The Palmyra Tree

palmyra trees

Palmyra trees in the background

The palmyra tree (Borassus flabellifer) is a tree that is hard to miss in the drier parts of Tamil Nadu. It is slow growing, requiring 30 years to reach maturity. The tree has many uses, about 801 uses.

I don’t know about all those uses, but when we went for summer vacations to our native villages, a good deal of life revolved around it. In spite of the many uses, the tree stayed in the background, and was little noticed by people.

One of the first things we did in the morning was to walk to the farm. One can see tappers of the palmyra tree sap, muscular and bare-bodied, rhythmically climbing up the tree. Or they would walk between trees with a couple of big tins of sap. Those days people were very friendly, and the tappers would offer sap to those who just walked by. They’ll slice a leaf from the palmyra tree, take a piece of it, fold it down in the middle, and tie the end. This would make a perfect cup, into which a bit of sap will be poured, and we would drink it.

palmyra babbler

Babblers on the tree

Our grandfather had his own set of trees, which was tapped by someone from the village. Half the sap would come to us, and the rest will go to the tapper. This sap is sweet, very sweet. What is normally done is the long spadix (inflorescence) of the male tree (the female trees are also sometimes tapped) is beaten, and the tip sliced with a very sharp knife. Several of the flower spikes are sliced, and tied together  and a clay pot is tied to it, so that the sap drips into the pot. The pot is lined with lime, this prevents fermentation. One tree can give several liters of sap a day.

palmyra trees ibis

Small trees with ibises about to land.

If the clay pot is not coated with lime, then the sap ferments to toddy. If one drinks the early morning toddy, it has very little alcohol, and is more like tender coconut water. Probiotic and very rich in B-vitamins.

palmyra_owl

If you look closely, you can see an owl. The tree supported a lot of life.

Those days no one harassed the tappers, even if they tapped toddy. Some drank toddy once in a while. It was also used to ferment batter for a couple of dishes, appam (rice crepe) and paniyaram (rice muffin). Even dough for western style bread was apparently fermented with toddy.

palmyra gecko

Gecko on a tree. In the dry regions, the palmyra tree’s ability to get moisture from deep underground proves useful for the many animals and birds that find shelter in it.

Anyway very little toddy was tapped. It required the coolie-ism, and modern brokenness to make toddy a big issue. Most was padaneer, the sweet unfermented sap. Once we reached the farm, we drank a liter or two of the sap, then jumped into the well, and swam. After a couple of hours of swimming, we had breakfast of idli or rice.

palmyra lizard

Lizard camouflaged against the dark trunk

Our grandmother used to boil the sap in a big rectangular, but shallow pan. The stove was a depression in the ground, with a rectangular clay edge to seat the pan. It is a fairly long process. The sap darkens and goes through several phases. It becomes dark and transparent after a while. After more boiling, it will reach a stage, where it will crystallize when cooled. We first get a bit of the syrup on a palmyra leaf, and lick it. Then the next phase will be thicker and crystallize somewhat. This we put on a leaf of poovarasu tree (the Indian Tulip Tree /Thespesia populnea) and eat it. Finally after the right stage is reached, Grandma will pour the syrup into coconut shells, and let it cool and crystallize. This jaggery is rich in minerals, and quite healthy. Once the boiling is done, some of the syrup will stick to the sides of the pan, and will have a chewy, toffee like consistency, which we scrape off, and eat.
Sometimes our Grandma will remove the syrup earlier, and pour it into a pot. This one instead of becoming jaggery (which has very fine crystals), will after a few weeks end up as bigger crystals and syrup. The syrup is drained , the crystals separated out and dried.

The shed where the sap is boiled has a thatched roof made from palmyra leaves. Many houses those days had mud walls, and thatched roofs. They remained fairly cool, when temperatures outside used to go above 40 degrees Celsius. The houses also had verandahs, open with nice organically shaped mud walls, and mud seats.

palmyra rough bark

Tough, rough bark gives a good grip for the climbers. The closely spaced marks from fallen leaves indicates the very slow growth of the tree.

Our house was pucca, built with stones and lime, with a flat roof. Still the thick walls kept the inside relatively cooler.
But we did have couple of thatched sheds, next to the house, one for the cows and goats, and the other was a kitchen.

Next to our house was another Grandpa’s house. This was a big house of mud with thatched roof. A couple of my uncles were tappers. They had calluses on the hands, which they use to slice off, with a sharp knife, the same one that they use to slice the flower spikes. The knives were sharpened on a flattened stick, with powdered flint from white quartz rocks. The tappers also carried a rubber strip to sharpen the knives in the field.

palmyra tree banyan

Banyan tree growing on a palmyra tree. Both are very slow growing, and should continue to grow together for decades, without affecting each other.

Later in the season, we get fruits from the palmyra tree, the ice apple.

palmyra fruit

The fruit here has ripened a bit, but when tender, the transparent meat inside is eaten (ice apple). Unfortunately don’t have pictures of ice apple.

The tender fruits are ice-like and transparent inside, with some sweet water in the center. The tender ice apple is scraped off with our finger and added to padaneer. A very tasty combination.

palmyra_rat

Fruit eaten by mice or squirrel.

Rice flour, palmyra jaggery, with a few other ingredients wrapped in young palmyra leaf, and steamed makes a rich, flavorful sweet ( ‘panai olai kozhukattai’, பனை ஓலை கொழுக்கட்டை). The palmyra leaf gives an intense fragrance.

In most of the houses, people would sleep on a wooden cot, woven with fiber from the leaf stem of the palmyra tree.  The fiber when peeled off is shiny and waxed on one side, and fibrous on the other. When the cot is woven, the waxed side will be on top.
The cot would allow for air circulation, from below. Unlike modern matteresses, which are bad in hot climates. The palmyra fiber is fairly strong, and the cots last for more than five years when used outside in the sun and sometimes rain. Inside the house it can last a long time. Heavy people can make it sag, but there weren’t many heavy people those days. People seated on the cots outside the mud houses, and chatting was a typical village scene in Tamil Nadu.
This fiber is also used to make very strong baskets. Weaker, but bigger baskets are made from the leaf.

sharp edge leaf stem

The hardened, dark, serrated edge can slice through skin. The tappers hold it in such a way that they don’t get hurt. Never heard of anyone who sliced his hand. Although city folks are constantly warned about the danger.

The trunk of the tree is very fibrous and extremely strong. It is used for tiled roofs,  and thatched ones. Even flat roofs built with bricks laid in herring bone patterns are also supported with palmyra trunk wood. The main beams in such roofs will be very thick teak, or other wood. When a tree was brought down by a storm, or for timber, the heart of the crown was eaten. The trees are very strong, and well anchored, with roots reaching down more than 30 feet, so it is extremely rare that a strong gust brings down a tree. The tree might have been otherwise weakened for it to be toppled by a storm.

Once the fruit ripens, the fibrous portion becomes orange. The fruit has a very strong flavor, so it is rarely eaten. Field mice and other animals do eat it. When it ripens, it falls to the ground.

palmyra ripe fruit

The ripe fruit, people do suck on it. The taste and smell is too rich for most people.

