Thursday, January 27, 2011

Peanuts: a green Delhi snack

Instead of buying a factory-packaged, oil-heavy snack, why not treat yourself to some environmentally friendly roasted peanuts this winter? In Delhi, Rs 10 buys you a small newspaper bag full of warm nuts. Nothing is better on a cold winter's day.

And peanuts are much better for the earth than a lot of other things you could be eating. In addition to the recycled/recyclable bag they come in, peanut cultivation uses a lot less water and produces a less carbon than meat-based foods with a comparable amount of protein.The PB&J Campaign, which encourages people to eat more peanut butter and less meat, has a lot of information on that. And peanuts are generally good for you, as long as you're not allergic to them. 

India trails only China in worldwide peanut production. Peanuts are so popular among farmers because they help 'fix' nitrogen in soil; they are thus used in rotation with crops (like corn and cotton) that require a lot of nitrogen. Don't get me wrong--peanuts are not without their environmental problems. I read a lot about peanut agriculture and a lot of what I read was...complicated, like most things in life. But I'm convinced that if you weigh the costs and the benefits, and compare peanuts with other comparably priced foods, you'll find they come out looking--and tasting--better than most!

More often than not, the best greentech is low-tech. To read more, read our low-tech green page.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Republic Day Post by Kabir Arora

“Constitution”, “Right to life” etc. are the words which I’m hearing from my surroundings every day. “What happened, why are people talking about these things?”  You must be thinking the same when you hear them.  We are living in a utopia where we are told everything around us is good.

Still there is a non-violent resistance and reformist movement. Its only demand to restore the constitution.  We have people from the Queer Azadi March to Anti-Dam activists, who want to restore the spirit of constitution and “Right to life”. On the other hand, the whole state machinery, including the pillars of democracy--legislature, executive and independent judiciary--whom we call the guardians--are up for making the country a “Banana Republic”.

On 26th January, 1950, we became a republic lead by the most voluminous document called “The Constitution of India”. The document made scientific temper as the base of democracy. Now when the country is celebrating 62nd Republic day, the state organs are losing the same rational foresight. They are becoming populist in nature. Executive and Legislature can become “populists” at times, as they have vote bank politics in the background. But who gave that right to judiciary? Is our judiciary going to back Khaap Panchayat era? Divide the land on the basis of religions and create another (Hindu-Muslim) Pakistan in Ayodhya with the full support of responsible people whom we call “judges”? Is this how we interpret secularism in this country?

With the support of “elected representatives” of “the people,” schemes like UID are being introduced to put a check on the activities of the citizens which reminds of us of the totalitarian regimes in 1984 and the movie Brazil.  Oh Big Brother is watching--No voices of dissent are allowed here!  What happened to the fundamental of right, “freedom of speech and expression”?

The people who are struggling for the fundamental right of obtaining information are being slaughtered on the streets. Those who work for human rights and serve the majority of people are charged under sedition. “Waah Bhi Waah!”--This is how we call ourselves the largest democracy of the world?

If Gandhi, for that matter Nehru too, were alive, they would have been jailed for their “inflammatory speeches”. Where are we heading? Is this the “Swaraj” which our founders dreamt of?

Gandhi’s Indian declaration of independence is still very relevant. "The British government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually....Therefore...India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj or complete independence."

If we replace words like “The British Government” with the “Present Indian Government” it will make no difference. We are still being colonized through exclusive nationalism and free market mechanism by our “very own government”.

Let us take a vow on the coming Republic Day that we’ll be the Davids who will struggle against the Goliaths of time to restore the spirit of constitution in India. 
Kabir Arora is an environmental activist and Gandhi Fellow.  To read more by Kabir, see the the links at the bottom of this post.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Special

Mrs Batti is generally pretty supportive of the dhaba. But she is not afraid to tell me when she doesn't like something around here. Lately, she's been complaining about how we lay out lists of links--too messy, seems to be the main thrust of her complaint. I wish I could say that link layout was the only area of my life described by that adjective...but one has to start somewhere, so today, I'm trying to clean things up. Let me know what you think. 

[thinking. learning]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Loneliness, libraries, and the power of stories

Gandhi Fellow Kabir Arora's final post from his village immersion makes clear the amazing power of stories. 

