Wishtree is a kind of a genie

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Hindu mythology describes Kalpavriksha (wish tree) as a kind of a genie. Kalpavriksha is not one but many different trees revered and protected owing to its mythological significance and the benefits (or wishes) it provides. In other cultures, it is referred to as Tree of Life or Sacred Tree.

“The banyan tree or nyagrodha is called kalpataru; the coconut tree whose every part is utilised by human beings for various purposes,the ashwatha (fig) tree, believed to be sacred, mahua tree, shami tree or jaant of Rajasthan which stays green always and checks soil erosion is also referred to as kalapataru. A variety of palm is considered as kalpataru in Tamil Nadu in India. The Baobab or Parijata  tree is called kalpavriksh in Uttar Pradesh, believed to have been brought by Arjuna, one of the main Pandavas from the epic Mahabharata.”  – Deccan Views

Why isn’t every tree a wish tree? The answer probably lies in the fact that we don’t have all the knowledge about what every tree provides us. An arborist might help with specific information, but again there’s one thing that all trees give us. What is that one thing? Guess before you read on.

Continue reading “Wishtree is a kind of a genie”

Who is phasing out what

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Volunteer Image Author TheDigitalArtist

The world is phasing out fossil-fuels, old polluting vehicles, plastic products, toxic substances, nuclear power, biofuel, incandescent light bulbs, ozone depleting substances, waste imports, second hand clothes, food waste, and ivory trade. These are either gradual phase outs or immediate bans. So, who exactly is phasing out what? Read ahead to find out.

Who is phasing out fossil-fuels?

Who is phasing out old polluting vehicles?

Who is phasing out plastic products?

Who is phasing out toxic substances?

Who is phasing out nuclear power?

Who is phasing out biofuel?

Who is phasing out incandescent light bulbs?

Who is phasing out ozone depleting substances?

Who is phasing out waste imports?

Who is phasing out second hand clothes?

Who is phasing out ivory trade?

 Who is banning food waste?

Who is banning deforestation?

Last Edited: April 4 2018

Joy is every time I am at the place where I was born

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Joy is every time I am at the place where I was born – Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, India. In the Hindi language, we express this as phule na samanaNot to be able to contain oneself with joy or Joy knowing no bounds). It is where the king of all fruits hail from – the Alphonso! The picture above is me in a sarson ka khet (mustard seed farm) at Ratnagiri. Fresh air, cool breeze, trees, and hornbills all exist near our house. I never got all this in Mumbai. My family and I used to go there multiple times in a year. I miss it.

If someone asks me to choose between Ratnagiri and Mumbai, I’d say I can’t unless there’s something apocalyptic happening. Mumbai has given me the education I need and has helped my parents overcome their problems too. It is grappling with pollution and overcrowding, but it also has its pros along with the cons. Ratnagiri on the other side is the perfect vacation I can ever take – free of noise and dust but maybe not free of superstition that education eradicates. The conclusion is that we need to make Mumbai a greener and cleaner place for me to not choose being these two.

A few environmental things about Ratnagiri:

  • A proposed and a much-debated nuclear power park is at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri honing to be the largest nuclear power station in the whole world
  • A biodiversity hotspot, the Western Ghats pass through Ratnagiri.
  • Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL) will someday install a solar plant at Ratnagiri.

येवा कोंकण आपलोच आसा ! (Yeva Konkan aaploch asa!) This is a greeting in Konkani dialect Malvani welcoming people to the region. :)

Jubilant

Join me with Safecity for a discussion on Safe and Sustainable Cities

For the entire month of April, Safecity is making a case for safety, especially women’s safety in our cities and communities – one of the targets of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As a part of this worldwide effort, we are focusing on Goal 11 – ‘Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’.

Safecity (registered under Red Dot Foundation) is a platform, founded in 2012, that crowdsources personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. This data which maybe anonymous, gets aggregated as hot spots on a map indicating trends at a local level. The idea is to make this data useful for individuals, local communities and local administration to identify factors that causes behavior that leads to violence and work on strategies for solutions.

Come join me with Safecity for a discussion on safe and sustainable cities!

I curate Safecity’s Twitter account this week again for the third time, for an exchange of thoughts, a debate, new perspectives, and most importantly to know more about what it takes to make our cities safer for all. I discuss this with a focus on ‘Omission of women in urban planning’. I’ll also be conducting a Twitter chat concerning safety in India’s 100 smart cities on 8th April 2016 9 PM IST/11:30 PM EST. Save the date!