This is collected, buried in a shallow pit and watered. It sprouts, and after 8 months or so, when the tip of the first leaf shows up, it is dug up. The main stem is a starch rich, cone, that looks like a tuber. This is steamed and eaten. What cannot be immediately eaten, is sliced into small pieces, and dried in the sun. You need fairly strong teeth to eat the dried tuber.

sprouts

Sprouted tubers, steamed and eaten.

What was ice apple when tender, thickens into something similar to coconut meat. And the water at the center of the ice apple thickens into a white, soft kernel, sweet and crunchy.

fruit after sprouting

The watery center of the ice apple now becomes solid, crunchy and mildly sweet. The coconut like meat is the transparent ice apple meat. It is terribly hard to split the dense, fibrous seed. Make sure the bill hook is really sharp.

We put this kernel into the syrup from boiling the sap, and it is the Indian version of apple dipped in chocolate sauce. The kernel is from previous year’s fruit. The sap itself is available only a couple of months in summer.

The palmyra tree with its many uses, somehow remained in the background. It received no praise from the common people. On its own it spread everywhere, and people left it alone, rarely cutting it down for timber. Yet today, with the tappers harassed by law enforcement, with youngsters moving to more easy jobs, and with modern agriculture that finds the palmyra tree a nuisance, the trees are cut and sold for 300 rupees, to the brick kilns as firewood. A rather unfortunate end to the state tree of Tamil Nadu with 801 uses.

But as the we go through growth, cashlessness, and digital corruption, and the cycle turns, people may become healthy and wholesome, to once again enjoy the richness and wealth provided by nature.

mango

Mango

mango sliced

Mango that grew amidst the rains, the sun, the soil and the soil life. Finger-licking good, and the very essence of summer. Although the mangoes in our region ripen only late summer. Modern mangoes from stores, even if they have the color, taste watery. Drippity drip irrigated, fertilized, and sprayed with pesticides, they lack flavor and nutrition.

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Over wearing the underwear

moth
Underwear has become more fashionable these days, although it is something worn inside. It probably started with colonial invasions and Victorian prudishness. Later on the missionaries would have put their own spin, unable to reconcile the simple joys and exuberance that they encountered in the tropics, with their dour world view.
A boxer brief from Jockey, or from a local company can cost between 350 to 400 rupees ($6 to $7). That’s quite expensive, one can pick a shirt or sometimes pants for that price. Just a few decades back, most boys even in city schools didn’t wear any underwear. In hot climate, especially in southern India, it didn’t make sense. But now western culture has taken over, and even children in first grade (first standard) in so-called international schools, wear full coat-suit and tie. Right to education probably demands that there be a certain area of concrete space per child. Gone are schools in open spaces, under trees, rooms with mud walls, and thatched roofs, or even tiled roofs. Five years back, I’ve seen rural children walking or taking the bus to school, barefoot. Today they wear sandals. One madness yet to take over children in government schools is shoes. A very stupid thing for children, or adults in tropical climates.

Anyway, getting back to underwear, there are several types, but we’ll concern ourselves with the material – either knitted cotton, or regular cotton cloth. Knitted cotton breathes less, is made to fit more tight, and is likelier to cause fungal infections. Boxer type with regular cotton cloth, is somewhat looser fitting, and better suited to the climate. The knitted ones are cheaper, about 100 to 150 rupees, and the boxers are 3 to 4 times more expensive.

It is possible to find print rejects, and what is called as bit-pieces, left-over cloth too small to be sold, for about 15 rupees. Usually the size is about half a meter, more or less. This is fairly decent cotton, sometimes given a satin finish. If one has a sewing machine, then it is cheaper to stitch the boxer briefs. You need to buy one to be used as reference. Need 4 pieces, in two different shapes. Stitch them together, put the elastic for the waist, and you are done. Cost would be around 30 to 40 rupees. 15 rupees for cloth, 15 for elastic, and 10 rupees max for thread. Could be cheaper, if you manage to stitch 2 with one piece of cloth.
underwear
It was my first time on the sewing machine, and in a couple of hours, with a little help from my wife, the boxers were ready. Since the ready made one has a tolerance on waist size of about 2-3 inches, it is likely to be tight, if your waist size is on the higher end. I could put the right size elastic to suit my waist. Of course the finish is not professional. The elastic instead of being stretched and stitched, is just threaded in. Yet like the store bought one, it will last for a long time, being decent quality cotton.

Make sure you stitch the inside of the leg as one continuous stitch. And check the fit by lifting your leg up to your forehead. Without patterns, and with no prior experience, I could get a more perfect fit than the store bought one.

Speaking of cotton, there is lots of fraud. Most cloth have polyester mix. Some stores sell children’s clothes in polyester, at the price of silk. One way is to look at the fibers under a microscope. A stereo microscope would be a better option, but a compound will work too.

polyester_40x

Polyester fiber

polyester_100x

Polyester fiber

Cotton has all the imperfections that comes from being a plant fiber.

cotton_better_quality

Cotton fibers, somewhat better quality

cotton_fibres

Cotton fibers, with width variations and imperfections

Polyester looks perfect, like a glass tube. Wool looks uniform, but if you look closely, there are markings on it.

wool

Wool

Hard to make out in the photos here. Also, I believe high quality cotton would be more uniform than what is seen here. But India lost high quality fibers with the Bt cotton revolution.

We didn’t get much from Ungardening, partly because the seeds are heavily hybridized or otherwise weakened through mutation breeding. Still can’t understand what radiation-induced mutation breeding is supposed to achieve. Apparently Darwin came up with a theory that living things evolved through selection of the fittest. Once we understood that DNA is the template for life, we found a mechanism to bombard it with gamma rays, create variation, and then used Darwin’s survival of the fittest, to find crops with desirable characteristics, including strangely, drought tolerance. Of course, we are not supposed to see the ugly misshapen plants that barely germinated. Or those that got aborted even before germination. With  mild radiation, we would see the plants producing different color flowers, or flowers with streaks. Or may be thicker skinned fruits. But beyond that, to be able to create crops with desirable characteristics, seems more like a dubious fairy tale. Heard that there were several farmers waiting for BARC (Bhaba Atomic Research Centre) to release their groundnut cultivar bred through irradiation. Some farmers, to believe in such idiocy.

Here’s the orange pumpkin, that flowered profusely, and attracted lots of honey bees. pumpkinpumpkin_on_vine
Eggplants.
brinjals
The lab lab produced less than 100 grams of seeds, there were only 2 plants. Okra, of dubious lineage, but sold as a traditional, open pollinated variety, just a few pods. Sunflowers once again were hybridized seeds. But the bigger one produced seeds that were fully filled in.
sunflower_seedhead

A golden ladybug.
golden_ladybug

Diffuser for the bio-sand filter.
diffuser

A swallow that found temporary refuge on top of an electric lamp. It was in a deep sleep, that my son was able to touch and photograph from very close. The photo here was from further away, since the photos on the other camera turned out not very clear.

swallow

All the plant material, the roots, leaves, and stems, are back in the soil. A little manure, and some rains, the increased “edge” from all the organic matter, should give us better yields. If only we can get genuine seeds, not the ones from licensed companies, that conform to the seed control act, and have the genetic purity and germination rate printed on them. Not those, we need ones that farmers have cultivated for generations, that depend on the sun, rain, wind, and microbial life to grow. That doesn’t like chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The seeds I got were from Bangalore, but over the last several years, I’ve seen increasing corruption by these seed savers, who claim to save traditional varieties. If you are a simple minded farmer, then the big seed companies will steal your seeds through deceit, and pollute any remaining seeds through hybridization. Farmers have to understand modern deceit. Agricultural universities, and regulators have their own agenda.