Story telling key to library inauguration
I can claim opening the library as my personal project. Starting from 8th standard, I requested students to come out with stories. Next day they were all set to share. Many of them had amazing stories. I requested students to give them in writing so that they can be shared with the Headmaster. They did so. As promised I talked to Bhagirath Ji and suggested that books should be issued to students while showing the write ups. He accepted the idea. To keep the motivation factor working, I suggested to have story telling in assembly too. The library opened & story telling happened in my absence.  I'm assured about its sustainability as everything initiated when I was not physically not present.

The second day after the beginning, one girl didn't prepare and stood with a blank face, HM came down heavily on me. I felt humiliated in front of the whole school. I was not that bothered as I knew that it was not the girl's fault, she narrated a story in past in the smaller group. Somewhere, she was lacking the confidence. Next day, she came up with a small story to share, her confidence boosted, when everybody clapped for her.

It was Manju's turn next day, I had a similar fear. She was always lazy and bored in the class. In the morning, when she came in front, my fingers were crossed. She articulated an amazing story. All the teachers were shaken deep inside. Headmaster was forced to say that there are diamonds hiding in all you students. Another teacher was amused by narration in Hindi with no influence of Marwari. During midday meal, Manju came to me asked my opinion on her story telling. I said “I'm proud of you”. The glow on her face was amazing.

Journey Continued...
I'm having life's most important phase where there is turmoil inside. There is no external aggression but synthesis of thoughts all around. Village Immersion was smooth journey filled with frustration, anger, tears, smiles, laughter. At certain instances I felt like running away because of tedious life. There was something which stopped me. Krishna's desire to solve addition and subtraction, Naresh's arguments, Ashish's sweet voice saying “Tek Baing” all became the inspiring moments which kept me moving on the path which was filled with rose petals, but thorns in heart. Life was filled with loneliness as had no one to talk with except the moon and stars. Minute observations like placement of polestar and Venus were done in the village. Before VI I didn't know that the moon also rise in east. New moon to full moon and again heading for new moon kept me flowing.

For the first time in last four years away from home, I started missing my family, planned for my semester break. Read poems to short stories, current affairs. I was detached before it, but got very attached with my roots because of month long affair.
Concluding with Eunice de Souza's words:
“...In school
I clutched Sister Flora's skirt
and cried for my mother
who taught across the road.
Sister Flora is dead.
The school is still standing
I'm still learning
to cross the road”.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Open Magazine: redeemed?

Open's climate change denial story looks even sillier one year out, but their willingness to run the Radia Tapes was no small thing
Just about a year ago, Open Magazine ran an extraordinarily bad cover story. In the 'Climate Change Fraud,' Open basically recycled a pile of press releases from right wing think tanks and threw in some quotes from a small group of well-known climate change deniers and skeptics, most of whom give quotes for a living.  No effort was made to examine the issue from multiple perspectives, and to make matters worse, the article was poorly written. The story made me doubt the integrity of people willing to run a controversial cover simply to stir the pot and sell magazines. I gave up reading Open for a long time.  

Then Open broke that Radia Tapes story, something most news outlets were afraid to do. The beauty of a free press is not that it gets things right all the time, but that it gets things right at least some of the time. And some of the time can make a big difference. Albert Camus put it this way: 'A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.'  So hats off to Open and Outlook for being good, at least this time around.  And let's not forget The Hindu, which ran two very good pieces last week explaining why Kapil Sibal's recent attack on the  CAG report cannot really be take seriously, except as a political ploy. Read: Sorry people, we're hanging up on you, and Head in the sand.

Back to climate change, things have not been going well in the year since Open ran 'Climate Change Fraud.'  In fact, last year tied for the hottest year on record.  I know one year doesn't prove anything--it's the long term trends that matter. But if we remain silent, then we leave the field to skeptics, who like to cry foul every time snow falls anywhere.  But for the record, anyone still talking about 'global cooling' may benefit from a review of some basic maths and science. My son is almost finished with his fifth standard text books; that might be a good place to start.  Here's a reality check from a piece that originally ran in the New York Times:
Two agencies, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reported on January 12 that the global average surface temperature for 2010 had tied the record set in 2005...[2010] was the 34th year running that global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average; the last below-average year was 1976. The new figures show that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since the beginning of 2001.
Not good news, for those of us who consider things like the future of our planet. Full story here

So, what are we doing about it? Not as much as we should be.  The climate talks in Cancun last month were not the complete disaster many of us expected, but they fell far short of any real solution. Here are three different takes on those talks for those wanting to dig a bit deeper:

Cancún agreement rescues UN credibility but falls short of saving planet: The Guardian (full coverage here)

Cancun clinches deal--for polluters  from CSE's Down to Earth.

