Saturday, 21 November 2009

Bajaj Center website

I have almost finished the website I have been creating for the new department of NARI. The words are not mine, although I initially wrote some of the content as a template. The layout, sketch and banner is my work, although they have gone through a number of changes based on feedback from the director and family. Now the website is online, any more feed back before it is advertised would be greatly appreciated.

I am mainly interested in design comments but I am sure the director would appreciate feedback about the content.

I feel the sketch could look more professional so let me know if you think I should give it another go. The director wanted me to place the sketch somewhere on every page. I am not sure if I have found the best place yet. I couldn't get it to fit anywhere else.

The banner I think could also be improved but I feel I have run out of creative energy with it now. The director ideally wanted something more simple, but I have not been able to come up with anything better yet.

I have also not tested it properly on Internet Explorer, so please let me know if you think something does not display the way it probably should. Unfortunately every computer shows web pages slightly differently. If you could send me any screen shots of anything strange that you see that would be most helpful. To do this on Windows, press the Print Screen button on the top right of your keyboard, open Paint and past the contents in. Then save and attach to an email.

The site address is

I have a day off tomorrow and shall go for long bike ride. Perhaps I'll have more news then. Actually, I went to see a sugar, ethanol and drinks factory today which was interesting. They are ancient facilities that look like they are about to to burst at the seams. I might post a few photos later if they are presentable.

PS. You may missed the update to my previous post. I am now famous in Phaltan having made it in the local paper. Now when I cycle about people call out my name and at the nearest opportunity tell me that they saw me in the paper. :)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

After the storm

Last night I was rudely awakened by claps of thunder and I could hear the rain falling in torrents. In the morning it was still raining so I put on shorts and a semi waterproof jacket and hoped that I could get in to work without getting my laptop too wet. However, when I left the house it suddenly stopped raining. Instead, when I was almost at NARI's I realised my real challenge: passing a flooded section of road. The fields were completely flooded and looked more like lakes and where draining at the lowest point of the road. Had made a pathetic attempt at crossing but decided not to take up the challenge with my netbook on my back. After waiting with a crowed of people on one side of the road for 20 minutes eventually a tractor passed and I was able to hitch a ride with my cycle. So, I have arrived at NARI. and of course few other people are here because they couldn't take their motorbikes and cars on the tractor trailer. My only problem now is that I just discovered that I have forgotten my charger at home!

Update 18 Nov 2009
My tractor ride even made it in the local paper!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

A dogs life in India

Probably the sadest thing for me about this part of India, or probably most of India, is the condition of the dogs. Here the dogs are seen as pests, or at least treated as such. Most dogs here are literally starving to death. Their population is controlled simply by the amount of food they can find - and by road traffic accidents. No one cares if they die of starvation. When they come begging they are chased away with stones. When a motor vehicle approaches a dog in the road it does not alter its path. In fact on two occasions I have witnessed dogs being specifically targeted by motor-bikers.

Yesterday I saw a puppy laying dead beside the road. Today I saw crows eating it. This evening as I ate my thali a dog saw me eating and started to beg. I looked at it and could see that it was no different to the dogs that we have at home. Yet so different was its life. At home the dogs are proud and often think they are head of the family 'pack'. This dog had no place of its own to protect. It had no job. It was edgy and nervous - looking out for the next attack from a dog or a human. Yet at the same time, as it edged closer, its whole body expressed longing. Although all it wanted was a little food, you could see, that given a good home, it was capable of so much affection. This was an animal full of feelings and was caperble of giving so much love and devotion.

The next moment the animal was rudely shoed away and it dashed into a dark corner with its tail between its legs. No, wait. Its tail had always been between its legs. How could such faithful animals have been bred to be dependent on us and then be caste into the gutter?

