26 July 2009

Composting my kitchen waste

Devoid of actual experiments to perform I have actively sought a lifestyle where small random trials of qualitative nature have had to satiate my curiosity to learn. The latest addition to this repertoire of experiments is my long term trial of composting.

If you lived in Seattle and weren't 'green' you were considered an abnormality. So it's rather ironic that I am only able to get around to composting on my return to India. Right, so I did a bit of googling to understand what it means and decided what would be best. Basically you can do the worms bit, vermicomposting or you can do it the natural way i.e., aerobic decomposition. Since I live in an apartment I didn't want creepy worms to suddenly break free and have no where to go; besides if they were to inexplicably die, I wouldn't survive the shock. The first time I had a summer planting season I managed to kill my entire collection due to water abuse and I am yet to fully recover from that massacre. So decomposition it was. Luckily, I found an ad in the newspaper about a composting demo at a store called daram. Do check out the blog; I particularly enjoyed this short film on weaving. Definitely, going back to shop there; they have plenty of lovely local cotton woven into the apparel.

Anyhow, the set up is quite simple. Its a 3 tier terracota Khamba (see picture). The protocol is 1-2-3 oh, and 4-5:

1. Dump waste in top most pot. Put 1:1 (volume) of dry and wet waste. Most of the kitchen waste is wet so you can add dried leaves and newspaper to make up the dry portion.
2. Stir daily or minimally, once a week.
3. When 3/4 th full dump into middle pot. Continue to fill up top pot.
4. When top pot is full the second time, shift middle stuff to bottom pot and move top stuff into middle pot. Essentially you are moving down through the pots as each gets full.
5. Patiently wait while nature and microbes do their job.

Simple, right? I dumped in my waste today with extreme satisfaction and have opened the lid at least 5 times since the morning to check if anything has happened. Neither strangely nor surprisingly nothing much has happened in the last 12 hours. This is going to be one long experiment. But I am quite excited to be composting. I have been warned that there will be maggots at some point but not to worry about them. If they are annoying, I could give them a kiss goodbye by sprinkling red chilli powder into the mix.

The most delirious piece of news about the composting pile is that I can dump the generous quantity of pigeon poop my balcony accumulates. Finally, there is some benefit of leasing, umm... I mean, forcibly sharing my balcony with the pigeon mafia.

If you are in Bangalore the set up is available at Daily Dump. For Hyderabad, I have the contact info. Please leave me a message with your email and I'll get the info to you. There are tonnes more instructions and the Daily Dump website above covers it all. And if you have composted before please let me know what I shouldn't learn the hard way!

22 July 2009

A Smile and a Name

A few minutes ago I had the gas man, H Bhai, come and set up my connection. Sans a bribe one can't get a government gas agency to even talk to you much less register for a connection. So, I went in for a private player in the market and so far, it's been great. But this post is not about the gas man. It's about what happened when I met him.

My usual style in any conversation with a service person is to enquire after their name and then provide mine. Most people give their name but are genuinely shocked when I remember it later. My father had told me this trick years ago about how remembering a person's name and spelling it correctly will open their hearts to me - once again, he is right. I'm quite rotten at remembering names actually and many times start the sentence with 'What's-her-name?' so, I cheat. I write it down on a slip of paper and shove it into my handbag. Admittedly shoving anything into my handbag is like tossing something into a 6 ft hole but I do manage to find stuff in it, occasionally even without emptying the entire content on the table. Anyhoo, the gas man came and was pleasantly surprised when I called him by name. To conclude I offered him a seat and some water. Then I topped off the visit with a Thank you, but in Hindi. Oh boy, he was impressed. I got a very nice Khuda Aafizz at the end!

This is just one of my interactions. Then there is my office housekeeper, the ironwallah, my maid, the gazillion watchmen in the building... urban India is one giant service industry and I make it point to do two things - Call them by name followed by an appropriate designation (Didi, Akka, Anna etc) and I smile. Either the people of Hyderabad are really nice or this strategy is working great. Everyone I meet has been so pleasant and nice. I'm going to be immodest and suggest, not everyone does this. For some reason, we tend to save our smiles for those we know or care about and, certainly not for those who are providing us a service. And I believe, this small gesture makes a big difference to almost every interaction I have had. In this daily world of violence and harsh sounds it's so soothing to have interactions lubricated by smiling that I can't imagine why more people don't do it. Besides, smiling uses less energy and muscles than frowning. There you see, some fantastic qualitative social analysis backed up by credible scientific fact. So smile often and jot names down. That's probably the only strategy you'll even need on how to win friends and influence people!

20 July 2009

Share Auto Update

Just wanted to share some more things I have learned about my wonderful public transport - share autos.

  • The sexes segregating - Well, not really. If there are only 3 people sharing, then all 3 share the passenger seat irrespective of sex. Women sit at the back in all cases.
  • If you are a man with a large bum surface area you get stuck in the back because you crowd out the driver in the front.
  • When you reach the end of your share auto destination don't be surprised if there is another share auto waiting to take you to the next popular destination. I do wonder how far the share auto will take me in the city?
  • The maximum number of adults I witnessed being accommodated today was 8 (excluding the driver). Don't puzzle your brain about how they fit - a few people were sitting atop each other.

