My Workshop Memoirs


It is often hard to distinguish the terms workshop, seminar, symposium etc. While there are definitions available, generally these events create opportunities to bring the stakeholders together. With the advent of internet technologies, we don’t have to bring together the stakeholders physically anymore  and do a webinar instead of a seminar. But indeed there is no substitute to the face to face meets.

Workshops are platforms where there is more active engagement. While both “open” and “closed” formats are possible, the latter format is generally preferred. Workshops often entail group based activities where groups are tasked. In the groups, brainstorming happens – a term popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in 1953 (You should not miss reading his book Applied Imagination). During such a session, there is no discussion or criticism and evaluation of ideas takes place later. Osborn credited the origin of the process to Hindu teachers in India, who used the method of Prai– (outside yourself) Barshana (question) for over 400 years.

I remember the first international workshop that I organized on Water Quality Management. At that time, I was inducted as a Consultant to the Ganga Action Plan and was closely working with Dr Niloy Choudhari, Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and K C Sivaramakrishnan, Project Director at the Ganga Project Directorate (GPD). At that time, there was a beeline of international consultants queuing at the GPD “selling” their skills and experience. I used to attend presentations from agencies like Thames Water, Seven Trent from the UK, US Environmental Protection Agency, Lyonnaise des Eaux France S.A., Ruhrverband, Germany etc.

I came up with an idea of holding an international workshop at IIT Bombay and bring the “Vendors” along with Academia for an exposition with discussions. The workshop was conceived over 5 days on a residential basis and we had 50 participants.

This workshop was an amazing experience for me to learn event coordination & logistics, understand science based politics and of course the subjects that covered water quality modelling, wastewater treatment, policies, regulation and standards and importantly the economics of water quality management. The workshop was attended by some of the great personalities across the world – many of them were inspiring and like lighthouses.


 Professor G Rinke (University of Darmstadt), Thomas Barnwell (US EPA), Professor Poppinghouse (University of Aachen), David Triggs (Thames Water) 


I gave the opening speech at the Workshop


Paritosh Tyagi and Prof S J Arceivala

All the participants were accommodated at IIT Guest house next to the scenic Powai Lake.

I recall that one of the evenings K C Shivaramakrishnan (KC) asked me to organize a car to take him to meet L C Gupta (LC), then Chairman of CIDCO on the Marine Drive. The car dropped him at L C Gupta’s house in the evening. KC was to have a dinner with LC. After the dinner, KC came down and did not find the car. He gave me a call in all rage and anguish and growled “Send me another car Dr Modak– your driver has simply vanished”. Actually the poor driver was right there – and only few meters away, but KC was expecting him to be parked right outside the gate with door open waiting for him. So typical of a senior IAS officer!!  I took another car and we drove at 10 pm from Powai to Marine Drive. I went up to LC’s house and found that KC was fuming.

We returned to Powai and during the journey he cooled down especially when I explained to him that my driver was right there and was waiting for him. As we reached the campus, KC said “Dr Modak, if you are OK, let us go your office and discuss the Ganga Action Plan. I don’t think I am in a mood to sleep”. It was 11 pm then.

We went to my office at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering. Some students were working in the laboratory. My colleague Radha Gopalan was doing her experiments. I asked Radha to do a coffee on a Bunsen burner using a Corning Glass Beaker. We probably made a good coffee as KC just took off. He gave us an amazing “insight” to the Ganga Action Plan and talked about not just the politics but challenges of urban infrastructure, administration and finance – essentially his areas of specialization. We asked him questions so the discussions went on till 1 am. While getting dropped at the Guest House, KC said “Thank you Dr Modak, you made me vent out today. And I am really sorry for all the trouble” and I said “Sir, to me this session was the best part of our Workshop! I must thank you”.

