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Meeting old school friends

Mom finished Std 11 at Sacred Heart Girls’ High School way back in 1962. Living in Richmond Town has been convenient to keep in touch with old school friends, though they seldom really meet these days. Yesterday, mom caught up with a few of them. It was Mary (Veena) aunty’s birthday, and her daughter Gitu had organised this surprise lunch party for her.

Mom doesn’t venture out of Richmond Town much, usually going only to places that are walkable distance. She is very wary of taxis, so when she does go a bit away, she generally likes to have someone with her. This outing though, she didn’t have to worry. Gitu picked up the old ladies and dropped them back.  Gitu later sent me these lovely pics. Looks like they had a great time talking about old times. Even when leaving, they couldn’t stop!

Sacred Heart group 13-Jul-2018

(L-R) Neelavani, Radha, Rukmani, Mary, Lena, Patricia

Sacred Heart group2 13-Jul-2018

Cant stop talking 2018-07-13

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Mumbai plastic ban

“I have cleared my house of all the plastic bags. I cannot afford to pay Rs 5,000 as fine.”

“Madam, they are saying that they will come to check our houses to see if we have plastic. Do you think they will come?”

“Everyone on the road is carrying cloth bags today. Who wants to pay fine? ”

“Vegetable vendors are telling us to go home and bring a bag. None of them have plastic bags.”

“Will it be alright to carry this water bottle? I won’t be caught and fined, right?”

The Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products (Manufacture, Usage, Sale, Transport, Handling and Storage) Notification, 2018 that imposes a ban on several disposable items (wef 23rd June 2018) would appear extreme, but citizens in general seem to be quite serious about following the rules. Unlike earlier times, consumers are being held liable for abuse of plastic/disposables, and the penalties for non-compliance are steep.

Ban on plastic is not new to Maharashtra. The Maharashtra Plastic Carry Bags (Manufacture and Usage) Rules, 2006, had imposed a ban on plastic bags of less than 50 microns. Despite this twelve-year old legislation, thin bags continued to be manufactured, vendors continued to procure them, and consumers continued to demand them.

In Kandivali where I live, when Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) inspectors periodically did the rounds to catch violators, vendors would quickly hide their plastic bags. Those not so quick would get fined Rs 500 or so, but as soon as the officers went out of sight, the bags would resurface. Those who were slightly law-abiding did not use carry bags, but they’d accede to customers’ requests and give them ‘kirana’ bags (plastic bags without handles), totally defeating the purpose of the ban. Plastic carry bags apart, there has been indiscriminate use of disposable items at restaurants, food courts, roadside eateries and home parties. Some of us tried to educate the vendors and the people about the problems associated with disposable plastic and thermocol items, but most often we would be told that as long as these are available, they would be used. Like us, there have been several groups of people in different areas of Mumbai working in their own way to achieve reduced use of plastic. The Zero Plastic Bag campaign in Vile Parle, initiated by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officer Mr Subash Dalvi way back in 2010, was one of the few successful efforts in Mumbai, achieved through persistence and education through the “BMC system”, but failed to get replicated in most of the city.

With pressure on the environment and the solid waste management system, it seems that the Maharashtra government had no choice but to authorise regulations for manufacture, usage, sale, storage and transport of products made from plastic and thermocol (which generates non-biodegradable waste), through the 2018 notification.

The notification gives detailed observations that lead to the ban, and anyone who reads it would realise that the government has made a sincere effort to correct the lapses of the past.

Concerns about usage and disposal of plastic are diverse and include accumulation of waste in landfills, water bodies and in natural habitats, physical problems for wild animals resulting from ingestion or entanglement in plastic, the leaching of chemicals from plastic products and the potential for plastics to transfer chemicals to wildlife and humans are increasing.

Because of non-biodegradable plastic waste handling of municipal solid waste becomes difficult and incurs more financial burden and also due to burning such waste in open environment causes various diseases in humans and animals.

It is observed that non-biodegradable garbage is responsible for clogging drains and nallas causing flood in urban settlement leading to loss of lives and damage to properties and infrastructure.

Plastic waste and micro plastic cause danger to marine and freshwater bio-diversity and also hamper ecosystem services due to spreading of such waste in and around ecosystems, on tourists places, beaches and on agriculture and forest areas.

Non-biodegradable plastic waste and micro plastic are having negative impacts on fish diversity and fisheries activity.

