A yatra for healing Bharat

Azad Bharat Rail Yatra, to celebrate 60 years of Independence and spread the idea of social enterprise, will take off from city


Photographer: Deepak Turbhekar

Shashank Mani

Shashank Mani, a management consultant, took a journey called the Azad Bharat Rail Yatra on the 50th year of Indian Independence with a train full of Indian youth bursting out of their coaches to define their country. The detour led him beyond Bharat’s latitudes to write India — A Journey Through A Healing Civilization.
Ten years later, the quest continues. The Tata Jagriti Yatra 2008, will celebrate the 60th year of our Independence by taking 400 youngsters, in the 18-25 age group, to 13 cities in 18 days from December 24, 2008 to January 10, 2009. Only, this yatra will focus on social entrepreneurship by introducing Generation Next to R K Pachauri, Bunker Roy and Kiran Bedi. Mani, now chairman, Jagriti Sewa Sansthan, tells us more…

Why does the selection procedure involve only essays instead of meetings?
The candidates are allowed to
submit essays in languages they’re comfortable with, which are translated for us.
As for meetings, some candidates are as far out as the North-East and don’t have either the means or time to come to Mumbai. And we don’t have the manpower to visit them.
We hope to develop an alumni base spread out across the country to be able to meet candidates in their hometowns.

Urban middle class youth find it difficult to connect to small town, rural or belowthe-poverty-line urban India. Social enterprise must come from those it affects.
Our target is those earning Rs 40 to 120 a day. They are not destitute, but not middle class in the sense you and I are. They have a lot of josh and want to benefit from the nine per cent GDP growth.
We want to encourage them to start their enterprises instead of looking for jobs. We also want them to have a sense of purpose – a passion
that only money can’t bring. We want 70 per cent of yatris to belong to this group — though anyone’s welcome to apply. But I suspect attaining such a participation percentage will take more awareness … and about five more yatras.

The revelatory nationalistic yatras of Gandhi and Guevara were stuff of legend. But they travelled in small groups. Such a large group will become insulated, with people interacting with each other instead of locals they visit…
That’s why we are choosing people proportionately from different states to create an Indian microcosm on the train. We’ll make sure that no two people from the same state share a compartment. This will create an undercurrent of tension — especially where language barriers exist — but we want that. So besides interactions with locals, interactions with companions will create a ‘revelatory nationalistic yatra’.
To add to this spirit, we will
have group debates on issues at hand at various destinations with respective locals involved.

You’re starting your trip from Mumbai. How does the city fit in?
Mumbai consists of a variety of people with one common denomination — enterprise. How it copes with this influx of people is still a wonder. Many on the trip would be visiting Mumbai for the first time and we’re planning to visit many sites, including Dharavi — to bring out the beauty and, sometimes, the beast that the city can be.
Discussions will centre around migration — how it adds adventure and individuality to entrepreneurship, while being a stark reminder of the deprivation that exists in the villages and small towns that these migrants come from. Discussions will also centre on how many small towns will grow into cities in the next 20 years, and how their growth must be better planned than previously.

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/zbte


Radiation levels emitted from phone towers dangerously high across city; Mirrorexamines seven spots and finds people there are exposed to the gravest possible health risks

RISHI MAJUMDER (The byline in the article was mis-spelt, as ‘RISHI MAZUMDAR’. Trust me, that’s me!)

Photographer: Deepak Turbhekar

Radiation levels emitted from cell phone towers across Mumbai are alarmingly high and pose serious health hazards to millions of Mumbaikars, an investigation done by this paper in association with a group that measures excessive electromagnetic radiation (EMR) levels has revealed.
Mumbai Mirror got Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd, a noted Delhi-based company,
to measure EMR levels at seven spots across the city. At five of these spots, the meter showed that radiation levels were far beyond acceptable limits. High radiation levels are known to cause brain damage and heart problems, apart from raising a host of other health issues.
The levels outside Mantralaya, the World Trade Centre and near Breach Candy Hospital were found to be unacceptably high. And if you thought your walk on the Marine Drive promenade was do
ing you a world of good and letting you breathe some fresh air, here’s the truth: EMR levels there are among the highest, and experts say “being there is like being in an X-ray machine.”
Ever since the debate on health hazards posed by phone tower radiation began worldwide nearly a decade ago, Mumbai has seen at least a few thousand such towers arise. The study done by Cogent reveals it’s now time to look at their ill-effects on our health.

Marine Drive


Breach Candy


Electromagnetic radiation or EMR levels emitted from telecom towers all over Mumbai were measured by a Delhi Company called Cogent at our request. At public places, homes and even the Mantralaya, radiation levels are so shockingly high, that they go beyond what the HF (high ferequency) 59 B Analyzer can measure. Mumbai is now radiation city.

READING Outside World Trade Centre

From 60 to 80 microW / squarem (Just past ‘weak’ into ‘strong’)

The electromagnetic radiation (EMR) fluctuates from 60 to 80. “The reason is telecom towers or reflectors hidden from view on top of buildings surrounding the centre,” says Zafar Haq, CEO, Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd. “It’s a misconception that EMR is high only near the source. It can be high at a distance too, if the radiation from the source hits the spot directly.”