Twitter chat (1)

I’ve never discussed this on my blog before, therefore a background is called for. Somewhere in August 2014 and also in October 2015 I’ve had a chance to be a , where I was able to engage the audience in different perspectives on how different things connected to women’s safety. There was a theme for every week – ranging from – how involvement of women in the environmental movement will help us find and implement solutions to our environmental crisis, women in STEM, awareness through art, role of government and laws for women’s safety, how the changing environmental conditions affect women in particular, with respect to energy, water and climate change, gender gap and sustainability, the role of media and advertising in women empowerment or the lack of it, role of comedy and feminism in women’s safety, an unbiased look at violence against both men and women, women in waste management and the safety issues related to it, how technology, science and education can help bridge the gender gap and how it is possible, and gender issues in sustainable development and how the world is resolving them. I even conducted a Twitter chat on #SaferCities for female tourists/commuters.

Following are the themes discussed with Safecity’s followers in detail:

Greener world with women

Science & Technology

Art and women

Ideas for womens’ safety (IDEO)

Food for thought

Stories

Government and laws

Gender gap and sustainability

  • Do you know any organizations that provide women what they need to be a part of the process towards sustainable development?
  • One such organization is the UN. One of UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) is #genderequality. What do we need to reach this goal? 1/2
  • Let’s start with these three things: 1. access to education and training 2. information and technologies 3. decision-making. What else? 2/2
  • Let’s discuss how the changing environmental conditions affect women in particular, with respect to energy, water and climate change.
  • Indoor smoke from solid fuel causes chronic diseases and cancer in women. Does LPG Subsidy Surrender Campaign help? Your thoughts. #giveitup
  • Indoor smoke from solid fuels affects women and children to a higher degree than men. Do you know any innovations sprouting out of this need?
  • Women in India spend 150 million work days every year fetching and carrying water via @UN_Water #WaterforWomen
  • Women in Hubli-Dharwad in India have to wait up to 10 days for water via @UN_Water #WaterforWomen @nextdrop has a solution.
  • Why #climatechange is a women’s rights issue? http://bit.ly/1PwL9Yj 1/3
  • Women constitute majority of world’s poor. More dependent for their livelihood on natural resources threatened by #climatechange. 2/3
  • How can women help in climate change mitigation and adaption? Can we use their unique knowledge on local ecosystems? 3/3

Role of media in women empowerment

  • The False Mirror: Representation of Women in Indian Advertising http://bit.ly/1KdEY4b
  • Are Men The Latest Victims Of Media Misrepresentation? http://onforb.es/1hLHPKY
  • Share with us the advertisement that you have seen has been designed to deceive people and how.
  • Pro-women Twitter activism, another media influencing the gender equation http://onforb.es/1PwM4I8 #leanin #changetheratio #girlsrising #womenshould #bringourgirlsback #wearesilent Add some more?
  • Pro-men Twitter activism  #YesAllMen #NotAllMen #stopmensabuse Add some more?
  • Here’s one more: #ILookLikeAnEngineer ‘I Look Like an Engineer’ Campaign Is Hitting the Highway in Silicon Valley http://bit.ly/1MHiSNP
  • Women professionals r under-represented in news or stereotypically portrayed whn they r included. Do u agree? http://bit.ly/1MHg7Mk
  • “In the fight 4 TV Rating Points we r losing out on constructive debates and awareness programmes tht TV can offer.” http://bit.ly/1MHgzu7 ½
  • What kind of constructive debates and awareness programmes do you think the TV can offer? 2/2
  • How do you define feminism? What does it mean to be a feminist? What does this label stand for? How does #TheFWord appear in media
  • The “F” Word: How the Media Frame Feminism  http://bit.ly/1MHh4Eq #TheFWord ⅔
  • #HatchKids Learn About the F-Word from Lady Gaga, Amy Schumer, and President Obama http://bit.ly/1GKcdfm #TheFWord 3/3
  • Recent series of videos – Living in a Man’s World. Putting women in men’s shoes and vice versa. http://bit.ly/1hLJdxm
  • 10 Popular Bollywood Songs That Are Highly Gender-Discriminating http://bit.ly/1RirrOn

