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Inspiring story of Abdul Kareem restoring nature’s delicate balance
Dear Shekhar,

This article found in “” may be of interest to you and the readers.

Since 1986, P Abdul Kareem lives inside a 32-acre forest, which is host to hundreds of bee-hives, snake pits and nests. Point out any wild tree to him and he comes out with its local and botanical name instantly. Of course, it’s not something one needs to be surprised about. For, Kareem is not just the owner of the forest but also its creator.

Kerala’s Forest Research Institute sends scientists to study the trees planted by him and the state’s textbook committee has introduced a chapter on this ‘man-made forest’ in the sixth standard textbook. Agricultural scientist, M S Swaminathan, who once stopped by, has been a frequent visitor ever since. And Kareem was one of the 20 persons honoured in 2009 by Limca Book of Records as “People of the Year”.

In 2005, Indian Oil Corporation released a full-page newspaper ad in its ‘India Inspired’ series, extolling Kareem’s efforts, and followed it up by gifting him a fuel station to sustain his conservation efforts. However, behind Kareem’s success lies a strong will and years of hard work, propelled by a dream. When Kareem first set his eyes on the lateritic hillside during his weekend getaways at his wife’s house in Puliyankulam, the entire stretch was barren. In 1977, he bought five acres of land with an almost non-functional well for Rs 3,750.

Next year, he planted mature saplings of wild trees, but all of them withered soon. The second attempt too was unsuccessful. However, in the third attempt, several saplings survived and started growing. In those days, Kareem used to fetch water in cans on his motorbike from a source a kilometre away – several times a day. He cared for passing birds too. He put small water-filled pots around the land to attract them. They brought in more diversity to his land, discharging varied seeds through droppings.

He planted 800 species of forest trees and 300 medicinal plants. He has never weeded his land, never cut a tree, never swept or set on fire the leaves ever since. “The most important revelation for me was the impact of humus on the hard rock. The fallen leaves form a thick layer on the rocky surface and get decomposed over the years. This accelerated the disintegration of laterite into small gravel and slowly to fine soil which in turn helps seeds spread by the insects and birds to grow roots and germinate,” he says. He kept away all fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. He dug rainwater catch pits and raised walls with boulders across the slopes in order to capture soil carried by run-off water.

Soon, the ground water rose to a comfortable level. He stepped up his efforts. Weeds grew amidst the rare herbs and medicinal plants – many not chosen by Kareem. In 1982, he bought another 27 acres of rocky land and today, “you dig five metres and you’ll get water here,” says Kareem.

With hare, fowl and other small game appearing in the forests and sack-sized beehives emerging, Kareem built his house inside the forest in 1986. From a tank in the forest, he can now pump 100,000 litres at one go and the level will bounce back in a few minutes. Today, Kareem supplies drinking water to the 100-odd families from the two wells and four ponds in his forest, situated in Puliyankulam.


Ads we don’t buy. Our health and self esteem is important to us !

A few days ago I started a hashtag on my twitter account  shekharkapur@twitter.  It was #adswedontbuy.  I was basically pointing out :

a. Cola’s that are draining India’s ground water to bottle and sell the water either as fizzy drinks or as bottled water. In the process farmers, to whom the ground water resources have traditionally belonged, have found their farms, and so themselves starved of water.  Communities have been destroyed. Farmers have had to give up farming to become laborers on stone crushing quarries.  Farms are sold. And farm produce goes down.

b. Packaged foods targeted at kids that contains chemicals that are bad for growth, transfats that can cause diabetes. And salt content so high that it is sure to cause you high blood pressure. India has now the highest rising incidence of juvenile diabetes. Doctors are throwing out alarming statistics on the number of kids developing diabetes at such a young age. And they are putting the blame squarely on high sugar content of fizzy drinks and colas, and high salt and transfats content on packaged foods like chips etc for kids.

Everyone knows my concerns about water issues and how we are running out of the worlds most precious resource.  But as a parent too,  I fight a running battle to stop  irresponsible advertising influencing my 11 year old daughter. As every parent does. On issues of eating high transfat/sugar/salt content food. I want her to grow up to be a healthy and happy person. Like every parent does.

