Monday, November 14, 2011

Kadapa and Hyderabad, Aarti Home and video interview with Sandhya Puchalapalli

I am cheating as I write, by being on a train that is charging through the night to Delhi. It is saving 1400 kms of riding and will help me to Nepal before my visa runs out next week. I have rather weakly justified it by saying to myself that it is a South-North journey and not 'around'.

I arrived in Kadapa after a couple of days riding from Dindigal, I stayed in a rather disappointing hole of a hotel and town along the way. The manager was trying to and succeeding in massively overcharging me for a room that over looked a busy 24 hour petrol station. I am afraid I did not have the will power to move and it rather blackened my feeling towards the town of Tiropattur. I have had a few nights like this before and the best thing is to just get up early and move on.
This lady cooked me breakfast the next day, and was all smiles and giggles right up till I took her picture...which she was v happy about,  I guess this must be her pose. She restored my humour for sure.

I was enjoying the ride so much  driving north out of Tamil Nadu, I only managed to get this picture of the beautiful landscape I was going through...reminded me of Zimbabwe

The next days adventure was being interviewed by a local newspaper in a nameless village that I stopped in. Not a journalistic masterpiece I fear, as the editor had very few words of English and his questions were pure guess work as far as my understanding them were concerned. I gave him a few lines and then he wanted a photo which by chance, I assume, happened just when a herd of camels went by, making for quite a composition. I wonder if I will ever see it?
The editor at his newsdesk 
Those Camels

My reasons for going to this smallish town of Kadapa, off any beaten track, was to come to visit Aarti Home. Katie James had introduced me to it some years back and I loved how they go about saving and making lives for mainly abandoned girls in a land where girls are less wanted than boys. It is a horrid situation that has evolved over the years and is the cause of unmeasurable sorrow and suffering. I should add that it is chiefly in the rural communities that this is the case.
Un related to my tale, but thought you would like to see how the laundry is delivered to my hotel 

My few days there getting to know the Home and many of those involved, but in particular Sandhya Puchalapalli, has been a highlight of the trip.
Sandhya welcomed me into her home and family with a warmth that was hot to the touch. We ended up doing a video interview about the Aarti and the issues. Here it is....I have edited out a few of the really long stutters, to try and keep it moving, but left enough in just so you know it's me:

I drove to Hyderabad, which is about 250 miles and had 4 rather fantastic days. I was lucky enough to get a good deal at a 4 star hotel called the Tulip so was pretty comfortable and all mod cons etc. I rather lazily did not put the cover over Batty and the amount if extra chats I had  because of this laziness was rather striking. Batty does pull a crowd, not quite a honeypot, but nearly. One of these chats was with Manoj, who is an officer in the air force, we ended up having a few enjoyable Old Monks together. Old Monk is apparently the rum of choice for many an Indian Gentleman.

Paul has been doing our SEO (getting our site top of google etc)  off and on for a few years and I had wanted to meet him. Although he has a deceptively English name he is a born and bred Hydrabadian Christian. Apparently I was the first client to make it out there. Little prepared was I for the great welcome I was to get, there was a banner at the entrance welcoming me by name, a bouquet of flowers, lots of chocolate, even a photographer, and a great row of smiling faces. I felt like the Queen on an official visit. Very touching.

What a welcome

When we were leaving for lunch, Paul asked if I would say a few words to the team about success, not sure why he picked me, but I suppose it is pretty rare that someone takes a year or two out of their career. Anyway I immediately thought to talk about the best investment you can make in life is to deliver more than you are both expected to do and paid to do. It will always pay back handsomely as long as one knows that it is usually a mid to long term investment. It is not just a work thing, but can cover all aspects of life, although my experience of it has been particularly in work.
Paul liked that it seemed, as his team hurried back to their desks.

At lunch, in this themed restaurant that had you sitting in a railway carriage of the 1920s and served by waiters dressed as the Hitler youth, and over a very delicious feast I was asked if I believed in God. I had not been asked that for a very long time, and not by a devout Christian. I said no I did not, followed by quite a long explanation for my reasons for our state of being, I was fearful that this may prompt a sermon, but luckily Rini's brother, the photographer, agreed with everything I said much to my surprise from an Indian who all seem to believe in something or other.
After lunch I met up with Sandya as we had to take another interview video because the first one had a fan over the top of the mic which made the sound awful. She and her husband were in Hyderabad delivering their grand daughter back to their daughter. We met at the offices of, which is her brother's year old travel firm. He has enjoyed a very successful time in pharmaceutical manufacturing and now he is leaving others to run that whilst he follows his heart and sets up a wildlife travel business.
Stupidly my camera ran out of battery, so yet another date had to be made the next day.
That took place at the family home, and a lunch was laid on with the whole family. I was an hour late which was the third time I had been late for her, and I hated being so. They all waited  and we had a very delicious lunch, the home prepared food in this family is quite astonishingly good.
The interview went well and then it was really time to say farewell...a very fond one.
In the morning Paul and Rini, his lovely wife, had given me a conducted tour of the city. The Charminar was a favourite along with the jade collection in the Sajarjun Museum.

