Wednesday, 20 May 2015

3 things you should avoid doing in a restaurant

Icons sourced from and template from

I wonder whether the restaurant "Danapani" still exists in Malviyanagar of Jaipur in India. Living up to its name, it used to be a perfect joint to have your bellies and tongues satisfied. I was a regular at the place and my friends used to invite me to dine with them much often. The sole reason was a waiter in the restaurant who was very near to me. Whenever I accompanied them, they were sure to get a bigger portion of each ordered item. In addition to that we used to get royal treatment, being regulars.

One day I was alone and not many seats were occupied. After placing my orders, I was waiting for the food to arrive. Then suddenly there was a loud brouhaha about the food, few tables away from mine. The waiter serving the food was the same guy I had known for years.   

As he came near me, I enquired him about the brawl. He said that the man had demanded the same dish thrice. At first he had complained about too much salt in the chicken, secondly he had complained about the taste and nearly slapped the waiter. He got scolding in front of regular customers.

It was obvious, the waiter was humiliated. He always took me as a well-wisher, so he whispered in my ear, "Do you know what I did?"

"I spat on the third serving. And you can see, the man is enjoying the food," he shared his crime with pride. I was taken aback by his gusto.

After that I fear eating in that restaurant. And above all I learned one important lesson, 'never to enter into a fracas with a waiter'. You have the right to complain, but do it in a dignified manner.

***                ***                ***            ***

I am a food lover and I love the street food. In particular, the food at roadside Dhaba, the Punjabi owned eateries are real delights to my taste buds.

Once I was travelling to Delhi from Jaipur in a Roadways bus (state owned bus service). The Roadways buses generally stop at Dhabas that offer delicious food. I knew that and when the bus stopped for food at the midway, I occupied a table and asked for the menu.

A thin guy in his late teens came to me handing a menu in tatters. I glanced through it and ordered a parantha and aaloo dum. I didn’t bother to look at the price as the place looked local and cheap. However, after a satisfying meal when I went to pay, the price that I had to pay was ten times more than normal. I was dumbfounded but could not nag much as it was my fault.

The worse part was, I had a limited budget to travel back to Nepal from Delhi and I had spent the major chunk on a roadside lunch.

Nowadays, I never place an order before verifying the price.  

***                ***                ***            ***

In Nepal, there are some exciting places famous for fish. One of them is Malekhu, about two hours’ ride away from Kathmandu. Eateries on both sides of the highway serve fish, claiming [the fish] to be from the nearby river. Another such place is Babai on the way to Surkhet from Nepalgunj.

If you live in big city and are used to eating frozen fish, you will love the taste. However, if you are a fish connoisseur you will notice the difference. The fish are not from the local river. They are outsourced from water sources including ponds of neighbouring districts.

I never believed when my friends said that the fish was not from the river.

Once I was travelling from Kohlapur to Surkhet. The bus was jam-packed. People were stacked inside like sardines. There was, however, a big black drum near the door. Sitting next to it, I asked a man standing near the door to sit on the drum. But as he sat on the drum, a fat man standing nearby yelled at him, “Don’t you see the tiny hole on the lid?” “If you sit on it, my fish will suffocate to death.”

Then only I realised that the container was for transporting fish. When the bus stopped for tea and snacks at Babai, the fat man got down the drum from the bus. While I was drinking tea the man was distributing the fish to the hotel owners. And they would sell them as “fish from Babai”!

I remember my friend cracking joke while we were having fish and rice. The shopkeeper had told that the fish was from Babai. He had said, “Does Babai have enough water to hold this big fish?”

It was summer and the river had dried down to a narrow stream. The fish was exceptionally big. And for sure, it came from a pond in the neighbouring Bardia district!

Moral of the story: Never follow a brand blindly.   

Monday, 11 May 2015

Keeping it small

Biogas electrification and Barsha pumps are two innovations benefiting small enterprises, farmers.
By Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) and Ganesh R Sinkemana (@GSinkemana)

Following EF Schumacher’s idea of small is beautiful, innovative technologies have been changing the lives of millions throughout the world – enabling environmental and human sustainability. However, most of the technology innovations are overwhelmingly favouring the wants of rich consumers in developed countries with only a few of them catering to the needs of poor in the developing countries. Biogas electrification and Barsha pumps are two such small but beautiful innovations that are poised to benefit small enterprises and farmers in Nepal.    

Cow excreta, clean energy
When John Finlay helped develop the very first commercial biogas unit in Nepal in the year 1975, he didn’t have a faint idea that it would turn into a gamechanger in the renewable energy sector. Starting with the 95 biogas plants built by United Mission to Nepal’s Development and Consulting Services the same year, the country has seen more than 350,000 biogas units.