We got “honey” from a khadi store with Agmark seal. It strangely crystallized, even when kept outside the fridge. I’ve seen honey from the north crystallizing, but not this quick. I decided to check under the microscope, and saw just a handful of pollen in a big drop. So this has some real honey mixed in. But either the bees were fed sugar water, or invert syrup, or honey was mixed in with lots of invert syrup.

pollen

A single pollen. Honey should have lot more pollen, this honey had less than 10 pollen grains in a big drop.

pollenless_honey

Left is khadi “honey”, and right invert syrup sold as honey, now crystallized

The old “honey”, which was just invert syrup sold by a guy who claimed it was “kombu thein” had fully crystallized long back (Honey during times of great GDP growth).
fake_honey

fake_honey_crystals

Invert syrup crystals and air bubbles

The fact that we are breaking down things and calling them as “breeding a better variety”, means that much of science is questionable. The smart phones, cars, and aircraft all look like obvious improvements. But smart phones other can being expensive notebooks to maintain to-do lists, have created psychological and emotional damage. Buffoons in order to make a little more money, want to push tablets, and computers for education at a very early age. We can expect more damage from the digital economy, cashless economy, biometric surveillance, genetically modified crops, and smart cities. “Democratic” nations find it easier to push such things, with a few compromised or characterless individuals at key places, who of course are paraded as emperors, capable of “bold” decisions. Peoples intelligence and judgement are only good enough to vote in elections, everything else has to be governed from top-down, in a parody of minimal government and maximal governance. Why don’t we take the election part away too, and let the likes of Bill Gates or Soros “elect” the leaders. After all they have a hand in pushing cashless economy or various other demented ideas – http://norberthaering.de/en/home/27-german/news/745-washington-s-role-in-india.

USA that worshiped the FDA, USDA, CDC, and EPA, and could redirect wealth from unfortunate nations, to its shores, using its military, ended up in ugly obesity, gender confusion, cancer, depression, violence, mindless surveillance, and excessive abuse of prescriptions. Other developing countries will end up much worse, when people are forced into the bestest solutions determined by USAID, UN, WHO or other hidden elites.

Modern mental illness that can be traced to an overdose of technology, can lead to unexpected breakdowns. It pays to be cautious about society, herded into narrow technology dominated paths, for the benefit of a few. Technology is less of a problem, if people and communities get to pick and choose or even avoid technology. But today a few individuals acting at the behest of phoren folks are  enforcing technology use through intimidation and the threat of “law”. While the media is forced to claim that bold decisions are made on behalf of the poor. Which, is interesting, to say the least. If only we could crawl into our underwear, and escape the onslaught of insanity!

Ground water recharge scheme or scam?

water_flowing

Water flowing after the rains

There is this hero who goes into a meeting about recharging underground water. Being a little humbler than the standard cinematic heroes, he announces that he has a well, that he’s going to fill it with rain-water and increase ground water level. Quite unexpectedly the group of water experts laugh at the foolishness of the idea. Why will you use a well to recharge the underground aquifers, when it is the other way around. The increase in ground water level, will make water seep out from the wells, that then gets used for irrigation.

The hero, being of the humble sort decided to follow the experts. What do they suggest?

Well, in Coimbatore, there is a certain organization that is in the process of “reviving” lakes. The lake is first de-silted, and mostly levelled. So that it is of almost constant depth everywhere. We need some number to thump, the storage in cubic feet available in the lake, don’t we. Then the bunds are neatly straightened, or rounded off. Shrubs, grasses and weeds are removed. All streams bringing water to the streams are similarly straightened, de-weeded, and fixed, so water after the rains immediately get to the tank. At the end of this, apparently the ground water level improves.

Of course our hero realises that a lake is just like a well, just bigger. So to become an expert you just need to scale up, your foolishness should be on a grand scale, that people look at you in open-mouthed awe.

Half a kilometre away from the farm, there is a big lake, spread on  15 to 20 acres, when full. The water here is muddy, from the silt washed from the farms. This lake, we should say, is rather foolish. A quarter kilometre away from its shore, there are a few wells, at a lower level, than the lake, but when the rains failed, didn’t have any water. Even when the lake had  water. Some wells within a hundred meters had water, and some didn’t. Of course, there is a possibility, the fine silt at the bottom of the lake, might prevent water seepage underground. And where the rock formation was mostly sedimentary or loose gravel, water seepage would have occurred, re-charging wells within a few hundred meters of the lake. Yet for the most part, here was a lake, too foolish to not do what the experts expect it to do.

The big lake near Ukkadam, in Coimbatore is probably 20 kilometres away from the  foothills of the mountains. Since creeks carry water from the foothills to the lake, the lake, should in consultation with the experts recharge the groundwater upto the foothills.

How did our beliefs get inverted? With modern education?

What makes a river flow? What makes it perennial?

When we were young, in our vacation to the village, we did occasionally play in Tamaraparani river. This was about 20 kms away from the base of the mountains. The water was clear, and the sand nice. What one would notice, is that water springs from underneath the river bed.

Shouldn’t water seep into the river bed, and recharge the groundwater, as the experts say? Therein lies the tragedy of our times.

If water behaved the way the experts want it to, in the mountains, then the creeks and rivers in the upper reaches of the mountains, should be free of water, right after the rains stop. But it is these creeks and rivers that flow round the year, even during the dry off-monsoon season.

water_in_field

Water in the fields

Rain in places with thick vegetation, and uneven ground, soaks the land, and seeps out as springs, which flow as small creeks, and join together to become a bigger river. And along the course of the river, water springs out from the river bed and feeds the river,  as it flows on to the sea. Why, in fact there is also huge underground flows along the river, which sometimes shows up as freshwater springs under the sea, closer to the shore.

 

dense_grass

Uneven land, with rich vegetation lets rain water soak into the land. This makes the streams run long after the rains stop

It is the same with lakes. Many lakes are fed from underground springs, right under the lake bed. Rainwater that soaks the landscape, flows downhill, through underground aquifers, and springs out from the lake bed.

swales

Swales are an artificial way to let the water flow underground. These have to be planted with vegetation.

That is how nature works. For man to benefit, the farms should be like forests, with vegetation, that recharges the aquifers, and lets the springs and creeks flow. These should flow long after the rains stop.

The reason we have rivers drying up, springs drying up, lakes disappearing, and groundwater receding, is that we have our belief system from education and science, that is the exact reverse of how nature works.

