Black gold

The desire for gold is not for gold. It is for the means of freedom and benefit. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Being a woman, as I am expected to go ga-ga over gold, I chose a different colored one instead. Black gold. No, I don’t have any slick oil deals, but I stick to good old home-made compost. Rana and I were introduced into the world of solid waste

3 tier Kambha (small)

management when we worked with the dedicated teams of Citizen Matters and 2bin1bag. We haven’t stopped talking trash since then. One of the many things we learned in this journey was to keep our wet waste with us. Since we were planning to move homes, I thought of using a guinea pig – my father. He went in for a  home composter, the smallest earthen Kambha set from Daily Dump.

It has been fairly smooth sailing for him. He proudly says that not even a single curry leaf has left his home. The initial bag of remix powder (cocopeat) lasted him for nearly 12 months. In terms of investment, it has been quite minimal, even if you consider INR 140 for a remix bag! This is a system of aerobic composting, where the

Curry leaves and lemons harvested from my father's garden

Curry leaves and lemons harvested from my father’s garden

pots have holes in them, allowing for movement of air. Once you “prepare” a pot – that is, add a layer of newspaper, dry leaves and a few handfuls of remix powder or mature compost- all you need to do is add the wet waste and layer it with remix powder. No stirring required. You can do this ritual every day, or whenever you gather about a few handfuls of wet waste. He keeps his composting unit indoors, so that he doesn’t have to take extra precaution during rains. There is decent ventilation at home, and hence, there is no smell near the Kambha.

While he was midway into this journey, we shifted homes. We were looking for a unit for a four-member household and I thought of going in for


Notice the holes on the sides

two 55 ltr drums from Shudh Labh. This comes with a bottom tray, and the process is similar to Daily Dump’s Kambha, as this is also aerobic. One layer of “greens” (the wet waste) needs to be topped up with a layer of “browns” (microbial cocopeat, in this case). You might ask me, “Hey, but these drums are plastic!” Yes, of course, but this isn’t a single-use disposable. Just imagine, after every use, if I begin to throw these drums!


IMG_20161105_130727This was our first harvest of black gold, the mature compost – its fragrance reminding us of the wet earth after the first rains. We sieved it, because we thenIMG_20161105_133413 began to gift our compost. My mum-in-law says that in her days, she would prepare sweets, or sambar powder, or a special dish to gift her loved ones. Times


Half-done compost tells tales, of who sneaked in groundnuts while nobody was watching

are a-changing, and she now collects idli batter covers to gift compost 😀 The usual practice in any Indian home is to take guests around and show off our place. In our family, we show off our garbage. I mean, we show them all the wet waste that has been sitting around for months.


Mature compost, sieved

But this wasn’t without hiccups. My dad was layering wet waste with compost and saving


My mum-in-law cutting peels, to hasten the composting process.

on money. “Oh, you think I can’t do the same?” said the thought bubble in my head. So, at home, I advised everyone to use a mix of microbial cocopeat and mature compost for the layer of browns. They say, “penny wise pound foolish”, and for a good reason. After one of the drums filled up and we parked it aside for it to


White fungus on top, a sign of healthy compost

mature, it began giving out leachate in the tray below. The tray is there for that reason, but that didn’t necessarily mean we had to ensure it was used! What followed next was an exercise of drying out the half-done compost, adding a lot of extra microbial cocopeat to hold the moisture, and splitting this into two drums. In the process of trying to beat my father’s low spending, I ended up spending more money and time in fixing problems. Of course, we were rich with experience. I now gift free advice, tips and tricks along with home-made compost.

The time had come, again. Do we try a different method? I was still hell bent on cutting


No holes. What are friends for, if you don’t exchange composting bins? 😉

down on cost, you see. I was discussing these with my friends, gathering tips. Just then, my friend, Anjana, said she had moved to leave-it pots by Daily Dump. She offered to let me borrow her Trustbin bins. Now, this is a system of anaerobic composting, where the container doesn’t have any holes. You prepare the bin by adding a handful of jaggery, and place a tray on top of it. Add your wet waste, press it down to remove any extra air, and layer with two tablespoons of bran for every inch of wet waste. After a bin is full, keep it aside for a minimum of two weeks, where the wet waste ferments and gets “pickled”. This, is the first stage of the bokashi method. If you open the bin, you will get a strong, vinegar-like smell. You might take a bit of time getting used to it, but this is probably a point to be wary of, in this method.



Palak in our kitchen garden

In the second stage, you go back to aerobic method. Take out a layer of fermented pickle and add it to the aerobic container. Layer it with an equal quantity of already mature compost. I had a lot of the latter, anyway. So right now, I am using a combination of Trustbin containers for the first stage, with Shudh Labh drums for the second stage. Yup, I layer with mature compost and even then, the


Mum-in-laws green thumb, aided by home-made gobbara

pickle turned to black gold in just about two weeks! That was real quick 😀 I tried the second stage in a Daily Dump leave-it pot as well – the earthen pot absorbed not just the moisture, but also the rather strong smell of the fermented pickle.  Don’t try this combination, though, of using Daily Dump along with Bokashi.