READING Outside Mantralaya and the Vidhan Sabha

From 190 to beyond 200 microW / squarem (Far beyond a ‘strong’ reading)

The fact that the pinnacles of state in our city can be so unprotected from EMR leaves little hope for the rest of us common citizens. A nearby policeman on discovering what we found comments, “It’s because of so many mobile phones with one MP.” Haq has a better diagnosis as he points: “It’s because of towers and reflectors put on those 3 buildings.” One radiation source is a small tower on top of the Shipping Corporation Of India building. Two more sources are on old eight storey buildings nearby.

READING On Marine Drive

Beyond 200 microW / squarem consistently. (Far beyond a ‘strong’ reading)

Even as couples held each other and enjoyed the waves crashing on the promenade, the meter showed its worst reading of the day. “One would imagine that all this sea wind would make the meter fluctuate, but there’s no movement,” Vishal Rahel, the man taking the readings says. “Being here is like being in an X Ray machine.” The sources are a Vodafone tower on a building named Meghdoot, and a Reliance Communications as well as an Airtel tower on one named Shantiniketan. To add more injury to injury, the corners as well as some verandahs of the buildings are hung with powerful reflectors, intensifying the radiation.

READING In Mahesh Gokani’s Home, opposite Breach Candy Hospital

Beyond 200 microW / squarem consistently. (Far beyond a ‘strong’ reading)

“My daughter has been having severe headaches since the last three years, My mother can’t sleep at night inspite of endlessly popping these Nitrest tablets,” says furious computer hardware dealer Mahesh Gokani. “And I had to have an operation two years ago because my retina got detached from my eye.” Understandably, for not more than two metres from his daughter’s, his mother’s and his bedroom lie five towers belonging to various telecom companies. “It’s eyeball to eyeball!” Gokani exclaims at something that cost his own eyeball dearly. “The regulations say the towers have to be 150 metres ‘above ground’,” Haq explains a legal loophole. “They don’t stipulate what should be done when residents in an adjacent building are right next to the towers.” Gokani finishes with an even more terrifying thought: “The towers which did this to my family, also face Breach Candy Hospital. Can you imagine the effect they’ll be having there?”

READING Outside Kalpataru Heights, a 23 storey building in Parel.

From 180 to beyond 200 microW / squarem (Far beyond a ‘strong’ reading)

“The telecom tower on this building is supposedly the highest in the city,” says Haq. And no wonder that the level of radiation received from it soars as well.

READING Outside Mannat, Shah Rukh Khan’s home, Bandstand, Bandra.

50 to 60 microW / squarem (Just beyond a ‘strong’ reading)

“The sea wind here makes the meter fluctuate from 25 to 160,” says Rahel. “But we could take the average reading to be 50 to 60, which would be one of the better readings received in this city.” No telecom towers are visible, but some may lie in buildings beyond sight. The comparatively lower level called for some relief, but not much. The bandstand is a popular jogging area, where the aged and young work out to escape pollution. Knowing that they are succumbing to a different kind of health hazard isn’t heartening.

READING Outside Jalsa, Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan’s Bungalow, Juhu.

80 to 90 microW / squarem

This Bungalow marks not just its owner, but the corner of an important Juhu Junction. While not a ‘public place’, we hope its occupant – an influential man – takes appropriately precautionary measures – for himself as much as for the crowds that flock to stand outside his house on holidays.


It is no big secret that excessive electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is harmful for the human body. On not being able to find anyone in Mumbai to measure these EMR levels for us, we approached Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd., a well known Delhi based company to do so. The HF59B Analyzer, used to measure EMR in the unit microW/squarem, was used to take readings in six spots throughout Mumbai. These spots were chosen because they would include seats of high office and star residences as well as a common Mumbaikar’s home and public places we visit for ‘fresh air’. They were also chosen to represent the city as well as its suburbs.


These questions were asked to Zafar Haq, CEO of Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd.

Define EMR for us, simply.

Electromagnetic radiation is an energy signal sent from one location to another. While using mobile phones, for example, voice energy changes shape into EMR which penetrates into the body to create problems.

Why have the readings in Mumbai been higher compared to other cities?

Exposure to radiation is higher in public and private places because there are very few open spaces compared to Delhi or Bangalore. Also, the higher population has led to many mobile subscribers and hence mobile towers, antennas and reflectors – big and small.

How can people protect themselves?

There are products manufactured the world over, as by my company. Products like a heart-guard, to protect your heart from mobile radiation while carrying a mobile phone in the shirt pocket. Also products like a radiation-safe window film, that reflects radiation from a mobile tower, but lets in enough signal to take the phone call.

What should legislative and executive authorities do?

The Indian government recently drafted policy implementing guidelines laid by the International Council For Non Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), backed by the WHO. But these guidelines are cited, even by the WHO, as a stop-gap arrangement till ongoing research yields results. The government will finalise things in this direction after a research involving 5000 human beings is completed.

What inspired Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd.?