You wouldn’t then be enraptured about de-silting of lakes or rivers, the shrill hysteria that pops up every year. When lots of water is in underground aquifers, you are less concerned about storing several trillion cubic feet of water overground. Sure we need lakes with overground water for life, but that is a consequence of high ground water levels, and will happen on its own, if nature works.

30 years back, in Tamil Nadu, on a bus trip, you’d see so many lakes with lilies, lotuses, fishes, and water birds. They have vanished, and it has nothing to do with population. It has everything to do with foolish environmentalists, and scientists who improved “agriculture”.

 

mushroom

scorpion

An yellow scorpion waiting for a snack.

We have youth going on hunger fast, wanting a certain groundwater recharge scheme implemented. “Farmers” similarly do the same.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/struggle-intensifies-for-athikadavuavinashi-water-project/article8238950.ece

Some farmers want the canal lined with concrete, upto the point where it reaches their farm. Just recharge ground water in their farm alone. If canal is unlined, clever people sink borewells near the canal, and suck the water. Yes, the borewells have to be near the canal.

Farmers have to let rain water soak the landscape, and  contribute to underground water, springs and rivers. Rather than sucking water from lakes and rivers. They have to participate in the cycles of water. Rains play a very important role. Once we realise that, we wouldn’t look up to distracting side issues, brought up by people like Maude Barlow in Blue Covenant – http://www.amazon.in/Blue-Covenant-Global-Crisis-Coming/dp/1595584536.

On a naturally flowing river, you can get water from a bore well far away, because it is the groundwater that makes the river flow.

There are a few people who have understood and revived creeks, rivers and lakes. Revival of Noyyal in Coimbatore and Tirupur has received 650 crores, I doubt anyone in that team has an intuitive understanding of river flow.

Like Ganga, don’t be surprised if the fractal edge of rivers is straightened, de-silted, shrubs and trees on the banks removed, and concrete ghats established. Non-corrupt scientific and technical excellence to the fore! The rivers will flow, if at all, stinkier, lifeless and nastier than ever.

Cauvery can be several kilometres wide, when it reaches the sea.  The overground flows into the sea of silt laden water serves a rich ecological purpose. Also don’t forget the bigger underground flows of freshwater to the sea. Yet experts do not want not a drop of water to reach the sea. It seems such a waste to let fresh water mix with the sea.

Stopping the river flow, and sucking underground water near the shore, will cause salt water ingress into coastal aquifers. The rear-plugingers want this! A majestic river, with a deep cultural past is destroyed.

 

A river in a desert region may be exploited the way experts want to, but for a tropical country like India, expert opinion is wrong. Even without river interlinking, technical solutions are leading to water crises everywhere.

We want God to come to our aid, to attain moksha, or  to be seated on the right hand side of God. Yet we can’t appreciate God’s creation and wisdom. Rivers are meant to flow in all their glory. Our children can then splash around in the water and renew their relationship with the cycles of earth and the very basis of life.

Lots of effort in food production, electricity generation, healthcare and entertainment will not be needed if the land opens up, springs, creeks and rivers flow. As they did a few decades back, in this sacred land.

Spring water

Viktor Schauberger, the Austrian “water wizard”, says natural springs provide the healthiest water, full of vitality. Rain water in undisturbed forests, will seep underground, connect with the aquifers, absorb minerals, rise up, and emerge as clear, cool springs. Water from such springs, collected a little distance away, so that it has a chance to absorb some oxygen from the air, is the healthiest.

Using earth as a water filter is something most people intuitively understand. After all, well water is filtered through the organic matter, soil, gravel and rocks. They are springs, but exposed by digging the well.
In river beds, people collected water, by digging the sand, and getting the water that seeps out. This is cleaner and free from sediments.
One can also get fresh water near the sea shore, by digging the sand. This photo from https://geocene.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/img_3745.jpg.

img_3745

Water near the shore from

 

 

 

We normally see only the overland flows in a river. A stream or river flows for a long time after the rains stop, or is perennial, because it is supplied by underground springs. In Tamaraparani river, during our younger days, we could feel the cooler spring water, coming out from the river bed, and mixing with the rest of the river water. A river flows because of that. It doesn’t recharge the groundwater. Also along with the overland flow, there is in some cases massive underground flow of water. This freshwater is sometimes detected in the sea, miles away from the shore.

Drinking water from rivers or dams, that was supplied, to small towns, in olden days, was sent through a sand filter, after initial sedimentation. Now chemicals are used to hasten sedimentation, and water is then heavily chlorinated.

The inspiration for bio-sand filter, came from seeing one model (not a working version), by a couple of higher secondary school girls in an exhibition a few years back. This was the best thing that I saw, among all the exhibits, that day.

The bio-sand filter was developed by Dr. David Manz  in the 1990s at the University of Calgary, Canada. He also cofounded CAWST, the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology. This is open source, details are found at http://www.cawst.org.

Interestingly it has been the Christian missionaries who have promoted it worldwide. Somehow the charity work by the missionaries either in Africa, Asia, or may island nations, have always had questionable results. One of course, should be grateful, that the likes of Bill Gates, are not promoting this. Giving, without empowering, while enriching oneself, the way Gates does, is not good.

About 300k of the bio-sand filters are in operation. One would assume that lot more people would be using this, since it does clean, and reduce pathogens in water. And in a sense, bring a fresh mountain spring, right inside the house. Sort of.

Drinking water here is either chlorinated corporation water, drawn from dammed rivers. Or purchased 20 liter bottles. The bottled water could come straight from borewells, or could be treated through RO (reverse osmosis), or it could just be corporation water, that is let to stand, to reduce chlorine smell. Most bottled water, one should assume is dubious. Sometimes the water is filled from borewells near agricultural fields with heavy chemical usage, or from places with industrial activity that contaminates groundwater. Or these borewells could be near former creeks, or streams, now straightened, and used to carry sewage. Even corporation drinking water gets contaminated with sewage. Smart cities dump garbage and sewage into straightened, and concrete lined creeks. Where previously people used soak pits to locally handle grey water. Trees and shrubs used up this water, and it got further processed and cleaned up by soil microorganisms. Now with smart city paradigms, cities are made to stink, not for the next few months or years, but for decades.

When we think of infinity, or something that is available in abundance, we think of sand. Today we have “sand smugglers” and “sand mafia”, and rules and laws about “sand mining”. All that “puccafication” of houses, and building several crore new houses, using concrete, by our weepity weepy leaders is heroism, but getting sand for such activity is “smuggling”. Why not let people who like mud houses, and tiled roofs, live the way they think fit, instead of providing pucca concrete houses?

One good thing with all this construction activity, is that, quarry sand is easily available. I needed about one pan, and the guy refused to take money for it. When I insisted, he took 20 rupees. Quarry sand with particles of all sizes is the best for bio-sand filter.