What should I have done? What should I do? If I feed them I will reduce their suffering a little while I am here. When I am gone they'll probably be worse off than before. If other people feed them and don't prevent them from reproducing there will be more strays and more hungry mouths to feed. I have no easy means of talking to the locals about this. If I could, what should I say? Even with all the wealth in the region from the sugar plantations the poorest people are finding it difficult to survive. There are many tractors but and few jobs. There is no room for feelings in a mechanical world.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Pick pocket

The monsoon rains made a surprise comeback for the last couple of days. Yesterday I was waiting for the rain to stop near NARI's but it didn't stop. A local cafe, which had stopped serving food was kind enough to cook me a meal especially (they usually come out of a big pot). He still only wanted 40p for it but I gave him 70. I tried to chat with the locals while waiting, which was entertaining, but not much was understood. They wanted to see some pictures of London on my laptop. Eventually the cafe was shutting so I was forced to go home in the rain. One of the locals lent me his umbrella to hold above my head while I cycled home. I accepted because I wanted to keep my laptop dry. There were a few wobbly moments as I failed to see some pot  holes in the dark and the umbrella turned inside out. But I got home all right and surprisingly dry. I might start taking an umbrella with me on bike rides in England. Sorry, those of you with facebook will have already heard so far. But not this:

This evening the rain stopped and I cycled to Phaltan to investigate why my usb modem had stopped working. I felt real bling riding with my expensive bright flashing bike lights from the UK. I haven't seen one cycle here with lights. In town I had difficulty finding the place that could help me. A customer of one of the shops was kind enough to help and took me from one place to another. No payment was asked for all his help, but he did want to become my friend and we exchanged phone numbers. Eventually we found someone who knew of a shop that could help me so I hopped on that man's motorbike and he took me there. The whole precess must have taken most of an hour. First they confirmed that I needed more credit. Then they topped it up. Then I plugged it into my eee and confirmed that it still did not work. Then we had to spend ages calling different customer care numbers because, apparently, when my credit runs down to zero they deactivate the card. During this time I remember that my wallet is in my back pocket and being in a crowded shop I need to position my leg that it is snug against me that I can feel if someone tries to take it out.

When eventually I come to pay I reach into my pocket and bingo - I don't have just my wallet in my hand, I have two! Yes two wallets. You can imagine my surprise and embarrassment when I try and pay with two wallets. I look around and ask if someone is missing a wallet. I feel like a thief. Why has someone put another wallet in my pocket?

When they understand my confusion they help me find out who's wallet it is and go through its contents. There is no money in it. Eventually we figure out that it belongs to the first helpful guy I met with whom I exchanged numbers. I give someone else my phone because I can't understand most Indian people on the phone and Anand (his name) does not not speak a lot of English. They explain that I have his wallet and tell me he is coming. So I nervously wait, expecting to be accused of a thief or be begged for some money when he sees that it is all gone. Instead, when he arrived he was full of smiles and was grateful that I was honest enough to return it. He explains that he does not keep money in his wallet.

Well you tell me what to think of this one. Can I trust him? He seems quite well off so I don't think he is after my money. Since I approached him and most Indian people are actually honest (one gets a slanted image of Indian people if one only talks to people who approach oneself - i.e touts) he is probably a decent chap. Anyway, he would like to meet with me on my next day off, which will be Sunday.

The photo: A picture of the resident geko. I have not seen it since I blinded it with my flash. I hope it is ok :S

Friday, 6 November 2009

From Mumbai to Phaltan

After spending a day finding out about the possibility of buying a motorbike and then making a tourist trip over to Elephanta Island I decided I had had enough of Mumbai and would head straight to the rural agriculture research place, NARI near Phaltan. So on Sunday morning I headed to central Mumbai train station and bought 2nd class unreserved ticket to Pune (sometimes spelt in the more phonetic way, Poona).

The journey, again, was an interesting one - Indian style. There was a big rush to get into the train as soon as the doors opened. I was not in such a hurry as there didn't seem to be enough people to occupy all the seats, but apparently I was wrong. Each person aggressively defended a number of seats for their friends or family who would turn up later. Then the remaining seats were guarded by young boys who didn't have tickets but would only give up a seat in exchange for money. After walking away towards the next carriage the requested price soon dropped and I decided to pay the Rs. 10 (about 13p) in case I couldn't find another seat. I probably should have just cuffed one of the boys round the ears and claimed the seat for myself, but I later discovered other late arrivals were happy to pay the ransom.  So maybe it is the done thing if you want to turn up late and can afford to pay a little more. Still considering I only paid Rs. 50 for the 3 hour journey, another Rs. 10 seemed a rip-off. At first the journey was comfortable, but at the next stop a few too many people got on. Then the next stop many more people got on. Eventually we were packed in like sardines and I was squashed against the window sharing my seat with an old man and people where occupying every inch of floor and overhead luggage space. Still, I had a nice view of the mountain pass and I managed to wrestle myself and my bag out at Pune station in time.