Oh, you must be wondering about the jaggery. It has a role to play.  The anaerobic bin begins to give out a leachate – a liquid which gets generated from the wet waste, in combination with the bran. This liquid is highly nutritious and concentrated. You can harvest this “brew” once every few days. Mix it in a proportion of 1:30 and water your plants with it. Or, use it undiluted to de-clog your drains. I am testing out the brew in our kitchen garden and my father’s garden. Oh yes, our tomato plant is growing way out of control, and I don’t know if we should blame the brew 😉

Our composting journey has been fulfilling, and I must say I am addicted to it. I am proud to say that we keep all our wet waste with us. I prefer the daily dump earthen pots to the plastic drums, because by nature, the earthen pots absorb more moisture. In fact, sometimes they absorb so much moisture that your compost could be dry! In terms of


Lovely, beautiful white fungus in the bokashi unit.

cost and the fact that I am not always around to do firefighting of drum leakages, I would recommend either the Kambha or smaller drums (if you prefer plastic). The khamba is prone to breakage if you walk clumsily and knock it down. At the moment, I am enjoying making the brew and seeing the compost maturing so quickly. I must also add that after we shifted to bokashi, we have not seen any maggots in our compost. Note that maggots are absolutely harmless to humans, and are great for your compost.

If you are planning to get started on your composting journey, don’t think twice. Start right away – check SwachaGraha for more info 🙂 Please feel to ask questions, or share your tips and tricks in the comments section.


Einstein: A Stage Portrait

You must be wondering what Einstein has to do with the theme of our blog, Aranya Parva. The “Man of the Century”, Einstein, also wondered why he had to do anything with the ‘Bomb’! The stage was set, and we watched Albert Einstein in his study.

Saturday are always hectic in Bangalore, because of Rana’s theory (of relativity) – some of the IT folks who use office transport – bless them – own cars and need to use them. So they get the cars out on Saturday and strangle the Bangalore roads. Despite that, Saturdays can be great, like the one that just went by. We reached St. Joseph’s College auditorium, said a quick hello to our good friend, Poornima Kannan, who was ushering in the audience for the play Einstein: A stage portrait. Bangalore Little Theatre and Azim Premji University, in association with St. Joseph’s College, have brought this play to Bangalore.IMG_20151205_193124728

The only thing missing was a glass of whiskey in our hands, because the whole experience felt like Einstein was sitting across the table, narrating the story of his life to us, in person. At the end of the play, it was hard to decide whom to appreciate better, the playwright or the artist. Williard Simms has woven the story of the Einstein in an intimate and riveting way, transporting us to a different world. The

Image credit: Ashwini Visuals/BLT

Image credit: Ashwini Visuals/BLT

playwright has drawn details from Einstein’s letters to his son and daughter-in-law, and has presented every relevant detail in the manner of an intimate conversation. From the days when Einstein chased butterflies (Poornima would have definitely loved this part of his life story), to the days when he wrote to Roosevelt, Simms gives us the many facets of Einstein’s character that we would hardly know about. The scientist was charming, witty, funny, sensitive, and maybe sometimes selfish, arrogant, and most important of all, humane.


Image credit: Ashwini Visuals/BLT

When a playwright does such a fantastic job of characterization, an artist can only hope to do justice to the role. Tom Schuch does that, giving his everything to it, including his age. Delivering 46 pages of script is no mean feat, and to do that flawlessly with a slight hint of German accent takes not just dedication, but passion for one’s profession. Being a drama artist of All India Radio, and having had a brief stint with theatre/TV, I understand what goes behind portraying a role. All I can do is tell the artist, take a bow, for we stepped out of the auditorium with a feeling of having met the scientist himself. The reviews are spot on – that he is an actor’s actor and that this play is a “drama-logue” par excellence. Watch the trailer here. If you think the hair and make-up look awesome, listen to Tom laughing – I just loved it 😀


Image credit: Ashwini Visuals/BLT

One of Einstein’s quotes says, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”. This brings the connection to our blog. Watch the play to understand and appreciate the man’s connections with what was happening around him and his train of thoughts. When he talks relativity again and again, you can’t help but think of the various projects that are being done at such a rapid pace, with little thought on their impacts. Remember, Einstein also said this: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space … Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

albertviolin_AFP_BIGThere are different shows scheduled for specific audiences across Bangalore. If you know it is scheduled in your organization, be there half an hour early 😉 Wherever in the world you are, if you hear about this play by Spoli Productions International in your locality,  don’t miss it! There is an additional bonus at the end of the play – a question and answer session with the actor and the playwright. Ask away and enjoy 🙂




Our iceberg is melting

If you are fighting for the environment, they’ll brand you a “boring activist”. If you are fighting to bring about policy change, they’ll yawn and say, “No please, no gyaan!” These are tough subjects, tough to get people to listen to you, tough to draw their attention to see the problem. But someone in Bangalore has found a fun way to do just that!

