The Grampari Affair Part I

I never wanted to get involved in this Grampari affair…. I had decided with full affirmation, to stop chasing the butterflies and take up a job in an architecture office, straight from morning ten to six in the evening, every day of the year….


I knew Renie since the Ecological Society Course. He worked somewhere in Panchgani. I got a chance to wander around with this geologist friend, while carrying out ecological surveys for Oikos. That is when I started inquiring more about his actual work.

He was working on Spring shed management project at Grampari, MRA in Panchgani. Of course this made no sense to me. So it was inevitable that, after resigning from Oikos, I should grab a bus straight to panchgani to visit this project.

It was absolutely casual visit. I anyway did not want to get involved with this Grampari affair….

The campus was abuzz with International Women’s Day event. Women Sarpanch and men assistant surpanch (Now, that’s exciting, isn’t it?!) had gathered there. Women’s participation in village administration has not improved merely by providing them reserved designations in Panchayat system. But here at Grampari these women public representatives got a chance to know the intricate laws, discuss their rights and responsibilities with legal experts and experienced social workers. With such exposure, I noticed, they were much more assertive and confident in their bearing.

Renie got me introduced to everyone at Grampari. I was already admiring ever smiling Jayashree Aunty, Dr Jared and Soumya. Who knew they were directors of Grampari?!

Some unknown people from another corner of the world come and stay in a village, helping my people to know, understand and conserve our environment, health and sanitation… that was invoking natural curiosity in my mind…

All sorts of crazy questions were shooting out, unrestrained by my usually recluse nature. In conclusion, that absolutely normal day ended with Jared offering me a job with Grampari. I was hastily nodding in agreement while refusing verbally!

Next week I was in panchgani to see the spring shed project being executed in the neighboring village of Godavli. (We’ll write another post on it!) There was no harm in just visiting…

I was anyway not getting involved in this Grampari affair!

We decided my work hours, time schedule and other such details that day. In next week I had signed a short term contract with Grampari. It is a two month contract with a clever clause of extension possible at the end of the term! I am going to refuse…

I am NOT going get involved in this Grampari affair!

This is how I started working from home. Helping with the documentation of Spring shed Protection Program is my primary task. With the help of ample visuals, sketches and drawings we are making a spring shed management handbook to be used in the Western Ghats or comparable ecosystems. Naturally, first I had to become watershed-literate!

That is how my Pune-Panchgani trips started. Now MSRTC is my second home. I know almost every conductor on Pune-Mahabaleshwar semi luxury bus route! Besides, I can write another whole post about my crazy co-passengers!

Every time I get down from the bus, I take a deep breath….. Inhaling entire Western Ghats, the forest, every eagle hovering over the valley, every stepped rice field and the wild crazy wind…

And I know, that it makes no sense hence forth to not get involved in this affair….

It is impossible to not smile when I walk up to the MRA campus. As if some chirpy, mad bird possesses me! I never know if I walk or fly up there!

Then follow endless discussions, work reviews, planning what to sketch next….  Sometimes we go off on a site inspection all day long. Although, calling it an inspection is nowhere near the actual experience! I carry cement bags on my head, dig with a pickaxe along with Jared and his assistant, “Ashok bhau”. Carrying batches of freshly mixed concrete, cleaning old stone built water tanks are as much part of my job description as sketching by the lily pond or providing a running translation between my boss and the villagers.

On another day I translated to and from English so much that by the end of the day I was speaking native Marathi with the boss and English with the villagers.  The whole village laughed at me… and then Tukaram Aba, one of the village elders called for a tea break!


Food and boarding facilities are excellent at MRA, so much that at times I find myself too pampered. Not having to cook is another bonus for me! Meal times are very special proceedings here. Initially I was too baffled to dine with so many strangers. Where to sit? What to eat? Who to talk with?

Basically understanding this institution and explaining it in a single blog post is impossible for me! But slowly the mealtimes became my greatest learning sessions. Strangers are not scary; they are just an unexplored opportunity to learn! I eat at a different table every day. Sometimes I dine with the interns who work at MRA, sometimes it is my bosses, MRA officials, guests, well-wishers, resident staff or volunteers….. a multicolor collage of people from across the world… people with different expertise, different backgrounds, different motivations…. All so different!

I started firing everyone with my endless questions. I remember once, the secretary of MRA sat with me, answering my rapid-fire, while his plate almost dried out. (Maybe that is why he avoided my table since then!)

