Laxmi to Narsi, Palam with directed path

I joined IT-BHU (now IIT-BHU) in 1979. It was my first time in a hostel. We met so many new faces of nearly same age group. Most of us was worried with uncertainties of facing a new place, new environment and that dreaded feeling of “ragging”. With all these tensions around I found one guy was ever smiling. That was Laxmi.
Laxmi was ever helpful. In third year we had computer. It was our first experience in typing on qwerty keyboard. Laxmi knew typing and he helped me to pick up touch typing so that it was easy to interact with computer.

 

That year we had a rather short winter vacation and I did not go home. Laxmi also did not go home. On Dec 25th we discovered that most hostels are deserted. Life suddenly felt very dull sitting quietly in the deserted campus. We got a brainwave to go to Obra on bike. Fortunately that was not the age of internet, and we did not have many sites to consult and contemplate. The distance of 110 Km looked achievable. We packed our bags, took a bicycle pump for insurance and paddled our way to Obra. We took a decision on spurt of a moment, did not realize that near the end of our journey, we shall have to bike up the hill. There were five of us – Ashish, Sakil, Laxmi, Wahati and me. We faced the challenge but somehow made it to Obra by evening.

 

The journey was memorable. Biking such long distance and on hilly road had its own thrill. View around was fantastic. What eye saw compensated the pain we had on our legs. We spent couple of days in Obra and then returned on 31st.

 

Now after thirty odd years, most of the photographs that we took on the way have gone. Only a few prints remain, but the memories remain fresh.

 

Later in the next semester both Laxmi and I took Operations Research as electives. There were only a few students in that class. We used to clear each others doubts, in the process we become close friends.  In final year all of us shifted to new hostel. Laxmi was one of the first batch of students to reach hostel that year. He had reserved two rooms beside his for me and Srini, who was also very close friend during my college days. While returning both of them visited my house in Kolkata. That was last we saw.

 

Laxmi went to do his PhD in USA, I went for my PG in NITIE. During the student days we used to write often. Sometime for some books he wanted to be shipped from India. Some time, when chatting and skype became an option we had long discussion over influence of philosophy over scientific thinking. It was through such discussion I developed an awareness of of duality concept that graeco-roman scientists tend to follow and most of us follow the same line of reasoning unquestioningly and its difference with oriental pluralistic systemic thought process. After his PhD and few years of teaching, Laxmi was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and floated his first company – OHMS: Optimization & Heuristics Management Solutions Inc. He was very thrilled with the new venture and sent me his visiting card. During Dot-Com boom OHMS did good business by advising new companies on algorithms. As the bubble burst, so did OHMS. Laxmi was very fond of OR and maths. When e-mails became popular and came to India, he was one of the first one to send me an e-mail. His id was orpi@cmil.com; orpi was combination of OR and Pi (representing Maths).

 

After OHMS, Laxmi floated many companies. Palam was one of the successful one that rode on the outsourcing wave. Palam acted as quality and delivery agent for many Indian companies, in the process it helped quite a few Indian companies to reach out to US market. Laxmi preferred the business model of taking share of company and being on board for the companies he helped to expand in US. Over the years Laxmi became board members in quite a large number of companies. During this time he preferred to be called as Narsi, which was short of his family name. Thus S Laxmi Narasimhan metamorphosed into Narsi.

 

During this time I also saw him develop a strong passion for community work. He was very passionate about the Swaminarayan Temple of Atlanta and loved to accompany visiting Indian celebrities. He used to be a shy person during his student days, but we saw him change to a heavily networked person and become founder of Indian Professionals Network (IPN). Whatever Narsi did, he will drop in a link or share the news clip. Like his getting elected as  chairman of the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce or his photo being published in local newspaper.  Narsi was a co-traveller who took the road I did not take but we had a bridge (“palam” in Tamil as he explained it to me) that remained between us.  But then Narsi crossed a bridge that has no return path. A directed graph as Narsi would probably have like to call it. On 2nd May, 2016 I was in Pune. I was not reading the mails regularly. Suddenly I got a mail with this shocking news that Narsi has passed away after a massive heart attack on Apr, 29th in his apartment. This is a news that took a long time to register and will take a long time to digest. We will all cross the bridge that Narsi crossed at some point in time but this time he could not share the news.  This news brings association to a song that keeps buzzing in my head, let me share it with you all —

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.