Mamma Mia : the Hyderabad version

Last night was a Hyderabad experience. My friend L wanted to treat me for my birthday and that is how we ended up at the Shilpakalavedika auditorium in Hitech City. The event was the staging of 'Mamma Mia' by an Indian dance company, the Hot Shoe production. Albeit I had not gone with much expectation of being amazed at the performance I certainly expected a standard to be met since the cheapest tickets were Rs 500 and for a whopping Rs 2,500 you could sit right up in the front. And finally, I enjoy ABBA so if nothing else a sing-a-long was what I figured would happen.

L and I arrived early so we were seated 10 minutes in advance of the opening time, 7pm. Imagine our incredulity when the show hadn't started till 7:30 and on approaching the event management staff who were more clueless than a walrus in Kenya, I was informed that it was delayed because of the security arrangements. The organizers had overlooked the fact that a single metal detector was placed at the entrance to a hall that was about to be house full to about a 1,000 plus people. Add the Indian norm to show up late for any event and you had a heady mix of things running awry. The show didn't start till 8, a full hour later, when for an appetizing start we were subjected to a poor film on the Hot Shoe company and, the event's producer and choreographer. A wonderful tribute to both these was paid even before the show started. Honestly, I thought an encore came after the show, not before. After a poorly resolved screening we then had to watch a film on Micheal Jackson because this show was dedicated to him! Even the hundreds of tributes on youtube were much better than this slapdash effort. After this we were treated to a re-run on the production company. Finally, the actual show started replete with screaming young women and a dance troupe that looked like a poor copy cat of the Shiamak Davar group.

The show was poorly managed and performance second rate. But the voices were beautiful. All the songs were executed on cue and in perfect pitch, almost making me doubt if they were pre-recorded. Let me give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh, I also liked the cheesy part where the dancers wore suits that glowed in the dark. Yes, I am a sucker for glow in the dark stuff!

Sigh! I don't want to go on. All I can say is that the show is being staged in Bangalore next weekend and you would be a fool to buy tickets. Better to just play the ABBA songs on your ipod and be Nina, pretty ballerina at your own home.

16 July 2009

I'm 30!

I can't exactly say that I have been waiting for this day but I am happy to be getting older. Actually what I think would be perfect is if I could speed through the next 30yrs in 8x speed and arrive at 60. Being older and distinguished sounds far more appealing than being younger and idiotic.

Anyway, the day is here. As compared to my last birthday I feel lighter, happier and far more content than I have ever been. It is rather strange; but life is all about comparison right? You never know how good you have it till you have experienced how bad it really can get!

Today, I have decided to start a new tradition. I'm going to write a letter to myself. A letter describing the status quo, as my father would normally say, to indicate my personal affairs. I am also going to write about my fears and ambitions. This letter is going to be tucked away safe only to be opened next year on the 31st birthday as a reminder to the legacies that I have built so far and the legacies I need to be building. As it struck me during my Edinburgh run, many times we are so focused on looking forward (which is the way to be most times) that we forget how far we have come. So, I want to use my letter to remind myself how far or how little I have come.

Overall though, here's looking forward to another year of experiences and memories which are inspiring but not painful, joyful but not boring and lastly, bloggable!

14 July 2009

Share Autos

To all of you who car-pool,bus, bike or walk to work here is an innovation that verily can claim "It happens only in India-ji".

I live on on popular road in Banjara hills. Although my office is walking distance the 25 mins it takes for me to get there is an uphill climb and arriving with grime on my face is not how I usually like to present myself. There were two alternative - walk 250m down the road to catch a bus or take an auto. Cautiously, I took an auto the first few days. Each trip is a negotiation nightmare and one evening, I decided to forgo the usual haggling and, started to walk homewards when an auto crept up beside me. The auto driver, a young looking hero-wannabe, complete with a red scarf around his neck, motioned his head to indicate I should jump in. I turned around to find two other women in the back seat. The driver thought I appeared a bit clueless and mumbled "mumble mumble office" which made no sense to me. I then asked if he was going on Road no 12 and he nodded, once again furiously indicating with his head that I should jump in. I did. We then stopped several times along the way and each time the driver would crane his head and mumble something about an office. I found it utterly enchanting. Two more men soon got into the auto and you must wonder, where did they fit? With the driver of course; one on either side, sharing the driver's seat. This journey lasted about 5 minutes and I was promptly dropped off after a meagre Rs 5 payout.

In the last week I have been able to figure out the system. There are autos which just travel Road no 12 and model themselves as Share autos. They pack about 5 (excluding the driver) and more, if there are kids. They simply travel up and down the road from the "Pension office" to the "Check post" and back again. So when I have to travel up the road I catch an auto driver who keeps chanting the words "Post" till his auto is filled. Then we climb up the hill, sometimes getting off when the poor engine is unable to navigate steep sections with all of us piled in.

I find the system brilliant. For 10 bucks I have a service that is anytime, provides seating and drops me home. For other points along road no 12 also I can use this service; the charges vary. What is rather neat is how the sexes neatly segregate themselves, so in an auto with men and women, the girls get the cushy back seat while the men sit in front. Also, the system is egalitarian. I have shared the auto with software chicks and day laborers. We are one big happy family traveling up or down the road.

After living for so many years in a society where random body contact between strangers is eschewed (to the extent that in a theatre people leave a seat between two parties) its warm and reassuring to use a system that relies on the ability of people to pack together in order to save money and time. I have missed this type of daily contact. Welcome home, I suppose?

The standard auto
Picture downloaded from: http://photos.igougo.com/images/p242056-Indore_India-Auto_rickshaw_in_Indore.jpg