Comedy, feminism, women’s safety – Tuesday

  • Importance of Stand Up Comedy http://bit.ly/1MHlVFK ½
  • ‘Stand up comedy is 1 of d most powerful tools 2 educate, heal, incite, n make people ponder about ideas n things beyond themselves’ 2/2
  • EIC: Sex Education in India http://bit.ly/1Ke1Lgi
  • What do you think about sex education in India? 2/2
  • Bill Maher vs Feminism http://bit.ly/1MHkEhQ Do you share the same view as Bill Maher?
  • Bill Burr on Feminism & Sexist Irony http://bit.ly/1GK4JZO Do you share the same view as Bill Burr?
  • Richard Dawkins is not a stand up comedian but hear him share a feminist literature. http://bit.ly/1GK6Vk1 What do you think leads to such literature?
  • Dave Chapelle – Men and Women Psychology http://bit.ly/1MHskAL Do you share the same view as Dave Chapelle?
  • Women: Know Your Limits! Harry Enfield – BBC comedy http://bit.ly/1MHvcgU Share your favorite sarcasm piece.
  • Aziz Ansari embraces feminism on the Late Show with David Letterman. http://slate.me/1MHvqEX
  • Vasundhara – Is Shaadi A License To Rape In India?? http://bit.ly/1KdHSWH How can we avoid marital rape?
  • Louis CK ‘There is no greater threat to women than men’ http://bit.ly/1QCmtvG Do you share the same view as Louis?
  • Using a cartoon and humor to fight violence against women http://bit.ly/1QCrGni Share your favorite cartoon that conveys this message.

Violence against men and women

Women in waste management

  • Handling waste poses many health risks. Informal waste pickers are exposed to contaminants and hazardous materials. http://bit.ly/1ReyYO2
  • Gender-sensitive approach, gender equity, empowerment of women are critical in the support of new initiatives. http://bit.ly/1Rez4Ft
  • Both men n women waste workers face disrespect of fellow-citizens, as handling untreated waste is considered demeaning. Let’s change that.
  • Women are widely active in waste picking, micro-enterprise seem to be more often initiated, operated, managed by men http://bit.ly/1Rez4Ft 1/4
  • All-women’s enterprises or cooperatives such as the Stree Mukti Sanghatana are changing this. 2/4
  • Stree Mukti Sanghatana with the help of @bmcmumbai address the problems of waste and of self-employed women involved http://bit.ly/1Rexaoe 3/4
  • #ShaadiCares partners with Stree Mukti Sanghatana to setup a Women’s Rehab Centre (Mumbai). http://bit.ly/1RewL57 4/4
  • SWaCH, Pune is India’s first wholly-owned cooperative of self-employed waste pickers and other urban poor. http://bit.ly/1ReynMs
  • 85-year-old woman inspires neighbours to work on waste management http://bit.ly/1RexLqb Do you have such people around you? Pls share.
  • 14-year-old girls code app that cleans up India’s streets http://on.wsj.com/1RexTpE
  • Women Entrepreneurs Help Pilot India’s First Citywide Recycling Program http://bit.ly/1RexX8S
  • Equal opportunities for women in waste management industry http://bit.ly/1MHfBy8

Twitter chat on #SaferCities for female tourists/commuters

QA: To start the #Tweetchat, what’s ur self defense tool against physical abuse while travelling? chilli powder, nail filers? Has it worked? #SaferCities #VAW #PublicSafety

QB: As opposed to defense, what preventive measures have you taken to keep yourself safe? #SaferCities

QC: Do you use any app to keep yourself safe? Which one is it? #SaferCities

QD: What would be your suggestion to the Indian govt to make the India’s 100 Smart Cities safe? #SaferCities

QE: What are your ‘do’s and don’ts’ for foreign women travelling to India? #SaferCities

QF: If any foreign women tourist is reading us, please tell us why would you hesitate to travel to India. #SaferCities

QG: To wrap up, what’s your one tip/head’s up that you’d give to someone who wants to learn to keep herself safe? #SaferCities

To see the entire Tweet chat click here.

Technology, science and education

  • India could add 60% to 2025 GDP by bridging gender gap at work: McKinsey http://bit.ly/1KdYIoz
  • India has the highest difference between women and men on the average minutes spent per day on unpaid work—a difference of 300 minutes. Why? http://bit.ly/1KdZ0M2
  • India has one of the lowest percentages of firms with female participation in ownership. Why? http://bit.ly/1KdZ0M2
  • What can India do about this? Is teaching girls to code enough? http://bit.ly/1KdUYDr #stemwomen
  • What do you think are the reasons behind the gender gap in tech, engineering, and math? http://read.bi/1KdZHVB
  • What advice would you give your younger self? #DearMe http://bit.ly/1KdVlOg #womenintech
  • Hear from women and girls about how their passion for science and technology first developed and those who were overlooked. http://bit.ly/1KdWpSa #BeTheSpark ½
  • Tell us what got you into science and technology and how has it helped you live a better life #BeTheSpark 2/3
  • Meet cybersecurity expert Keren Elazari. http://bit.ly/1KdWN38 1/2
  • I never knew there’s something like that that I could do. What is it that you wished you knew about careers in science and tech? 2/2
  • Drugs and pollution can be biased to gender. Check out the tweets that follow to find out how. 1/3
  • Alyson McGregor: Why medicine often has dangerous side effects for women ⅔ http://bit.ly/1KdX6ei
  • The Disappearing Male is about the toxic threat to the male reproductive system. 3/3 http://bit.ly/1KdXx8v

