Saturday, November 03, 2012

Plastic Ban in India - Gaining momentum !

In the last few months, plastic ban in India is gaining momentum. Government has taken a number of measures to promote environment awareness and friendliness among people.

I visited Vandulur Zoo after nearly 3 years. I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed that the government was strictly enforcing Plastic Ban in Vandalur Zoo. The officials had setup a booth at the entrance of the park. All the visitor's bags are checked and their plastic covers/bags are taken out and trashed. Visitors were not allowed to carry plastic bags inside. You cannot even carry a unopened biscuit pack. They provide you with newspapers (free of cost) and cloth bags (for Rs.5 I guess!). You have to remove the wrappers of the biscuit pack and use newspapers to pack them. If you are carrying a plastic bag, you've to switch to a cloth bag. I'm sure this exercise will improve the awareness of plastic ban among our citizens. In addition, this exercise will also educate them about the harmful effects of using plastic in a zoo (including the death of rare/precious wild animals).

(Also read: Vandalur Zoo - Infrastructure is world class but people's behavior is still local class)

In addition, the government has setup a number of warning signs inside the Vandalur Zoo that educate the users about the plastic ban.

Despite all of the hard (& smart) work of our officials, I noticed some plastic covers/bottles inside the Vandalur Zoo. The restaurants set up inside the park sell snacks/cool drinks in plastic bags/containers, respectively. Our people just throw the plastic bags/containers on the road, after use - though there were a number of trash cans, dustbins available inside the park.

(Also read: 15 things that I liked about Vandalur Zoo)

Plastic ban is quite visible in our day to day life also.

  • Chennai Metro is experimenting source segregation of wastes. You can separate plastics from other wastes and they'll be collected separately by the person who picks-up your trash.
  • Shops are banned from using "low quality" plastic bags which cannot be recycled  Several premium shops have switched over to "cloth" bags. 
  • Customers are encouraged to bring bags from their home. This will help in either re-using existing plastic bags/containers or in promoting the use of cloth bags. 
  • Customers have to pay the shop to get a plastic bag. It is not free of cost anymore.

Personally, I have done my best to bring down the use of plastic in our home. In fact, we started doing all of these things several years ago ! I told my parents that the use of plastic will result in "Cancer". That is the easiest way for me to enforce plastic ban at home :)

(Also read: A ban on spitting in public places - who enforces it?)

We did the following simple things:

  • Switched from plastic water containers to a stainless steel water storage dispenser
  • Installed a water purifying system at home, instead of buying can water
  • Stopped using plastic plates, cups and bowls. Switched to glass or stainless steel utensils
  • Switched from plastic water bottles to aluminium / stainless steel water bottles
  • To the extent possible, we try to re-use/recycle plastic bags. We carry cloth bags to shops

Minimizing the use of plastic will not only help in saving the environment, but also helps in keeping the city clean. Whenever you go outside of your house, you can see lots of plastic bags/containers floating in the air and in the streets. When you get rid of plastics, you can also maintain a clean environment.

(Also read: If I don't care, who'll care)

My BIG THUMBS UP for plastic ban !

Friday, November 02, 2012

Vandalur Zoo - Infrastructure is world class but people's behavior is still local class

I visited Vandalur Zoo last week with my family. Vandalur Zoo is one of the BEST and well maintained zoological parks that I've seen in the WORLD. Our Tamilnadu government has done a fantastic job of keeping the place clean. I had several interesting experiences and observations during my recent visit and I thought I would share it with others.

(Also read: 15 things that I liked about Vandalur Zoo

We spent the entire day going around the zoo and having fun. In the evening, we visited the children's park in Vandalur Zoo. There were a number of play structures for kids - including swings, monkey bars, sliding structures, horizontal merry-go-rounds, and climbing structures. Kids were having lots of fun. While kids living in USA get access to these kind of structures almost in every street, good public play areas for kids is still not a common thing in India. You can see them only in newly built private communities. Government has been trying best to improve the conditions of existing parks and some of the parks are maintained really well.

While I was admiring the well maintained play structures at Vandalur zoo  I was shocked to see certain things happening inside the park. I saw a number of adults / youngsters playing on the play structures that were meant for kid. when I see someone doing harm to government properties, my adrenalin gushes; my nerves bulge (people who have watched the Tamil movie Ratchagan can understand what I'm talking about).

I made an effort to tell the adults who were using the play structures, to stop using them. Almost everybody listened to me and nobody "protested". However, I did get some interesting responses/remarks from some of them:

  • "I have seen a number of adults using these structures and nobody stopped them at that time. When I start to play on these structures, you are complaining"
  • "If I stop playing on these structures, will the people who are going to come tomorrow won't do the same thing?"
  • "Ask government to build some play structures for adults too"
  • "No kid is using this swing right now and hence, I'm using it"

(Also read: Skywalks in train stations - what are they for?)