Non-biodegradable waste is posing problems in effective implementation of Clean India Mission.

Detailed stake-holders consultations and deliberations with the field level officials were undertaken, and public notices were also published in leading newspapers.

Despite the ban on plastic bags of less than 50 micron through Maharashtra Plastic Carry Bags (Manufacture and Usage) Rules, 2006, there is increase in the non-biodegradable plastic garbage waste causing damage to environment and health.

Maharashtra Plastic Ban Notification_27032018

Amendment to Plastic Ban Notification_18042018

What is the ban about?

  • The ban applies to the whole State of Maharashtra for manufacture, usage, transport, distribution, wholesale and retail sale, storage and import of certain single-use plastic/thermocol items.
  • The ban is applicable to everyone (persons, organisations, entities, etc.).
  • The ban is applicable everywhere (beaches, tourist places, public places, cinemas, malls, railway stations, religious places, etc.). Only airports are not included in the list, but once you’re out of the airport, beware!

What are the items that are banned?

Single-use plastic and thermocol disposables

  • Plastic bags/packets (with or without handle) irrespective of thickness/grade such as
    – plastic shopping bags given by branded shops
    – plain carry bags
    – kirana bags/ bags used to put food items/ food grain
    – zip-lock bags
    – garbage bags
  • Disposable plastic and thermocol/polystyrene products such as
    – single-use disposable containers/cutlery such as plates, glasses, spoons, straws
    – containers used for packaging food in restaurants, hotels
    – cups/pouches to store or carry liquids, etc.
  • Plastic to wrap or store products such as
    – cling wrap
    – plastic covering
    – decorative shiny gift wrap
    – cellophane paper for bouquets
    – disposable plastic trays
    – bubble wrap – not explicitly mentioned (press reports indicate that shopkeepers were using bubble wrap thinking it was exempt)
    – air pocket plastics – not explicitly mentioned
  • Non-woven polypropylene bags
  • Plastic and thermocol for decoration purposes (those used in-between flowers, “welcome” signs, etc.).

banned disposablesbanned non-woven bags 

A few of the banned items – disposable plastics and non-woven bags

What are the items that are exempt from the ban?

  • Plastic and plastic bags used for packaging of medicines
  • Food grade virgin plastic bags not less than 50 micron thickness used for packaging of milk – with buy back details printed
  • Plastic cover used to wrap the material at the manufacturing stage or which is an integral part of manufacturing – with guidelines to recycle or reuse such plastic printed prominently on the cover and material – includes plastic sacks used for rice, biscuit wrappers, etc.
  • PET/PETE bottles made of high quality food grade virgin Bisphenol-A free material having liquid holding capacity – with predefined buy back price printed – Rs 1 for 1 litre or more; Rs 2 for less than 1 litre (as per amendment dated 18th Apr 2018, even bottles of less than 0.5 litres will be exempt)
  • Compostable plastic bags or material used for plant nurseries, horticulture, agriculture, handling of solid waste – certified and “Use exclusively for this specific purpose only” shall be prominently printed on it
  • Plastic and plastic bags for export purpose only, manufactured in the Special Economic Zone and export oriented units, etc.
  • Items not in the list of inclusions or exemptions – includes the following
    – disposable pens
    – disposable gloves and hair caps
    – plastic items that are not of single-use, such as lunch boxes, water bottles, baskets, pencil boxes, pouches.

What will happen if you are found with any banned item in Mumbai?

  • You have to pay a fine
    – Rs 5,000 for the first offence
    – Rs 10,000 for the second offence
    – Rs 25,000 plus three months in jail for the third offence.
  • While the fines are targeted at manufacturers, no one is excluded. There was a proposal to reduce the fines for common people, but this was not accepted by the law committee of the BMC.

Who is authorised to fine you in Mumbai?

  • 249 inspectors have been designated as members of the Plastic Ban Squad.
  • They are empowered to impose fines under section 12 of the Maharashtra Non-Biodegradable Plastic Control Act, and issue receipts.
  • They have been given uniforms (smart ultramarine blue jackets) and issued ID cards.
  • Fines will be imposed starting Monday 25th June 2018.
  • A list of 98 inspectors and their contact numbers can be seen below – citizens are free to contact them to verify fines, and for clarifications.

BMC List Licence Inspectors to implement Plastic Ban

What can Mumbaikars do with the banned items?