So I did a hashtag on #adswedontbuy. What happened was amazing. Within an hour it was no 1 trending topic in India and stayed there for 24 hours. Concerned people came out in millions and blasted the ads. At the top was ads designed to make you lose your self worth. Like Skin fairness creams that said you could not get a job if you were not fair, or get married if you were not fair.  A close second were food ads that targeted kids.

I have no issue with commercials. In fact I have long held that some of the most creative work and edgy film making was done in commercials, especially in Europe. I have no issue with advertising. But I do feel that advertising in India needs to get a lot more responsible.

I was targeted by the Media. I was targeted by my friends, actors, film makers, senior executives Advertising firms and Brand Managers.  But I said why are they not looking at the millions of people telling them that they were upset by their ads ?  Why not ?

It then struck me !  These millions were mostly urban and those that had access to twitter. They were not the real target.

The long term  target is not urban but  the rural areas. Where the soft focus glamor commercials , or star driven commercials are hugely aspirational.  If Sharukh Khan uses skin fairness cream as a weapon of success, then surely (they think) there must be some value to that ?

Rural India is the real target. Thats the mass consumption every brand is going for.  Potentially creating a population of young people that are diabetic and diseased at a very early age, and that lack self worth because of their skin color (for no skin fairness cream lasts a long time)

And what is the Government doing as they stand by and watch big brands effecting the psyche and health of our people ? And what are the stars and cricketers doing joining in this mass exploitation ?

TV is controlled by advertising. Advertising is controlled by big brands. Many of which are targeting the health and self esteem of our kids for their profit.

Thank God for Social Media. At least we can have a common voice and have concerted action by refusing to allow our kids or friends participating in those brands.


Is Social Media making Nations Sates irrelevant ? The rise of Blogistan


A female American Soldier’s letter from Afghanistan who was in Kandahar when Robert Bales killed 19 innocent civilians.

Written in response to my blog on the killings by Sgt Robert Bales and whether Afghan lives are less important than Western ones. She was in Kandahar at that time and took care of the those wounded by Sgt Robert  Bales.  Please read as there is pain, patriotism, understanding compassion  and questioning in this letter , and written from the heart in the middle of the battlefield, which is why I  am putting it up as a blog :

“The writers ( thats me) point was made very clear- and received.

As a female solider- I have another question for you-

I did take care of the wounded that survived that awful day near Kandahar (my note: when Robert Bales went on a killing spree) – but also just this week I took care of a multiple wounded from an Afghan boy about 12 years old that walked into a military collation formation with a suicide vest on and detonated himself…
What was is name? Does anyone know?  No I do not- but where is the media of that coverage of carnage over here, near Kandahar? Or in the States. I see many Afghan wounded ANA, ANP that we take care of- and no mention of our medical service- we did not shoot them- they were shot by their Afghan brothers. Again where is that in the media?

How did that boy mentioned above get that suicide vest?  If it wasn’t from an adult Afghan male to serve a purpose? Death is never justified.  Definitely not to use the innocent as an explosive device.

Media will always be one sided… but understand- there are plenty of Americans being killed- from trusting their “afghan counterparts” and the children that we try to teach and give supplies to- where is that story? I spent a year up North embedded with the Afghans as well prior to this deployment- I have had to put my trust in them as I worked with them- solider to solider- but even their lives were threatened for wanting us to help them.

No life is better than the other- just different. Many Americans have been beheaded and placed on display on Al Jazeera TV as justified killings- no one side is perfect or with out blame in this war.”


The Great ‘Who Me ?’ Dancing Master.

Early every morning all the Jungle would wake up to the distant wail

‘whooooooooo meeeeeeee ? ‘whooooooo meeeee’ ?

