I had not met my Professor Friend for quite a while. He seemed to be either abroad or on a long leave. I dearly missed conversations with him and the coffee together. I thought I almost lost him.
But last Sunday morning, I got a call from him.
“Where are you my Friend?” I asked (rather screamed)
“Well Dr Modak, I was busy in setting up a Beauty Saloon” Professor answered “The Saloon is really unique and boutique as it is set up in the interest of Environment”
I didn’t know what to say! Professor and a Saloon? I just couldn’t understand the relationship.
Sensing my silence, Professor said “Well, why don’t you drop in the Saloon right away and get a nice shave done. We are in the Khan Market”
I was longing to get a shave done anyway. Sitting in a chair with a mirror in front of you, a thick cream on the face, a razor blade navigating with all the care and that tinge and aroma of the aftershave… Shaving has always been such a heavenly experience. I reached the Saloon with all such expectations.
Professor was waiting for me. The Saloon was already full with customers. It had a large room on the ground floor with left wing for men and right for women. The first floor was for therapies like massage. Professor was explaining.
“Of course I don’t have to tell you that the Saloon is Eco-friendly in all possible respects. The furniture, the lights, the curtains, the glass mirrors we used have least carbon footprint. We procure the creams, sprays, solvents only if they hold a respected Eco label” Professor said.
“Why didn’t you take CII’s GreenCo instead? That would have been much easier and cheaper. Someone told me that you just have to pay the fees to CII and you get the certificate” I told the professor. The Professor ignored my advice with a smirk on his face.
“You will have to wait a bit” He said to me in an apologetic tone. “Why don’t you read newspapers in the meanwhile?” He directed me to the sofa.
I picked up a stack of newspapers from the rack. I had never come across these Newspapers before. The Newspapers carried only the Environmental news. Green Times of India, The Green Express were some of the English newspapers and Hara Hamara Bharat, Shashwat Dainik etc. were the Hindi newspapers.
I started reading the Green Times. It had headlines like “20% of NPAs in the Banks are due neglecting environmental and social matters in investments”; “Most Waste to Energy Plants in India don’t work!” etc. I got bored as most of these headlines were not really not the news – they were the facts. Most of us knew about these issues and also knew that nothing would change or happen.
I started looking at the Green Express as I thought this newspaper will be carrying something sensational. The Green Express had headlines such as “Did you know that 30% of drinking water at Mumbai’s taps is contaminated?”; “20% of India’s land will need remediation”, “Air Pollution is more Indoors than Outdoors”, “Should Renewable Energy Projects need Environmental Clearance?” I liked these headlines as I saw a need for discussions and actions. I decided to ask Professor about who publishes such Newspapers and keep only the Green Express in the Saloon.
“Well, I edit and publish these Newspapers. They are available only in my Saloon. My customers love reading these. Many come to the Saloon not for the haircut but simply to read. I let them read and carry home a copy or two. I print a lot of 500 of each every day and that gets exhausted by evening”
That’s so thoughtful of you I said. “I am sure those visiting your Saloon will inspire and transform India”. I noticed however that most newspapers carried advertisements from business groups such as Reliance, Ambani, Vedanta etc.
I looked around and I found that the Saloon was full with Page 3 personalities of India’s (or Delhi’s?) Green World.
I saw that the Ex-Union Environment Minister, Jayaram Ramesh was discussing with Professor’s Chief Barber on what style of haircut he should do. Jayaram has plentiful of hair, thick and rolling with lots of curls with a mix of shining white and grey. So many options of hair styling are possible. Jayaram was not sure which style to choose and he kept changing his mind confusing the Chief Barber. Professor took me on one side and whispered “Jayaram Ramesh is discussing what hair style he should do for the past one hour with no decision. He just discusses and my Chief Barber is now fed up”. I said “I am not surprised” and reminded Professor of cases of Environmental Clearance of Posco and the BT Basmati rice and BT Brinjal. These cases showed his appetite for options and analytics and love towards switching the decisions.