In 2003, with multiple licences to telecom companies and call rates being cut, we foresaw an opportunity in this field. We started with a decision to conduct an audit, but since then have tried to provide solutions too, with our products.


The EMR levels have been gauged as per standards set by SBM, an autonomous German agency. According to Haq, these standards are “the result of the most recent research conducted on human beings.” The standards read thus:

Less than 1microW / squarem : ‘Ideal’

1 to 50 microW / squarem : ‘Weak Anomaly’

50 microW / squarem onwards : Varying degrees of ‘Strong Anomaly

According to these standards the radiation at Mantralaya, Marine Drive and Mahesh Gokani’s Breach Candy residence were about 200 times more than ‘ideal’. “A radiation level of above 1 is required to catch a signal,” explains Haq. “But one should at least keep it below 50.” Even this was unattained by any of the readings.

Health issues due to radiation levels this high begin with constant headaches, sleep disorders and heart problems. They have been known to intensify in many a case into leukemia, brain tumour and other cancers. Known effects to the brain include increase in ODC (Ornithine De Carboxylase) activity and decrease in the brain metabolism. Special risk lies to pregnant women and children. Children due to thinner skulls and increased mitotic activity in their cells, and pregnant women because the EMR continuously reacts with the developing embryo. Also at great risk are patients carrying pace makers, which the radiation may interfere with to a point of fatality.


Despite repeated requests, our findings did not elicit any reaction from the lobby:

“I cannot comment till I receive a detailed report, so as to be able to determine what scientific basis your readings have.”

Navin Chopra CEO, Vodafone-Essar, Mumbai Circle.

“I don’t know why this issue should come up in the first place. All the laws of the land have been adhered to. First we need a detailed access to your study. Only then will we comment.”

Pradeep Shrivastav, Chief Marketing Officer, Idea Cellular

“The government departments are talking to each other regarding the same issue, so its better we stay out of it. If you can, abstain from mentioning Reliance Communication’s name, but if not then take a “No Comment” from us.”

Spokesperson, Reliance Communications.

“I won’t react till you send me all the details of your study.”

Spokesperson, BPL

Despite repeated attempts and an elucidation of the issue, spokespersons from Air Tel and Tata Telecom were unavailable for comment.


The Wireless Planning & Coordination wing (WPC) allocates frequencies for the area the tower is to be set up in. These have to be abided by. Then approval has to be granted by either an IIT or the CRRI (Central Road Research Institute). A final approval is obtained from the BMC. In New Delhi or West Bengal, approval has to be gotten from Resident’s Welfare Associations as well. This is not necessary in Maharashtra, unless the association owns the roof the tower will be set on. So, if the roof is owned by a single flat owner, or one building out of more that comprise a Resident’s Welfare Association, the use of the roof to set up a tower does not require the Association’s permission. Where it does, the association is paid a handsome rent of upto Rs 70,000 per month (the rent for a tower on the Marine Drive buildings we featured), and bound to contracts for upto three years so they can’t back out. Many committee members, that we spoke to, on condition of anonymity, have spoken thus: “Important office bearers of the association are bribed with pay offs and free telephone connections, by a lobby that is today as powerful as the tobacco lobby.”


US, UK and Canada have regulations stating that telecom towers should be 150 feet above the ‘level of human habitation’, not above ground.

Canada does not permit telecom towers within residential areas

Australia and UK assign to autonomous agencies the task of independent audit of levels of radiation emitted from telecom towers

Canada has the Safety Code 6 and USA the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) Bulletin as separate legislations for controlling radiation emission (India doesn’t have any – when they do, we recommend they start with implementing it around the Mantralaya).

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/7pus

mumbai talking
Iam a student and do not belong to any telecom company. I believe your cover story is misleading and lacks research. 1. The company ‘Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd’ uses guidelines set by some BM agency of Germany, which is not even locatable on the Internet. How did you verify whether the standards are correct? 2. All the locations covered by you seem to be well within the internationally accepted limits OR you blundered in typing m2 instead of cm2. 3. Agencies that set guidelines for radiation are ICNIRP (http://www.icnirp.de/), FCC & NCRP (USA) and several others in various countries.
4. European countries use 450 microW/cm2 and Salzburg Resolution of Austria uses a much more stringent EMR limit of 1 microW/cm2.
After converting to m2, which is used in your report, the limits become much more relaxed to 45,00,000 microW/m2 to 10,000 microW/m2.
5. Mumbai Mirror has simply given publicity to Cogent.
— Punit
Dear Punit,
To begin with, it’s not BM but Standards for Building Biology Testing Methods. Its latest standards are called SBM 2003 and are based on the most recent study done on human beings by Bau-Biologie, an independent body of German scientists.
Their website is buildingbiology.net.
The study can be found at www.baubiologie.de/downloads/english/SBM2003_engl_neu.pdf.
The standards are not for the telecom industry alone. They have been taken note of by courts, politicians, authorities and industry, including Gigahertz Solutions of Germany, Nova Institute of Germany and the Public Health Department of Salzburg,Austria.
Some countries have set more stringent standards than what SBM 2003 prescribes.
In the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, various agencies and institutions consider them the most sensible reference limits for testing, equipment manufacture, education and laboratory work.
R2&3. The readings are in microW/m2.
Till research is concluded, internationally accepted limits are only recommendations. Countries adapt these standards based on local conditions. For example, SBM 2003 states that EMR above 50 microW/m2 may be harmful to humans but New Zealand has set the limit at 200 microW/m2.
R4. Parameters vary with each country. The ones you have quoted are countries with stringent guidelines for installing mobile towers (mentioned in our article). For example, many countries don’t allow mobile towers on rooftops, near hospitals, schools and residential areas. In our test, we set the parameters to the EMR limit harmful to humans.
R5. Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd was the only company we could find to conduct these tests.
Thanks and keep writing.