Green Lantern Mira Kamdar's more positive take on the Cancun summit. 

For more on climate, go see the Green Light climate page. For more on the 2G, check out our 2G-CWG page.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Temples of Sand and other classroom experiments in a village school

This week, Gandhi Fellow Kabir Arora writes about some of the many experiments he undertook in the school where he was posted during his village immersion experience.

Marti was my companion. He said that the teacher especially in rural schools should not be an instructor but conversationalist. I followed his principle in the school. The kids in my school don't fear anything. They do what they want to do. Many of my comrades complained that kids don't speak in their schools.  In mine they never shut their mouths! I knew the fact that if I'm not teaching in that school, the learning will still happen. What is my value addition was the question hanging on my neck like sword. I decided to have activity based class where mathematics was taught with exercises needed for studying language and environmental sciences. 

Geometry on ground
The last few chapters of the maths textbook (for primary wing)  are dedicated to geometrical figures which teachers rarely touch. We decided to have a game around the figures which kids named as tribhuj waala khel. I drew the figures which included triangle, hexagon, square and circle (Tribhuj, shashtbhuj, varg, virat) on the board. I told kids about their features and names. Took them out. Asked them to draw the same on the ground but enlarged version.

Square has all sides equal, so to make it they took the measurement by their feet. After drawing, I asked them to hear me and follow my instruction. If I say Varit, they all have to run and stand in figure of circle, relevant to other figures.

The idea was to understand geometrical figures properly and promote individual thinking not influenced by others. Not sure about the second part which is a time taking process. We abandoned the game when they were able distinguish between these figures and explain their features. This game was played with students of 3rd and 4th standard.

Temples of sand
This one was my favorite. Here I requested them to come out of their classes and construct whatever they wanted with sand. Most of the kids from 1st and 2nd standard were interested to construct temples.

Why temples? Their wealth and grandness attract everyone, even child's mind is not left untouched. Chhota Lohsana had three temples, Goga Ji Ka Mandir, Ramdev Ka Mandir and Shiv Ji Ka Mandir. This I came to know while this activity was going on. Anganwadi is also there in the village which kids constructed with the model of their own school.

One of my student was constructing a temple. While construction was on, I told him that there is no way to enter his building, so I made a door in the sand structure. He told me that it is in the wrong direction. I was surprised by his observation of the holy place.

3rd and 4th constructed the replica of whole village. It was a delighting activity which took me back to my childhood. I was satisfying my desire of playing with mud through them. 4th standard even drew the map of their school in the sand. They were asked to show everything the way it is in school. Many of them were perfect in their imagery.

My aim of life
All classes I entered I questioned my kids about their ambition in life. Many wanted to join the army, a few were interested in becoming doctors and teachers. There was one scientist too, another one who wanted to migrate to Iraq. They had dreams in their eyes, especially when they are very young. When I turned to 8th standard, the answer was Pata Nahi, Kucch Nahi. Girls prefered to say Kucch Nahi. At that juncture, they know ground realities, and they can envision their future which many a times looks very hopeless. I tried to shake them to rejuvenate their lost dreams. For getting kucch Nahi out of their mind, I narrated a story I will share in future.

Chitra Mandu?
Wall graffiti was the idea which I experimented here too. At moments I used to get frustrated especially with 1st and 2nd. They used to behave like beggars and later hide the chalks given to them for drawing. Still they colored their walls and faces. In 3rd and 4th papers and colors replaced the wall and chalks. Surprisingly here kids were asking what to draw, while in junior classes they drew whatever they felt like drawing. Loss of creativity because of our education system was my logic. Bhagirath ji had something else to tell, at that age kids start looking for perfection which our society and education system demands. Those who are not able to cope up with it feel shy to do anything creative.