Iceberg-is-melting2Rana and I got front row seats at ADA Rangamandira on Saturday evening. Oh wait, we had to a fair bit of fighting to get there, fighting against traffic, and glad to be on time to watch Bangalore Little Theatre’s annual production, “Our iceberg is melting”.


Pic courtesy: Poornima Kannan

This lovely musical took us into a land of snow and ice, where the penguin wobbles and the seagull flies. A jolly group of young Emperor Penguins goes about its daily routine, while one of them, Fred, notices a rather alarming situation. Their home is melting and something has to be done, immediately, before winter sets in. The play is about the challenges Fred faces in getting his community to understand the problem. Do the penguins get together and find a solution? It is for you to watch and find out!

This musical is an original adaptation, based on Harvard professor, John Kotter‘s well-known management parable by the same name.


Pic courtesy: Poornima Kannan

This is the time when all global leaders are talking about climate change, and this musical couldn’t have asked for a better time! Whether you are interested in tacking climate issues, or understanding how to apply the lessons the penguins learnt in your own situation, this musical is for you. We could face challenges at our workplace or at home, where we know that a problem exists. While some might see the magnitude of the problem, some won’t see any problem. It is one challenge to see a problem, help others see and feel, but it is another mammoth task to arrive at a solution. The musical throws insights into how that can be done.

Here is a promo video for the play. We enjoyed that evening of song 20141115_193209and dance, matched with a great laser show and Chris Avinash’s catchy tunes. Young and old joined the penguins in their plight and partying. The show is on for the rest of the Fridays and weekends of November 2014. Do book your show and be there. Kids will love this, because this will most probably be their first close encounter with cute penguins, some tall, some chubby, some chatty and some naughty!


Pic courtesy: Poornima Kannan




First day, first show

Rana and I wanted to be there; first day, first show. We landed up at the matinee instead, thanks to a meeting. I can’t resist quoting Murphy here, “A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.” But hey, we still managed to be there on the first day. It wasn’t a movie, it wasn’t a play, it wasn’t a concert. Or was it everything? 🙂

I’ll come to that show in a while. I have to tell you that having grown up with Tintin and Tom & Jerry, singing the Looney Tunes, “reading” The Jungle Book with a “Tinkle” in my eye, I loved cartoons, naturally. More cartoons entertained me, enlightened me; be it those of R K Laxman, Bill Waterson or Maya Kamath.

_46A7680One of my favorites today is Rohan Chakravarty, a.k.a Toonie, cartoonist and conservationist. Yes, these two words can and do go together in this case! “Behind every successful male, there is a female” – is true in Rohan’s case also. He watched a gorgeous tigress bathing in a pool at Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary. That was the beginning of many wild things to come. _46A7677

It is his exhibition that we were at, for the matinee show on September 13, 2014.

Venue- Indian Cartoon Gallery, No.1, Midford House, Midford Garden, near Kids Kemp, Trinity Circle, Bangalore- 01
Date- 13th to 27th September, 2014.
Timings- 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

I requested our friend and award-winning artist, Rohan, to share a few insights with us. (All artwork below is property of Rohan Chakravarty).


Since you are a foodie, let me begin with asking you about your experience of having roast socks for dinner at Eaglenest! (For those of you curious to know more, here are excerpts from the Arunachal Bird Festival).

Hahaha! Thank you first of all, Sugandhi, for choosing to feature me on Aranya Parva. I was in search of the Wedge-billed Wren Babbler near Sessni Camp at Eaglenest WLS, and there was a huge puddle which the guides called ‘Hathinaala’ ahead of us. Soujanyaa, the younger and the more acrobatic among us jumped right across it, but I being the clumsier of the lot, had to get my shoes wet (also, I missed getting the bird). Thankfully, Ushma who is studying hornbills in Eaglenest had a fire ready for her khichdi, which I simultaneously used to dry my socks. Ushma saved me from a definite frostbite that evening. I think I owe her roast socks for dinner some day.

grnh140909Congratulations for Green Humour becoming the first cartoon and comic strip series from India to be distributed by an international syndicate, Gocomics. What issues would you like to highlight at Gocomics?

Thank you! Gocomics has an essentially American readership and while I am always trying to portray issues concerning wildlife all around the world, not being limited by geographical bounds, I would like the west to be acquainted with both facts about animals from India, as well as the conservation threats they face, through my Gocomics page.

