Monday, January 21, 2013

Visit of Maharashtra Nature Park

On 12th January 2013, IIT Bombay Alumni Association (IITBAA) arranged a visit to Maharashtra Nature Park - a 37 acre man-made forest created on a garbage dumping ground. It is located at Mahim-Dharavi, near Sion. I attended the same along with my son.

Background of Maharashtra Nature Park (also known as Mahim Nature Park):
When people come today to the Mahim Nature Park (MNP) they find it difficult to believe that, the forest they see before their very eyes was once a city garbage dump. But that is exactly what it was less than 20 years ago. Conceived by the WWF-India in the late 1970s, an area of about 37 acres in the "H" Block of Bandra-Kurla Complex, which was earlier a garbage dump or land fill, was decided to be ecologically restored and developed as a Nature Park by MMRDA. Located on Bandra-Sion Link Road and on the Southern bank of Mithi River (which starts from Borivali National Park highlands skirting the airport and meets the Arabian Sea at Mahim Bay and which is one of the major drainages of Mumbai), this mini-forest is nothing short of a miracle. Apart from being a vital green lung for pollution-ridden Mumbai, the MNP also offers Mumbai's citizenry a welcome change from the din and hustle of city life.

Today experts from around the world visit the MNP to study how so many trees could grow on a dumping ground used for decades by the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. Naturalists from the Bombay Natural History Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature-India confirm that MNP plays host to about 38 species of butterflies and more than 80 species of birds. What is more, as many as 200 tree species have been listed, many naturally planted by birds and insects. When you walk in the precincts of the MNP you will see numerous insects, amphibians and reptiles and together with the many species of fungi that thrive, the place has a feel of true woodland.    More...
 
Here is a report of same prepared by Madhur Kotharay. I'm reproducing same here because I found it to be extremely well written. I've added photographs to add visual appeal.

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Last Saturday (12th Jan 2013) morning's IITBAAMCMMM (!!) to Mahim-Dharavi Nature Park must have been the second most inhuman thing, at least for the humans. To get up so early in the morning and head straight to Dharavi was not quite on my dream list. Often, I passed that stretch with nostrils closed (if in rickshaw) or windows closed (if in car). But there I was, at the break of dawn (ok, ok, a bit later, around 7:30 am), standing at the gates of the Nature Park.

I was told to wear neutral colours so as not to startle the birds. I wondered what a neutral colour would be, as against a positive or a negative one. A google search told me that 'neutral colours are the colours that don't show up on the colour wheel'. Now this was rapidly getting high-tech, in IIT tradition, with a quick study needed of the Colour Wheel.

I found that all of my t-shirt colours squarely sat somewhere on the colour wheel. Finally, I decided to settle for greens in my wardrobe, a party green shirt and shoes to match. Of course, I needn't have bothered. Some participants were dressed in Ferrari Reds.

We had 96 registrations. So we expected 48 folks to turn up, given the equal odds of 'will they, won't they'. In the eventuality, we were on the dot (IITians are really predictable, on an average). Interestingly, 28 of us turned up on time; the remaining were fashionably late.


After resolving that the latecomers would be made to do two rounds (running) of the central hall as punishment, we started our exploration of Mother Nature. We were divided into 9 groups and were given to track 9 different laws of Nature. Many laws were deep in meaning. e.g. Nature purges all excesses. I had a light dinner the night before but the law had prevailed even then.

First we saw a huge lake, that was full of water hyacinth. We were told that the lake (Four Olympic swimming pools-size) was made with the efforts of some NSS students. I thought our IIT NCC was the punishment posting; but it appears that NSS is much worse.


We were told that there were snakes near the lake. On hearing that, Ashwin 'Gujju' Doshi promptly ran to the edge of the lake. Poor Gujju! We had to tell him that 'snakes' will be served only at the end in the main 'hole'. :-)

Then we reached Dharavi Creek. All sorts of detritus were floating in the water. Someone said it was river Mithi. I wonder who tasted its water to vouch for the sweetness. However, people were excited about some white birds sitting on the garbage. They started filming them with vehemence. Ooh's and aah's filled the air.

Some people pointed to something like a crow but they called it funny names such as 'egret'. Suddenly, someone shouted 'there is a kite'. Given that we were 2 days away from Sankranti, I was not surprised. However, it was actually a bird they were referring to. I was feeling like a lost soul. So much ignorance.

