Bicycle trip from Delhi to Kathmandu – Day 2

Preparations and Day 1.

Day 2

Got some kids to get the bottles from a nearby village. Gave them a ORS packet as a return gift. Tweeted @ 12:58 PM

When I woke up, there was no electricity and I had to stumble around while getting dressed. I started at around 6:30 am with a sky which was yin yang with clouds. It seemed it was unable to make up its mind whether to grill me or not. After a while it did decide and the clouds were gone. Even for the morning hours, it soon got very hot. So when I noticed a tubewell running ratta-tat, pumping a thick snake of water, I could not resist. Jumped out of my clothes, to my cycling tights, and into the tank. It already had 3 naked kids, bathing, who graciously made some space for me. They even offered their lifebuoy soap for my use.

tubewell bath
tubewell bath
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Bicycle trip from Delhi to Kathmandu – Day 1

This would need a bit of preamble. I did this trip starting on 15th of June 2009. I wrote it after coming back, well almost wrote it. Initially I had a feeling this could even be publishable :P. Mailed the first 3 chapters to some publishers (we can always hope right?), who promptly replied back with, “We are not interested in this genre”. That made me just forget about the whole issue.

on the road

Something to note before starting to read: It has invariably happened that when people come to know of this, they first get flabbergasted. Then after getting to know the details, they are like, oh…that is not such a big deal. And indeed it is not such a big deal. I rode, something like 1100 km in around 9 days of riding. Comes out to about 120 kms a day average. I have seen guys who commute 80 kms daily to work. In fact recently saw a blogpost about a cyclist who did 370 km in one day. To be fair my trip was in the peak of summers, and I was always carrying around 6 liters of water + some luggage. And my bike was an MTB, not meant for such long rides. Think of this as an alternate kind of travelogue. I believe that the speed with which you travel has a direct affect on the things you are able to observe. Also your though process is different. Without further delay, here is the first day of my trip. Have a few more days written. Will definitely write down the remaining days of which I have notes, tweets etc. Thanks to Sudarshana and Shilpa for copyeditting and other related helps.
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Extreme cycling & coconut juice

Beware: this is a rambling kinda post.

Cycling the ups and downs of hyderabad is a surefire way of battling the blues. Came across an almost 45deg incline. If anybody wants to check that place, it is at left turn on the road from Film Nagar towards Jubilee Hills check post.

Observation: Hyderabad has very few cycle repair/cycle puncture shops. Does it show the development of the people. Also on a related note, I was late for office and decided to chuck my cycle and take ‘lift’. But to my dismay 3 guys just passed me. Also could see none of the usual shared autos. (don’t ask I live in a black hole within hyderabad). Also on a related note, will soon write a post about my bullet renovation blues, which will be titled, “Oh Ramalu, bada dukh deena”. My mechanic is named Ramalu, you see. So back to getting a ride to office. The fourth person downshifted his gears before reaching me and stopped. I gave him a grateful smile and hopped on. He asked me, where do I work. I told him. The second question was, “how much do you earn?” I gave him some random number. He says, “Itna paisa hona fir bhi lift lena . yahan ke logan 5 hazaar bhi kamaata hai, uske gaand ke neeche bike hona”. On hearing which I gave some more of my daily curses to Ramalu Anna. Remember this was a diversion from the main post.  Back to it.

One thing good about hyderabad is its cheap coconut sellers. I had always wondered, why coconuts cost the same in Delhi, Goa and Cochin. In fact my friend asked a coconut seller in Goa, how come it is so expensive when there was a coconut tree laden with fruits 2 meters from us. On which he said, “Toh chad ke tod leejiye”. So anyway in Hyderabad coconuts start at Rs 5. That is what the signages written on the inverted white pieces of bigger placards say. But more often than not, when a person stops his bike or car, it so happens that the smaller Rs 5 version is exhausted. Only the 10 and 15 Rs ones are left. Today was one such day. I was thirsty as hell, and did not mind one bit about the 10 Rs coconut which was very sweet too. While I was drinking it slowly, savoring the various flavors, a man stopped next to the coconut vala. He was around 35ish and had his around 10 year old son on his back carrier. He looked like a hard working man. He asked the hawker for a 5 Rs coconut. The hawker told him that the smaller ones were finished. On which the father son pair looked disappointed. And started walking back towards their cycle. The coconut man rushed back towards his small mound of stuff, sacks and coconut husks and what not, and searching through it, yelled a ‘eureka’. Maybe this drama was for my benefit. Anyway, the father took the beheaded coconut and gave it to his son. His son took 2-3 swigs and held his hand back towards his father. He wanted his father to have some too. The father shook his head, saying no. But the kid wouldn’t take no for an answer. Father finally took the coconut and took a formal, but a savoring swig. And gave it back to the son. The son must have known that the father obviously would have loved some more, and so he again pushed it back towards him. Father now brought his angry eyes to play, on which the kid finished whatever few drops were left.