Thankfully enough, I didn't get the usual responses that I've gotten in other parks (where I've tried to do the same thing!). They are:

  • "Who are you to ask?!"
  • "I'm also paying tax like you. I have EQUAL RIGHTS"
  • "There is no sign board that says - adults should not use these play structures"
  • "Where is the sign board that says - only kids should use these play structures"

There were a group of youngsters (college students!) who are trying to use the swings. I told them the reasons why adults shouldn't be playing with the play structures:

  • Government has spent lots of money in building this play area. However, they don't allocate enough funds to maintain them. Once broken, it will take a number of weeks and even months for government to fix them
  • We keep complaining that "Government does not create good infrastructure" for us. However, when they do create good infrastructure for us, we don't use them wisely
  • The play structures are meant for kids. They aren't sturdy enough for adults to use. If the swing lasts for a few 1000 swings if a kid uses it, it will last only for a few 100 swings if adults use it
  • It is OUR responsibility to maintain the structures well. Government cannot supervise each and every thing.

(Also read: A ban on spitting in public places - who enforces it?)

In fact, I encouraged all of them to STOP other adults who may be using the structures. The guys nodded their heads and I thought they won't use it again.

A few minutes later, I left the kids play area. I noticed that the youngsters started using the swings immediately after I left.

The first thing that came to my mind was - "Oh! My God?! How am I going to persuade these youngsters". This time, my adrenalin gush brought me anger. I ran to the park and on seeing me coming, the guys got out of the swings. I asked, "Will you follow the instructions only when you are given a SLAP on your face. Didn't I patiently explain to you why we shouldn't be using the swings meant for kids. Can't you understand? I really don't know how I can explain this to you guys. Do let me know if there are better ways by which I can persuade you. See... I cannot police this 24x7. You guys are future citizens of India. You are the Government. If you guys are not taking care of this in a responsible way, who else will do it?". They said, "We are very sorry Sir! We won't do it again".

I'm not sure whether those guys kept the promise or not. But, one thing kept ringing in my ears for the whole evening "You cannot maintain a world class facility if people continue to behave like local class".

I think our government should consider placing "clear sign boards" that warn adults from using kids' play structures. I have seen in other countries, where they have a scale for kids to measure their height. Only if you are within the maximum height limits, you can use the play structures meant for kids. We should consider installing this in places like Vandalur zoo,  Anna Tower Park, and Semmozhi Poonga Park. I have noticed adults/youngsters using the play structures meant for kids in all these places and I have tried my best to stop them. In fact, I complained to the administrative officials in Semmozhi Poong Park and they said "they'll look into it". In the worst case, they should have a watchman there policing the adults who use kids' play structures.

It is so sad to see that our people are not good at maintaining public property well. It will be hard for Government to manage these facilities if citizens do not take ownership. How can you maintain a world class facility if your people continue to behave like local class?

(Also read: A ban on spitting in public places - who enforces it?)

15 things that I liked about Vandalur Zoo

I had taken my family to Vandalur zoo last week. Vandalur Zoo is one of the BEST and well maintained zoological parks that I've seen in the WORLD. Government has done a fantastic job of keeping the place clean.

(Also read: Vandalur Zoo - Infrastructure is world class but people's behavior is still local class)

My previous Visit to Vandalur Zoo was exactly 3 years ago. There were lots of construction activities going on at that time. Now, all those activities are complete. I had several interesting experiences and observations during my recent visit and I thought I would share it with others.

15 things that I liked about Vandalur Zoo are:

  1. Covered structures all over the park, for people to sit 'n relax 
  2. Good drinking water (water taps at several locations in the park)
  3. Restroom facilities that are maintained reasonably well
  4. Safe 'n Secure Lion safari that takes you pretty close to the king of the jungle
  5. Battery cars that help you to take a tour of the 3Km stretch without straining your knees
  6. Bikes (Cycles) for rental 
  7. Clear sign-boards and directions/maps
  8. Restaurants operated by Tamilnadu Tourism department (one near the entrance and the other in the middle of the zoo)
  9. Use of plastics is strictly prohibited (visitors are scanned before letting inside the park)
  10. Kids play area with a number of play structures
  11. Good collection of wild animals (including Lion, Tiger, Giraffe, Zebra, Elephants, Chimpanzee and Deer)
  12. Very spacious and you can have a good family/personal time, despite the thronging crowd
  13. Neatly laid walkways for pedestrians
  14. Well maintained / well preserved greenery
  15. Very affordable costs (Adults: Rs.30 entrance fee, Rs.30 for Lion Safari (optional) and Rs.30 for Battery Car (optional) / Kids: Rs.10 each)
(Also read: Vandalur Zoo - Infrastructure is world class but people's behavior is still local class)

If you are in/around Chennai, I would definitely recommend you to visit Vandalur Zoo. I'm quite sure, you'll like it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Drive through @ McDonalds Velachery - Your burger served in less than 5 minutes

23rd September (Sunday) - I was driving with my friend to Velachery. We were running late for a meeting. We decided to have a quick snack/meal somewhere on the way. We were in the Velachery area, and we saw McDonalds near Velachery MRTS. We decided to stop there and grab a burger to eat on the way. I hardly found any parking lot in front of McDonalds and decided to go to a different restaurant. When we were about to leave the place, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw the "Drive through" sign board.