Then someone clicked something that looked like a faded crow. The person claimed it was a 'Grey Heron'. That sounded familiar. On deeper thought, I realised that there was a vodka by that name. At the next instance, he clicked Sachin's mugshot (sorry, Sachin, I don't know your last name). I politely suggested that he could caption that photo as 'Grey Hair on..."

We moved further. There were weird trees. Actually, there were normal trees but people had weird names for them. For example, I spotted a Banyan tree but they said it was something else, 'Strangler Fig'. I was getting lessons in botany and zoology, left, right, front, back, and up. I wondered what I was going to learn from 'down'.

Then, we came to a funny formation of bamboo trees. Instead of shooting up in the sky, this bamboo gang was spread out like a bunch of optical fibres, bent outwards. We were told that it was because the bamboo roots could not go too deep as the place was built on a landfill. Apparently, there was garbage underneath and the roots were stuck there. Some of you are bent like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Perhaps, your roots are not deep enough or you are sitting right on garbage (as per my botany lesson from 'down').

Then, we saw some creepy creepers. We were told that "Nature makes form fit the function". So we learnt that the 'touch-me-not' plant shrivels on touch because it grows very close to the ground and when grazing animals come closer, its leaves collapse to protect them from being eaten. I noticed many of us had ample paunch. So I started wondering what function that form fitted.


Then, we reached a nursery where we could buy various saplings. At Rs 5 each, they seemed like a great bargain. However, given that the carpet area rates are Rs 45,000 per sq ft in my Khar area, I quickly estimated that those saplings, with 10 cm diameter, would cost me at least Rs 3750 each. I skipped the deal. Ajay Kunnath's tiny daughter, Tia, was super excited to be in this part. After all, this was 'nursery'.

Steeped in our biology wisdom, we returned to the main 'hole' for 'snakes'. The late-comer group had skipped the running punishment, wound their biology lessons up double-quick and were merrily hogging the 'snakes'. Life is unfair.

We had fresh natural breakfast. mashed Solanum Tuberosum mix cooked in arachis hypogaea extract, with baked fleur de farine leavened with saccharomyces. Well, for the uncouth amongst you, I am referring to Batata-wada-Pav, naturally. We also had antioxidants in the form of tea.

Now, it was time for a lecture. We went inside their main auditorium and the lecture started. They were talking about how Bio-Mimicry or imitating nature helps us. They talked about the invention of Velcro, inspired by burrs on plants. I promptly went to sleep as I suffer from a severe disease called Minuophotosomnia (wherein you go to sleep in auditoriums as soon as the lights are dimmed. Tee hee!) After I woke up, they were still talking about Shark Skin and how copying it enabled mankind make bodysuits that helped break swimming records.

I thought about how we could copy nature to improve running. After all, the most inhuman thing on a weekend morning will be happening next Sunday, when I would have to run the whole 42 km Mumbai Marathon starting at 5:40am. The answer is easy: run without shoes. Apparently, the fastest way to run is to run barefoot. The best form, the best motion, the best propulsion is when you run without shoes, provided Mumbai roads spare your feet. It turns out that the best thing you can learn from nature about running is not to add your 'research' to improve upon it.

It was nearly 11 am and I decided to leave the place. It was a nice morning, learning about the bees and the birds and the bougainvillea.

I learnt that over millions of years, nature conferred various evolutionary advantages to plants and animals - the shape of their leaves, barks, flowers, thorns. But I realised that unlike us humans, most trees and animals did not learn from one another. They only learnt from the relentless march of life. Survival of the fittest, it is called. How inefficient! For once, I felt proud of my race, the human race: Animalia kingdom, Chordata phylum, Synapsida Mammalia class, Primates order, Hominidae family; Hominini tribe; Homo genus; H. sapiens species.
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Few simple but effective Pre-Budget Suggestions for Direct taxes

To: "Shri Sumit Bose - Revenue Secretary" <rsecy@nic.in>
Sent: Friday, December 28, 2012 1:31 PM
Subject: Few simple but effective Pre-Budget Suggestions for Direct taxes

Dear Shri Sumit Bose (23092653, 23092111 Ext:-5353),

Government is helplessly reeling under pressure to achieve +8% growth under bad economic conditions all over.

Under such circumstance it is required to think of radical measures to increase revenue collection and reduce inefficient operations of government.

Please find enclosed my 3 simple suggestions that will bring following benefits to Indian Government:

1. Increase revenue by making rich people pay taxes proportionate to their income
2. Increase Service tax collection based on negative list by re-deploying Income tax employees to Service tax
3. Free small businesses from the clutch of direct tax machinery by making them pay taxes proportional to their real income.