It was time for the great dance to begin. The wind would whip up to the call of “Whooooooo Meeeeee” and the trees would begin to sway to the opening rhythms of the  thundering tapping of the animals on the ground, to the chattering of the monkeys, the twittering of the birds and the rustling of the leaves. Then as the sun’s rays would emerge from behind the great mountain, it was time to stop the dance. And yet a great wail would come from somewhere in the mountain

“Whoooooooo Meeeeeeeeeee ? Whoooooooooo Meeeeeeeeeeee ?

It was then time for the creatures to go about their daily business. The earthworms that were out all night would see this call as the time to scurry home and burrow into safety, as this was just the time the birds would wake up hungry, and even the little sparrows would look for a delicious breakfast of a slower than normal baby worm. Animals would go around searching for food, mothers would protect and feed their babies, young baboons would show off and fight over pretty young things showing more of their red parts than they ought to, often admonished by their mother’s saying ‘ stand up straight, you little hussy !’

As the afternoon set in came the ‘happy hour’, where the animals would joyfully go to the great Watering Hole. The centre of gossip where no animals were allowed to kill each other, but just drink the cool water and trade gossip. The monkeys were the greatest gossips of all, followed closely by the twitterati of the Robins and other birds. They would tell stories to each other, but non was more hotly debated than the the story of the Great ‘Who – Me’ Master.

It is said that The Who-Me? Master was once the greatest of all Dancing Masters. It was said that He was the most beautiful of all creatures. A Pelican radiating with the brilliance of every possible color. It is said that when The Great Master would dance, his wings would spread out as if an embrace of nature itself. A dance worthy of worship. After all the Great Dance between the animals, the birds and the trees and the wind was what kept Nature in balance. It’s what kept the Jungle alive.

The jungle needed a Dancing Master. The great teacher. For  how else would the animals teach their young that the The Great Dance was what kept the Jungle going and growing?  Without the great dance the winter would not turn into summer. The great migratory birds would not arrive with their fresh gossip from other lands. The young female baboons would not feel the urge to love and elope with the young strutty male. The summer would not turn into spring. The joy of a new leaf replacing one that fell in autumn would turn to grief rather than a celebration.

And yet since the “The Great Who Me Master’ went, the whole jungle was no longer dancing in unison. There was disharmony creeping in as the young un’s would not find an inspiration, someone to follow to dance. And without the great dance, the jungle would wither away.

The Master was once merely called just ” The Dancing Master”. But one day the Master forgot how to dance. No one knew why. Least of all The Great Dancing Master himself. Tried as he might, he did not, could not , get one step in harmony with another. He lost his smile , his radiance, and looked around and said

” If I cannot dance, then Who Me ?”

The black twaterring Monkeys with their spidery claws and quick staccato speech caught in an alphabet of 140 letters revelled in it. For they were the only creatures that did not dance. They did not nurture the forest. They were the scavengers. They stole the eggs of the young mothers and would watch with glee at her agony. They plucked the little saplings that even hungry baby birds knew to leave alone. For without nurturing birth the cycle of life and nature would cease. The Great Dance would come to an end. They were bad. And they did worse. They got the the Great Master addicted to their wicked brew. What they themselves survived on.

And so, gradually the Great Master lost everything. Filled with the poison brew. Flopping around in his once beautiful Pelican Body, he forgot who he was, what his purpose on Earth was. So all he would do is moan all day and night ‘ Who Me’ ?

Finally one day, The Great Master just disappeared. and no one ever saw him again. Yet every morning and every night before the jungle went to sleep, there was this great moan that spread from the mountain, across the red sky , through the shivering fearful leaves ..

Whooooooooooooo Meeeeeeeee ?

Are Afghan lives less important than Sgt Robert Bales ?

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales faces murder charges in the US, defended by a famous US attorney who promises to humanize Bale’s crimes. I am assuming that means ‘Diminished Responsibility’ due to combat stress as he had been to combat zones 4 times.  I guess there will never be any questions of the responsibility of the US Military in sending a proven alcoholic and and prone to excessive violence,  armed  with deadly weapons to go shoot at innocent Afgani’s in their own land.