  • As per the notification, all banned items were to be disposed off within the 3-month grace period given by BMC (by 23rd June 2018), either by selling to recyclers or depositing at BMC collection points.
  • If you still have banned items, you may deposit them at any of the 37 collection points (map below).
  • If you have at least 10 kg of banned items, you can have them collected by calling the BMC helpline 1800 222357. As you can imagine, this number is perpetually engaged and difficult to get through to. BMC has organised 24 trucks to facilitate doorstep collection.
Collection Centres

List of collection centres

(map courtesy www.togethervcan.in)

Impact of the plastic ban, and after

According to a recent UNDP report single-use plastic comprises 89% of the plastic in the ocean. Given this, a state like Maharashtra (that generates 1,200 tonnes of plastic waste everyday), could significantly cut down on its plastic waste, making it easier to manage, and addressing most of the concerns raised in the notification.

Within a day of the ban coming into force, there are visible changes in home delivery in the apartment complex where I live. Groceries are brought in plastic baskets instead of plastic carry bags. The milk man carries his big can instead of pre-filling into plastic bags. The prospect of stiff fines have achieved what years of coaxing (to let go of plastic bags) could not.

grocery delivery

Grocery delivery

milk delivery

Milk delivery

Alternatives to plastic/thermocol disposables have gained in popularity and new ones are likely to emerge. However, we need to tread carefully, lest we get swamped with new problems.

We are fortunate that the notification had the foresight to include non-woven polypropylene bags that are widely used as an alternative to plastic. In places like Chandigarh, where plastic has been banned for several years, people treat the non-woven bags just like plastic and one can see these littering the streets. There are many in Mumbai using non-woven bags thinking they are “cloth” bags. In the days to come they will get to know that these are in the banned list.

Compostable bags / bio-degradable bags (carry bags, garbage bags, storage bags) – many vendors have switched from plastic bags to bags that say “I am not a plastic bag”. These bags are different from plastic in that they are either not made from petroleum (and are compostable under certain conditions) and/or they contain certain additives that make them decompose unlike normal plastic bags. Experiments I have carried out have shown that unlike food waste, these bags take years to turn into compost in normal compost bins, and are likely to pose challenges similar to plastic (they cause suffocation like plastic bags and will block drains and they’ll stick on trees like balloons; not sure what happens when they enter the stomach of a cow). Electrically operated composting machines in residential societies cannot handle them. So being more-or-less single use, not recyclable, and hard  to compost, they’ll need to be thrown out. They may get mistaken for plastic, in which case they can ruin plastic recycling.

compostable bags

Compostable / Bio-degradable bags

Other disposable options like paper and areca plates, though better than plastic are still disposable, creating unnecessary rubbish. Handling them in a community composting set up requires extra capacity. Apartment complexes like ours, that do in-house composting would be better off without them.

One really hopes that the firm rules and fines will make people realise the way we’ve exploited our earth, and eventually lead to a reduction in the use of disposables.  One hopes this will take us back to the days of the 1970s and 80s when we didn’t mind spending bit of time sorting our vegetables and reusing our jam jars. Citizens can make it happen!

Anne Frank

Anne Frank
12th Jun 1929 – Feb/Mar 1945
(died before her 16th birthday)

Anne Frank statue

Anne Frank Monument (by sculptor Mari Andriessen) at Westerkerk, near the Anne Frank Huis

Anne Frank would have been 89 today. One can say that she’d have had a fair chance of still being alive (her dad Otto Frank lived beyond 91, even after spending time in a concentration camp), if not for the Gestapo who dug the family out of 25 months of hiding (Jul 1942 – Aug 1944)… from this building no. 263 on Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.

Now known as Anne Frank Huis (House), this building was from where Otto Frank operated his business. Along with the two ones adjoining it (265 and 267), they form the museum dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank and to show the world what millions of Jews went through during the holocaust.

the door 263At the doorAnne Frank Huis road

“The goal of the Anne Frank House is to keep alive the memory of Anne Frank and the period when National Socialism was in power. This is not only a matter of human and historical interest; it also has significance for us today. For the Anne Frank House, the memory of Anne Frank is directly related to a concern for preserving freedom and maintaining human rights and a pluralistic and democratic society.” – Hans Westra, retired director of the Anne Frank Huis

They were well to do. They were educated. They were family… father, mother and two daughters. The one thing that wasn’t quite right for those in “power” was their God. Forced to leave Germany to save themselves from persecution in the early 1930s, Anne lived most of her life in Amsterdam. And here too, the Nazi’s finally took over, forcing the family into hiding.