DIRECT TAXES
Sr
Issue
Suggestion
Justification
1
Income Tax exemption on Farm Income
Currently farmers are exempted from Income tax. This has been a policy since independence. Due to this exemption many rich and influential people have become ‘farmer’ on paper – thus leading to tremendous loss to the exchequer. While in fact, real farmers are committing suicide for want to reasonable income.



The benefit of Income Tax Exemption on Farm Income should be abolished.

There is a clear and gross mis-use of Income tax exemption by rich and influential people for the detriment of economy. Time has come to plug loop hole.
2
Tax Deducted at Source
Almost 55% of Direct tax revenue is collected by way of TDS. This has made Income tax payment almost redundant.

TDS merely serves to make tax collection faster. Also, both tax payer as well government machinery is set-up to see that TDS system works efficiently.

On the other hand lakhs of small people – who are outside the ambit of Income tax loose their income because they never claim refund of TDS deducted.


Abolish Tax Deducted at Source.



Honest tax payer will be relieved from the heavy burden of tax collection, payment along with attendant paper work.

Government machinery will be saved from the unproductive work of getting income tax before its time.

In fact, now such machinery can be deployed in CBEC (Indirect Tax) for collection Negative list based Service tax.
3
Small Business subjected to Presumptive Tax on 8% of Turnover or Gross Receipts u/s 44-AD (read with 44ab)

Government loses tax revenue when a small business’ income is more than 8% of turn-over.

Many small businesses have income less than 8% of turn-over; in fact, some times even loss also. All such businesses are subjected to compulsory audit u/s 44ab.





Abolish Section 44-AD

Or

Reduce Presumptive tax on 8% to 5%.






It is irrational to assume that small businesses earn 8% or more of Turn-over or Gross Receipts. In many cases it is less than 8% due to increased competition and increased day to day expenses. In such cases he is compulsorily subjected to audit u/s 44ab – costing Rs.15,000/- to 50,000/-.

 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Indian Railway - How to change Boarding Point of a reserved train ticket

In India it is quite common that one may not get a train ticket reservation even on the first day of the ticket reservation cycle - which opens four months in advance. So, what does on do?

If your starting point is other than starting point of the train then some smart people try to book ticket from a earlier station; and then apply for change of boarding point. Of course, if you try to give your boarding point while booking the ticket then the system shows that tickets are not available because system computes availability based on quota reserved for your boarding point. Then, what does one do to change the boarding point after the ticket is booked?

Take a regular Reservation Slip. Write on top 'Change of Boarding Point'. Fill in all details as seen in your ticket including PNR number. Against 'Boarding Point' write new boarding point that you want. Then reach  railway reservation counter (PRS) with your printed ticket, reservation slip and photocopy of one identity proof say PAN card, Election Card etc. One need not go personally i.e., you can send another person to do this.

Go to the Inquiry Counter and give this documents. Person on inquiry counter will make the changes on the system and write with hand on your ticket the new boarding point. Work is done. It is simple and does not cost anything.

Take care not to stand in the regular queue for reservations. If you stand there, your request will not be entertained. Change of Boarding Point is done at the inquiry counters only.

Have a nice day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Some thoughts on future of humanity

Last Sunday, during the group meditation session I got some thoughts on what life would be on earth in the future times.

Some background:
Looking back, say about 200 years back, could any one would have imagined how the world would be say in 2013? Well, I doubt it.

Similarly it takes only a visionary of high order to think of what human life would be say 200 years from now. Fascinating? If yes, then keep reading. One warning - enter with an open mind. One disclaimer - I'm not claiming to be a visionary. These thoughts are based on existing writings that I have been reading for the last 9 years or so.

Thoughts on life on earth in future
There was a steady increase in natural and man made calamities on earth - giving louder and louder warnings to humanity to make amend or perish. Of course, a small but reasonable number of wise and intelligent people known as Indigo/Blue man tried to guide humanity with wise thoughts and actions. But, unfortunately humanity was very slow in understanding their advice and moved headlong towards its doom.

After few decades of regular and increasing rage of elements population on earth reduced considerably and living conditions became very very harsh. Earth's magnetic polarity changed and also very slowly and steadily earth's axis started changing - leading to extreme weather conditions. Established world order of national boundaries, world economy, governance and religious establishments met with extinction. Finally, men finding situation totally beyond his control started praying to its faith / higher power asking for mercy and forgiveness.