This sand has to be sieved, size 0.7mm and less for the filtration layer, 0.7 to 6mm for separation layer, and 6mm to 12mm for the drainage layer.

quarry_sand

Quarry sand with particles of all sizes

 

sand0-7mm

Fine sand, less than 0.7 mm, filtration layer

 

sand1to6_2

0.7mm to 6mm sand for the separation layer

I got a handful of small gravel 1 to 2 cms, to add to the drainage layer, since quarry sand had only smaller gravel less than 1 cm.

drainage_gravel

Drainage gravel, 6mm to 20mm

You have to make sure that the filtration sand is not washed too well. Some fine clay/silt should remain, for biological activity to work.
washed_filtration_sand
I’m not sure if I cleaned the sand too much. When put in a glass jar, shaken and left to settle, there was a thin layer of very fine silt.

CAWST model uses a concrete container about a meter high. Some use plastic containers. Recently people have been trying stainless steel containers. But we decided to go for a clay pot. The pot was small, only about 40cm (14 inches) high. The suggested filtration layer depth is 55cm, but with this pot, only about 15cm is possible. These pots are made with a hole about an inch wide to fit a drinking water tap. Since taps are fitted locally, you can find a pot without the tap.

A stainless steel (304 steel) pipe bent into an “S” shape is needed. Should have slightly bent down the top, but it is ok for now. The top of this pipe should be a few centimeters below the top of the pot. Since I was working with tight tolerances, I had only about 5 cms, this is where the “extra” water that is poured remains, gets filtered and drains out through the pipe.

pot_with_pipe

clay pot with stainless steel spout

The diffuser is outside (unlike the CAWST model), since we have just a small pot to work with. I took a steel utensil, put holes in it, and put gravel and sand in it. This diffuser makes water drip slowly, without disturbing the top surface of the sand.

 

I used cement and sand to fix the pipe. Also put a hex nipple at the bottom end, to get a better fit, and make the concrete stick to the pipe for better seal. Normally m-seal (epoxy resin) is used, but this is not recommended for drinking water. The cement has to set for several days. We couldn’t test the pot for leakage, until the cement got set. It seems there is a bit of leakage at the bottom. Next time we have to be a little more careful with pot selection. Pot is a major expense – 450 rupees, about $7. The bent steel pipe cost 300 rupees.
It is easier to get steel pipes here, since they are used, not for drinking water, but for steel railings in houses. All the construction activity makes these items easily available.

The bio-sand filter, as the name implies, uses biological activity of bacteria, to eliminate other harmful bacteria, or viruses. Parasites, worms that infest our intestines, and their eggs are too big to pass through the fine sand.

CAWST defines the biolayer as “The biological layer formed in the top few centimeters of the sand in slow sand filters and biosand filters. The biolayer contains micro- organisms including bacteria, protozoa, algae, and diatoms. It is also called the schmutzdecke. The biolayer helps the filter treat water.”

Now using biology means that we need to feed the organisms. Smart people might try feeding minute quantities of sprouts, greens, medicinal barks, etc. Although CAWST recommends no such thing. The girls had sea shells and charcoal, these might provide additional surface for biological activity, but no organic nutrients. The only way to see if this is good, is to use biology itself to check. May be use the filtered water to sprout grains, see if there is any difference between the filtered water, and un-filtered water (both from same source).
The first cup of water from the filter turned out to be surprisingly clear.

clear_water

Crystal clear water from the filter

Need to add an activated carbon layer in the diffuser, to remove any pesticides in the water. Coconut shells are available in plenty. Fire up the rocket stove, get the charred shells.

fire

 

charcoal
Crush them, soak in salt water (25% sodium chloride) for 24 hours, and some of it gets activated.

 

After 30 days or so, when biological activity reaches the maximum, the water should be healthy and live, like the water from mountain springs.

Ungardening

The biblical garden of Eden is supposed to represent an idyllic life, perfect and complete. The word “garden” here represents the perfect world that God created, not the work of man. Since then we have had the hanging gardens of Babylon,  Mughal gardens in India and Pakistan, perfectly maintained gardens of royalty and rich people in  Europe,  Zen gardens, and others. These are man-made, and for the most part unnatural.

Man is always trying to improve on Nature. This wasn’t always regarded as good. Take “Yoga-sutras of Patanjali” from several thousand years ago. The first two statements are

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Right at the beginning sage Patanjali says that Yoga is not about doing complex and hard things so that we become more and more better. It is about quieting the mind, and in the stillness realising the perfection within and around us.

Mansobu Fukuoka, Japanese microbiologist and farmer philosopher, realized that nature is perfect, and man cannot improve on it. Of course, in his earlier years, he was intensely focused on his work, and would sometimes faint in his lab. But later he gave up on science, to come up with natural farming.

Our faith in science is not constant. It changes, and most often, as we grow older, we become a little more cynical, and less impressed by the promise of science.

Reverting back to original nature, and like Fukuoka san, trying to find and eliminate unnecessary tasks, has become harder. Right from seeds, to water, to soil, man has manipulated and degraded them. But then, one has to start somewhere, to remove the layers of maya (manipulations by man), and see nature, the way God created.

In a small corner of the terrace garden, we just put back the organic matter from plants grown earlier, along with some rabbit manure, and planted some seeds. The idea was to “ungarden”, let the plants, soil, sun, wind, water, insects, birds, and micro-organisms interact. No space calculations, no attempt to find out if one plant suited the other, no careful tending, or maintaining straight lines.

garden

Garden

The soil here is about a feet and half deep, and two feet wide. Water is mostly high TDS (total dissolved solids), mixed with chlorinated water from the river, that fortunately comes only once in two weeks. Salty bore well water is better than the heavily chlorinated river water, for microbial life in the soil.

Pumpkin with big leaves, and a few yellow (male flowers) dominates the space. Small yellow pumpkins are present. Mixed with this, is okra, lab lab (Dolichos bean/hyacinth bean), thinai (foxtail millet), kambu/ pearl millet, பொன்னாங்கண்ணி கீரை (ponnanganni keerai, Alternanthera sessilis or ficoidia),  a red leaved type of Alternanthera, butterfly pea (Sangu pushpam/Clitoria ternatea), sunflowers, and a few others.

Here’s the bluish-purple flower of butterfly pea.

sangupushpam

Sangupushpam flower

There’s a wasp drinking nectar from a tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica,  Mexican butterfly weed).

wasp_mexican_weed

Wasp on Mexican butterfly weed

Okra (Ladys finger) plant, with pods, and a flower.

okra_flower

Okra flower

Lab lab flowers.

mochai_flowers

Lab lab flowers

Ponnanganni keerai plant. Several plants are called Ponnanganni, this is one of them. The leaves are cooked and eaten. Here’s another one with red leaves. If drier and sunnier, the leaves become more red, but remain small.

ponn_green

Ponnanganni (green)

ponn_red

Ponnanganni (red)

Yellow karisalanganni (Sphagneticola calendulacea ) plant, its leaves when crushed, become black. This is used to dye hair, either alone or mixed with Hibiscus flowers, or Indigo leaves.

karislaganni_yellow

Karislaganni (yellow flowered)

There is another plant with white flowers, that is also called karisalanganni (Eclipta prosata). Athough these grow easily, it is hard to find these plants.

