My notes and musings …

Archive for the ‘Introspective’ Category

Not the first time, won’t be the last either

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A satyagrah when standing in solidarity with a cause or a people appears to a third person as a voluntary act. But as one absorbs the spirit of resistance and solidarity, it becomes an urge, a pull, a drive to act. Given that we are typically not the ones in the eye of the storm, we apply reason, strategize, coordinate, organize, mobilize and try to maximize the impact of the act of resistance.

It was very appropriate that in the morning I attended a panel discussion on Gandhi’s views on dissent and sedition in the first half of the day. And in the second half a talk by Tanveer Ajsee on the historical roots of Kashmir art today. The languages of dissent and expression used by Kashmiris – in their attire and presentation, on canvas, paper or pavments, in their music, dance and celebrations of weddings or commemorating their martyrs.

My satyagrah yesterday was in protest of the govt of India’s communication blockade in Kashmir. If we are to believe the govt of India, 8 million+ people have been subjected to a lockdown so that a few hundred people are kept from communicating between themselves and the rest of the world. For 61 days. Where is the sense of proportion? Is there any concern to human life and livelihood in such actions by the state? In reality, the blockade is yet another step in the further alienization and brutalization of a community. A community that has seen, and survived through, at least 175 years of repression, deceit and exploitation by various states – British, Dogra, and Indian.

There is an attempt to re-weave the Indian social fabric to distract every one from the large scale exploitations of resources and energies. To establish a supremacy, to reiterate and stamp a chauvinistic identity among a majority. A majority that is being told over and over again and is starting to believe that it is under threat. History is replete with cases of the rich and powerful consolidating their hold over the state using this fear. And of communities singled out and oppressed to assuage the collective conscience of society.

The Govt of India, with its actions over the past 39 years or so has ensured that whatever bridges were built are chopped down and brunt to the ground. Again and again. Keeping an active military in a region has never brought peace to that land. The UK, US, Russia, and every hegemonic power center has experienced this. War and occupation brings wealth and excess to the oppressors. And the blood soaked money and power is what we are getting out of Kashmir.

As frequent as these oppressions are the acts of resistance. The living up to ideals, the giving up of livelihoods, freedoms and even lives for certain truths that one holds dear. The defiance of those who don’t just believe that love and peace should prevail, but are ready to stand up and say not in my name; not again.

We can amend laws, we can change the rules. But we cannot legislate affection for a state or fraternity and brotherhood with the rest of the country. It has to be earned.

Simple yet memorable lessons learned – how to break a locked air pocket

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I’m in a remote part of rural Odisha, with green hills in all directions and amazing people who know so much about their ecosystem, their land, their traditions, their fellow community members and very likely themselves. The initiative that has been bringing me here every few months for the past 3 years is trying to even the balance as these communities interact more and more closely with markets and commerce oriented individuals and institutions. One part of that initiative is a rotary cold press oil mill and another is a set of machines to process millets such that their nutritional value is retained. This visit was planned to be a refresher course for local youth who have been trained to run these machines. But the rotary mill had a breakdown a week ago. With more than 40 sacks of mahua seeds waiting to be crushed, the primary objective was now to fix the rotary mill.

A rotary mill is essentially a mortar and pestle with the pestle held stationary while the mortar is driven by a motor. A gear box is used to achieve 20 rpm rotational speed of the mortar (from the motor’s 960/1440 rpm). The shaft of this gear box on which the mortar sits had broken and needed to be replaced. Even with a ratchet and winch, it took some effort to get the heavy mortar and pestle off – each of them weighs about 100 kgs. After being instructed about a couple of neat tricks, the broken shaft was exposed, available to be hauled out of the gear box.

The gear shaft sits on 2 bearings at either end with a coupling gear in between. The only points of contact of the shaft with the body are through these components. When rotated, the shaft was rotating without any problem – so all the components were fine, though the shaft itself had broken just above the gear box. The friend who made this rotary mill insisted that we just need to lift it and the shaft assembly would come off and out of the gear box. But the thing refused to budge. We tied a bamboo over it and tried to lift it, no movement. We hitched it onto the winch and the whole milling machine frame with motor started to come off the ground !

Our man on the phone insisted there isn’t anything else to it and that we should just take a time out and figure out how to break the locked air pocket that would have formed at the bottom bearing – the whole assembly is drowned in gear oil. I couldn’t see what else we could do, so we stepped back and took a breather, mulling over the fact that what we needed to do was lift the gear shaft assembly out of the gear box. We tired shaking the gear shaft, hammering it with a mallet, and yanking at it at different angles using some ropes tired around it – but the locked air pocket just did not break. Time to step back again.

The next thing I could think of was using was the principle of a lever. I picked up a 2′ long piece of bamboo, with the body of the gear box as fulcrum, I set the far end under the top bearing and the stated ‘levering’ away while rotating around the shaft and increasing the force as I went around. After a good 2 minutes of doing this and just as I was starting to go beyond my arm and use my body weight on the piece of bamboo, I hear the ‘pssschuk’ !! The locked air pocket was broken. And we were able to lift the gear assembly as if it was just sitting there!