With hundred or so dining at every mealtime, imagine the number of plates and cutlery to be washed! Hence, everyday one department of MRA helps in wash-up. I started to groove into this tradition of washing plates with songs and laughter as accompaniments! As a kid I always dreamed of washing dishes when I grew up…or at least grew up enough to reach over the sink! Who thought childhood aspirations could come true in such way!

Yona, one of the African interns hugged me for helping the interns with their wash up, on a specifically rush day… After a baffled moment, I too decided to wrap my soap sodden arms around her!

One of the cloudy evenings I have spent with this girl, who filled up the glass faced meditation center with her honeyed voice, singing some unknown chants…. It is impossible that God would miss her clear bell like song flowing into the valley…..


There is much more to share about this Grampari affair, maybe with pictures next time!

Sarang of the Water Lily….

They all said in their singsong accent that I haven’t seen the real Kerala if I haven’t seen the backwaters. I only smiled at the stranger mallyalis knowing that my tour schedule is governed by a headmaster and does not permit me to decide much!

And then the God decided to surprise me in his own country!

Our return railway tickets remained unconfirmed till the last day. Now I have no other choice but to spend a night on a house boat in Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom, Kerala, until my return commute is arranged! Yeey!!

A seen-in-pictures type “kairali” houseboat stood swaying serenely at the jetty, with its dried coconut leaf mats and a bronze plate bearing name “water Lily” gleaming in the evening light… Mr Thomas Abraham greeted us with a toothy smile and a pet name longer than his first name, “aniyan Kunju” meaning little brother.

This little brother owned a few paddy fields in the backwaters along with a houseboat (costing app. 40lakhs) his plain white mundu and modest smile did not hint about being rich!!

While we settled aboard, a silent boat crew of two burly mallyalis took the sailor wheel. I was too occupied with the coconut orchards and tiny houses tucked here and there, that were passing swiftly behind as our boat sailed away from the jetty…into the wonder filled enchanting world of the Lagoon….

Standing unaided on the top deck, feeling soft moist wind and glow of setting sun on my face….. I could almost imagine what Jack Dawson must have felt… like being the king of the world!!

These boats are highly equipped for luxurious stay which probably means a dish TV and air conditioned bedrooms with smart compact attached toilets, fine upholstery and a hidden kitchen! Dinner on a houseboat is a long event, with finest fish fries arriving at the table, wine glasses glinting and conversations that last a long time. Finally I could smile and bid a goodnight to everyone and escape from the dinner deck….

The top deck was bathed in moonlight…. I could see the entire lagoon rippling and throwing slivers of moonlight in many directions… like molten silver holding the boat afloat! There was soft mist around the silhouettes of coconut trees at some faraway shore…

Last few savory sips of wine and a book of Kairali short stories was left completely forgotten beside me. I was non-existent, molten away in the moonlight…. Flowing in the rippling lagoon….swirling in the misty horizon….There was an unexplained mysterious smile depicted in my surrounds and I smiled in reply, smiled at the way I was brought here….to this night on a deck. Knowing that the beauty of this night came not from the water, moonlight or the boat… but from something within me….

I just sat still…..not knowing if my eyes were closed or open… not knowing if I was awake or asleep… till the dawn touched on eastern horizon… leaving a dreamlike night in my misted memories for lifetimes.

The morning was fresh and strikingly alive with all kinds of birds chirping trumpeting around the boat. Ducks, herons and many water birds had started out their day. And a solemn looking bee-eater sat on a dried twig taking an apparently random unexpected flight once in a while and returning to his perch with a fat dragonfly in its beak!

The sun was glowering by the time our wafting coffee mugs were empty and taken away. It was time to head home… a painful reminder that this wasn’t a home after all!

I descended to the sailor’s deck, where our boat crew, Sajjivan and Antony had prepared the boat for its return. I asked Sajjivan the word in mallyali for the boat-driver! He replied, “Sarang”.

Sajjivan gave the sailors wheel in my hand, teaching me to move the propellers the right way, winding through the small islands of waterweeds. We chatted about the life on and off water… He loved his job and life on a lagoon. His family lived in Kottyam. His daughter “Anusree” was attending one of the engineering colleges, (which are abundant throughout the kerala!)

The “water Lily” swayed back into the jetty under expert hands of her “sarang”… And as I stepped on the terra firma, I had to smile with an effort, waving a goodbye to the smiling pair of Sajjivan and antony standing on the deck.

I was left with Sajjivan’s parting words,

“Sarang… The one who steers…”

Sarang… the one who steers me into a torrent of experiences, revealing his silvery self reflected in the vessel of the world….