This correspondence also  first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/w5rj

There were many other reactions to this article as well, which I’ll be posting here soon.

Mumbai University sells grass

Since 1972, a stretch of the varsity in Kalina is being used to grow grass, which is sold for about Rs 5 lakh per year



little green men-aces

Other than Mumbai University’s controversial desire to be listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, the supposedly non-profit organisation conceals on its campus another profitable enterprise — selling grass!
Since 1972, a 40-acre stretch of Mumbai University land in Kalina has been used to grow grass, which is sold for about Rs 5,00,000 on the basis of tenders.
University garden superintendent S Y Dalvi says a tender for the sale of grass is floated on a certain date (fixed every year), awarding the yearly contract to the highest bidder. Buyers have to deposit a minimum amount before harvesting the grass.
“Anyone can apply for this. The revenue generated is used for developmental purposes, especially to enhance the university gardens,” Dalvi explains.
There are 10 to 15 bidders each year for the university’s grass. A person who has a contract to purchase the grass this year says he has been paying Rs 63,000 per month
with a Rs 25,000 yearly deposit. On the competition among bidders every year for the fodder, he says, “It’s healthy competition, and the university makes money.”

Rajesh Bhonkar, a second year MSc student and general secretary of the University Student Body, is incensed.
“More than selling grass for profit, the university should focus on enhancing facilities for students. They should have converted this land into a sports ground or garden for students to rejuvenate themselves in their free time,” he says.
The student council will discuss this in its forthcoming meeting and may decide to form a committee to oppose the university authorities using this land to grow and sell grass, Bhonkar says.

The grass patch also breeds mosquitoes, posing a health concern to residents of Government Quarters lining this land along the university boundary.
Says Kiran More, a resident of Building No 3 of the Government Quarters bordering
this land, “The mosquitoes breeding on this land are a menace. Earlier, the government used to spray insecticide there to control them, but that has stopped now.”
“The mosquitoes are there in my house, outside and even in the library I manage,” laments Rekha Bole, a librarian with the Government Quarters Residents’ Association.
However, Tamshetvar Lakshman, secretary of the association, says the mosquito menace could also arise from open drains in the nearby slums.
“Once the BMC started fumigating these areas, the mosquito menace decreased considerably,” he says.

A senior Mumbai University authority says selling grass has been a university tradition for many years.
“It was directed by the Vice Chancellor, so we have to follow it. If somebody has an objection, the issue will be taken up in our next meeting,” he states.
“Filling up the entire low-lying area for a playground or garden would be pretty expensive.”

Rajesh Bhonkar

More than selling grass for profit, the university should focus on enhancing facilities for students. They should have converted this land into a sports ground or garden for students to rejuvenate themselves in their free time
— Rajesh Bhonkar, a second year MSc student and general secretary of the University Student Body

Kiran More

Grass breeds mosquitoes and they have become a menace.The mosquitoes breeding on this land are a menace. Earlier, the govt used to spray insecticide there to control them, but that has stopped now
— Kiran More, a resident of a
building bordering the land

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/iun4

Duped investors close ranks to get their money back


Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Money's worth... Investors' meeting

Around 5,500 duped investors, mainly from Maharashtra, have been struggling since 1997 to get back their money (an average of Rs 1 lakh each) they had invested in Maxworth Orchard Ltd, which had launched a landfarming scheme in 1993.
Around 125 members of the Maxworth Orchard Investors’ Welfare Association (MOIWA) — an investors’ rights association formed in 1997 — recently held a meeting at Bandra to mobilise investors to come together and reclaim their money.
“The agreement with the company said the lands would be transferred in the investors’ names,” C D Sheshadri, who is the vice-chairman of MOIWA, said.
The agreement said the returns from the land would start accruing to the investors from the fourth year onwards and continue for 15 years, after which the investor would have the option of taking over the land himself.
“And so, the cost of maintenance for these 15 years was taken from each investor,” Sheshadri said, adding that the amount they paid was around nine times the value of the land itself.