My day was made.

Social design problems

Everyone wants to help the poor. The needy. Sometimes the ‘want to help’ is so large that the needy are helped regardless of them.  Let us not get into the discussion of whether some NGO’s are in this just to make loads of Tax-free money.

Merry go around pumps or Roundabout playpumps, are pumps which use the energy of children playing on a merry go around. This is the conjecture: Children love to play, hence use the energy generated to pump water. Children are happy playing, and the community gets its water. The idea seemed so great the company got lots of funding (even from the US govt.) and lots of playpumps where installed.

miling, playing children, solving Africa’s water problems. It is an appealing image and one that has attracted millions of dollars in American government aid, backing from the likes of the Co-op and high-profile celebrity endorsements. The only problem is it has also been criticised by one of the world’s leading water charities as being far too expensive, too complex for local maintenance, over-reliant on child labour and based on flawed water demand calculations. So, are we just buying into yet another feel-good marketing gimmick? And what does this say about the current state of the aid industry? Read more here

The details are there in the guardian article, out of which I will list the main problems here:
1. The playpumps are too expensive ($14000 excluding drilling)
2. The maintenance is difficult and spare parts are not easily found.
3. It ‘Needs’ the kids to play to do something which is a necessity. So in a way it is child labor.

Why did nobody see such obvious points earlier? One big reason could be the pictures of smiling children.

Who doesn’t want children to be happy, and also solve a big problem, that of water. Researchers have known that their presence necessarily changes the outcome of the observation (hiesenberg’s principle at play ? :P). But I guess in this case they did not realize the extent. A researcher pointed out that as soon as he reached the pump site, children used to rush towards him. Seeing a white guy, seemed to excite the kids and they always started to play. Questioning locals, he found out that this is a more common scenario: a lone woman pushing the playpump to pump water.

As the guardian article remarks,

They can keep quiet and watch money wasted in massive quantities, or expose the waste and risk damaging charitable giving to the sector as a whole.

Now lets take an example which is closer to my country India.

Sethu Sethunarayanan, founder and director of the Center for the Development of Disadvantaged People (CDDP), an organization dedicated to aiding the Irulas, enlisted the help of a mechanical engineer to make a rat trap that is effective 95 percent of the time compared to the old method which was successful only 40 percent of the time. read more

The difference in both these examples is the way of Intervention. In the first case the intervention is being implemented by another body (someone other than the people), and hence has limitations. The third party may not want to accept failure, after having come so far. Even if they do, it will send a negative message to contributors, who might be turned off contributing to that sector at all. The fact that the rat traps are being made by the Irula’s themselves, makes the second plan foolproof. If the Irulas later find that the rat trap is indeed not useful, or not worth the effort they can just stop making them. What this implies is that it is not sufficient to solve social problems by design, even the implementation has to be well thought out.

Da da da da Dance

one of these days i shall
write this on a piece of paper
“shall dance for peace
and a few rupees”
And i will spin like a wok
on a chinese fire
with nothing else but
two small thumbs
and a nice attire.
do a limbo
pick a kerchief
with my teeth
bent backwards
and when they see me dance
and clap there hands,
standing askance,
I will
then say this to them,
say A
say AAA
say ¶
And they shall dance and dance
da da da da dance
give themselves into romance
aunties become lil teenage girls
moustachoed uncles moon walk.
and i shall pump up the trance
And they shall dance and dance
da da da da dance

download the mp3

And if you wish to throw shoes at me, kindly throw a pair. And size 8.