There would have been thousands of boys and girls like Anne, living in fear and hope. Anne is known to the world because she wrote an interesting diary while in hiding, and because her father Otto Frank survived the concentration camp and returned to Amsterdam after World War II, to find the diary and get it published. Anne mentions that her sister Margot also wrote a diary, but this was never found.

Our family visited the Anne Frank Huis in May 2018. We were fortunate to have discovered in good time, that visiting the Anne Frank Huis museum (i.e. inside the house) is by online booking of tickets on the website. While booking, one has to choose the time slot and report at the entrance at the appointed time. One may need to book several days in advance to get the preferred date and time. While we awaited our turn we saw that many people went away disappointed and had to be satisfied with looking at the outside of the buildings… or the Prinsengracht canal opposite the house. 

Canal opposite

Prinsengracht canal opposite the house

The entry to the museum is through a modern building at 267, accessed from the side road. The place inside was undergoing renovation and expansion, but the house itself was undisturbed.

Entry building

Entry to museum

Entry building 2

People waiting for their time slot

There are signs that say that photography inside the house is not allowed (so we have no pictures). Despite this there were people who had either not read the signs or ignored them. Everyone who enters is provided with a recorded audio instrument in the language of choice. This gives a running commentary about each room and quotes from Anne’s diary give them a perspective. There are TV screens in some places that play video recordings about the holocaust and interviews with Anne’s friends and family who lived to complement her diary tales… also people who interacted with her at the concentration camp, where they were literally starved to disease and death.   

The hiding place of the Frank family (and four other people) is actually an annex behind the building 263. Comprising of several rooms, it looks to have been a reasonably large and comfortable living space for them. It is reachable through a passage covered by a bookshelf, to make it a “secret annex”. This bookshelf is the only piece of furniture retained in the house-museum. All the rooms are empty, but in some places there are photos picturising how the room looked. The area below the hiding place was occupied by workers in the day, so they needed to be very quiet, lest they get found out.  

The wall paper in most rooms is original. In one place there are small horizontal markings on the yellow papered wall, where the heights of the girls, Anne and Margot, were recorded as they grew. There are pictures from magazines that were stuck on a wall by the girls, to make it look less empty. Small things we too do in our normal homes. When Anne got to know that her father was planning to escape the Nazi order of Jews to surrender, she distributed some of her belongings to her friends. A box of marbles that she had given to her neighbour is on display. 

The eight people in hiding didn’t step out of the annex for 25 months! One gets a good sense of the gross injustice of one powerful regime, while the world watched seemingly helplessly. Most disturbing.

The Westerkerk Church is at the end of the street. A Protestant church, it has a clock tower that chimes every quarter of an hour, something Anne Frank mentions in her diary. 

church tower

Westerkerk Church

Westerkerk Church side

Side of Westerkerk Church

This gentleman was selling his paintings on the footpath outside the church… original water colour art at 10-15 Euros.

Painter on the path

Painter on the path

One of the walls has this plaque remembering Willy Alberti, a Dutch actor and singer who was born around the same time as Margot. 

Willy Alberti

In memory of Willy Alberti

One can see pictures of the inside of the Anne Frank Huis and read more about her life and why the family went into hiding on the website http://www.annefrank.org.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”

 

Our games teacher, gone on

“Stomachs in, bottoms in, chests out.” We would all tighten our muscles and hold our breath.

“Left, left, right, left, right… Now don’t balloon out like the back of a bus.” I was glad I could escape the marching and be on the basketball court instead.

Those who studied at Baldwin Girls’ High School in the 1970s and 1980s would find these lines echoing in their ears. This could be only Mrs Jeanne Roby, getting the girls to perfect their marching in preparation for sports day. The school annual sports day is still held with such precision and finesse that I dare say few other schools in this world would even come close.

As a sportsgirl, one couldn’t have asked for more support from a games teacher than what was given by Mrs Roby. Whatever the sport facilitated by the school – athletics, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, throwball, kho-kho… whistle around her neck, floppy cap to shield herself from the sun, she’d be there to train, guide, referee, advise.