 

Automating Building Manufacture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kesab Babu

When we are in class nine we discovered a short, stern figure, He was with short dhoti, khadi kurta, head cocked on one side with Shantiniketani bag hanging at one side. The man symbolized defiance; with an eternal frown he looked as if ready to fight at slightest provocation. This was Kesab babu, our new Sanskrit teacher.

We started to learn Sanskrit from class 8. Someone at board had decided that Sanskrit is good for us. Unfortunately, we could not fathom that goodness and accepted it as our fate.  Usual method of teaching Sanskrit was to memorize the cases of diferent nouns and mugup slokas and regargulate them during exam. It was a chore and we accepted it that way. The subject was the most hated thing, History came close. We had learnt to somehow mug things to pass the exam. On seeing Kesab babu, we braced for another year of tolerating a subject with information that did not seem to serve any practical purpose.

Kesab Babu was a shock! On the first day he skipped the initial verses and went at the middle of the book where there was a short verse from Megadutam. He started reciting the poem. We hardly understood it but liked the rythm. Surprisingly, he was quite good in recitation. Like a jackfruit, despite of his stern appearence, Kesabbabu had good appriciation of poetry. He was also very candid in discussing Kalidasa’s description on the beauty of Yakshini. After his recitation, he proceeded to explain the meaning and all the nuances of case and conjunct words. After the recitation, he proceded on telling a story about Kalidasa, innovation of Meghdutam and the leap of imagination Kalidasa could do to image areal view at an age when no one had experienced air travel.. Suddenly, Sanskrit was looking interesting.

Before he finished, he asked us our name and laid a rule – in his class all conversation will be in Sanskrit. If someone do not understand, he will explain them – but in Sanskrit. He never bothered to teach us those Dhaturup (cases), and left that as something we should pickup in order to understand the words.He will recite slokas and poem and tell us historical and philosophical relevence of these. Hearing these, history started to become interesting. All the kings and events started to be meaningful and relevant with the slokas. It looked, Sanskrit can really be as interesting as reading a novel. We actually started to differentiate between Balmiki’s Ramayana and Kalidasa’s Raghubansha.

Kesab Babu was taken as an miser, living a frugal lifestyle, and was a model of rudeness. Even headmaster used to avoid him and we saw he used to be afraid to antagonize him.. I never remember him contributing a single rupee for things like flag day, flood relief, etc. There was a student in our class. His parents were not well to do and the fellow was pretty bad in studies. We found, this fellow used to meet Kesab Babu during our tiffin time secretly. We are pretty sure, this fellow is doing some kind of spying on us. One day we followed him and found he is eating in a corner of teachers room. Kesab Babu was sitting close by. We wondered, what is going on.

Later that year, we attended Kesab Babu in private coaching class. Once we got to know him a little more personally we asked him, what he was doing with that student. He told, this fellow is good at sports but lacked good food. So he used to bring some egg/paneer for him. In person, Kesab Babu was strict vegeterian and used to do his own cooking. That he will bring egg for this student spending his own money secretly made us very much curious about him.

We used to poke him about his life and one day he told us his life story. Oh Boy! what a story it was.

Kesab babu came from Chattogram – a port town in present Bangladesh that is below the Arakan range. During his class eight, he got motivated by freedom fighters and left study to join a Freedom fighter’s group called Anushilan Samity. He was a child worker, and maintained watch posts, passed on information. He was the leader of boys wing at his location. After spending some three four years with Anushian Samity he got a shocker.. Anushilan Samity was banned for aiding anti British work. The leader – Aurobindo Ghosh suddenly got devine insparation and asked the workers to wound up the operations. Aurobindo Ghosh himself became spiritual leader. He did not do much to protect the organization. An class eight dropout, Kesab Babu, was afraid for his life. He also lacked any proper skill to earn an respectable livelyhood. In the Chattogram Area, Naga Sanyasins are much respected and feared. Kesab babu aspired to be a Naga Sanyasin and fled from his house.