President Karzai and the people of Afghanistan are right. Bales should have been tried in Afghanistan as the crime was committed against innocent non military Afghani citizens on Afghan soil. He is not protected by the Geneva Convention as the US has not declared war against Afghanistan. Instead Bales was immediately whisked away to the US before anyone could raise the issue.  Here’s what happened.

In the early hours of the morning darkness, a fully armed Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 38, walked out of his protected US barracks alone and into two villages near Kandahar in Afghanistan.  He tried to open the doors of houses there, and then found two or more houses unlocked.  He had not met any of the families sleeping quitely in their homes.  He did not know them except as ‘the Afghan enemy’.  Then he did something unfathomable. He pulled out his rifle and started shooting directly at the sleeping families. Indiscriminately would be the wrong word.  For he aimed directly at them.  Men women and children.

When he had expended himself (or perhaps his bullets),  he poured inflammable liquid over the dead bodies riffled with bullets and left only charred unrecognizable corpses behind. He then quitely walked away and back into the US barracks.  An act in retaliation for some kind of bizzare inexplicable revenge that called back memories of the US soldiers that decimated the population of a whole village in My Lai in Vietnam.

Robert Bales had snuffed out 16 lives. Amongst them 9 children. And we don’t even know how many more are still fighting for their lives, or seriously injured.  They are Afghan after all, and therefore lives less valuable than Americans or other Nato troops. We will never know whether some of the victims woke up.  Never know whether some mothers were ruthlessly shot while trying to protect their little children, or whether the children were screaming or still dreaming.

We will never known because they were Afghan. Lives less important.

What went through Robert Bale’s mind as he walked back ?  Remorse ?  Does not seem like it.  Apparently he was completely calm. What did he think of the Afghan people. The enemy ? Sleeping children were the enemy ? What was he taught about a culture that President Obama repeats again and again. That his troops are there to protect. This one act lends a lie to those empty words.

The name of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales resounds in every media report, every paper all over the world.  Can anyone name one Afghan child that died ? Lives less important ?

Flown back to the US to reprisals from the Afghan people to be given a ‘fair’ trail, with a famous lawyer defending his case. He is not being treated as terrorist.  He is not being put in a ‘torture prison’ as an Aghan would have been had he committed the same act against the US forces in Afghanistan.

I completely accept that Bales snapped.  He was under combat stress.  Most troops are, its the nature of war.  This was his second tour of duty.  He had been drinking. He probably had a few bad conversations with his wife (don’t we all ?).  He saw his friend’s leg blow up earlier sometime. But what do you do to relieve that stress.  Kill sleeping innocent children ? No you don’t.

Not unless you have a genuine contempt for the very people you are there to protect. For they are lives less less important.

Lets consider a 38 year old Afghan man. Born in the same year as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales

He was born when the Mujahedeen, supported  by Pakistan, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US intensified their fighting against the Soviets , led by Babrak Karmal. He grew up in a country torn by war and strife, and probably saw more death and carnage as a child than we see on TV all our lives. Born in country engulfed by  a proxy war being fought on behalf of  foreign powers.

By the time he was seven years, half of the Afghan population had been internally displaced or become refugees in Iran or Pakistan. He probably lost more of his family and community to the war than we can care to remember in our life times. By the time he was 10, when most of us were struggling with Maths in school, he probably had to pick up a gun and fight for one side or the other if he wanted to eat.

By the time he was in his 20’s the US and Britain had launched a reprisals often amounting to war against the people of Afghanistan in the supposed search for Osama Bin Laden. I call it a war against the people of Afghanistan because the number of civilian casualties just rises everyday. Each day till today has been uncertain for him. And for his family if he has any left.  Each day there would have been just be one prayer.  God, please let my family be alive tomorrow.  Please let us have some food to eat tomorrow. Everyday, for 38 years of his life.

I call that extreme combat stress.

Yet if this unnamed Afghan man was to pick up a gun and do to the US troops what Staff Sergeant Robert Bates did to the Afghans, there would be no excuse. No trial. No understanding of the complexities of mental imbalance. No high powered lawyer to fight his case. He would have been riddled with bullets or thrown into the worst prison under extreme torture.