Lessons learned:

  1. Locked air pockets can lift 300+ kgs.
  2. An off axis load that is a small fraction of the on axis load can break the locked air pocket.
  3. Step back and re strategize.

Ah, the joys of learning while doing !!

Written by Dwiji

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019 at 06:49

Its a journey and not a pursuit

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There are multiple words that have been used – progressive, liberal, leftist, communist, etc. to describe those who have sought to pursue a purpose greater than the enrichment of themselves and their immediate family. I am not sure which of these describe me best. I do subscribe to the notions and ideas of cooperation and  community ownership. Yet I do see how these quickly descend to nationalization and centralized decision making which invariably leads to alienation, disenfranchisement. And close at its heels, the bracketing and exclusion of people – of the other, of those people.

At a personal level, my effort to find a purpose for my existence and a use for my talents, started from (and continues to be driven by) a fairly fatalistic point of view – death is the only thing that is certain after one is born. It really does not matter in the broader scheme of things that a person was born today and died sometime after that. What does matter is what that person did when alive. Who remembers that person? who would rather forget that person?

These ideas had taken a deep enough root by the time I got to high school that I was sure I was not going to join the rat race. I am lucky to have been born, brought up and grow in a family that has allowed me to explore and shape my life the way I deemed fit. As neo-liberalism and communalization started competing for the body politic in India, I started identifying that the broader purpose of my life would be to work towards evening the keel and improving the access to resources that large sections of the population have been denied in almost all societies.

The fact that we know so little, we as in those outside of certain academic circles, about the lives of those who were not the kings or princes of years gone by belied the fact that those in power shall write the books of history. As this st

Coll IMJ, photo (c) IMJ

We must fix our eyes upon the catastrophes that we have behind us – and on the catastrophes of which we are the witnesses. For the atrocious has not happened, it is happening now, it is about to happen. We are entering an era of catastrophes: human, ecological and finally philosophical catastrophes. – Milo Rau, 24/11/2017.

arted sinking in, I came across a story of a small bird that tried to save its nest from a forest fire. As the other animals were trying to run and escape from the fire, they asked the bird, ‘what are you trying to do? you cannot put out the fire ! Fly away and live for another day’. The bird apparently replied, ‘I know I cannot put out the fire. But I shall try my best to save my chicks. If I fail, it will not be because I did not try.’ Thats a translated version; even though its been more than a decade since I heard this story and I have done numerous translations, I have not been able to capture the emotion of the last line, it is best said in Hindi – “जब इतिहास लिखा जाएगा, आग को भुजाने कि कोशिश करने वालों में मै गिनि जाऊँगी, आग को बढ़ने या उससे भागने वालो मे नहीं ” Yes, the importance given to historical record in this story is not something I took/take literally. The message that I took from it was that one needs to try, at least try, to fight for what one feels is worth saving before one follows the very natural response of self preservation.

These ideas have held me in good stead and helped me find more to spur me on – like the recent speech by Milo Rau.  I see these providing me the tools to navigate further along in this journey.

It has been a hectic year with a lot of things happening – many unanticipated, some expected, and quite a few expected ones that did not happen. And that is what makes the journey beautiful, and the idea of a pursuit not worth pursuing ! 🙂

Its going to be just two posts in 2017. I hope, and have a feeling that, it will be better in 2018.

Written by Dwiji

Sunday, December 24th, 2017 at 21:00

Religion & Recycling

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Religion gets shadowed or covered up in various ways in our day to day lives. Every now and then it does peek through and such glimpses linger.

Cleaning up the computer that my father uses, I sorted through the bunch of (data) CDs he had accumulated over the years and many needed to be disposed off. In one of those rare moments, my father, a proud pack rat, asked me to take out all the old electronic items tucked away in different attics! When it was all gathered, the waste pile included a floppies and CDs, a 20 year old TV, and even older space heater, coils from tube lights, and lots of wires bought almost 30 years ago when the house was constructed.

After a string of phone calls and searching online, I found out that Ash Recyclers was the only company / organization in all of Bangalore that recycled all types of electronic waste. I was more than glad when they offered to pick up the stuff from our house. When they did arrive to pick up the material, I was very curious to know how it worked out for them to pick up a relatively small consignment from a residence. Kumar, the collections manager, started showing the national and international media coverage that their work had recieved. I then asked what they did with the material and if they had the necessary permits and licenses. Syed bhai, who seemed relatively silent and reserved, made an impassioned speech about how most benefits from his operations go to a non profit working with muslim communities in urban, semi-urban, and rural areas. He went on to lay out some of the human development indicies in which muslims lag behind their counter parts from different communities and shared his motivation to taking up this work.

His strong convictions made me look within. I had not asked that question till I had seen the page of their brochure that mentioned that most of the proceeds are disbursed by the Masha Allah Trust. The progressive in me makes me think that I would have questioned with equal intensity if the benefits were distributed through a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or Jain institution. But then, the luxury of hind sight does pamper the progressive in each of us …

Written by Dwiji

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008 at 16:24

Posted in Introspective

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