too...'?  It's not going to happen.

Sorry, this was a stupid idea from the start, which is why this is number one on my Top 5 CWG Pet Peeves list!  Build some good, clean toilets for people who need them. Make the tourists go to Barista to pee. Enough said.

If you are interested in the serious issues, check out our CWG page.

And if you want more than a change in slogans, take a look at ACORN International's Commonwealth Games Campaign or help fight the evictions at Delhi University

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Solution to the CM's Commonwealth Games PR Problems

Yes, dengue is spreading and CWG projects are far behind schedule.  But words like 'final deadline' and 'failure' are just too negative-- We need to use softer words like 'target" and 'adjustment!'

Mrs. Batti and I went for a long walk down Aurobindo Marg this weekend, near a section of the Metro line connecting CP and Gurgaon.  I'll be happy to see the Metro reach South Delhi, but I was surprised to hear that the new line would open this Friday itself.  Let's hope things look a lot better underground than they do above--traffic is flowing on the main road, but many businesses are separated from their would-be customers by construction barriers and mud.   And there is standing water all over the place--the kind of places mosquitoes just love to make babies in. I didn't have my camera, but the photo to the right was the view from the AIIMS flyover this morning. 

Yes, it is not hard to see why there is a rising discontent in Delhi.  I'm hearing it from the least likely people.  People who put up with the corruption and the wasted money and the widespread violations of CWG workers' rights ("that's just the way things are in Delhi.").  Maybe it's the embarrassment of it all.  Maybe it's the fact that those mosquitoes that are breeding in Commonwealth Games related construction sites are not just biting poor people; they are biting rich people as well, and everyone has a dengue story or two to tell this year. 

News of this discontent has apparently reached our CM.  As the August 31 'final' deadline passed, and it became clear that many CWG stadiums were not finished, who can really blame her for looking for excuses? She started by blaming government agencies and the rain for the mess we are in in.  Here were her exact words, according to press reports:
"Some of the agencies were very ambitious, over ambitious. On top of that we have rains which has never happened like this in Delhi. That has slowed down work."
Hmm.  As the CWG's most visible cheerleader for the past few years, it can't be easy to explain such huge problems away at this late date.  But I think the CM can do better than this.  I know there's been a lot of rain in the last few weeks.  But it just doesn't work to blame the rain at this time of the year--we  have this thing called the monsoon in Delhi, and most children are taught in schools that the monsoon means the rainy season, which is also why this is not traditionally the season when we try to get big construction projects done. Might as well blame the sun for going down and limiting our natural light at night.

As for the "over ambitious" agencies, well that sounds a bit odd coming from "Smt. World Class City", who has told us everything is going to be just fine for as long as anyone can remember, and who was boasting that Delhi would be "pollution free by 2010" as recently as three years ago.  No, sorry, the "over ambitious" line just won't fly.

But not to worry, I have a solution to the CM's PR problems. All this talk of 'final deadlines' was a bad idea in the first place.  From now on, let's not use the word 'final' at all--who wants to set ourselves up for more failure?  And let's use the word target instead of deadline--it's much less negative sounding.  In any case, if we miss the new mid-September target, we've still got plenty of time--after all the Games don't open until October 3!  

And even October 3 is not really a final deadline; it's just a worthy goal.  If we can't make that goal, we'll simply have to make an adjustment to the program. Just think of it as jagaad, a work-around solution. We're good at that kind of thing; it's nothing to worry about--in fact we should think of it as a source of local pride.  Actually, there could be real political payoffs for the CM if she spins things right.  Say, for example, that Nehru Stadium isn't ready and we have to move lawn bowling to a local school yard or the Shahpur Jat maidan--that's not a failure, that's just taking the Games to the common man!  

Or in the worst case scenario--no let's not be so a different kind of scenario---we could do what I suggested back on April 1: cancel the Games and hold a Commonwealth Science Olympiad instead.   That, my friends, is what they call thinking out of the stadium--sorry, I mean thinking outside of the box. Given our performance in the last Olympics, it's a safe bet that we'd come away with more medals in a Science Olympiad format than we would in the more traditional Commonwealth Games format.  

The CM has made much of how these Games will be so Green. Think of the savings in greenhouse gases we would see if most of the athletes and officials just stayed home!  Come to think of it, we could go a step further and make it a Virtual Commonwealth Science Olympiad.  That way, nobody at all would be required to come to Delhi, and we could all just sit back and relax as we boasted about how bright our future scientists are.

If you want serious analysis, check out our CWG page.

And if you want more than a change in slogans, take a look at ACORN International's Commonwealth Games Campaign or help fight the evictions at Delhi University.