And he would not have a name.  For his would be a life less important.

President Obama has rightly taken a personal stand over the killing of 17 year old African American teenager Trayvon Martin shot dead by a white vigilante. Media all over the world knows Trayvon’s name. Can President Obama take personal responsibility for the 9 Afghan kids shot dead while sleeping in their mothers arms and then charred to death? Can any media in the planet even mention the name of one of them ?

Of course not. They are not Western. They are expendable Afghan’s. Nameless statistics.

Life less important





Why would you want to be merely you?

A looked at my teacher, the tree,  outside my window and it said to me :

You have travelled and listened to the wise ones. Have worshipped with them. Loved them.  Been their best friends. Have seen compassion, yes. But also Ego.

Ego is fear. Fear of loss of individuality. Who am I in this world that surrounds me ? The answer is is there if you look carefully at the world that surrounds you, Without prejudice. Without memory.  Just look and observe and you will see you are nothing but an inherent part of all creation. Perhaps an incredibly essential part of creation but no more essential than a leaf that fell from my branch. You are Nature itself. Just because you have mobility and imagination does not make you individual.  The wind that passes by me has greater mobility and imagination that you could imagine through your imagined prejudices.
Your imagination is a gift to revel in the true meaning of existence. But you use it to define and so confine yourself.
You are both God and the servant of God. You are everything that was ever created and everything that was destroyed. You are also everything that will be created and destroyed.
Here and now you are everything. Then why would would you want to be merely you ?
Sit still like me and you will observe. Feel my 1000 leaves rustle in the wind and you will know.
Did Strindberg denounce Miss Julie’s actions himself ? How is Miss Julie relavant to India today ?

Has the west finally achieved the egalitarian society it boasts about? Does the class and gender war only exist in Asia and Africa? In that context, is a 19th century Swedish play, relevant to 21st century India?

 Social preoccupations and prejudices find a place in August Strindberg’s most popular play, Miss Julie. The daughter of a count, living in a morally upright society,  has an affair with one of her servants. I wonder how many of us Indian women would be able to stomach a one night stand with the khansama and then face the family squarely, the following morning? Bizarre….certainly. Possible? Eminently. And we are not talking khap panchayats here. It goes way beyond. Which is why it becomes all the more important to stage plays like Miss Julie, which force us to introspect and come face to face with our own insecurities and hypocrisy.


–Sohaila Kapur, theatre director.


95 yr old artist defines passion creativity life and defies age

My encounter with Robert Amft, the 95 year old American artist : by Horst Vollman.

As I rang the doorbell to Robert Amft’s home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on a sunny January afternoon in 2012, I knew that I was about to meet an American icon, an artist whose versatility is unmatched in the art world. Amft, at the age of 95, still produces art to please  himself, first and foremost.

I was cautioned that Robert Amft was wheelchair-bound, with little energy to spare, not to ask too many questions and to keep my exuberance in check. Thus, I entered the room with the hesitation of one who expected to find an ailing man in whose presence words had to be spoken tentatively. His firm, even strong handshake quickly dispelled any such notion. His eyes seemed to belong to a man half his age, his voice had a firmness that belied his 95 years. When, after a while I worked up the courage to ask him personal questions I wanted to know whether his continued painting at this age was a yearning to express unfulfilled dreams. He looked at me the way an errant child is to be taken to task. “Painting is my life” he explained softly,

“sometimes in my dreams I paint and when I wake up I actually want to walk to my easel, forgetting that I need a wheel chair.” There was a pensive smile on his face when he said it. “Honestly, the fact that I still paint has nothing to do with regrets or unfulfilled dreams. Quite the contrary, most of my dreams have come true. Look at this easel. When I sit there I feel happy, no thoughts intrude. Something inside me happens that is hard to explain but let me try it anyway.” Haltingly first, then increasingly firm, he began to open up. “My life is about colors, light and compositions, about brush strokes, charcoal sketches, about a canvas I want to cover with something that only at that very moment develops. I never know in advance what it is going to be but I am always surprised again about the outcome. I don’t analyze, never did. When I paint, everything flows, I forget who I am, age and time lose all meaning. I become part of the process. I would almost push it further and say, I am the process.”