No wonder saints often described God spiritual literature as,

Sarang… The one who steers the boat of spirit, from mundane of earthly life into the depths of divine love….

Divine Abode of Ambadi God’s House at Thekkady

Munnaring Tourist A Stroll through the hills of Munnar

Rango and The Lavasa Corporation

Once upon a time there was a chameleon named Lars (Johnny Depp). He lived in a comfortably urban terrarium (a dry version of aquarium) until one day he got stranded somewhere in the Mojave Desert (an extreme West region of the US of A).

After an indicative tryst with an armadillo named Roadkill and after being chased to almost death by a hawk, the hero, Lars the chameleon finally meets Beans (Isla Fisher). She is a desert iguana, and a rancher’s daughter and yeah, the girl of his destiny.

This girl, Beans takes him to the town of Dirt. Now Lars is free, as he has never been before, to build a new identity, to create his niche in this new world. And gorgeous chameleon form of Depp takes the opportunity to boast and introduces himself as RANGO, the spirit of west! With some animation twists of luck, he manages to kill the predator Hawk, and earns the badge of sheriff of the town of Dirt, from the mayor (Ned Beatty).

So far the story looks normal….perky screenplay, Wild West music, and cowboy hats….with the desert setting….this super animation world looks too real to be animation. The viewer can comfortably chew on popcorn so far.

And now the real story starts. The lead lady, Beans finds out that there are threats more severe than the shadows of killer hawk.  The water reserve at the dirt Bank is too low to sustain the town even for a week. The usual weekly supply of water has mysteriously dried out. She demands sheriff Rango to investigate the source of water problem.

One night, Rango comes across few mole robbers and unknowingly provides them the location of the bank and tools to break in. The limited water in the bank vault is stolen and sheriff Rango must arrange a posse to chase the robbers. They find the bank manager, Mr. Merrymack, mysteriously dead on their way. Eventually when the posse confronts the robbers, it is found that the water tank they stole was already emptied.

Rango and Beans figure out that Mayor has been buying all the land around the town of dirt, by will or force. Rango also remembers the mayor telling him how controlling water means controlling everything. It is evident that the mayor is behind this mysterious water crunch. The mayor is building a modern city on his purchased land. (Please try not to remember Mr. Sharad Pawar and his Lavasa Corporation.) As the mayor sees Rango getting closer to expose his political game, he calls for the gunslinger rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) to get rid of Rango.

Jake with his Gatling gun tail fires shots after shots, but worse than that, he paints Rango as a fake and irresponsible sheriff, by exposing his lies about being the spirit of west.  Rango, broken and ashamed wanders away from the town of Dirt, and meets the real spirit of west (Timothy Olyphant) in a dreamlike situation.  He inspires Rango as “No man can walk out on his own story.”

Rango eventually figures out that the real source of water for the town of Dirt, comes from Las Vegas and has been smartly closed shut by the mayor, to create a pseudo water crunch.  The closed lines are opened and Rango returns to Dirt, with water.

A typical climax fight takes place, involving lady Beans being held ransom, Mayor trying to kill the rattlesnake and Rango saving all of them! So now there is no villain, abundant water and a town superhero to celebrate!

Happy endings!

And now let’s come to the point. The story is actually about a real issue that we can locally connect with. Forget the frills, but political powers controlling water and hence the social structure, are not new to us. It is ancient reality that the one, who controls water, controls everything else.

In Maharashtra, Mr. Ajit Pawar controls water. Lavasa, the first hill city of Independent India is cuddled by the media as the ‘glorious vision of our honorable Union Agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar’. So obviously, Lavasa Corporation is entitled to be given unrestricted freedom to change every town planning regulation. In case any activist tries to play Rango, the politician-developers lobby has nurtured rattlesnakes of gangsters, ready to crush the resistance.

In a movie, Rango has one great advantage of animation powered luck! In reality we are already sold to the will of politicians. They can buy each one of us if they wish to do so. Lavasa is eating up 7% of Pune’s water supply, in its eight check dams in the catchment area of Varasgaon backwaters. In last 5 years many state level town planning regulations are mysteriously changed to suit the need of Lavasa developers. But we are not Rango of course, we cannot fight. We let Environment minister, Jairam Ramesh fight. We let activist Medha Patkar fight.

All we need to remember is, Rango can rise only if the townsfolk of Dirt come together to fight for their existence.  Without the town, there is no Rango…. And we are the town, you and me, together.

For more information about Lavasa case please read, down to earth, April issue.