Chhori Chhora
We played another game where I divided third standard in two halves. Forced girls and boys sit together in one girl one boy pattern. They named the game Chhori Chhora. They were very reluctant to sit together initially.

One group with seven members was assigned to say the names of animals, while other one with same number was suppose to share the names of fruits and vegetables. The idea was to increase the vocabulary and add team spirit and consensus building in classroom. By the end of the game they came up with so many names with consensus. For them there were no girls and boys but team members all around.

Another activity almost similar was about the favorite animal. From a crocodile to an elephant, frog they liked all of them. I was amused by their knowledge of natural world.

Handling 1st and 2nd together was a challenge which I never overcame. It was a sort of torture for me at times. The kids freaked me out. There was chaos all around which never got managed. I feel that I was not able to do justice with so many kids. I taught kids addition, subtractions from both standards. Those who were learning number recognition were left out at a lot of occasions. There were two mentally challenged kids, one of them was very attached to me. Initially I used to loose patience with both of them later learned to manage them through affection. There are many moments where I lost my temper and patience. Kids start crying at my angry gesture. When tears pour out from their eyes, my dams broke too. I hugged them, tickled them to bring back in form.

Brutal Crackdown
In morning assembly harsh words used to start my day; because of it frustration never left me. At times it used to reach to the peak. At one instance kids of 3rd standard were playing Kabaddi when 5th class kids started teasing and interrupting them. I literally had to run behind them to shoo them away. They  hid themselves and turned up again to repeat the same. Suddenly they started hitting the younger ones where I lost my temper. I went to their class, looked in their eyes. Few were laughing, knowingly hit them. I saw an angry and hurt animal in me. Later after realizing my mistake, I decided to reconcile. To ill luck the day was over. I entered their class on the third day after the episode. To break the ice we shared the names of favorite animals. I narrated a story for them. Most of my stories were from the stock of folk tales of Punjab read years back.

Nakali Guruji Asli Guruji
What came to Sachin's (student of Class 1), suddenly he came to me when I was just observing kids playing. He was holding his bag the way I was holding mine. He said to me with his smiling cute face “I'm Asli Guru ji and you're Nakali Guru ji”. At that very moment, my eyes blinked to say that yes, you are! Every child has a sleeping man in him as Marti says.

Chhori Hai Chhora Hai?
In my school all boys of junior classes had their ear pierced. Many of them wore the earing which usually girls wear. I used to get confused about their gender. “Chhori hai Ke Chhora Hai?”, was the question on my lips. Their answer “Chhora!”. In case of girls, they had very boyish names and outlook. “Dinesh, Naresh” are few examples.

Roaming around world in classroom
Geography needs lot of visualization. Being a tutor of geography, I desired to show the movie “Planet Earth” to my class. With the permission of “My boss” I undertook this venture. A dark room with my laptop in front, speakers down on the floor. Audience with wide open eyes moving across the planet. With every new animal appearing on the screen they were asking me about its name and location. I feel to proud to ignite their curiosity to explore the beautiful world around them. We are so small when we look at the whole planet. No lands are foreign! 

For more of Kabir's experiences, see:
If I were my own teacher: confidence, colour and voices
Steep Climb 
Tourist Guide  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reviewed: Known Turf by Annie Zaidi

If you haven't read Known Turf: bantering with bandits and other true tales, by Annie Zaidi, then it's time you go buy yourself a copy. Zaidi is a well known blogger, an experienced journalist and an accomplished poetKnown Turf is a collection of essays based on her years working for Frontline,  but this book does not read like Frontline.  Sure, the issues are similar: communalism, caste oppression, violence against women, environmental destruction, hunger, etc. But the difference lies in the voice--and a willingness to go places journalists are not typically allowed to go: the realm of feelings, for example, and self examination.

Here's Zaidi writing about the time she violated one of her journalistic rules and held a malnourished baby in Madhya Pradesh:
I shouldn't have. Face, name: those things one could forget. But the memory of how such skin feels: baby skin that has gone baggy; like a dull, old woman strung around a small body with tiny wrists and arms. Her neck was so fragile--half the width of my small palm.  Her fingers so thin--I have never seen fingers so skeletal on a tight-curled baby fist--too thin to reach out and grasp your own extended ones...I should not have held her, for I remember now that she weighed less than my handbag. Should not have noticed that she did not cry, not even at the prospect of a bunch of strangers peering at her.  Should not have stopped to think that this is the first baby I've held who seems not to care that she is held. Should not have given way to the sudden terror that, this very instant, in my arms, she might stop moving entirely. (pg. 56)
That, my friends, is a poet reporting. You could call it journalism with a heart. You could call it travel writing with a conscience.Whatever you call it, Known Turf is a book that will stay with you.