The Musumusukkai (Mukia maderaspatana) plant’s leaves are used for colds. It is also cooked and eaten as a green.

mosmoskai

Musumusukkai

Brinjal (eggplant) with light purple flowers.  There are so many varieties, some of them grow very tall, and produce profusely. But now this is a target plant for genetic manipulation.

brinjal

Brinjal

A honey bee landing on a (male) pumpkin flower.

pumpkin_bee

Honeybee in pumpkin flower

pumpkinflower

Pumpkin flower

The Veldt grape plant in a different part of the garden, is back in bloom. The red fruits haven’t attracted any birds. The leaf and stem of this plant, if eaten raw will make the throat itch. The oxalate crystals scratch the throat. But properly cooked with tamarind and coconut, this makes a tasty chutney.
Not many pollinators visit this plant, in the cooler weather.

veldt_grape

Veldt grape flowers

Kuppai keerai, (குப்பைக்கீரை,   Amaranthus viridis) another weed, that grows profusely, and is used as a green.

kuppai

Kuppai keerai

Cardiospermum halicacabum (balloon plant, modakathan) is used for arthritis and joint inflammation.

modakathan

Balloon plant

The yellow flowers of nalvelai plant (Cleome viscosa, நல்வேளை) attracts several types of honey bees. There is also a white variety Cleome gynandra.

nalvelai

Nalvelai (yellow)

Several dwarf honey bees on this sunflower. There are a lot of other sunflowers, that bees seem to avoid. May be those are poor hybrids, that don’t have honey.

sunflower_honeybee

Sunflower with honey bee

A couple of birds visit the garden. There is a finch. And a sunbird.
finch

sunbird

Sunbird

Babblers, red-vented bulbuls, mynahs, and Indian robins come occasionally. Swallows and bee-eaters catch dragonflies in flight.

There’s a red bug on a balloon plant.

modak_red_bug

Red bug (juvenile)

An orange cucumber beetle.

cucumber_beetle

Cucumber beetle

And a tiny beetle on a leaf.

tiny_beetle

Tiny black beetle

Fly with honey bee style stripes.

striped_fly

Fly with honeybee like stripes

The bugs are no longer plentiful. With more houses and high rises coming up, with use of pesticides for ants and termites, and with a “cleaner” culture and top-down control, insects are seen as a nuisance. Some are afraid of the biblical plague of locusts. Grasshoppers and locusts are eaten in some places. A fully grown hen would eat a quarter kilogram of insects a day or more. The babblers that come to the garden are finding it difficult to get small cockroaches and crickets. There are not many nesting sites either, for the birds.

Once I took a caterpillar of the tiger butterfly from one Mexican butterfly weed plant (which was totally stripped off), and put it on another plant of the same species, but the caterpillar just shriveled and died. Fukuoka san mentions that in some cases the yield improves with insect infestation. The insects provide an useful service of thinning out plants of the same species. The caterpillar doesn’t even move to another plant of the same species, it just stays on one, strips it bare, and lets the other non-infested plants thrive.

With less insects, there is no buzz of the bees. No butterflies flitting from flower to flower. No dragonflies. There are less birds. No lively chirping to wake us up in the morning. Some of the plants  bred through radiation-induced mutation, or mutation from chemical stress, are not attractive to the insects, even if the flowers are colourful.

Technology is not all bad, but forcing everyone to overdose on it, all the time, may not be right. We need unadulterated nature as a reference, to know if technology has really improved things, or not.

By removing the layers of manipulation by Man, going back to native plants, mixing up several varieties of seeds, introducing animal and bird manure, and letting the soil remain covered with dried leaves, and twigs, we can ungarden. The plants thrive, insects create a lively buzz, and the birds seek out seeds, nectar, and insects. The un-gardened patch, comes alive, enlivening our spirit, and enriching our souls.

Tribal Resilience

wild_dates

Who wouldn’t want to be resilient, relaxed, able to enjoy life, when it throws unexpected surprises. To be resilient, is to be aware, even if subconsciously, the base that sustains us, mostly hidden, unknowable, but pervasive. Who exemplifies this better than the tribals.

A tribal who enters the forest, does not carry anything, not even a stick. Now, tribals live in the forests, so there is little to separate his habitation, or farm from the forest. But for argument sake, let’s assume he leaves his house, and enters the forest. A modern man, would want a rifle. Lest he encounter a bear, or a leopard. Why doesn’t the tribal carry a knife, or a stone, or a stick? The reason is subtle. By carrying a stick, the tribal separates himself from the forest. That separation reduces his awareness of the forest around him. He is no longer tuned to the life under his feet, the elephants nearby, or to the smells of a leopard. This awareness prevents any surprise encounter.
But there is a deeper reason. When you carry a stick or a stone, you carry fear. Just the very act of holding the stick, creates a subconscious fear. This is against modern belief. After all, every kid, locked up in a dreary classroom, dreams of the Westerns, the wild, wild west of America, where cowboys, get to their guns in a jiffy, and shoot the bad guy down. This action, of putting your hand on the gun, in the holster, drawing it out in a fraction of a second, and boom-boom – that it seems to the kids, is what bravery is about.

A police officer in America, walks to a car stopped for, say over-speeding, with his hand on the gun holster. Or an officer on night duty, would use the lights on his car to focus on some window on an apartment. When someone appears at that window, he quickly draws his gun, laser sight on target, ready to fire. Heroic? Perhaps so, for the modern man. But for a tribal, this represents fear. What about a deer? Does it live in perpetual fear of tigers? They don’t. If a deer senses a tiger has just had a full meal, it will frolic around, without fear. Forest life is full of life and death, but the kind of fear, we assume is all too common, is not so. When it comes to humans, in a forest, that is not broken by modern progress and attitudes, there is not much to fear. No animals have humans on their diet. Only if one encounters a bear with a cub, the bear is likely to charge. For a tribal who lives without fear, even this encounter is manageable. All other animals would leave humans alone – tigers, leopards, elephants, or wild buffalo.

Speaking of elephants, tribals had no fear of them. There would be absolutely no conflict between the elephants and the tribals. Elephants are very intelligent. When they enter a tribal farm, who do they use to guide the elephants out, back into the forest? A small child will go in front of the elephant herd, directing it away from the cultivated crops, while the rest of the tribals hold burning sticks, and occasionally beat drums. Today they are annoyed by high intensity flashlights, fire crackers, and sometimes gunfire. With electric fences, and “elephant-proof” trenches, the relationship between man and elephant is gone. For a determined elephant electric fences or elephant-proof trenches are minor nuisances, easily overcome. It would use a wooden stick to push down an electric fence, or kick dirt into a trench and cross it. Even non-tribal people who understand its intelligence, would simply do a respectful namaste, to the (elephant) God, or Raja, and walk on without fear. Why allow all that, when technology can take care of minor nuisances, like elephants.
A tribal in his seventies or eighties, will walk in the forest barefoot, without fear. Their food was nutritious, and herbs were available for all illnesses. There is a tribe in south India, that used to eat around 60 different grains and vegetables. The actual number may be much higher, 60 would be the number of the most popular grains and vegetables. But now, it is mostly ration shop rice. Unable to cultivate the land, because they don’t “own” it, and unable to access forest resources, they suffer from malnutrition. After “interacting” with plains people, fertility rates of women have gone down 30%, in case of some tribes, it is even down 80%.