Kesabbabu served Naga Sanyasins for almost five years. Naga Sanyasin remain naked and said to be in full control of their body. Even in coldest of winter, Naga Sanyasin will not cover their body. To his surprise, Kesab babu found these people to be a bunch of farse. They were camoflaged looters who raid house of well to do person with their elephants. They will plunder, take away all they and their chelas liked. The unfortunate person, who’s house were raided wre even not able to protest, for the fear of social ostrasization. Such is the social makeup, people around will think he has been very fortunate to have the opportunity to serve the great Sadhus. The ones who knew, preferred to keep silent. He found there is nothing spiritual in the whole thing. Even, their self control is nothing extraordinary. They use heavy doses of drugs and some surgical procedure. After spending few years with them Kesab babu decided to flee the Sanyasins,

Fleeing the Sanyasins was not an easy task. Sanyasins did not hesitate to kill escapers to keep their secret. In addition there was arraest warrant on him as key member of He was also aware of banning of Anushilan Samity. That meant certain death in the hands of British Police if he was caught.  So he crossed over to Tibet, which is beyond the reaches of both Nagas and British. He heard of a person alled Rahul Sanskritayanan. Rahul was famous as indologist and was sympathatic to freedom movement. On his way to Lasha, he learnt Rajhul is no more in Lasha, and instead gone to Kashmir. So Kesab babu travelled through the silk route towadrs Srinagar. He had no money with him. So he had to work some time in hotel, sometime as waiter, sometime doing menial job in garden. It took him over twoyears to travel the distance. He met Rahul, convinced him about his seinceriety and become his disciple. He studied Indian scripts with Rahul Sanskrityanan for about 14 yrs. He was able to recite all the works of Vedas and Kalidasa from memory. After Rahul Sanskrityan passed away, he needed some job.

Rahul Sanskritayan was a giant. Although he was never given much recognition in free India, he was the architect of what India we see today. During the final days of freedom struggle, Britishers never accepted India as one nation. The India they got was bunch of princely states and Mughal empire; Muslims wanted restoration of Mugal rule, Fact is Mughals during pre-British got only limited to UP and part of MP, rest of India was divided with Peshwas and multiple princely states in between.. It was certain, restoring the status to what India was before Britishers came would have led India to be fragmented into huge number of pricely states, each warring for its suprimacy. The situation would have been very chaotic. It was Rahul Sanskrityan’s interpretation and proof that Chanakya’s laws being the central to ruling of all princely states established India to be one nation composed of several states and become the basis of what we see India as today. Rahul was also seen as great educator in Tibet. He was conferred the title – Mahamohopadhayay – meaning the greatest teacher by Dalai Lama. Kesab Babu had no formal  education, but just the mention of Rahul Sanskrityan’s name got him a job as curator in National Library. After few years however, he got bored with the job in Library and wanted a teaching job. That’s how, he got to be a school teacher.without actually passing any examination.

Althogh Kesab Babu left Naga Sanyasins, he followed their lifestyle to an extent. He would cook his own food and only eat once in a day. He will leave a frugal lifestyle with just few trademark dhoti and kurta. His principle was if you are in control of your needs no one can influence you. That was the basic principle of Naga Sanyasins and he followed it to core. He cared no one and always ready to stand for his principle. He did not even care for the post of headmaster. A very strict discplinarian,t he was kind of gurdain for his students. The fellow I mentioned needed high protine diet for this play, which his parents could not afford. That was Kesab babu’s secret for carrying egg for this guy. I never recall him using more than a frown and a very soft scold when someone did not come up to his expectation. But then, the word will be in such pointed manner and so reasonable the reciepient will be more hurt than severest of punishment other teachers in their arsenal.

We used to ask pretty personal questions about his values and he would answer them cheerfully. Once we asked him, why do you take private tution. He was prompt. He explained, in private tution he can talk on Indian culture, philosophy that is not possible in the short Sanskrit class. In addition his dream was to build a flower garden and a coaching class after his retirement. But someone out there had other design. He died in cerebral attack much before his retirement. That was a big loss for the society. He was one of last relics who believed in building values and character in the students rather than just helping students to cram some information and get good marks in examination. Many things what Kesab Babu said did not make sense at that young age, but it does now. That was greatness of a good teacher, who continue to influence years after one has left his contact.

Minnesota State Fair

Minnesota state fair is one place possibly every one in Minneapolis comes. It is part of cultural tradition that dates back to 1859. It is fun to see so many people at a time. Official record shows on this day attendance was 229,943 people. Some number!!!


It is a 12 day long event completing on the Labor Day (1st Monday of Sep). 


Main attractions are Agriculture and Animals. It is also a place to taste authentic local delicacies and enjoy the rides.

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Debilal

“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.