Jayaram discussing with the Chief Barber
As we were talking, Sunita Narain of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) walked in for a haircut. She asked the Professor for a catalogue. Passing her one of the latest catalogues of hair styles in Sweden (where she travels frequently), Professor said in a mischievous tone “Sunita, don’t forget to do a manicure. It’s a high time that you do. You have been “nailing” the Government and the Industry lately rather too much! So do get rid of your long nails”. Sunita smiled. [Sunita has a good Swedish connection. Do you know that she received the Stockholm Water Prize for the good work CSE did on water harvesting?]
Just then Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave walked in and asked Professor for a facial. This facial was to be special. Dave wanted to change his face from a conservationist to a face that is “pro-development”. Professor walked across and gave instructions to his staff about this complicated facial. ‘Use creams from Philadelphia and masks from Washington. He then turned to me and said “I will be using materials and techniques of the United States of America. This is the country where faces often change – so what you see is not what you should or want to see”
Looking for a facial
Dr Mukesh Khare of IIT Delhi was sitting in the chair getting his hair cut done. When the hair cut was over, Professor asked him “Mukesh, are you satisfied?” Dr Khare got up from the chair, pulled out a tiny air quality monitoring device that was under the chair. He looked at the reading. “I am satisfied Professor. The indoor air quality in your Saloon meets the ASHARE standards”.
Dr Khare’s monitoring of Indoor Air Quality in the Saloon
“Oh, I was asking you about the hair cut” Professor said.
[By the way, do you know that India does not have Indoor Air Quality Standards? China introduced these standards as early as in 1976. Korea introduced Air Quality Standards even for A/C Buses. In India we don’t care much about the Indoor Air Quality. We show concerns only for the Outdoors. Much of our life today is indoors]
The Saloon was getting a bit noisy as almost everyone was talking, except those who were undergoing steam treatment or sleeping with a mask during the facial. “This is rather expected” Professor explained. “My staff consists of top doctoral students researching on environment in India as well as from overseas. They come to me as interns and we train them on hair styling, skin treatment etc. over three months. Once hired in the Saloon, they want to take advantage of “the connect” they get with the top environmentalists, academicians, bureaucrats and industrialists of India. So while delivering the service, they want to talk about some of the challenges we face today. So conversations happen. In some sense, my Saloon functions like a think tank or a workshop place. These students, as they are so habituated, post the conversations on Facebook and What’s App taking these conversations to the millions in the World”
“Oh, this is much more effective than the meetings FICCI holds!” I exclaimed. “You must now work on setting up franchises across India”
“So do you see any action on the ground after folks leave the Saloon?” I could not hesitate asking.
Well Professor said “It’s happening slowly. But I do have a shining example to share. Our Ex-Union Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar used to visit us regularly for beard trimming. Each time, my staff trimmed his beard, he trimmed the Indian Environmental Legislation. He used to say that he got all the inspiration for such trimming and listening to the conversations in our Saloon. Don’t you think that India’s environmental legislation has a “smart look” today! ”. I couldn’t disagree with the Professor.
Beard trimming – Secret behind India’s Smart Environmental Legislation
So why don’t you get your shave done – your chair is ready – Professor ushered me to one of his staff, who was a doctoral student from UC Berkeley.
“Sir, I have the honor performing a shave for you today”. The student said in an American accent.
Then while wrapping a GOTT certified apron around my neck, he bent down and whispered in my ears “Is it OK if I discussed with you my research on tree transplantations during the shave? I understand that you have done transplantation of trees around the roadways with hardly any survival”
I realized that this was something I was least expecting on a Sunday morning. I also realized this student would be asking me questions all the time and my shave wasn’t going to happen in all tranquility that I was expecting or was longing for.
“Thank God, I am not here to do a hair transplant” I said to myself while getting off the Chair.
Cover image sourced from here
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Great piece of writing. Delightful blend of fanatasy science reality politics with your softly biting comments. Enjoyed thoroughly Prasad! !!
Taking a simple example of visiting saloon, so many Envo terms are interwoven
creating an awareness even for a ‘non-connected person’.
Keep it up!