So it is not just laws against hunting, that prevent them from getting the required nutrition. The laws against hunting derive from English poaching laws. Most of the English countryside were under the control of royalty, anyone else taking anything from the land would be regarded a poacher. If tribal poaching is a problem, why is it that the tribal regions are rich in wildlife. Or rather it used to be. Until the English, to show their “manliness”, got into hunting tigers. The wildlife laws today are mostly dictated by phoren interests, which neither understand the psyche of the people, nor the nature of wild animals. Most of the destruction happens, because of so called “habitat loss”. But the real reason is modern pretences to efficient living. A tiger may hide in a shrub 100m away, without a human noticing, in a rural hinterland. But today efficient farming, means levelling the land, removing weeds and shrubs, and heavy use of pesticides and herbicides. The base of the pyramid of life has been destroyed, along with much of wildlife.

All environmentalists wet their diapers in joy, when some Englishman, I guess, lighted a bonfire of African ivory, a few decades back. By destroying ivory, the “illegal trade” in ivory is destroyed, elephants will not be poached for ivory, all ivory artisans will find some other work to do, and the world will be wonderful again. Today elephants are diminishing lot more rapidly. Great big fences of capitalism, are preventing the much needed migrations of elephants and wild beasts in search of food. Yet no one can question this idiocy, for we have found the problem, “poaching” for ivory.

Most ivory came from dead elephants. Ivory gatherers, artisans, traders, and ivory users had a vested interest in keeping the elephant populations thriving. That is not true, for the fools, who make today’s laws. In fact, I saw one pathological idiot, an environmentalist, who was saying we should ban the use of peacock feathers. Peacocks are abundant, but most importantly, once a year, the male peacock, sheds all its feathers. These are the most abundant things, and they come, without hurting the peacocks. One male peacock has so many feathers! Or take the laws under Goondas Act for hunting wild hares. Wild hares are not exactly rabbits, but still there is no reason, that their population cannot quickly rebound. Except that modern agriculture, dispensed by award winning, fathers and grandfathers of the green revolution, in collaboration with government, and agricultural universities, has no space for “weeds”, live fences of shrubs, and native trees. It doesn’t like land that is not levelled, or frequently plowed to a fine tithe. It definitely is not poaching, that kills the wild hares. More laws will only mean less wild hares, but we can expect the idiocy to worsen. These laws, remove another connection between people, and the wild.

The houses of the tribals suited their environment. Made of clay with thatched roofs, they were nice and cool during hot weather. Of course, a tribal rarely spends time inside the house. Even at night, he is likely to sleep outside. But such natural houses built out of their own hands, is a strict no-no. Our weeping leaders, want them to have pucca houses, of concrete. In one place, the Japanese had heavily invested in building resort style pucca houses for the tribals. Except that, the tribals find pucca houses too hot in summer. Initially they kept their cattle in the houses, and slept outside. But they found that the cattle did not like it either. Pucca houses, mean’t sanitation. Even places with steep slopes, have concrete ditches. Yes that is the rage of the “cleanerers”.

There was this place in Michigan, a software development unit, that did programming for a certain automobile group. At lunch time, one walks down to the cafeteria. One can see a lady, spraying and wiping down the glass, that covers the deli meats, and assorted goodies. Nice hygienic place, just what you would expect a cafeteria in a hyper-power to be. Usually I don’t eat outside, if I can avoid it. But due to a combination of circumstances, I was at the cafeteria. Ordered some slices of turkey, from the deli, for a sandwich. Ate it, felt not so comfortable. Went to the toilet. What do I see, a couple of native Americans there. The toilet is comfortable, there is a magazine rack, and some do spend  half-an-hour in the toilet. It seems the norm is that you eat, and then shit.

Take a tribal, he squats to shit, and is done in less than 15 seconds. The food he eats, real food, with lots of vegetables, makes for easy shitting. The modern man, with bread of bleached wheat, and 20 other ingredients, meat that is preserved with chemicals, and stored for several months, from “clean” surroundings, has very sticky shit, that he has to spend half-an-hour in the toilet. Not to mention the modern hybrid wheat, tetraploids, hexaploids, and other polyploids, make food sticky, and pathological. Shitting in a seated position, that is the most idiotic thing ever, it prevents proper elimination. Yet, these phoren folks, have all of a sudden taken interest in open-defecation, and the “problems” they cause. But in tribal areas, with high biological activity, shit is processed, and vanishes in a day.

In a smart city like Chennai, with underground drainage, during the 2015 December, shit got forced out into the streets. Don’t expect Swachh Bharat to deal with big problems, this program is mostly about centralised control. That minimises the role of plants, and micro-organisms, to keep the air and water clean.

Squatting – that is what the tribal women do, during childbirth. The women, give birth alone, in their own house. During childbirth they pull on a rope, and squat. These women can’t understand modern childbirth, where a woman lies on her back in a padded bed, and tries to “push” the baby out. Even the guy who watches it has to be given a shot of epidural up his spine, just for watching. Overdose of painkillers for the woman, that shows up in breastmilk, and multiple vaccine shots for the child, in the first few years, and progress is complete.

Speaking of vaccines, a few years back, some of the common illnesses, had no vaccines. The apparent reason, was that this is a developing country, and these illnesses are not a concern in the rich countries. So without funds, vaccines cannot be developed. But now, with vaccine pushers like Bill Gates, even illnesses, that may affect few tens of people in tribal areas, have vaccines. Policy changes influenced by Bill Gates, government and NGO activism, all sorts of vaccines get pushed onto the tribals, even though they don’t trust them.

In rural areas people drank spring water, from the wells. The wells are not too deep, 40 feet at the most. Rain, filtered through the soil, and rock, became life giving water. In the forests, the streams are a source of water. It was full of life and vitality. There were no parasites to be afraid of. Chew on some herbs, malaria, typhoid, or intestinal parasites, will cause no illness or discomfort. But today, tribals have begun to use heavily chlorinated water, that meets WHO standards. Destroying their beneficial intestinal flora.

To bring in a “Right to Clean Water”, one has to dirty the water, and reduce access to it. Dams, and mining do that, so that a “Right to Clean Water” can be imposed from above, by a centralized authority. In a free flowing stream, even a check dam, can change the water quality. More organic matter gets collected in the dams, or check-dams, and their decomposition reduces water quality.
So how did tribal people, who ate a rich diet of grains, vegetables, drank life giving water from streams, walked barefoot, in the forest without fear of snakes or tigers, whose women gave birth alone, who obtained all the necessary medicines from the forest, lose their resilience? That, today, their children die of malnutrition, the women frequently infertile, the men unhealthy or alcoholic.

Do we understand their ways, emulate their free spirit, and live a life of freedom and abundance? At least during our vacations, from work or study. Or perhaps look at their sorry state (after collective efforts at “improving” their lives), and get back to working hard, in our smart cities, where rights to education, clean water, good governance, are guaranteed. We of course get this perk – to look down upon those who don’t enjoy the system, and do not want to fully submit to it. In our controlled, monitored existence, that is our only source of joy, the joy of having someone or some group to look down upon. In a world, where a single finger waggerer, can turn things upside down for people who don’t do what is expected of them, this joy could be priceless.