(Also read: Vandalur Zoo - Infrastructure is world class but people's behavior is local class)

For a moment, I couldn't believe what I saw. This is the first time, I'm seeing a drive through restaurant in Chennai (for that  matter, in India). I decided to check whether it is really true. I drove my car through the "drive through" zone. We saw a menu board outside. We choose to have McVeggie Meal. We placed the order and paid at the first window. We drove to the 2nd window to pick up the order. I thought it is going to be a long wait for them to process the order. In fact, I had my own doubts on whether they know that there is a guy with the car waiting for his order to be served. To my surprise, our order was served in less than 3 minutes.

"Wow!" ... This is the feeling that I got when I used the "drive through" system in India for the first time at McDonalds in Velachery. It saved a lot of time for us and the experience was also very pleasant.

(Also read: Plastic Ban in India - Gaining momentum)

I wish we soon get the "drive through" system in our Saravana Bhavans also :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

1 year as Division Governor (Tamilnadu) for Toastmasters International

Imagine that you are in the beach, admiring the beauty of the sea and enjoying the waves that come to the shore, to drench your feet. Suddenly, you were thrown into the water and that too into the middle of the sea. You don't know how to swim. You are beginning to sink. The fear of death urges you to flap your hands and legs very fast. You notice that you are starting to come to the top of the water. Within moments, you realize that you are beginning to float. You try harder and start flapping your hands and legs faster, with a little focus. You realize that you are able to swim. You begin to advance to the shore with every wave that pops up from the middle of the sea. In no time, you come to the shore. Wow! That is unbelievable. There was a bigger surprise waiting for you at the shore. You see an army of people gathered at the shore, cheering you ... and congratulating you for the record that you've set in crossing the sea. This is exactly what happened in the last 1 year.

I was not thrown into the waters. But, I took up a major leadership role in Toastmasters International. I was literally thrown into the role and I learned to live as a leader of a large organization. I enjoyed everybit of the role. A role that taught me several leadership lessons, which ... even my MBA degree didn't teach. I served as the Division G Governor for all the toastmasters clubs in Tamilnadu from July 2011 to June 2012.

Looking back, I couldn't believe what I accomplished, together with my team of toastmasters, in the last 1 year. The following are some highlights of my term as the Division Governor of the toastmasters clubs in Tamilnadu:

  1. Division G was the best performing division in the whole of District 82 (which includes all the clubs in South India and Srilanka)
  2. We grew the number of clubs in Tamilnadu from just 21 to 35 (60% growth in a year)
  3. We increased the membership from nearly 600 toastmasters to 900+ toastmasters (50% growth in a year)
  4. We started a Gavel's club in Sri Sankara Senior Secondary School (for toastmasters under age 18)
  5. We conducted 2 Youth Leadership Programs (YLP) for training young students in school on communication & leadership
  6. We conducted 2 division conferences which was attended by record number of 275 toastmasters
  7. We created a 650+ members strong Facebook community for Tamilnadu toastmasters
  8. 7 out of the top 10 clubs in District 82 are from Tamilnadu (based on educational awards/membership)
  9. 25% of the educational awards in District 82 were produced by Division G (District 82 had 9 different divisions)
  10. We set new records in membership, educational awards, and new clubs creation thereby achieving the #1 status in the whole of District 82

Now you can imagine what I was doing during my weekends and at times, during my weekday evenings. When somebody says, "I don't have time, it means that they haven't prioritized a particular activity. They might've had time, but they would've used it for something else". I wasn't able to write even a single blog post in the last 1 year, because I didn't have time :) I was spending most of my spare time for toastmasters activities.

I got a unique opportunity to meet 1000s of people and deliver speeches in front of audience of varying sizes / age groups. The skills that I developed in a year couldn't be acquired even if I spend a million dollar in academic institutions. Thanks to Toastmasters International for offering me a platform to develop my skills and thanks to my fellow toastmasters for helping me in my leadership journey.

Now, I'm back to my good old days, doing my good old favorite activity - blogging ! You can expect to see regular blog posts from me on subjects related to R2I and my experience in India.