The biogas has been crucial in households to minimise the household air pollution saving the family members from respiratory infections. While the gas replaces using fuelwood, the slurry can be used as organic fertiliser for increased productivity. According to the Water Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) Energy Sector Synopsis Report 2010, a biogas plant reduces the workload of women and girls about three hours in a day. Annually, two tons of fuelwood can be saved using a biogas plant if it runs at 90% operability and a plant can reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the extent of 7 tons carbon dioxide.

With the technological advancement, biogas which had earlier been used only for cooking and lighting purposes is also being used to generate electricity. In Nepal, the biogas electrification project at the Livestock Development Resource Centre run by the Annapurna Dairy Producers’ Cooperative boasts of being the first to generate electricity for commercial use from biogas. The project has been supported by Practical Action. Earlier, a small scale study on bio-electrification through agricultural and livestock waste was carried out by students of Kathmandu University, producing electricity to light 9 LED lights, each of 5 W.

A biogas electrification unit

According to Bodh Raj Pathak, the vice president of the cooperative, the biogas generated is sufficient to run a generator of 5 kW load continuously for 8-9 hours. The electricity is being used for light bulbs, fans, water pump and a chaff cutter. The gas is also being used to cook for the staff at the centre. 

The designed plant has a capacity of 50 m3, divided into two units of 25 m3 tunnel type digesters and currently only one inlet is being used. The biogas from the dung of 85 cows at the centre can generate electricity continuously for 16 hours if the biogas unit operates at its maximum capacity. The dairy has plans to use the electricity for pasteurisation of milk. The by-product slurry will be dried and packages as organic fertiliser, says Pathak.

The tunnel design has certain advantages over the circular dome design. It is simpler to construct and requires a shallow digester and hence is useful in locations having high water tables. It is a sectional type of construction and can be made of any size by adding extra sections. The tunnel design didn't gain popularity in Nepal as it is expensive to install and difficult to transport the pre-cast slabs for covering the balancing tank.

The biogas electrification technology is simple, easy to install, socio-economically viable and carbon neutral. If replicated by big diaries and cooperatives throughout Nepal, this technology has potential to making them self-sufficient amidst the current energy scarcity.

A Barsha pump can provide water to nearby fields without use of fuel and electricity

Right as rain
Likewise, Barsha pump, a brainchild of Pratap Thapa and his team members at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, is poised to change the irrigation scenario in Nepal. The pump, inspired by the ancient Egyptian design, helps communities near rivers irrigate their field without the use of fuel or electricity. Barsha pump meaning rain pump in Nepali, comprises a water wheel fixed onto a floating platform. Installed into a flowing river, the wheel rotates with the flow of water and the air compressed by a special mechanism of the wheel pumps the water through the attached hose to the fields nearby. The pump can provide water up to a height of 82 feet with a maximum rate of one litre per second. The pump is environment friendly with zero emission rate since no fuel is required for its operation.

aQysta, the company co-founded by Thapa is building and testing Barsha pumps in Nepal with Practical Action’s support. One of the Barsha pumps installed at Haritjyoti Organic Agro Farm Private Limited in Waling of Syangja district in Western Nepal, is serving around 50 ropanis (2.5 hectares) of vegetable farming. The five micro-sprinkler heads are directly coupled to the Barsha pump, which run continuously for 24 hours without any fuel, electricity or any other operating costs. All the people, working in the farm, need to do, is to shift the sprinkler heads to different areas, which need to be irrigated from time to time. For the Haritjyoti farm, which had used and abandoned diesel pumps because of its running costs and had invested in getting a three-phase electricity line to the farm, to be able to run electric pumps, the Barsha pump has proved to be an exciting solution to keep their irrigation costs low.

As per the World Bank data, only 27.74% agricultural land in Nepal was irrigated in 2008. Since, most of the farmers cannot easily access the irrigation facilities, innovations like Barsha pump will help them irrigate their fields that are near rivers without any extra expenditure. aQysta and Practical Action are looking to scale up the implementation of the Barsha pumps in Nepal by localising the manufacturing and distribution value chain, and selling thousands of Barsha pumps across Nepal.

While Schumacher’s idealism has been overpowered by multinational companies and mass productions, it is need of the moment to promote technologies like biogas electrification and Barsha pump that have social value and are environmentally sustainable. Also the concerned authorities need to make sure that the technologies are made available to all who need them.

Republished from The Kathmandu Post (dated 26 April 2015)

Photos by Ganesh R Sinkemana