In 1997, R Subramaniam, the then chairman of Maxworth, who now heads Sterling Resorts Limited, told the investors that the company had no money to pay returns or their initial investment. Also, most of the investors did not get sale deeds for the plots.
“However, the company never formally declared bankruptcy,” Sheshadri said.
This is when alarmed investors decided to form an association. In 1997 alone, over 550 FIRs were filed by them with the Economic Offences Cell of Mumbai police.
When the troubles started mounting for Maxworth, Subramaniam and the company’s directors moved the Madras High Court, which in 2002 appointed an administrator to assess their respective claims.
In November 2006, the administrator called a meeting of the investors in Chennai, where a majority favoured a proposal under which the company would sell the land and pay them on a pro rata basis.

But Sheshadri contests the claim saying most of the investors were not even informed about the scheduled meeting which was advertised through a small notice in one newspaper only. He says not even five per cent of the investors were aware of the meeting.
Investors also say that if the company is allowed to sell the land, they would not get their due share as no auction details were discussed at the Chennai meeting.
Already, 1300 investors have sent their objections to the proposal, the deadline for which was the first week of April, 2007.
Now, MOIWA is trying to get together all the 5,500 investors in the Western Zone to be able to show that they together own more than 50 per cent of the land in each project, a pre-requisite laid down by the administrator for them to be able to claim the ownership of the plots.
Despite repeated attempts, Subramaniam was not available for comment.
“Subramaniam is still the main boss at the Maxworth,” Sheshadri claims a Maxworth director told him.

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/u5ye

the 5-minute interview – All in good spirit

Dr Timothy John Woods, quality manager for Distilling at Whyte and Mackay, the company which has made the Dalmore 62 Year Old the most expensive single malt Scotch whisky yet, was in town recently to deliver a lecture on blending single malts. A scientist who took to alcohol rather well, Woods has been chairman of the Society of Chemical Industry at Scotland, leader of Whyte and Mackay’s nosing panel and a member of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute.
In conversation with Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Deepak Turbhekar

Dr Timothy John Woods

So how did a chemist become involved in the whisky industry?
Well, it so happened that I was given a grant to research wheat and barley processing. From there the makers of Gelnfiddich recruited me. I left that job for a brief detour in the oil industry but was back to whisky soon with Whyte and Mackay.

The Indian whisky?
It’s top end! I love Royal Challenge, for instance. It might not have the com
plexity of a single malt but it has very interesting tastes and flavours and a distinguishable peated element.

What’s your personal favourite?
Dalmore, because of its warm mouthful of aromas, and Talisker as it is unusually oily.

A place after Scotland, suited to whisky making?
Japan. Like Scotland, it has the sea, mountains, running streams of water and an ideal climate. The Japanese also have excellent research going on.

Single malt with soda or water?
I personally can’t see the appeal in having it any other way than pure – but to every person his or her own poison!

Why do so many whisky names start with Glenn, meaning valley?
Because valleys are where the streams supply the water and where whisky makers used to hide from excise officers.

A Dalmore whisky anecdote?
The guys at the distillery were so dedicated that each worked right up to New Year’s Eve even at the end of the millennium. Then of course they drank what they’d made in celebration.

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/svcr


Gulzar and Janta carom clubs in Dongri are among the oldest and still the busiest in the city


Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Mohammad Arif managing things at Janta Carrom Club

Mohammad Imtiyaz eyes the red puck alias ‘rani’, aims, and then changes his mind to go for a white puck instead. He’s playing defensive. His opponent Mohammad Hanif has only two pieces left and clearing the ‘rani’ would ease his route to victory. Now Hanif will have to clear the ‘rani’ and another black puck in continuation to win. Imtiyaz and Hanif are both furniture dealers, both in their 40s, and friends. They’ve been meeting since their youth to play carom in the evenings, and the routine continues.
They’re playing at Gulzar Carom Club, Dongri’s second oldest, and still running a full house. Also full is Janta Carom Club, Dongri’s oldest. Begun in 1963, it earlier had six pocket carom boards with six players. “That has changed since,” says Mohammad Arif, who runs Janta Carom Club. “Just as carom boards earlier made of sheesham wood are now made of ply.” And just as carom clubs which were once seen at most Bombay street corners, are now replaced by pool and video game parlours. Dongri’s seven clubs is one of the last ‘pockets’ for the game being played as a community ‘time pass’ in the city. Shabbir Hussain, who with his father manages Gulzar Carom Club
boasts: “Dongri is today synonymous with carom as Mumbai is with the Gateway Of India.”
Two dusty trophies bear witness to the great tournament winners who inhabited Janta once. They’re now dead. Shahwaas, a Maharashtra tournament winner, still inhabits Gulzar on some evenings. “When he does, the room is packed with people fighting to watch the game,” says Shabir. Such events serve as a hot spot for discussing and exchanging strategies and technique. While carom’s mechanics share a similarity with pool, many experts argue that the actual game is tougher, since here fingers are used instead of a linear cue, necessitating a greater degree of control. Also, pool and video games at approximately Rs 30 for half an hour, costs about ten times as much as carom where rates are stuck at Rs 3 in some clubs.
Yet, the reason for carom flourishing in this locality is simple. It’s an impoverished neighbourhood. The clubs operate in bustling Dharavi as well. The wealthier localities have given up on the game. Why? Carom club owners point out a reflection of a similar attitude in the way other indigenous Indian sports like mud wrestling, kabaddi and gulli danda are dying out. But the reflection goes beyond. The same attitude per
sists in today’s teenager being clueless about the closest Khadi Bhandaar while knowing about the Levi’s sale two months ahead. It persists in Narendra Modi, our symbol of ‘swadeshi pride’ smiling smugly not so long ago in his Bulgari glasses. Just as many of us take pride in the fact that Lakshmi Mittal lives next to the queen, and that we finally have our Mango showroom.
A nation’s sports are suggestive of its self esteem. Which is why baseball and ‘American’ football is backed by the world’s unipolar power. And why the UK, having spawned football, hockey and cricket, can get excited for either at will. Our aversion to sports we have created and our corresponding desire to compete in those others have, is no different from our craze for the latest DKNY or
Louis Vuitton. Will we have to be impoverished to retain our right of identity? Perhaps not, for even in Dongri, this attitude seeps in. Next to Gulzar Carom Club, where Imtiyaz and Hanif play, has sprung up a videogame centre without a name! Ten year olds, not to be seen at the carom centres abound here. One shouts: “Arre uska chor. Mera picture le. Apun cool hai.”

