Take the Time to Look at the Squirrels

I had the good fortune to work for two decades at Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad. Apart from the work and the work environment, the campus itself was a boon. 14 acres of both ‘groomed’ and ‘wild’ spaces. A variety of trees, undergrowth, lawns, water-body and the attendant birds, snakes, small mammals, rodents, butterflies, etc. etc.
IMG_20181217_114832We were an earnest and idealistic bunch. We had the benefit of mentoring by some of the wisest of people. One of them was Dr.PR Pisharoty, Father of Indian Meteorology and Remote Sensing. On one of his visits in the early days, he listened to all of us presenting our work and holding forth. With a gentle twinkle in his eyes, he told us: ‘You are all doing wonderful work. But I hope you don’t forget to take time off to look at the squirrels.’

We took that lesson to heart. Being immersed in nature at the workplace is a luxury few have today. But I think, looking back, that this made a difference to our work, our interactions and us as people and an organization. Being ‘distracted’ by a bird call in the middle of a meeting and the whole group rushing to look through the window or refer to ‘the Book’ (Salim Ali of course), broke up many a tension. Waiting for a monitor lizard to amble across the path as one rushed from one dept. to another was a good way to get a sense of ‘Nothing is that urgent. They have survived without rushing for millennia’. When ideas dried up, gazing out of the window at the squirrels chasing each other usually did the trick and the brain got unclogged. Feeding the fish at lunch brought people from unconnected work spaces together.

Did the campus make us more creative? More strongly bonded as teams? More lateral-thinking? More empathetic as people? I like to think so!

Business case for green campuses made! After all, today nothing can get approved without a business case! And by green campus, I don’t mean manicured lawns and potted plants. But a bit of wildness and a bit of wildlife!


Illustration credit: CEE

World Meteorology Day: A Tribute to the Father of Indian Meteorology, Dr. P.R Pisharoty

He is the one of whom Sir C.V. Raman said: ‘I would include Mr. Pisharoty in a short-list of the ablest men I have ever had working with. His personal and intellectual qualities are such as to enable him successfully to undertake the highest type of scientific and administrative work.’

Dr. Pisharoty was not just the father of Indian Meteorology, he was a world authority as well. He pushed for the use of Numerical Weather Prediction in India and if today, we have the capacity to do fairly good short, medium and long term weather forecasts, it can be traced back to the foundations he laid.

Dr. Pisharoty was called the ‘Rain Man’ of india—it is he who fully understood the nature of the Indian Monsoon, and it is this understanding which should underpin our thinking on water conservation and management. He pointed out that rains in India are very different in nature to rains anywhere else. India gets 400 million hectare meters of rain annually, with a landmass of 329 million hectares—enough to submerge our land under 1.29 meters of water per year if spread evenly. But there are areas is India with rainfall as low as 200 mm per year and areas with rainfall as high as 11,400 mm per year. Moreover, the rain in India, unlike in Europe, falls within a very short time. There are parts of India where the entire quota of annual rainfall is received in just 100 hours. Hence he pointed out, the critical need for understanding the local patterns, and for proper planning for water management. With such planning and husbanding he maintained, even the lowest rainfall area of the country could have enough drinking water throughout the year.

He was given the responsibility of exploring the use of remote sensing for India, and when he succeeded in using remote sensing to detect coconut root wilt disease in the late 1960s, the foundation for remote sensing was laid in the country.

We, the Millennial Matriarchs, had the privilege of being mentored by Dr. Pisharoty, as a member of the Governing Council of our organization. He must have been over 75 years old when we first met him (he went to office every day till the age of about 85!). We used to be sent to this giant for getting ‘scientific validation’ of the educational material we developed. The enthusiasm he had for each and every project, the wisdom he imparted ever so gently, the Sanskrit slokas he would quote to bring out a point, the patience with which he put up with rooky, cocky youngsters—the memory of it still gives me goose bumps. Dr. Pisharoty was also a member of all our promotion review committees. The twinkle in his eyes would set us at ease and put life in perspective.  I think we were too young and foolish to appreciate how privileged we were.

My deepest regret: Typical of the old school, he wrote and wrote—letters, articles, notes, comments. He once wrote me a note with an alternative interpretation of my name ‘Meenalochani’ in the Dikshiter composition ‘Meenakshi  Me Mudem’. In my various house-moves, I have misplaced it.

And two quotes from Dr. Pisharoty, which I will think on today :

‘The more you write, the better will be your handwriting; and the more you think, the sharper will be your intellect.’

‘Science is our profession as well as our life’s hobby. Government is paying us for our hobby. Amount of money which we get from the Government should not worry us very much; we are being paid for our hobby.’