“Simcity” – A visit to Nay Pyi Taw

Imagine you were playing Simcity. Large swathes of grassland. Every now and then you plonked a massive building, moved on, then plonked another … etc. That’s how Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar (Burma) looks like.

Supported supposedly with China’s aid of about US$10 billion, the Myanmar government built its parliament, official buildings for its bureaucracy, and a series of massive hotels for visiting tourists. Except that tourists hardly ever think of Nay Pyi Taw for a visit, and the few times the hotels do get full is when they have large conferences. Once the conference is done, the local staff are sent back and hotels close down sometimes for several months at a time.

The hotel staff are mainly brought in from the nearby villages and work on a variety of jobs from kitchen to garden tasks. “They have to multitask since there’s a shortage of labour”, said one of the hotel managers.


The highways in Nay Pyi Taw have up to six or eight lanes but look deserted except for the occasional motorcycle or minivan.

“Xayaburi and Pöyry: What Lies Behind”

“Xayaburi and Pöyry: What Lies Behind” (41 mins. in English, August 2013).

Watch it on Youtube: http://youtu.be/vSKZTYIY-ho

The documentary film provides critical perspectives on the decision-making, scientific studies and planning of the Xayaburi dam being built in Lao PDR. It highlights the role of the Finnish company Pöyry who did the study used by Laos to justify the project.

Xayaburi is the first dam being built on the main stream of the Lower Mekong River. Since its inception, the dam has proved controversial for many social and ecological reasons but most importantly for its potential effects on the wild capture fisheries of the Mekong River that thousands of people depend upon for food, trade and livelihoods.

Pöyry was hired by Laos in May 2011 to evaluate the project’s compliance with the requirements of the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

Pöyry downplayed the project’s environmental and social impacts. Although identifying that over 40 additional studies were still needed to understand the project’s impacts, Pöyry recommended that construction continue. In November 2012, Pöyry was appointed the Lao government’s chief engineer for the project.

The film interviews a range of local people and fishers, the region’s leading scientists, civil society representatives, and the media to explore the dubious politics, bad science and conflict of interest behind engineering the Xayaburi dam.

Script, camera and direction: Rajesh Daniel
Editor: Plengvut Plengplang
Produced by: Siemenpuu Foundation

DVD cover_Xayaburi film


The Hindu, 14 July 2013. The Ministry of Telecommunications will disconnect telegram services from Monday.

“For decades, they delivered news to people across the country. But with the advent of technology and newer means of telecommunication, they will be edged out in a couple of days as the Ministry of Telecommunications has decided to disconnect telegram services from July 15.” http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/good-old-telegram-nears-its-end/article4912708.ece?homepage=true

The end of the telegraph service. The end of one more era that resonates in my memory as part of my growing up, and as part of my family and an older generation.

The telegram was always part of my childhood. It signaled big events and brought joy or grief to our family. But the nature of the telegram was to anticipate bad news since the telegram more often brought news of the passing away of a relative. Whenever the postman shouted “telegram” at our front door, especially if it was late in the evening, there was always a feeling of dread. My father would always be the first to rush out and he would even ask the postman what the news was before signing for the telegram, to reassure himself that it wasn’t bad news. Then the postman would curve open the telegram to peek inside, and tell us it was not anything dreadful.

When my father passed away, I took the task of going to the Mylapore telegraph office and sending telegrams to inform my sisters and others. It was one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life. Until then, occupied with a number of tasks that morning like visiting my close relatives, informing the parish priest, etc. I had been composed, my grief quite well-hidden among the funeral chores. But as I stood at the telegraph counter and wrote up the forms for sending the telegrams, I could not help but break down. The realization that my father was no more with us finally hit me when I wrote the message of his passing away and the addresses of those in my family and handed them across the counter, as grief along with a thousand memories passed through me.

The telegram was a part of my summer holidays especially those I spent away from Chennai (or Madras as it was still then called). My eldest brother-in-law J. John Vincent worked in the telegraph office in Palani. During my summer holidays, ‘Vincent Mama’, as we used to call him, would come to Madras to accompany me (and also sometimes my other elder sister) back to Palani to stay for a few weeks with my  sister’s family. Some evenings, after about dinner at nine, mama would head to his office for the night shift, his house being located very conveniently right across the street from his office. Often I would walk with him, as he prepared his “vethalae-pakku” (betel leaf and areca nuts) and then lit a post-dinner cigarette.

I would sit with him in the telegraph office, with the rest of the building dark and quiet, as the two telegraph rooms were the only one open at that time of the evening. He would take forms from people and send telegrams, tapping on the morse key. He would joke to me, “ta, tada, tada da, …” imitating the dot, dash, dot, stutter of the morse keys. I was impressed when he explained how he had memorized all the different words in morse code. Often people would tell him in Tamil the news they wished to send. He not only needed to translate but brevity was all important: he had to string together the fewest words possible as every word cost the person money.

When things were quiet, and most nights they were, we would adjourn to a nearby room with a carrom board, and he and his colleague would smoke and play carrom and which I occasionally was asked to join as well.

Vincent Mama passed away some years ago, the result of too many years of smoking “wills plain” cigarettes, the non-filtered strong-smelling cigarette that he loved. He passed away almost as soon as he retired, leaving my sister in a great deal of shock as they both had plans to do many things together including travelling once he had retired.

Those long summer evenings of my school days are filled with memories of the telegraph office where he worked, where I would sit and watch, fascinated by not just the machine and its morse code, but also the people who came to send telegrams.

Vincent Mama’s birthday was on 19 July, in just a few days from today when India is shutting down its telegraph services. Its fittingly so, as we always remember Mama and his work in the post and telegraph services (often saying proudly that he had  a “central government” job), and helped people to send their family news through the telegram.

Ta, tada, ta da da.

My new book … is out

Governing the Mekong: Engaging in the Politics of Knowledge

Editors: Rajesh Daniel, Louis Lebel, Kanokwan Manorom

Governing the Mekong_CoverThis book is an edited volume of case studies exploring the knowledge-engagement efforts on water governance in the Mekong region. It is the fourth volume in the M-POWER book series.

Publisher: SIRD, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (June 2013)

Download book flyer Governing Mekong Flyer_with TOC.

Stop the Noise of TV Ads: In All BTS Stations and Inside Trains

The petition to BTS to stop noisy TV ads is out. As of 1st April, there are 137 supporters.


Petitioning Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC)

Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC): Stop the Noise of TV Ads – In All BTS Stations and Inside Trains


Petition by Ayoungman Wholikesavacadu Thailand

The constant and loud noise of TV ads is disturbing, and poses long-term health risks to daily commuters, and in particular, young school-going children

Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC), Bangkok Mass Transit System Public Company Limited
Stop the Noise of TV Ads: In All BTS Stations and Inside Trains

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