Any cartoon (yours or someone else’s) that would aptly describe why mathematics haunts you? 🙂


I did this cartoon for a slideshow design firm from the USA, but if you replace ‘Powerpoint Presentation’ with ‘Mathematics lesson’ in the cartoon, it pretty much sums up the effect math had on me as a kid.

Animal blindfold


The notes that accompany your cartoons are well-researched. With mathematics haunting you, how do you still manage to read scientific publications, especially with having a scientist for a brother?

I never read the oh-so-scientific bits, I like to stick to the romance of it! My brother and I are constantly sharing notes on birds and other creatures we’re constantly on the lookout for, being fellow-twitchers. The fact that he isn’t one of those stats-obsessed ogres (no offence!) but a natural history enthusiast also helps.

vulture worries copy Why is the Jungle Crow so special to you (although you don’t really enjoy the constant cawing of a crow)?

Firstly, the Jungle Crow in my view is exceptionally handsome. I’m sure you’ve observed murders of crows from your balcony several times. The very disdain with which they speak about us humans amongst themselves is what makes me respect them. They are shrewd, rowdy and it seems to me that they’re always conspiring to take over the planet. If the throne of the earth rightfully belongs to a single animal, it should be the crow! And if you’ve ever happened to compare the cawing of a crow to that of a human baby, you’ll realize how melodious the crow actually is!


How was vectoridae born and where do you plan to go with it?

The conception of Vectoridae was actually impromptu. The beauty of vector illustrations is that they can be reproduced on any medium, in any size, with no distortion or loss of quality. I was looking at stock images from several artists around the world, on wildlife, just to check if species-specific illustrations were available. While the more famous ones (Pandas, tigers, blue whales) find representation in all kinds of media, vector illustrations of, let’s say, a Black-bearded Tomb Bat, are impossible to find unless someone’s really willing to sit, read, gather images and prepare illustrations of these animals who get neither the daylight nor the limelight! That’s when I said to myself, “this must begin right away… How about tomorrow?”

With Vectoridae, I hope to contribute vector illustrations to as many conservation-related media as I can. Since the images are royalty free and available for a lifetime usage, I am hoping it would strike a chord with scientists and conservationists alike.

A caricatured map of Pakke Tiger Reserve must have been so challenging! What were your most memorable moments from that project?

I must really thank my friend Nandini Velho, who is doing her PhD on the impacts of logging around Eaglenest and Pakke, for introducing me to Arunachal Pradesh, India’s ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. I’ve never really visited Pakke, so that remains a regret I hope to remedy in the near future. My most memorable moment with respect to the project was the final result- seeing pictures of kids from Seijusa at the Pakke interpretation centre, looking out for little details in the map. Nandini informed that one of the shyest kids who never communicated, suddenly erupted with his list of favourite animals from the map on seeing it. I think representing animals in a delightful manner has a profound impact on young minds, and evokes compassion. map web

Which are your favorite movies and books in the humor genre?

the pangolinasanaI’ll begin with movies. King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese) cannot be categorized essentially as a humorous movie, but I absolutely love the dark humour in it. I also love the work of Woody Allen, especially Annie Hall. Amelie, again not a comedy, but full of subtle, gentle and tasteful humour remains my all-time favourite film. Closer home, my favourites would be Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Angoor’ and Rajkumar Santoshi’s Andaz Apna Apna.

As far as books are concerned, I can go on and on about the cartoonists I admire. Gary Larson’s ‘Far Side’ collections, Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts, Calvin and Hobbes by Watterson and Scott Adams’ Dilbert are a few of these. Other than that, I love reading Gerald Durrell and the work of Edward Hamilton Aitkien, who blend humour and natural history like nobody can!

What message do you want to provide people and children through your artwork ?

“Hey, ever even imagined that you share space with these marvellous creatures?!”


A big thanks to Rohan for giving us an insight into his wild life. To know about what prompted him to take this career path, do read Green Humour and the links in the references section.

And make sure you don’t miss ‘Wildlife the Toonie Way‘, an exhibition-cum-sale of wildlife caricatures, by Green Humour in association with The Indian Institute of Cartoonists.

Watch wildlife in a fresh, new plumage!







Homemaker | Natural History Filmmaker | Entrepreneur

Ambika Kamath

Dismantle by Building Differently


South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People




books and things.

Blah Ka Nas

Small bats, big adventures

...if reason could emote

Jungles of India

by Vidya Venkatesh

life is beautiful

...coz I am in Love with myself...


a blog by Oliver Peters

Ecology Students' Society

Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science

Karthik's Journal

Our book of the forest

Sandesh Kadur

Our book of the forest

Catching Flies

Our book of the forest

Gowrishankar's Blog

King cobra - Research & Education

Kalyan Varma

Our book of the forest

Wildlife Memoirs

Our book of the forest