I tried kitchen gardening back in Mumbai

IMG_3307In October, I resigned from office to prep for my wedding in December. In the meantime, I decided to try my hand at things that will be useful to me and my family someday. One of those things was kitchen gardening, a.k.a. urban farming, urban horticulture, container gardening, etc.

my first bicycle

I was always into gardening, so that’s how it hit me that I should go a level higher. As a kid, we had a little garden right in front of our house, oh what a privilege that was in a place like Mumbai. I would often spend time pruning, watering, earthing up, potting up and so on. It was my meditation.

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During my little vacation, I looked up for workshops and I found out there was one near the place I studied. It was being conducted by an organization called Urban Leaves. Urban Leaves is a collaborative urban farming project driven by volunteers. Such organizations are coming out of the need for people to become self-sufficient and healthy. Many people are aware of the consequences of chemical pesticides in our food, although not many are aware of our dependence on food imports and consequences thereof.

How your food is grown, stored, transported, processed and cooked can all influence how it impacts climate change and the environment. – NRDC

Food mile is a mile over which a food item is transported from producer to consumer, as a unit of measurement of the fuel used to do this. It deals with the broader issue of sustainability which deals with a large range of environmental, social and economic issues.

Yet food mile doesn’t show all the impacts of food transport, in which case Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) does a better job. LCA takes into account embodied energy and water involved with producing food. According to a study launched in 2007, the food in a typical Australian’s shopping basket has traveled a staggering 70,803 kilometres to reach Melbourne — equivalent to almost two trips around the world.

So, have these guys been thinking about this for so long? Not as long as this Swedish researcher who in 1993 calculated that the ingredients of a typical Swedish breakfast traveled a distance equal to the circumference of the Earth before reaching the Scandinavian table.

Since the green revolution, India has come a long way avoiding famines. Self-sufficiency shouldn’t have been a problem in a country with the largest irrigated land in the world. According to FAO, since 1950, population almost tripled, but food-grain production more than quadrupled. The scene is changing as rising food imports in India are rendering food costlier. Droughts, the lack of long-term investment in agriculture and increasing demands from a growing population are to blame. Food waste is a topic for another day but it should have been on this blame list. An estimated 40% of all fresh food produced in India perishes before it can get to customers. Let’s just say that the more our food travels to reach our table, the more mess it creates and by mess I mean waste and pollution.

Locally grown foods are proving to be a better choice and by not importing food, we are not importing pollution and water scarcity.

I present my work in the slideshow below. I couldn’t grow anything more than a leaf of a red radish. It’s technically not even a ‘true leaf‘. But I won’t be bogged down, I’ll try again. Thanks to Urban Leaves for helping kick-start my kitchen farming.

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Getting the lead out

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India’s favorite snack Maggi Noodles has been put under the microscope after ‘abrupt’ tests revealing excessive amounts of lead in it. Thanks to Barabanki’s food safety inspector VK Pandey. This set off a chain reaction that lead to the inspection of various other products in the market. Much to our surprise, lead was found and so was detergent. Maggi noodles and other products have been enjoying this unchecked prosperity for who knows how long.

Lead is a chemical element (goes by the symbol ‘Pb’ in the periodic table, for plumbum in Latin) that is thought to have ended the Roman Civilization. The Roman Empire’s water supply used lead pipes (without any coating to it), unlike iron and steel that are commonly used today. In addition to this, they even added lead acetate to makes their wines sweeter!

In 1922, lead in the form of tetraethlyllead as an anti-knocking agent was added to petrol to make vehicles run smoothly. Fifty years down the line i.e. around 1970, the infamous tetraethyllead was everywhere, in all the vehicles around the world. In the year 2002, 50 countries banned leaded gasoline and adopted unleaded gasoline. In 2007, 90% of the world’s countries had banned it. In 2008, 21 countries were still using it. Why did so many countries ban it? Who knew that lead could be poisonous to us humans? The Romans didn’t know. The men who used lead in petrol didn’t know, or did they?