He paused and his look became nearly wistful as though my question had touched a special chord. “I once read that the painter uses the canvas as a battlefield for unresolved emotions where every brushstroke is a Freudian slip. My goodness, the art world reads too much into us. At the end of the day artists are just ordinary people with a talent to paint. When I look at a canvas I don’t see the outside world. At these moments I feel happy, yes, just simply happy. The outcome is not what matters. When I am in that state it is of no consequence to me if my work is liked or rejected.”


And God said Let there be light .. fibre optic light

And then God said there be light ..

….fibre optic light

The world now changes at the Speed of Chaos . The changes are non-linear. The year before is not a portend of the trends in the current year. Yet we are caught in an addiction to linear analysis. Why ? Because once the trends were controlled by the very people in a position of linear power to control them. The linear structure of  control over information and ideas was also the way the world was kept linear.

It seemed till just yesterday that  power of the ‘Gatekeepers’ was supreme, whether in Government, Politics, Entertainment etc.  The Power of Linearity.

Suddenly the power has shifted to circularity where information is democratic and opinion polls are no longer the ‘gatekept’ preserve of ‘information or news controllers’. People talk and communicate amongst themselves. At unimaginable speeds. At unimaginable distances. In unimaginable quantities. Where ideas are born and die even before you can catch them. Where only ideas that truly catch the imagination of the people, the heart of the people, the fundamental needs and desires of the people come forth and turn from a slight wave in the ocean to a tsunami,

And before you are aware of it, before you can catch it, the tsunami is a revolution.

Like the Arab Spring.

We have a word for it in Hindu Mythology. Manthan. The Great Churning. Even though it referred to (some say) to the formations and continuing play of the Universe, The Milky Way, the facilitation of of sharing of massive amounts of information and ‘thought processes’ expressed on massive platforms, give rise to new galaxies of events that are completely non linear, chaotic and ….

…express the true and ultimate meaning of democracy…. a continuing democracy, fluid and completely transparent in its expression,

Scary ? Of course. Chaos to our linear minds is scary. Change and the unknown is scary.  But do we have a choice?

The battle will now be between linearity and chaos. The gatekeepers and most of us will fight for a semblance of linearity for that is how we understand the world.  While those that have nothing lose in the constructed oppression of linearity , will revel in hitting back at any linear system through the  chaos of circularity.

What will happen in the future ?

Facebook too, addicted as it is now to linearity, through old world paradigm like transactions with its 100b $ ivaluation, has shifted from circularity and chaos to linearity and gatekeeping.  So the battle is also happening within the internet world too.  But Facebook understands the only option it has is to keep expanding, or the great Manthan will swallow  its individuality and regurgitate it and throw it out in forms yet unknown to itself.  Or It will, like our Sun, expand to a point where its collapses under its own gravity,  gobbled by by another expanding Star – another tsunami idea.

The Universe is the best analogy to the Internet. If we understand that passage of time is a mere perception . History is chaotic, sudden, unpredictable and ever changing. Yet at the points of history in the old world we perceived a linearity which became our reality and even an addiction. Now Internet has made that change observable, constant, touchable and perceptible. Almost instant.  Like observing the seed turn into a flower in speeded up motion.  And the death of the same flower in seconds.

Lets forgive ourselves for sitting back for a few moments and go ‘Phew !’  But then move forward with a new sense of democratic adventure, a step in the unknown, trusting that in the chaos of the Manthan, in the colliding of galaxy’s there is purpose..

And my quest, along with others, is that in this great Manthan, the ultimate events that occur are for the good of society. That ultimately in the balance between the good and the bad, the hate and the compassion, the Asuras and the Devas, the good and compassionate will emerge.

Quite honestly ? Everything points to that. It seems that we will do better without the gatekeepers controlling our lives for their own benefit,