Paul and Rini infront of the Charminar

The other phenomenon that really caught my imagination was a hall that had a large English clock in the centre of one of the sides. When the hour comes,  a little mechanical chap at the top of the face pops out of a hut to strike the bell. Rather like a Swiss cuckoo clock.  This is watched by hundreds and hundreds of people, the clock is on a video camera and shown on screens around the hall so everyone can see it. It was almost religious, fun to see and all, but rather a huge celebration of a relatively straightforward clock. I was probably missing something... Alas camera's are not allowed there and you will have to take my word for it.

I met Darius about 10 or 12 years ago in England and he is a great pal of Arjun's and Karan's. We had been in touch and managed to hook up on the Thursday evening. He kindly collected me from the hotel and we went to his home, which is a large modern house with a good size garden in the heart of the city, very stylish and lovely to be in such a haven. He had a couple of other pals, Mark and Birdy, over and we had a high octane evening of much beer and a delicious dinner. It reminded me of the Curry Club back home and the brotherhood of good friends, much missed on this trip.

The next day I ran around a bit getting Batty booked on to the train, always a nervy the first time trying new things, but so far it has been fairly straight forward after a couple of wrong alleys.
Darius was true to his word and came and collected me from the hotel, took me home for a delicious and fun lunch before sending me off with one of his drivers to the station.

Batty all parceled up

It is now the morning after a good nights sleep and this train travel is fantastic. Comfortable and clean beds, quiet fellow passengers and hours (25 all told) of reading and writing time.  If you have made it this far down the blog, you will be wondering how I have had so much time to write...the wonder of trains.

PS. Jeremy Sigee kindly sent me this Bloomberg article about how the US military, along with many other commercial operators are soon to be going the Batty way for their fuel. Wouldn't it be a great thing if we can travel around the world with far less environmental concerns....that is not to say that it should be done in a way that compromises food for people, but I should think with the likes of glycerine ( See what Aquafuel are up to here) producing algae in play, the consequences should be easily managed:

By Alex Morales and Louise Downing
    Oct. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Biofuels face their biggest test yet
-- whether they can power fighter jets and tanks in battle at prices the world's best-funded military can afford.
    The U.S. Air Force is set to certify all of its 40-plus aircraft models to burn fuels derived from waste oils and plants by 2013, three years ahead of target, Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary Kevin Geiss said. The Army wants 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The Navy and Marines aim to shift half their energy use from oil, gas and coal by 2020.
    "Reliance on fossil fuels is simply too much of a vulnerability for a military organization to have," U.S. Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus said in an interview.
    Yet the U.S., stung by an oil embargo during the 1973 Arab- Israeli war, won't deploy biofuels beyond testing until prices tumble. The Air Force wants them "cost-competitive" with traditional fuel, for which it pays $8 billion a year. Producers see it the other way around, saying they need big buyers before building refineries to help slash costs, according to Honeywell International Inc., which developed a process to make biofuels.
    "The first few widgets are always more expensive than the billionth," said James Rekoske, vice president of renewable energy at Honeywell's UOP unit. "That's where we're at."
Honeywell expects to have delivered about 800,000 gallons of biojet fuel from 2009 through early 2012.
    Rekoske said prices need to dive to $3 to $4 a gallon from more than $10 now. Refineries, costing about $300 million each, are "mission critical" and a giant customer like the U.S.
government is necessary to carry production to the next level.

                      Convincing Bankers

    "You can't take a 10-year contract from an American airline to the bank and get the financing that you need,"
Rekoske said. "You can if you have a 10-year contract from the U.S. Navy."
    The military's drive to cut dependence on oil, coal and gas goes beyond biofuels. It's developing wind and solar farms to power U.S. bases and expanding the use of renewables into combat zones such as Afghanistan, where a study last year showed one Marine is killed or wounded for every 50 fuel and water convoys.
    Under a 2005 law, federal government facilities must source at least 5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources in 2010-2012, and at least 7.5 percent afterward.
    President Barack Obama on Aug. 16 announced the Navy and Departments of Agriculture and Energy would each plow $170 million over three years into the commercial development of biofuels, with the aim of generating at least as much in private investment. The Navy aims to ramp up its biofuels use to 3 million gallons in 2016 from 900,000 gallons next year.