And do check out our review page for more green reviews.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

More lessons from a village school: what about the other teachers?

Last week, Gandhi Fellow Kabir Arora wrote about the honesty, energy and pessimism he saw in the school where he is doing his village immersion. That post focused on the Headmaster. Today, he writes about the other teachers. He finds that that there is often a gap between politics and practice in a classroom.

What about the other teachers?
As told, only the lady teacher and PTI used to take their class regularly and honestly. I was inspired by the teaching technique adopted by the lady teacher. She never sat higher to the kids. Picture making and rhymes were always a part of her teaching technique. She is very eager to learn alternative ways. Bhagirath ji also acknowledge and appreciate her way of teaching. But he never discloses what he knows which can be useful for her class.

PTI prefers to speak Marwari to Hindi. Initially I found him very rude from his physical gestures. He opened up after borrowing Vagarath Hindi literary magazine. He was surprised to know that even I like to read “that kind of books”. We interacted for once when he told me about the laid back attitude of the Headmaster for sports. He said he want to do lot of things in school that he is not allowed to do. I accepted that and told him not to loose heart, things will change. When I was leaving the school, I saw him turning emotional. He wanted me to visit his place but time was not in my hand.

Vijay ji is the in-charge of food arrangements. He even take his class regularly, but comes under the influence of Satpal ji, who prefers to discuss politics whenever he gets time.

Surjit ji always asks a very deep level of questions for which there are no clear answers. I tried answering them with a very balanced opinion at many instances, or even avoided them. He was also influenced by Satpal ji and avoided classes when all three were together and HM absent. I'm thankful to him for giving lift while heading back home daily.

Now for the much talked about character, Satpal ji. He always complained about the kind of tasks assigned to teachers. I agreed with his anger. He was not even very just to his work. He criticized political system in the country but never did anything to change it from his school. On my last day we organized a Baal Sabha dedicated to Mahatama Gandhi. He gave a long speech which lasted for more than twenty minutes, talking about deficiencies of modern-nation state. I don't think students understood a single word uttered by him. 
For more of Kabir's experiences, see:
If I were my own teacher: confidence, colour and voices
Steep Climb 
Tourist Guide  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Last Week's Delhi Rally for Dr Binayak Sen

'It's our presence that matters,' says my 10 year old--and I think he's right

I went down to Jantar Mantar a week ago Monday to protest the life sentence given to Dr Binayak Sen.  I was expecting to see a few dozen protesters, but was pleased to see a large crowd of several hundred. There were plenty of good speeches, songs and chants. I wasn't taking notes, but there was a doctor there who has worked with Dr Sen for years and her testimony as a colleague and friend was moving.  And many speakers reminded us that as extraordinary as this verdict is, there are many, many more people in similar circumstances who we will never hear about because they are not award winning doctors with access to an international audience. Yes, we want to free Dr Sen, but we must also reform the laws and courts so that this kind of thing won't keep happening.

Mrs. Batti and the litte Batti's came along--the kids were on holiday from school, after all. Why not? I think most kids can understand the importance of human rights.  My ten year old got tired from standing after a while. He asked to go sit on the curb, saying, "It doesn't matter exactly where we stand, right? It's our presence that matters." 

He was more right than he realized, I think. Whether we're young and old, rich or poor, right, left or centre, it really doesn't matter on this issue: freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary use of state power are things that matter to all of us. We've just got to make our presence felt. 

You can start by signing this letter to the President.
You can also join the Free Dr. Binayak Sen Campaign on FB and spread the word by blogging, emailing, or sending letters to the editor of your favorite newspaper.

For those who want to read more:
Hard News has a story and links to other stories.

At Kafila:
A Critique of Binayak Sen’s Judgment  by Ilinia Sen, Sudha Bharadwaj, and Kavita Srivastava
Here's a summary of the case from the Times of India, via Kafila and written before the verdict.