My interest of holding strategic workshops continued. In 1990, I approached Asia Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology (APCTT). My idea was to hold a 5 day regional workshop on Waste Management & Recycling. The idea was to bring together senior management of the Government and top notch Academia in the Asia-Pacific region and expose them to the paradigm shift of waste to resource management. I booked the entire Valvan Village Resort at Lonavala, a hill station between Mumbai and Pune. We were 50 participants representing counties like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and of course India.


Workshop Participants at the Valvan Village Resort, Lonavala


My Team, Samson (now no more). Mandar Parasnis (now with IFC, Hong Kong), Mahendra Savardekar, Sanjay Lathkar (now Inspector General of Police with awards from the President of India) and Juzer Dhondia (now working in the United State)

The workshop had several features – group work, field visits, software demonstrations, videos. We had cultural events too that included violin recital and a Bharatanatyam dance.

There were four participants from Pakistan. All four were worried and tensed to be in India. When they arrived in Mumbai, we organized two cars for them to travel to Lonavala. I proposed that in each car, two Pakistani’s would sit with two my colleagues. The Pakistani’s refused this proposal and said that all four of them must stay together and our second car with my colleagues could lead. I was not happy with this proposition but finally I gave up and agreed. The cars took off in the morning.

Somehow the driver of the car where Pakistani colleagues were sitting jumped the signal in Chembur near the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC). The traffic policeman stopped the car and asked the driver to show his license. And then very casually, the policeman asked the travelers “Sir, where are you from?” One of the Pakistani colleagues answered “From Islamabad!” And then there was a grave silence. People from Pakistan next to BARC? This was just not acceptable.

I was summoned immediately to the Police Headquarters in Mumbai for the explanation. Fortunately, the Inspector General of Police then Mr. Vasant Saraf  was a friend (He was Counselor at the Indian Embassy in Bangkok when I used to live there). I was told to take the Pakistani’s every evening to the police station in Lonavala and register during their entire stay. This added a new dimension to the Workshop and was a new lesson learnt!

In 1992, I was invited by the USAID to participate in a 3 day workshop on a Nile Cruise in Egypt. The workshop theme focused on the Business in the Environment sector in the next 25 years. The participants included CEOs of companies like Metcalf & Eddy, Bi-Water, and CH2M Hill etc. There was so much to learn, especially for me! I don’t see such workshops happening in India. We should do such events.


The Workshop Host – Dr Jim Gallup at the Dining Hall on the Nile Cruise


One of our Discussion Sessions

In 2002, the World Bank asked me to prepare Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) for the Palar River Basin in Tamil Nadu. For this work, I proposed a 3 day residential workshop at Kanchipuram, city of the Shankaracharyas. The workshop had 40 participants and we booked the entire hotel. Three Ministers of the State participated. Participants included farmers who were impacted due to pollution. They came in the traditional veshty.

There were rules of conduct for the workshop. One of them was not to argue based on emotions. All arguments were to be evidence based. For this I had set up a “Knowledge Room” in the hotel that had the maps, reports, data etc and access to the Internet. All participants were encouraged to bring the information they had and place in the Knowledge Room. This rule actually worked and the workshop outcomes had all the consensus and the meat for taking actions. Asia’s first river basin board was formed.

In 2004, I did a workshop on Cleaner Production in Tagaytay in the Philippines. Tagaytay is one of the most popular tourist destinations because of its outstanding scenery and cooler climate provided by its high altitude. Tagaytay overlooks Taal Lake in Batangas and provides one of the iconic views. I was the workshop organizer and there was no pre-fixed agenda. There were only 20 participants – select experts of international repute on Cleaner Production. On the first day, we worked on the agenda to decide “what to do” over the next 3 days. We decided the workshop structure, topics to be dealt with and the lead speakers – all amongst us. A consensus was reached at the end of first day. The agenda ensured that we achieve the outcomes we were looking for. I enjoyed this style of workshop design and conduct. Instead of pre-fixing the agenda apriori it is many times more effective to evolve one as a group and then work together. Such workshops rarely happen! But you need to have mature or experienced group of participants!

