Sunday, April 30, 2017

Water Diviners

“There is water here,” the old man from Kasaragod said simply, after reading the landscape and its botany, and placing his hands on the earth.

I was struck by this line from recent article by Lalitha Sridhar in the Hindu. She was describing C. Kunjambu Attan, a highly regarded 76-year-old water diviner from Kerala and his visit to Bidar, a drought-prone city in Karnataka, India.

It is not uncommon in India to come across stories of great mystics who had special powers to commune with nature. The book, "Autobiography of a Yogi" contains numerous instances of sages who developed a capacity to communicate their thoughts to their people sitting thousands of kilometers away, and of yogis who could "create" fruits out of thin air. In a more recent book, "Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master", tells the story of a Muslim boy who was impelled to find his life's calling a Nath-panthi yogi.

A water diviner may not be categorized as a Yogi, but unlike the seekers of the ultimate spiritual Truth, they seem to be putting their talents to good use -  not in some distant afterlife but in the immediate here and now. What could be more useful that helping thirsty people in parched lands quench their thirst?

This also makes me wonder if there are mystics and diviners who try to prevent the colossal wastage of water we see all around us -- especially in urban areas.Take Noida for instance. Potable drinking water for the city is sourced from the distant Ganga river (80%), and from groundwater aquifers (20%).

Despite the huge expense involved in transporting, cleaning and distributing water to the cities, the UP Jal Nigam seems to care little about wastage. Users are charged a paltry one-time annual fee that creates no incentives to prevent overflowing water from literally going down the drains.

Are there any Kunjambu Attan's who can help prevent the mindless wastage of water in our cities -- especially in the scorching summer season?


* Sridhar, Lalitha - How Bidar Beat Back the Heat --

Kashmir: Any Lessons from Shin Bet?

An article by Virendra Kapoor in the Sunday Guardian presents a contrarian view to the prevelant doom-and-gloom scenario painted by the usual op-ed writers in the English press. He essentially points out that the "Kashmir Problem" is centered on just five of the 22 districts in the state, covering 15% of J&K's land area and less than half of the state's population of 12.5 million.

One of the tweets that came in response, suggested a documentary for essential viewing: "The Gatekeepers", based on an interview of all the surviving chiefs of Israel's secret service, Shin Bet.

Directed by Dror Moreh, this ~90-minute video contains many elements you would expect -- grainy clips from drones following vehicles used by Hamas operatives, dramatic recreations of some famous "targeted assasinations", especially that of Yahya Ayyash, and of interrogation techniques used by Shin Bet.

What is, however, completely unexpected is that clarity of understanding amongst all the spook-chiefs' that a solution to the Palestenian Problem cannot emerge out the ongoing cycle of violence and revenge. They are all for talks with anybody who is willing to negotiate a settlement. As one of the them puts it memorably. "We need to talk to each leads us to understand each other better...he may realise that I do not eat glass, I may find that he does not drink petrol."

It may not be entirely fair to equate Palestine with the Kashmir valley, but some elements are indeed common: The sense of being dis-empowered and alienated; of being under an army occupation; of midnight raids and the disappearance of young men, and stonepelters .  However, unlike Palestine, separatists in the valley are driven by an ideology inspired by radical Islam. This has resulted in an ethnic cleansing of Hindu Kashmiri's who continue to live in refugee camps elsewhere, and now the perpetrators of violence claim to be victims themselves who say, "Victory is to see you suffer!"

According to Clautzwitz, "Victory is simply the creation of a better political reality". While the Modi government finds news ways of overcoming the cycle of violence, it may be worthwhile to keep in mind Prof. Y. Leibowitz's prediction for Israel, one year after the Six Day War, in 1968:
 "A state ruling over a hostile population of one million foreigners, will necessarily become a Shin Bet state with all that this implies for education, freedom of speech, thought and democracy. The corruption found in every colonial regime, will affix itself to the State of Israel. The administration will have to suppress an Arab uprising on one hand, and acquire Quislings, or Arab traitors on the other.."