I was not impressed with Pune, or at least of what I saw of it: it was lots traffic penned in by tall walls. Not a nice place to walk. But walk I did as I still prefer to find my own way and ask people where is a good place to stay. I headed to the backpackers area of town. Here I found a number of westerners dressed in purple robes that looked in a world of their own. They were attending an expensive meditation resort. I stopped to talk to one one of the robed people, but she didn't seem to know much, though she tried to be helpful. Other westerners all seemed to be in a mood and avoided eye contact. Was it the way I looked? Did they not like seeing other westerners in a backpackers hangout? What ever their reasons, once I had haggled the price of a room down to a more reasonable, yet still expensive rate of Rs. 300, I hung out chatting with the locals who were much more friendly. I also had a nice conversation with an Iraqi student who was in India studying for a masters in English.

The next day I walked around the market area and had a Rs. 20 shave and slowly made my way back to near the train station were I arranged to meet an intern from NARI who was on his way back after spending a couple of days in Pune. Having an hour to kill I was delighted to find a secret garden were I was able to lie down in peace. It was quite a luxury. I later found out on GMapCatcher that it is called Wilson Garden and located here.

After a dusty and bumpy ride on a bus with the intern we arrived at Phaltan and went straight to a local restaurant to eat. I was surprised how cool it was. I am told that it is due to the number of farms in the region: all the water evaporating from the field s the air right down as soon as the sun goes. I was told that the temperature often drops to about 12 C, even though every day it is a pretty steady 30 C.

So here I am in Phaltan. NARI kindly has provided me with accommodation, consists of a room, private toilet, kitchen and dinning room, with the latter two shared with the intern. So, although simply furnished, it is more than I need. Of course I wasted no time in finding out my coordinate

I have been keeping pretty busy since I have arrived, which is why I have not given an update before now. Life at the moment consists of getting up at 8 am, washing, having misel (curry on bombay mix with thicker curry on the side and a couple of chapati's. Then I hop on the back of the interns motorbike and we ride the couple of miles to NARI's offices and labs.

My first job is to create a website for a new centre, the Bajaj Center that will offer educational programs and host conferences on sustainable development. I have also been busy helping the intern finish off a brochure about the centre and today I designed a logo for the centre, attached. It is a stylised profile of the centre buildings. Let me know what you think as there is still a little time to modify or redo it. My next job will be to try and solve a technical problem with an ethanol lantern/stove that NARI developed.

At about 1pm I walk to the end of NARI's drive and eat a set meal at a road side cafe, which always consists of a stainless steel tray with some rice, chapati's, thick curry, a small pot of very sour liquid yoghurt and a pot of liquid curry. (I don't eat the tray.) It makes a good meal and tastes nice, but we have pretty much the same for dinner too and I am beginning to miss some fresh fruit and veg. On the weekend I must buy some in town.

I only get Sunday's off and unfortunately this Sunday will also be the last day that the intern will be staying here. It is a shame because we have got on well and it will probably get very lonely in this house all by myself. It feels a bit like when I stayed in Italy in a flat in a small village near the lab. Only then I had a rented car. I have to sort out my transport soon.

I am reserving my judgement about NARI still because I have yet to visit their animal husbandry department and to find out if they perform any research of which I would disaprove. But my first impressions are good and I like the challenge of solving the problem with the lantern, which is effectively stabalising the temperature of the ethenol gasifier. Any questions I have about NARI's policies should be resolved soon when I design their website, as I would like to include some policy statements on it.

As you probably saw on google maps on my above links, is that the surounding area is very green with fields. The main crop here is sugar cane. The land owners here are pretty rich. Unlike the North of India that I visited 5 years ago, most people have tractors. It feels quite industrialised, with an air-raid siron going off in the morning and evening - assumably informing the labourers when they should be starting and finishing work. This is nothing to do with NARI I should add, and whom I believe only uses oxen to plow its fields. The rich local land owners are easy to spot because they all seem to drive expensive big new silver cars and land rovers - quite the opposite to NARI's style, which strongly believes that all greed should be firmly kept in check. Half of the rest of the people here still seem to be able to afford motorbikes and the other half either cycle, walk or take a ride in a trailer.

Sorry, again this was a bit of a long one.

Until my next adventure, which might be this Sunday, good bye!