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Leaded Petrol Phase-out: Global Status April 2014, Source: UNEP

One man named Clair Cameron Patterson knew. Elaborated in ‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, episode ‘The Clean Room’, Patterson, a geochemist, unmasked the toxic nature of lead while looking for the true age of the Earth. His efforts to make sure that lead gets eliminated from petrol is commendable. He fought against the political tide all by himself. Why did he do that? He, of all the people, knew how dangerous lead is to people.

Lead bioaccumulates as our body doesn’t know how to deal with heavy metals like lead, mercury, chromium etc. It sits inside you, in your bones, and inhibits the body to function well, havocs it. It attacks your nervous system, your kidneys, and a lot more. In scientific terms, this makes lead a ‘Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) chemical’. As the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) puts it,

“Short-term exposure to high levels of lead can cause brain damage, paralysis, (lead palsy), anaemia and gastrointestinal symptoms. Longterm exposure can cause damage to the kidneys, reproductive and immune systems in addition to effects on the nervous system. The most critical effect of low-level lead exposure is on intellectual development in young children and like mercury, lead crosses the placental barrier and accumulates in the foetus. Infants and young children are more vulnerable than adults to the toxic effects of Lead, and they also absorb lead more easily. Even short-term low-level exposure of young children to lead is considered to have an effect on neurobehavioural development. Consumption of food containing lead is the major source of exposure for the general population.”

How did lead get into these noodles? It could have entered the noodles through air, water, soil, plastic packaging, ‘masala‘, noodles, or industrial effluent. Lead has been used in storage batteries, weapons, lead paint, and even to protect workers from radioactive elements. It is still one of the most commonly used non-ferrous metals in the world. Any one can become exposed to lead through inhalation or ingestion of lead particles that are generated from industrial and domestic activities. Lead still serves many purposes and used as:

  • a coloring agent in stained glasses for reducing the radiation transmission
  • in fishing sinkers and in balancing wheels of vehicles
  • in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic for coating the electrical metal wires
  • for shielding from radiation in x-ray laboratories
  • in electronics its use as soldering agent
  • as a coolant in lead-cooled fast reactors
  • for sound proofing system
  • in building constructions e.g. sheets as architectural metals in roofing, cladding, flashings, gutters and joints, etc
  • water proofing media
  • in lead-based semi-conductors such as lead telluride, lead selenide and lead antimonide are being used in photovoltaic (solar) cells and infrared detectors
  • in making sculptures
  • a additive to brass to reduce machine tool wear

According to FSSAI, the permissible limit for lead in food is 2.5 ppm, i.e. 2.5 mg of lead per kg of body weight. Some of the samples indicated levels of 17 ppm, that’s about 7 times higher. What does ‘Permissible Exposure Limit’ (PEL) mean anyway? Who decides this? Isn’t it basically a ‘legal’ limit to lead content in food? 2.5 ppm or less, lead is going to accumulate in the human body. If it accumulates in large amounts, it leads to poisoning. PEL is the so called regulatory number, against advisory/recommended values, which can only be advised and not enforced. According to the World Health Organization, there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.

Moreover, please note that ‘2.5 ppm’ mentioned above is only applicable to ‘Foods not specified’ under the Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011. It is not the same, for say, baking powder. For baking powder, PEL is as high as 10 ppm. Standard procedure is followed for testing of elements in food samples and specific determination methods are followed for determining specific elements such as lead.

Lead poisoning is preventable but the damage is done in many cases and people have been exposed to lead. Some believe that they can cure it through Chelation Therapy. Viral messages suggesting chelation therapy with coriander are being passed along. Drugs called “chelators” [KEY-lay-ters] bind to the metals in the blood stream. This metal-chelator compound then gets eliminated in the urine. This therapy has its side effects but is a preferred choice for heavy metal poisoning. Chelation therapy however can only remove lead from blood, and not from your bones as it is difficult to do so. Let’s not forget what Benjamin Franklin said, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’

References:

Note 1: One can think on similar lines for MSG and Sweeteners.

Note 2: In Indian languages lead is known as ‘sisa’, ‘ranga’, ‘haridra’, ‘seemak’, ‘cheen’, ‘sindhur’ (Hindi/ Sanskrit), ‘eeyam’ (Malyalam) and ‘tipu’ (Pali).