Paradigms lost, or mis-applied?

caterpillars_mulberry

It was sometime around the middle of 1999, during the dot-com boom. The project at one of the big companies, was being handled, by one of the Big-Five consulting companies. Initially this project was handled by another big-five company, but after a big struggle, they just managed to come up with a single page architecture document. So the other company had to go, and this new one (which will be referred to henceforth as “a big-five company”) was brought in. The rates were high, $300/hour for the senior mangers of the consulting company. The freshly minted interns used for testing the application for bugs, had rates only slightly lower, $250/hour.
There were other consulting companies, who dealt directly with the client, and the consultants from these companies charged the client $175/hour or more. The client was sold a fancy term, “time-to-market”, which meant that the first one to implement an idea, will get the most customers, and hence will be profitable. The competition, will be stuck at the starting gate. The client was getting into a segment, which regulations, previously restricted them from entering, so as to not create a monopoly. But now that things were relaxed, they were heading into it, full-steam, with highfalutin consultants. Many of the big-five consultants, would work fifteen hours a day, sometimes more, for four days a week, and then fly elsewhere for a 3 day weekend. The others, may also work for 15 hours a day, and a few clever ones, even managed to average 80 hours a week, for an entire year.

Not all consultants, had it good. Many IT coolies, were on H1B visas, and couldn’t easily switch. They also had too many layers between the client and them, so they saw a lot less money. But on average, the IT coolies were raking in money. The client was burning the money real fast. Estimates of the total spent, varied from a minimum of 30 million to a hundred million, in a little over two years. Which even during dot-com days, was lots of money.

The project had lots of Americans, and as usual, lots of Indians. But interestingly, the client had at least one Indian, in a high level post, directing the project, and the big-five company had an Indian at the top. There was a talk, in the beginning of the project, that there was high level corruption. It was mostly white Americans, who made this accusation.

There was this Pakistani guy, who a little senior, to the others, was usually approached for advice. So I walk over to him, and ask him – “Is it true that there is corruption, hidden dealings ?”.  He just lifts his left hand, puts it under his nose, sniffs, says “Smells good”, then lifts his right hand and does the same.

It takes me a while to realize that what he is talking about is the “street-dog paradigm”. One dog sniffs the rear, “smells good”, the other dog sniffs the rear, “smells good”, and they go to the next step of social interaction. Here was a guy, in elite (and polite) society, in an expensive project, working for a big company, during the hey-days of the dot-com boom, referring to the “street-dog paradigm”!

If Trump is to be believed, even democracy has this weakness. Because he is going to redeem it, from special interests, and restore it to the people. Eunuch A meets eunuch B, and we have a new set of laws and regulations, and zero tolerance for any opposition!  Such control by special interests, is apparently how great democracies have been working.

There is a fundamental problem with democracy. To see that, one has to go back to a feudal setup, which has a king or emperor or pharaoh as the head of society. A king represented an ideal, an ideal of handsomeness and manhood, an ideal of a good family man, an ideal of a person well-versed in the arts and sciences. But somewhere along the line, things got corrupted, and hermaphrodites, or bastard children, insecure, narcissistic, and weak-minded, but supported by crooks, working behind the scenes, became kings.

Peoples’ need to see an ideal in their leader, either a king, or a democratically elected leader, was always there. The need for a conceptual king as an ideal, never went away. People, in their right minds, always sought to have a strong leader, his or her strength, visible in the successful business they did, in the happy families they raised, and in their health, intellect and judgment. Even in a democracy! We need a strong leader, who can stand up, to the powerful but corrupt, rather than make the weak subservient, to powerful special interests. So essentially democracy, is to elect a king, and not need democracy, at least until the next elections.

There was another concern, in India, after the colonial hangover, that democracy, would let a million eunuchs override a single wise man. So democracy can’t be good for the nation. This is actually, another way of saying the same thing. We hope the man on the street is not fooled, we really want a king to rule over us, who represents an ideal of good things. If people wanted a king, how is it they always end up with puppets to hidden interests? There have been quite a few cases, where people with strength of character, real strong leaders, did come up, through democratic elections. Will Donald Trump be one of those strong leaders? Or will he end up, characterless, like Obama? And all great decisions, like for e.g. Obamacare, be made using the “street-dog paradigm”? Not subject to criticism or review!
Speaking of street dogs, there is another paradigm, a saying in Tamil

நாயை கண்டால் கல்லை காணும், கல்லை கண்டால் நாயை காணும்

(naaye kanda kalla kaanum, kalla kanda naaye kaanum ). When our Tamil teacher, mentioned this, decades back, he used to make an action of picking up a stone. We all laughed. Those days, boys on their way back home from school, when they see a dog, take a stone, and try to hit the dog. It probably has something to do with education, being cooped up, and controlled by the teachers for most of the day. Those who didn’t get educated, had lots of empathy for the street dogs. Anyway when you make an action of picking up a stone, the street dogs immediately fled. The easy but comical interpretation for the saying is that, “when you see a stone, there is no dog (to hit it with), and when you see a dog, there are no stones around”. This paradigm is actually about worship. It means, if you see the God in stone (statue), you don’t notice the stone. And if you notice the stone, you don’t see God.

This paradigm may be useful in life, see the good, ignoring the evil. We don’t want to go after evil, the hidden elites, or whatever, one thinks is suffocating human progress. This actually reminds me of a story by Somerset Maugham, called “Rain”. An intense missionary, crosses path with a “loose” woman, who has been “corrupting” the sailors. He takes on the impossible task of correcting the impertinent woman, to make her morally sound. And also make her accept imprisonment for her “loose” life. The story ends with the missionary dead, having committed suicide. And the woman, when asked by the narrator of the story, a doctor, what happened, says simply “Men are pigs”! All of us, if not forced by circumstances, would want a good life for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Back to the project. There were some critical failures, in deciding who would do what, so when the time came for the client to decide “go-or-no-go”, the contracting companies were alarmed, because the crucial piece of functionality, the raison d’etre, didn’t even get designed. A war room was assigned, people were brought together for brain-storming, and a few weeks later, with lots of late-night hours, that piece got implemented. Client said ok, and the rest of the project continued for another two years.
A few years later, I ran into the architect. He said, don’t you remember that big project, real time ordering, and all the hard work we did to get it running? It’s all gone! 30 or 100 million dollars down the drain. The client took the loss, ditched “time-to-market” hysteria, and went with a simpler alternate system.

There were too many backend systems to be integrated into the order processing and provisioning workflow, that transient failures, were preventing the orders from being provisioned. The architecture did not have a proper retry mechanism for transient errors. Highly paid consultants were pushing the orders manually. Even if the customer account remained with the client, for the rest of the customer’s life, the client wouldn’t recover a fraction of the cost spent to acquire it. The Pakistani was perhaps right, the whole thing broke, because the street-dog paradigm cannot be the basis of business decision making. But by then, the consultants had made their money, and flown off to their next “time-to-market” assignment!