And beings of high intelligence and wisdom landed on earth. They were not visible to the mankind. They slowly and steadily introduced mutation of human genes by a secret intervention. Because of this, slowly and steadily different race of children started taking birth. This children looked different and were endowed with higher intelligence and wisdom. Unlike human race they were able to use many abilities of the brain and had a soft but strong heart. Beings responsible for the change left earth when they noticed that sufficient number of newer species had taken birth and were performing as per their expectation.

Following the law of natural evolution and survival of the fittest this new race slowly and steadily managed to flourish and older race met with extinction. They had special ability to communicate with each other directly using their thoughts and had a natural balance between outward and inward going tendencies.

Newer race of human beings first managed to establish a newer life style that was close to nature. As this happened raging elements slowly and steadily reduced and disappeared over few decades.


Then the newer race managed to find and harness naturally occurring source of energy that was cheap, non-polluting and renewable. With this discovery, electricity and fossil fuels of past era were not needed any more. Their new life style centered around the principle of peace, harmony. mutual trust and respect. They no longer needed money and attendant financial economy because all their energy needs were met using locally available resources.

They started cherishing inner values more than external manifestations of grandeur and control over fellow human beings. They understood that their purpose of incarnation is leading a life of wisdom and inner growth that leads to inner fulfillment and contentment. They realized certain eternal truths that everything in creation has its rightful place; and although human being is epitome of creation it has no dominion over other species and natural resources. Newer human race aligned itself to the natural principle of simplicity, love, charity, empathy, minimum utilization of natural resource, no wastage, respect for complimentary roles played by man, woman, birds, animals, trees, water bodies, earth etc.
-oOo-

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mind - Heart Relationship

There is considerable confusion among people on whether to use the mind or heart - while thinking, deciding etc. This confusion is bound to happen because people don't correctly understand what each term represents and their relationship with each other. They naively conclude that since it's an inbuilt capability among human beings and everyone uses it all the time - we all know about it very well. Well, not really.

I will try to explain it in simple words using some modern terminologies.

If you understand working of computers or smart phones, mind is like a random access memory (RAM) i.e., volatile memory of a computer or a smart phone. And heart is like a permanent memory similar to that of hard disk or a SD card.

Come on, I can understand about mind's comparison with RAM but I won't agree with heart's comparison with a hard disk or SD card. How can it be?

You agree that whatever is in the mind is volatile in nature. Right?

Yes. But, how does it make heart like a permanent memory?

It works like this. Whenever we repeatedly think about a certain thing - say about a good movie that we have seen or a good restaurant we have visited or a bad memory about an unfortunate fight with a close friend - all this events leave an impression on the mind first; and after a few mental repetitions of that event in the mind, this impression settles on the heart. If attention is not given to the event, it fades away from the mind; and it does not settle on the heart. But once an impression is formed on the heart, it remains there till it is removed.

It is similar to what is in the RAM (mind) is written to the hard disk (heart) when impression remains in the RAM for reasonably long period of time.

How can one remove it?

Good question. Normally such impression remains settled on the heart like a seed. When suitable circumstances present themselves it comes to life i.e., such impression makes its appearance in the mind in the form of thoughts.

You mean to say, I remember the event. Isn't it?

Yes. Not only you remember, you feel the same emotion that you had felt when you had formed the impression; may be not that intensely but it does appear on the scene.

So, it gets removed/erased from the heart. Isn't it?

Not quite. In fact, it depends on your mental attitude. If you treat it with equanimity and don't give attention to it such thoughts drop off and impression is removed from the heart. But, what happens in such circumstance is quite the opposite i.e., we re-live the old experience and our thoughts and action makes it stronger, making its removal impossible. In fact, we make the impression stronger than it was before by thinking about it.

Come on. You mean to say whatever we indulge in strongly or remember old events and give attention to it, it becomes stronger. And only way out is to behave like a saint by remaining calm and composed without any reaction. That is not possible for an average person. Isn't it?

Quite true. But whether we want it or not that's what happens. That is the reason why even though we wish to follow our heart we are unable to do it because heart is giving us wrong signals. This happens because our heart is full of such past impressions; some mild and some very strong. So, sometimes although we know that mind is fooling us by giving logical (and many times immoral answers) we are unable to follow heart because even heart is giving answers based on what is already stored in the heart in the form of impressions.

There must be a way out? Situation can't be so hopeless.

Surely, there is a way out. But, you tell me, how this problem can be overcome?

Hmm... You said heart is like a hard disk. Isn't it? Then it should be possible for us to delete the impression somehow. Is it true?

Yes, you are right. It is possible to delete or remove the impressions. It is possible to remove impressions by self-effort, if such effort is made soon after its formation.