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/xf6i


On discovering an unlikely El Dorado in the city’s sprawling shanty town


Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Bhola sets gold in a plaster of paris mould

Bengali Kharigar gold plating a silver coin

Tamil Kharigar fixing golden threads together

Eight-year-old Gopal grins, holding a freshly set gold chain up against the light of a welding flame setting another. His eyes gleam from the shimmer of gold reflected in them. Originally from Bengal, he joined Kanai’s gold workshop at Sakinabai Chawl as a handy boy a year ago. The workshop has five people working and living in a five by five foot loft. Under a low wattage bulb these karigars are
melting gold ingots on a primitive coal stove beneath a chimney, pouring the molten gold into plaster of Paris moulds shaped as per jewellery design, and using a machine to pull the gold out into glimmering threads. Kanai, who now has his own workshop, started off as a worker himself 15 years ago. He employs only men known to him or his family from villages around his hometown.
Each of the 500 odd workshops in Sakinabai Chawl, one of Dharavi’s oldest, follow the same rules of trade. All are headed by ex-karigars, who get those known to them to live and work with them. This springs an ethnic mix from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Bengal, who can mostly talk only in their mother tongue. Tamil karigars, who’ve been here since 60 years form 80 per cent of the workers. The Bengalis, who came in 15 years ago come second in number. Each karigar excels in traditional jewellery from his region, but has learned to adapt to new trends too. “While newer designs can be executed easily on machines, traditional ones can only be done by hand,” Ram Chandran, a goldsmith from Tamil Nadu, explains.
The fact that almost everyone in the chawl is a goldsmith leads to security, prompting most workshops to leave doors open to let in light (some don’t have doors), with a minimum of Rs 2,00,000 worth of gold inside. A walk down the narrow lanes brings forth a surrealist’s El Dorado. In dingy rooms, men in lungis and vests fold golden threads (as women would a sari) or melt gold on a fireplace or polish a heap of jewellery in a stained plastic basin.
All the jewellery made is as per job work commissioned by the 100 odd jewellery stores lined outside Dharavi Main Road. “Gold is the primary investment of the poor, who don’t know about
mutual funds and cannot afford diamonds or property,” a shopkeeper says. So many of the shops have shifted focus from the heavy expensive South Indian jewellery earlier made to suit the slum’s Tamil population to lighter cheaper North Indian ware — affordable to Dharavi’s poor, or rather its elite.
“I have given two interviews before this,” Bholanath, another Bengali goldsmith, says. And many a media person and writer have exclaimed over Sakinabai Chawl as being exemplary of the Dharavi’s entrepreneurship, the gold in itself a metaphor for prosperity. Others have decried the unsafe and inhuman working conditions, adding child labour for effect. But unsafe working conditions and child labour is a present state
of affairs which cannot be addressed without an eye on the future. It is admirable that the population accumulated here have capitalised on two of the world’s oldest constants of value – gold and property. Yet labour as a resource still has a long way to go; this is, after all, Dharavi. The uneducated artisans of Sakinabai Chawl accept the pittance they receive as payment (around Rs 4,000 profit per workshop per month) for being unable to market their skills anywhere beyond the Dharavi Main Road stores. A training programme incorporating languages and marketing, beyond the simplistic vocational training touted by NGOs might change this. Just as education might grant many a bright child like Gopal, a worker here, a direction to shine in.