                       'Create a Market'

    "The U.S. military is by the far the largest user in the country, so we can create a market for it," Mabus said. The Navy is the "guaranteed customer" needed to get the industry "across the so-called valley of death from a good idea to commercial scale," he said.
    The armed forces say they've been successful testing fuels produced from sources as diverse as animal fat, frying oils and camelina, an oil-bearing plant that's relatively drought- and freeze-resistant.
    Major Aaron Jelinek, the lead solo pilot in the Air Force's Thunderbirds flight demonstration team, performed aerobatics including loops, rolls and formation flying at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on May 20-21. It was the F-16 fighter jet's first flight using a fuel made from the camelina plant.
    "I could tell no difference between flying that day when I had biofuel in my tank versus flying the day before or the day after," Jelinek said in an interview.
    The military wants its vehicles, except for the ships that are nuclear-powered, to be able to use new combustibles, cutting fossil fuel imports from politically unstable nations.

                         Green Hornet

    "We do buy a lot now from countries that we sure wouldn't let build our aircraft or ships, but we give them a say in whether they sail or fly because we buy our fuels from them,"
said Mabus.
    The Navy has flown its Green Hornet fighter aircraft at 1.7 times the speed of sound using a biofuel blend and aims to have certified all of its aircraft for the fuels by year-end.
    While the tests were done in the U.S., once certified, the forces will be able to operate aircraft on biofuels anywhere, including war zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
    "If the fuel is available, whether it's in Afghanistan or it's in Kentucky, we want to be able to use it," said Geiss.
    The Navy's fuel bill rose $1 billion this year because of the conflict that cut off Libyan output, said Mabus.
   Volatile prices for oil can hit budgets. At the Navy, which spends about $4 billion a year on fuels, the energy bill rises
$31 million for every $1 gain in the price of a barrel of oil, Mabus said. The Air Force has twice the budget.

                      $8 Billion in Fuel

    "When you've got a bill of $8 billion, you're going to look for opportunities to diversify your options," said Geiss.
    The Army aims to approve biofuels for its aircraft and ground vehicles, including Humvees, Abrams battle tanks and Apache helicopters by the end of 2013, a spokesman, Dave Foster, said in an e-mail.
    The Air Force certified biofuels for use in F-15s, F-16s and C-17 cargo planes and they're set for approval for the whole fleet by 2013, said Jeff Braun, director of the Alternative Fuels Certification Office. The force has a 2016 deadline for being able to get half its needs from 50/50 alternative fuel blends, equivalent to 400 million gallons of biofuels or other combustibles, such as synthetic liquid fuels from coal and gas.
    "We can use an almost unlimited number of feedstocks to produce these fuels," said Braun. "From a performance stand- point you can't tell the difference whether you're burning a camelina blend, a tallow blend, or another fuel that's made up of a bunch of waste greases -- fry grease or seasoning grease."

                   Boeing, Lockheed Martin

    The Air Force has worked with aircraft makers Boeing Co.
and Lockheed Martin Corp. and engine-makers Rolls Royce Holdings Plc, General Electric Co. and United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney in testing the biofuels, said Braun. The fuels used were made by Honeywell's UOP, Sustainable Oils Inc. and Dynamic Fuels LLC, a venture by Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc. and Syntroleum Corp. of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
    The results of the military tests have been shared with commercial airlines, many of which have carried out their own trials -- starting with Air New Zealand Ltd. in December 2008, and Continental Airlines -- now part of United Continental Holdings Inc. -- and Japan Airlines Co. the following month, according to Honeywell.
    The data from military and commercial airlines helped ASTM International, formerly the American Society for Testing & Materials, in July approve the fuels for use in commercial planes, paving the way for Germany's Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Europe's second-largest airline, to become the first carrier in the world to offer regular scheduled flights running on biofuel.

                     Lufthansa Precedent

    "Lufthansa wouldn't be flying today if we had not done our work to enable development of that ASTM standard," Geiss said.
    The next hurdle is for the fuels to be produced commercially at prices the military would accept.
    Honeywell made 800,000 gallons of fuel for the Air Force's tests, though it doesn't aim to produce the fuels commercially.
It plans to license the technique to refiners such as Valero Energy Corp. and Darling International Inc., which are building a $368 million plant in Louisiana, Rekoske said. While it'll be licensed to make bio-jet fuel, Bill Day, a Valero spokesman, said the focus will be on making ground transportation fuels.

For Related News and Information:
Top renewable energy and environment stories: TOP ENV <GO> Most-read renewable energy stories: MNI ALTNRG <GO> Energy asset search: BMAP <GO> Climate-change news: NI CLIMATE <GO>

--Editors: Todd White, Steve Geimann

To contact the reporters on this story:
Alex Morales in London at +44-20-7330-7718 or; Louise Downing in London at +44-20-3216-4633 or

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Reed Landberg at +44-20-7330-7862 or

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tamil Nadu, new forests, child labour

In India every day over 6,000 new cars and 100,000 new motorcycles are being bought.
In Mumbai there are more dollar millionaires than in New York.
These are a couple of statistics that rather struck me and I can see this country exploding economically. The reality is that the poorest are having as difficult a time now as they ever have and the contrast with the rich only makes this gulf all the more striking.