* Kapoor, Virendra (2017) - Rest Assured, Kashmir is not lost for India -
* Documentary - "The Gatekeepers" on Wiki -

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Not-so-Holy Buffalo

The lunatic fringe in India now has a new avatar - "Gau Rakshaks" - the self-appointed cow-protectors who patrol our roads and highways like the thugee of yore, seeking out the weak and the meek to bully, intimidate, and kill.

Yesterday night they set upon a Gujjar family in Jammu, pulled down a police picket in which they had taken shelter and beat them up for plying their trade. Last week another mob attacked a truck suspected of transporting cows to slaughterhouses, and after beating up the driver, found out that their cargo was not cows but buffaloes.  A clear case of mistaken identity but how does one explain that to a mob targeting muslims?

What explains this sudden touchiness for the well being of cows? In the North Indian Gangetic belt, life has evolved around a pastoral economy. Wealth was measured by the number of cows you owned; Gods were created from iconic cowherds and much loved stories woven around their adventures with the "Gopikas" on the banks of the Yamuna; communities and intra-caste divisions were based on "Gotras"...and yet, even when the cows were pivotal to life in ancient India, our scriptures (eg. Taitriya Brahmana) say that beef was a special treat reserved for honored guests.

The problem with inconvenient truth's is that they lack the emotional appeal, and the political power that can be squeezed out of it. Consider this screenshot of recent tweet. Cows qualify as "harmless, giving animals", but, not other farm animals!

The mobs - and their puppeteers - choose to ignore the face that times have changed. Cows are being rapidly replaced by buffaloes on Indian farms. Compared to cows, buffaloes are a lot more valuable now the north Indian farmer for the simple reason that they provide a higher RoI. The water buffaloes do not carry the cultural baggage of "holiness" associated with cows in North India. So they are treated like the usual farm animals - valuable when they are lactating or pulling carts but easily sold off to the nearest abattoir the moment they cease to be useful on the farm.

So it comes as no surprise that buffaloes provide more than 55 per cent of the milk that Indians consume. They are also the backbone of India's thriving meat export industry. One single company - The Allana Group, processes no less than 7000 buffaloes a day. Last year, we exported about 1.2 million tons of "carabeef" worth INR 23,646 Cr (USD 3.6 billion)!

Despite being one of the original homes of the water buffalo, why is it that in India this animal considered less holy, less worthy of any of the sentiments associated with the cow?

Mythology provides some pointers and clues.  One of the many villains in Indian mythology is "Mahisasura", that unseemly combination of a demon and a water-buffalo who is ultimately slain by Durga, the celebrated Mother Goddess. In many temples there is nothing irregular about offering animal sacrifice, and the buffalo tops the list of blood offerings. At the famous Kalibari temple in Kolkata I remember being taken aback by the sudden sight of severed buffalo heads in the sanctum. Ditto for temples in the Kathmandu valley and the Kamakshi temple at near Gauhati, Assam.

Perhaps the only place where I have seen buffaloes raised to an iconic status is at the Achaleshwar Mahadev Temple in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.

On the banks of the temple pond, stand three stately buffaloes, overlooking a herd of their real-life brethren cooling off in the muddy waters. As with most historical places in India, there are no plaques telling you who took the trouble of putting up the statues, and for what reason. The tourist-guides, will, as usual, tell you some cock-and-bull story that fits the contemporary bias against buffaloes.

It is a sad sign of out times that political revival of the 'Hindu Identity' is being built on regressive, shallow symbolism.