Judy, Mrs Roby’s daughter (who had played basketball for Karnataka) was my first basketball coach when I made the school team in Std 6. We always looked forward to the inter-school basketball matches. We had some of the best players in the city, making our team one of the favourites at all the tournaments held in Bangalore. At the matches, Judy would be calling us “cows” when we dropped a pass, and we’d get blasted with a battery of other words when a layup wasn’t basket-ted, but we’d have Mrs Roby on the sideline consoling us and urging us to forget the misses.

Sometimes, some of us would go to her house on Hayes Road to drop back the keys of the games room, or some such small errand, and her dogs would run out to welcome us. Once she asked me to solve one real-life mathematical issue she was unable to crack, which I did!

BGHS Basketball Team Feb 1983

The Baldwin Girls Jr Basketball Team and Mrs Roby with the Inter-School Championship, Feb 1983

Mrs Roby retired from Baldwins sometime in 1985, but we would still see her around during our last year at school, when Ms Nathan took over as games teacher. We were all invited to Judy’s and Prasad’s wedding in August 1985 and soon after, she gave each of us a picture of ourselves with the newly married couple. She was there at our graduation ceremony and after it was over I pulled her aside to stand for this picture.

17-Mar-1986 with Mrs Roby

Std X graduation day with Mrs Roby, 17-Mar-1986

Living in Richmond Town, I’d see Mrs Roby now and then. She would tell me about her arthritic limbs and how she found it difficult to drive. Even after I moved from Bangalore, my mom would bump into her at the bank or post office, but not after she moved away from Sukhi Apartments and the problems of old age set in.

Teachers impact the lives of their students in various ways. I feel fortunate to have had Mrs Roby in my life during those growing up years, making me believe that I could be an asset to any team I became a part of in life ahead.

Mrs Roby Obituary

30-Dec-1929 to 4-Jun-2018

Mrs Roby was laid to rest today, and as I write this sitting in Mumbai I know she will live on in our hearts till our memories are with us. She will be sorely missed by family and friends. Sincere condolences.

Looking at Upscaled Art on Environment Day

On this World Environment Day, thought of sharing some pieces of art created out of things that would have probably been trashed. “Upscaled” is what this is called today. They’re exceptional enough to have made it to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum in Copenhagen.

Made of used automobile parts, this futuristic robot was created by Simon Blades of Italy, inspired by The Terminator. It was fun trying to identify parts of vehicles that went into the assembling the robot’s anatomy.

terminator robot

The wedding dress looked elegant and dignified and I’d have been happy to have worn it some 22 years ago! It’s made of recycled trash including plastic bags, egg cartons, cotton balls and toilet tissue. Susan Lane of USA also makes bouquets out of trash.

Tissue dress

Despite the face being partly hidden in this pic, one can tell it is Abraham Lincoln. What makes it different from other statues is that it’s made of worn-out dollar bills that the US government threw in the trash. The Indian government has something to replicate here given that they have crores of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes with them.

Lincoln dollar bills

All those torn clothes we’ve thrown out surely had buttons on them. Where did they all go? This Button Woman statue was created by Irene Freidhof and her daughter Theresa of USA. It took them 960 hours over six months to assemble and has exactly 7,989 common clothing buttons.

Button woman

Almost everything we tend to throw away can have a new life somewhere. By saving them from landfills we’ll be doing a small bit in saving our environment. A little creativity is all we need.

Information gathered from the museum
Pics taken in Copenhagen, May 1 2018

Birds seen in Europe (Part 5)

Where there is the sea, there will be gulls. After all, the sea is what a gull calls home. Looking back, we did spend much of our vacation close to water, so it was natural to have spotted gulls in almost every city that we visited.

Common Gull

Unlike what the name suggests, the Common Gull was not really everywhere. Characterised by a red eye-ring, we first spotted it at Roskilde, Denmark, atop one of the houses. While on the boat from Flam to Gudvangen on Naeroyfjord (one of Norway’s scenic fjords) however, there were many of them following us, looking out for scraps of food. Read more…

Trojaborg, find your inner peace

Adults and children moving purposefully between boulders. This was the scene outside the Viking Museum at Roskilde, Denmark. On close observation, the boulders mark out a Trojaborg labyrinth, similar to those from the Bronze Age.

Trojaborg at Roskilde

Trojaborg labyrinth at Roskilde, Denmark (Apr 2018)

The labyrinth and the movement through its paths are often used today as a form of meditation which gives focus and inner peace. Read more…

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