In one of my trips to Southampton in the UK, I met a Professor. He used to run workshop on Finite Element Methods on Queen Elizabeth II that plied between London and New York. The workshop was boutique in a sense as it would take only 15 select participants. The workshop was run by Professor and his Family. His wife was a travel agent who would do the bookings and handle logistics. Daughter was a Yoga and Health food freak and so she would conduct Yoga sessions on the deck and design the food menu. Son was into photojournalism and publishing and he would produce a book of lectures of the Professor at end of the cruise. Wow!! The Family used to have great time of being together every year, as a paid holiday and garner business through the connection with the participants. I liked this model.


Queen Elizabeth II Luxury Liner

I told my Professor friend about workshop on the cruise.

Professor was excited

“Let us do this Dr Modak. We will book Ocean World, the luxury liner that plies between Pattaya, Ko Samui and Cambodia over 3 nights and 4 days. I will join. We will teach sustainability to top business leaders of Asia –on strategizing business of tomorrow. Your son in law is a sustainability chef of repute, your daughter is a Yoga and Health Freak and your son is a renewable energy nerd. So all this perfectly fits!”


Ko Samui Islands in Thailand

“True”. I responded “Let us run the workshop on the Ocean World. Let us look at the good weather of November-December”

Friends –I am very serious!! Anyone interested to join? Write to me. THERE ARE ONLY LIMITED SEATS



  1. Great one. Unfortunately the only ever green memory of a workshop for me is from my first year at IIT Madras. On alternate weeks we had compulsory workshop sessions in Carpentry, Welding, Smithy, Fitting etc. In the Fitting Shop Misshapen pieces of steel were given and we had to use hacksaw and a file to convert it to a perfect square. Towards the end of the day, I was filing away furiously to complete the job in time, when I was admonished by the Workshop superintendent : ” Don’t filefilefile. You should F.i.l.e…..F.i.l.e…..F.i.l.e

  2. Knowledge Room Concept is very effective to tap maximum resources minimise enegy consumption by preventing emotional outbusts. Luxury cruise distorts the theme of the workshop-Sustainability

  3. Prasad

    I am in for this interesting workshop 😎 to take charge of registration and the bar😅


    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Dear Prasad,Interesting. IS Johar( flim actor-he was MA in English literature) defined conference as:Conference is the gathering of distinguished personalities who individually can not do any thing and decide that nothing can be done. They finally unanimously decide on venue- say Banff in Canada. ( (This is in lighter vein). I am with my Guru in Berkeley. We had WConSc2016 in Berkeley to celebrate 95th birthday year of Professor Zadeh, the father of fuzzy logic, my GURU and the highest cited cited living  in the world as on today. Back from Tijuana, Mexico after my Two Day workshop on Fuzzy Systems. The outcome is another extended workshop for 5 days in October 2016. This is organised by their Intelligent System Group. Unfortunately, there is one with my academic background.I teach deep fuzzy maths wit applications. Recently, we developed mobile app on android platform on Fuzzy logic in Gynecology. Somehow, Indians considers us as retired. I do not want to burn glucose to change the mindset. We are living in a finite time world and i have less time left. Science is Global and not local. Will be back on June 20th and will be in Romania in August 2016 to deliver a Key Note Address in SOFA2016. I received invitation only just now.Take care of health as you have stent.God bless you,

    Ashok Deshpande

  5. If you keep writing on workshops designed and conducted by you, probably another blog series will emerge. Fortunately, I did participate in a few workshops designed by you, Dr Modak, and therefore I realize the impact such workshop has had, both on the participants and the speakers.

    Unfortunately we do not see such workshops happening these days. Workshops now have converted to points of networking and no more are source of knowledge. And therefore you and your Professor friend’s workshop plan is surely going to be an opportunity not to miss out. And when you teach the top business leaders of Asia atop the Ocean World it surely needs documentation. Do remember me!!

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