How does one do it? Is it difficult?

Not really, if one knows how to do it and learn it well by doing it every day.

Tell me please?

Sure. One has to use his will power to remove such impressions. Sit with eyes closed and think that all impressions gathered during the day's thoughts and actions are getting removed from the body from the backside in the form of smoke or vapour. Don't think about situation which lead to the formation of the impression.

This process is similar to cleaning a room using a broom. Here we use our will power to clean the mind, and heart of the impression.

For how long one does this thing? And how do I know it has worked?

One may do it for half an hour. If it done properly you will feel lightness of mind i.e., weight of the impression goes away making mind lighter.

Isn't this same thing, which you described as cleaning process, in our earlier discussion?

Yes. It is same.

And you said, cleaning of older impressions is work of a guide. Isn't it?

True.

I have a question. You say impressions settle on the heart. So, when one dies even heart i.e., hard disk also dies. Isn't it? So, this should not pose any problem really because upon death all this impressions are lost.

That's what people generally believe; but that's not the case.

Think of why some people commit suicide? They do this when they are unable to bear weight of their own thoughts - and they commit suicide thinking that dying will solve their problems.

But, in reality after the death of a person, impressions accumulated on the heart do not get erased but they are carried over by the soul in the afterlife. When I said mind is like a volatile memory and heart is a permanent memory, it is very much true i.e., upon death what was there in mind is lost but what was stored on the heart is carried further by the soul in the next life.

If what you saying is correct, then we should do something when we are alive. Isn't it?

Yes. If we don't wish to become slave of impressions settled on the heart one should adopt such means that would make us free of its effect. By whatever means, when we manage to free ourselves of all impressions, we truly become free of our past. That's what a liberation is. Our mind becomes clean and heart become pure; and it starts guiding the mind without any prejudices. And we are able to gain ability to think and behave right.

Thanks. Now, I understand working of mind, heart and its relationship.

What do you think? Do leave your comments.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Live simply - how & why to live a simple life

At my office, in my room I've put up a small paper saying this:

----------------------------------------------
Five simple rules to be Happy forever
Free your heart from hatred
Free your mind from worries
Live simply
Give more
Expect less
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How to do this naturally?
 Meditate
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When people are happy they don't know about it. It's only when something happens which makes them unhappy that they find out that they were happy. Isn't it a curse on humanity?

Any way, today I wish to write about Live simply. Obviously I should not write complicated and long essay on how and why to live a simple life.

With the advent of industrialized world, life has become complicated and fast. If we wish to retain sanity and be happy then its time to simplify life.

How?

Few suggestions:

1. Learn to love what you are; and use what you already have.
God made man in his own image; and still every person is different from his fellow brothers. There is a reason for that. Before taking birth each person has decided where he will be born, how he will be and what he will do. So, be contented with what you are and effectively use what you have already got. Don't think of taking short cuts. Acceptance is a great virtue.

Does it mean I should not look forward to or try anything in life? That seems to a derogatory idea.

2. Focus on becoming something rather than having things. 
One should aspire but not to have ambition. Learning a skill e.g, cooking, writing, painting; develop human qualities e.g., sympathy, ability to listen; rather than having a house, beautiful wife, strong body.

What's wrong with a rented house, average looking wife and reasonably healthy body? After all, we are here only for a brief period of say 60 to 70 years; half of which is wasted in growing up and following unnecessary pursuits.

3. Focus on fulfilling needs adequately. Reduce wants.
When one does what he likes and interested in, automatically things he needs comes. Needs are legitimate. Wants are our own creation. If we are able to discriminate and find out what we really need to live, our life becomes simpler.

4. Use technology to the bare minimum. 
Modern day conveniences offered by technology makes us dependent because once we become used to it we can't live without it. Also, lot of time, energy and money is wasted in acquiring and learning to use this technological innovations. Instead, once we start using our own inbuilt abilities i.e., start using our mind (to say remember phone numbers or storing our ideas); start using our hands/legs (to walk, play outdoor games); and adapt our body to withstand cold/heat; we become strong because our mind and body remains in use - by going through resistance training.

5. Learn to listen and follow your heart.
Even science has found that heart has neurons! It has ability to think; and we have forgotten to think i.e., we have stopped using our mind to think! Isn't it ridiculous? We have to regain this ability to think, first with mind and then with the heart. We have become too much slave of the past and its effects. If we wish to have a future that is different and better than what it is today then it is very important to learn to think and that too using our heart. How to do this? Learn to meditate. Learn to meditate on the heart and take help, if needed.

What to you say?