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/9phh


Right in the middle of the muck and dross in this suburb, exists the WHO-certified Ideal Trading Company, exporter of sutures


Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Abdul Baqua, at his factory

“Around 15,000 people surrounded the Koli basti nearby to burn it. I went with DCP Yadav and climbed atop his jeep. I clasped my hands together and said, ‘Just two things. If you want to burn Dharavi, please burn me as well. I want to die here’.”
Seventy-seven-year-old Abdul Baqua’s voice breaks as he recounts this incident from the ‘92-’93 riots, and a stream of tears course down his face. In a few months time, he’ll shift his factory from Dharavi to Ambarnath, which he’s hoping to build sans financial aid, with the help of a bank loan. The government needs his land for the Dharavi Rehabilitation Programme. Baqua’s Ideal Trading Company, manufactures sutures (used for medical stitches and to attach meat sausages to one another) for export to Japan, Europe and South Africa. His clinically clean factory is certified as per EU and WHO standards, despite being located in the midst of Dharavi’s open gutters and unattended garbage dumps.
Baqua flaunts photographs of a team comprising doctors and officials from the Agriculture And Processed Food Products Export Development Authority inspecting his factory for these certifications in 1997: “They were impressed with the standard of hygiene. We were lucky they only visited Dharavi till where our factory is located. Touring the whole of Dharavi might have forced them to think otherwise.”
Business is down now, because his foreign clients don’t want to place orders till the factory’s location is certain. Still, four workers in a 500 square feet room reeking of phenyl sort the sutures as per diameter, washing off the slime. Large windows are screened to prevent dust or smoke entering the room. Hence the walls, though faded aren’t blackened. The sutures (originally
goat or sheep intestine) are then mixed with salt and stored in plastic barrels in a godown below. This room and the godown is the entire factory.
Baqua came to Dharavi from his village in UP, at age 13 to earn and support his family. He mastered the sutures trade in a friend’s Coimbatore factory, before setting his own in Mumbai. An Italian exporter then took him on as partner to form Ideal Trading Company with a Dharavi factory, but left India soon after, leaving Baqua only with an international address book of suture importers. Inducting his brother, Kalim Shoaib into the business, they approached each contact till a Japanese company asked them for 2,00,000 yards of sutures, as mere sample. “It was a huge risk, but we sent it,” Shoaib remembers, recounting how they then invited delegates to Mumbai, paying for their conveyance and stay in the Taj so they could inspect their factory. A nod from this company was the culmination of Baqua’s long struggle,
with many international orders following.
Moving to Ambernath means added transport cost for their raw material, thus pushing their prices up, and granting an advantage to already competing Chinese suture manufacturers. It also means laying off most of their 30-odd workers (some women) who won’t be able to afford the daily commute. But Baqua speaks on the effect of rehabilitation on Dharavi at large: “Will the disruption of all these lives and livelihoods be compensated adequately?”
Baqua’s unit, like every such in Dharavi resembles Japan’s matchbox factories which utilise each square inch. Even homes are used or let out for work, with one table being enough to start an enterprise. A rough estimate of the productivity of these unrecognised industries was stated at over Rs 5000 crores. Much of this amount is earned from export, bringing foreign exchange into the country. By these criteria, Dharavi attained the status of SEZ — which everyone’s screaming for today — many years ago. A decline in crime rate post the Vardharajan era, has seen the area become only as unsafe as certain pockets of Juhu, or Bandra.
The only thing that prevents Dharavi’s recognition as an industrial estate then, is the dirt. Besides the fact that companies like Baqua’s have constantly overcome this constraint, the larger problem of filth in Dharavi could be solved by reconstruction, with proper drainage and road facility from the BMC. “Japan’s factories are as crowded and congested, but they are located in clean areas,” Baqua points out. He also points out that most banks in Japan claim interest on their loans only after the entrepreneur sets up his unit, unlike Indian banks which, despite being ‘nationalised’, bleed the poor aspiring entrepreneur without giving him a chance. Baqua talks Tokyo, even as the government cites Shanghai. But the former, strangely, seems far closer to Dharavi’s definition.

Baqua's factory entrance

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/ejht


Dharavi’s small-time manufacturer Mustaqueem, a supplier to Wal Mart, brings hope to the unemployed in the suburb


Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Mustaqueem at one of his Dharavi units