So many Indian NGOs have historically looked to the 'Developed' world for funding. They still do, but the need for India's own social responsibility to develop further will be more and more important as they get richer and the 'west' has to deal with more of their own problems. The many religions and sects do support the population to some extent and it may well be through these channel that this urgent evolution can be accelerated. ...That is just H having a bit of a spout...

Dindigal is the town I had planned to meet Abdaheer. He is the chap I had been corresponding with about the WeForest project in the area. Till now this journey had been about an approximate route, a few places to see and a lot of opportunistic meetings of people along the way. Pretty self indulgent and self feeding you could say.  So this was a new short phase of the trip where I was to see on the ground some actual day to day life in the workings of a great cause that resonated with the trip I was doing.

Abdaheer had kindly arranged a hotel and met me there with his colleague Farukh. It is worth saying that my timing was very selfish in that it was the first day of Diwali and like asking someone to come out on Christmas Day. They made no issue of this and said that it was really for the children, but I knew it was also a work holiday at the very least. They took me to one of their projects which was a new school for the Dalit community. They are the lowest of the low in this land and education is rarely successful via the state.
                                 The New School....ready next spring and funded largely by a German charity

I should explain that Abdaheer started his NGO whilst still at college 15 years ago, by helping to train impoverished women to earn money making clothes and the like. This expanded and The Sawed Trust now runs many projects that self enables, empowers and ultimately  enriches the poorest and most wretched in Tamil Nadu. And that tends towards the women and children. More recently his attention has broadened to include agricultural and environmental essentials. Hence the Weforest connection. Abdaheer is a remarkable social entrepreneur, who with his colleagues is giving a lot of people a much greater chance in life. The fight against cynicism and greed, set against the delight in seeing real and positive change for many, is his daily bread.

They run courses for small local farmers, which will see 40+ every week turn up to learn about new techniques and crops that will lever their circumstances very favourably. It was interesting that the clinching incentive was the free grain and fruit tree saplings that are given out after each lesson. That is what I call positive arm twisting that works because the farmers are implementing what they are learning and getting hugely increased yields.

The Classroom with Farukh at the board
Local ladies preparing tree seedling bagsAbderheer (centre) with his colleagues

On returning to the hotel, having dined on a famous Vanu Biriyani, I bumped into Mags and Joost at reception. A quickly interesting chat lead to a plan to meet for a drink a bit later. They are making a film about the horrors of the child labour in the cotton industry here. It was extraordinary to hear their tales of the tortured life these kids are put through. The lady who was helping them, would not show her face to the camera, as she would have more likely than not been killed by the mafia type bosses that run the cotton industry.

My mouth was almost on the floor by the time I had heard all this, but they seemed completely relaxed....  I then realised that they do this all the time and are well known film makers with such hits as 'Saving Africa's Witch Children' shown on Channel4 dispatches which even I had seen. is their company and they are delightful and fascinating. A fine crossing of paths from my point of view and ones that will cross again I hope.

The next day Abdaheer, Farukh and I went up onto the hills above Dindigal in the Western Ghats to visit some of the plantations that he is doing with WeForest. So far their plans are for 600 hectares of 75000 new trees and that will absorb about 10,000 tons of CO2 per annum. An average car produces about 6000kg of CO2 per annum. (in simple terms we worked out that the annual carbon absorption of the new trees would about cover one days emissions from the new cars sold daily). 1 Euro buys and plants 6 trees, so off setting one's 'footprint' does not have to be too expensive. Weforest has a €3 a month campaign that I do, which may interest those who like the idea of replanting the forests of the world; click here.

I will add the video in due course, butthis is the area that the planting is to be done.

WeForest had asked if I would write a small report for them and perhaps take some video. It became rather apparent that it would be easiest if we filmed a sort of interview covering all the topics surrounding the project. Messrs Humphreys and Paxman are very safe in their jobs, but it is a very good way of getting information across efficiently. I will post it here once the heavy edit is finished.

Before I left Dindigul, I had mentioned the need for better water proofs and Abdaheer took me to the brand new 'Selfridges' of Dindigal, which had everyone there very excited. To my mind it had more the styling and layout of a multi floor Aldi. On the top floor there was great range of rain coats etc. I was then astonished by Abdaheer as he refused to let me pay for them. My attempt at insistence started bordering on rudeness so I gave in and accepted this kind and most welcome of gifts.

Azim, Abdaheer's son on Batty, just before I left

For the next 2 days of travel, I put them on about 5 times as the cyclone reminded me that Mother Nature was boss, but I at least was dry.