If the celebrated Polish artist, Pawel Kuczynski,  turned his attention to contemporary India, he might have replaced the cat in this painting with a cow, and added a few people (bearded, skull-capped) into the barn! :/


* ENS (2017): Where Indian Meat Exports Go --

* Damodaran, Harish (2012): Cow Belt or Buffalo Nation?
More than 55 per cent of the milk that Indians consume now flows from the udders of buffaloes, which are neither born holy nor have holiness thrust upon them.buffaloes constituted 34.6 per cent of the country's total bovine animal population (male plus female) as per the latest 2007 Livestock CensusAn average Murrah buffalo produces 2,000-odd litres over a 300-day lactation period, which is more or less what comparable elite indigenous cattle breeds such as Sahiwal yield. But buffalo milk also fetches higher price, as it contains 7-7.5 per cent fat – almost twice that from cows.In 2010-11, 7.1 lakh tonnes of buffalo meat, worth Rs. 8,413 crore, was officially shipped out from India.
* Bovidae Family -
* Devdatt Pattnak: In Defense of the Buffalo -

* Allana Group -
57% of total buffalo population of the world, India is considered as the home track of some of the finest breeds of buffaloes

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Zero Energy Building

A rather unusual looking building came up in South Delhi a couple of years ago. Amidst other, conventional government buildings in the Jor Bagh area, "Paryavaran Bhavan", the new office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), looks as though its wearing a graduation cap.

A  closer look reveals that the cap is actually an elongated, cantilevered roof which holds a vast array of solar panels. This seven-storied tower covering 32,000 sq.m, and accommodating over 600 government officials is India's first "Net Zero Energy" building. The solar panels generate 930 KWp of power, which is more than enough to meet its annual energy requirements of 1.4 million Units at 9KWh. The building actually generates a surplus of about 70,000 KWh which diverted back into the grid.

According to MoEF, this "Multi-storied Building with 100% Onsite Power Generation", is the first of its kind in India. Apart from those solar panels on the roof, it uses a Chilled Beam System of air conditioning which saves more than 50% in energy consumption. The building incorporates a Geothermal Heat Exchange System as well as seven "Machine Room Gearless Lifts (OTIS) that converts braking energy into electrical energy (regenerative brakes, as in automobiles). The building also has its own plants for water and sewage treatment -- in other words, it neither takes any energy from outside, neither does it dump its waste into the city's drains.

Who were the people behind such a pioneering effort? How did the usually hidebound CPWD, with its record of making dreadful looking public buildings actually undertake this leap of faith and technical flourish?

Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing in the 'public domain' that either chronicles, or celebrates this achievement. The CPWD website (accessed 19 April 2017), does have a  button titled "Click Here for Old PPTs", and this does lead to a list of projects that includes this building. None of the URLs work.

Dig a little deeper at other websites (ICFILD, CSE) and you would find that CPWD did indeed lack in-house expertise for such a project. So the government did the the next best thing - it employed competent consulting agencies for each of the specialized aspects of this project. CPWD then brought in its formidable project management skills and completed this building in just two years' time (Jan. 2011-Oct 2013). Among them was Deependra Prashad's DPAP -  the architecture firm that designed this building.

Is this new approach going to be the new norm in public works? Have we finally graduated to better designed public buildings?


- MOEF Pamphlet - "A New Benchmark in Sustainable Built Habitat"
- CPWD - PPT - Technical Presentation -
- Case Study (2014) -
- Ramachandran, Smriti Kak (2012) - A Green Revolution in Letter and Spirit -


Capacity of power generation: 930 KWp
Annual energy requirement and generation: 14 Lakh Units 9KWh
Total area covered by solar panels: 4600 sqm
Building plinth area: 32,000 sqm
Structure: G + 7 floors + 3 basements
Solar Panels: Covering 4600 sqm, monocrystalline with 20% efficiency
Amenities: 440 TR HVAC Air Conditioning; Lifts, Fire Alarm System; DG Sets, UPS, IBMS and CCTV Systems; Fully automatic robotic car parking for 330 cars
Architecture, Planning and Execution: Central Public Works Department (CPWD)
Cost: INR 209 Cr. (USD 32.4 million)