At a factory near the T junction on Mahim highway, we watch Mustaqueem carefully sort mint leaves to flavour our liquor teas, made painstakingly to order. “When I came to this city at age 13 to work, I was not paid for the first four months,” he remembers. His work, at a Kamathipura garments factory, consisted of serving tea, besides cleaning the factory, washing the machines and carrying orders to places from 7 am till after midnight. This was when, after the workers left, he would be allowed to learn how to work a machine for half an hour. He slept on the road outside the factory. His meal consisted of roti and salan, from a nearby restaurant or home. After becoming a paid worker, he branched out on his own at age 16 with two sewing machines in a relative’s hutment at Dharavi.
Today, Mustaqueem runs 12 manufacturing units (including sister concerns of the parent company) in Dharavi. Seven of them, owned by him, comprise 3200 square feet of space each. The unit we are on, on rented area, stretches to 8000 square feet. He employs 900 people. All his garments, mostly feminine tops, skirts
and capris, are exported to the US, and sold by names like MKM and Burlington. He earlier supplied goods to K Mart and Wal Mart as well, but discontinued because they were “too inconsistent with their order quotations”.
How did he get here? Mustaqueem’s eyes, study us even as he talks, with piercing intelligence. Having stood first in every class till class VI, his principal and relatives went into mourning when he had to quit studies to earn for family. But once on the job, the same intelligence prompted him to learn his trade quickly. Also radiating from his eyes is quiet confidence. As a worker he elicited many guffaws from his seniors when he proclaimed that he’d have his own factory someday. Their rejoinder was: “We’ll work for you!” Which they did eventually. He wasn’t let down when his friends dissuaded him from deliberating on exports. Yet this confidence is tempered by a strong faith in God. He says, “There are many more talented than me. I’ve succeeded because Allah has honoured me.”
But that is every successful entrepreneur’s story. What distinguishes Mustaqueem is what surrounds him. Workers as well as managers employed in his factories are taken on by Mus
taqueem not on the basis of degrees, but on their ability to read. This approach is reminiscent of another man who rose from the garments trade, Dhirubai Ambani. He had hired a clerk, Indu Sheth, to spearhead his export strategy; a petroleum product salesman, Natwarlal Sanghvi, as his marketing manager; and an auto parts salesman as his knitting manager. These men went on to be counted among India’s best business brains. Also reeking of this approach is the modus operandi of Sam Walton, whose company till recently was Mustaqueem’s customer.
‘Mustaqueeem Seth’ in Dharavi is a respected name. He helps many with problems ranging from those with the municipal corporation to healthcare. He is a man known well by the police, government officials and politicians. But his decision to continue to centre his business here stems from beyond this ring of influence. Through his own past, he understands a talent pool of Indian youth that is unable to obtain MBA, CA or CFA degrees. And that pool, hired as worker and inching towards ‘supervisor’, ‘manager’ and then ‘owner’, understand ‘Mustaqueem Seth’ through their present… and longingly, through their future.

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/shni

Be dazzled

Zardosi workmen of Indira Qureishi Nagar weave their way into the city’s wardrobes


Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Zardosi design

A10-minute walk away from Sion station leads to Indira Qureishi Nagar. A climb up an iron ladder here culminates in a 20 by 10 feet room with faded walls lined intermittently with hooks, each holding a dusty, dull shirt, kurta or trouser. The owners of this line of clothing sit around large frames in fives or sixes, stitching onto a common cloth the curves of a unified design, with gold or silver coloured threads, beads and mirrors. The style is ari zardosi, lighter than actual zardosi, which uses far heavier material. The former sells far more than the latter because it’s more wearable in hot, humid weather and is less expensive. In and around Indira Qureishi Nagar, every second house has its upper floor converted into such a workshop, making it one of Mumbai’s largest centres for ari zardosi work.

The workmen say they procure all the material — beads, threads, mirrors, needles — from the area itself because it’s cheapest here. “Even the cutting chai here costs Rs 2 instead of Rs 2.50,” the chaiwaala complains. “If I raise the price, they’ll stop buying.” And so on for other basic necessities, which makes the average zardosi worker’s income of Rs 5,000 a month (including overtime) barely sufficient to keep body and soul together. Many claim a dhani, or owner of these workshops can earn upto Rs 25,000 monthly going by the business around: “Even the needle makers who make specialised needle for ari zardosi work have a daily turnover of Rs 1,500.” The finished ari zardosi work is supplied to con
sumers cutting across class barrior, from stores in Ghatkopar and exclusive showrooms in town, to designers in Europe and the US. The workers embroider their designs on the material provided, ranging from cotton and silk, to even denim, as per marked outlines, but don’t cut or shape the final product.
Twenty-six-year-old Mudassir has been a worker for seven years. Attracted by the craftsmanship from a young age, he gave up school, after his matriculation exams for this profession,
wanting to earn soon. “I learnt zardosi work here itself, but worked in Madanpura for a while before shifting back three years ago,” he says. Mudassir is very savvy and as adventurous as he is ambitious. He introduces us to Waseem Akhtar, an 18-year-old, who owns and manages one of the area’s oldest workshops. “My father shifted to Kolkata recently, with the family because my grandparents were there, leaving me in charge,” he explains. Waseem is studying for his BSc degree hoping to do a course in fashion designing thereafter, to take his business to greater heights.
This settlement, originated over 30 years ago with people from UP. Few workshops consisted, and still do, of Bengali workmen. But recently there’s been a large influx of workers from Bihar, who today make up nearly half the population. Why did hundreds of workshops spring up here? Some put it down to people belonging to the same profession living and working together, so as to pose a united front against extortion and rioting. Some to the connectivity and cheap availability of raw material in the area. But the truth to the mushrooming of this settlement of diverse migrants stitching similar threads, lies in the story of any family tree, as much as in the story of Mumbai: One unit employed 10 men, most of whom saved and started their own units, and so on. In a time when everyone accuses poor migrants of leeching into productive areas, the productivity of this erstwhile marshland stands apart as having grown from the enterprise of migrants, spurring the government to provide connectivity so that cheap craftsmanship, among other services, could meet the city’s demand. To continue doing so, the migrants, in turn, ensure that the effect of rupee appreciation on exports is less felt by them — by beating down the prices of their raw materials, and their chai.

A Zardosi worker

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/8k36