I was sitting at the Bhopal airport lounge recently observing people… I often see the brusque aura being reflected especially among the regulars who frequently travel: You don’t bother me, I won’t bother you. Bother, means talk.

I have noticed that people can actually sit next to each other for a full Trans-Atlantic flight never saying more than “excuse me” when they need to step over each other to get to the aisle. Strange as it may seem, this is considered polite.

It all boils down to the notion of losing an hour or two of work time, reading time, movie time, or sleep time, to idle conversation time—or worse, opening the door to being asked for a favour. People prefer silence during air travel. Silence is safe.

In my view, silence is also a lost opportunity at times. I like to chat with my co-passengers – most times, be it on a train or a flight… You meet interesting people… And you learn so much.

About twenty minutes before we were to board our flight, the lady sitting next to me leaned over and asked if I would keep an eye on her luggage while she used the restroom. I assured her that I would and so she ambled her way across the lounge.

On her return, she thanked me effusively and we struck up a conversation. We exchanged small-talk about our reasons to visit Bhopal, our professions and general chit-chat. Deeper into the conversation, I learnt so much more that reaffirmed my faith that the world is indeed an interesting place and chance meetings can be great learnings.

Delving in to my work and writings, she told me with a twinkle in her eyes that she wrote too but that her writings were of a different nature as she wrote research papers and journals! Boring stuff – things that make you yawn she declared! An Indian my birth, Ms. X whose name I would like to keep confidential, currently lives in Sussex and is a research scholar by profession. Recently retired, she said she was now free to travel and follow her passion for music and in that respect had landed up at the Dhrupad Sansthan Bhopal which is an international residential school of music that welcomes students who want to learn Indian Classical Music.

There are different courses in the Gurukul for different purposes but Ms. X is a great follower of the Gundecha Brothers who are teaching in the Gurukul under the Gurushishya Parampara (One on one teaching system). She first met them at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in London…where she like many others go to keep in touch with their Indian roots and culture.

I learnt that the Gurukul is situated on the outskirts of Bhopal, built on 3 acres of land with beautiful landscapes that evoke peace and tranquillity. For those who are fully committed to Dhrupad music and want to become professional Dhrupad musicians, Gurukul has a four year full time course. There is lodging and boarding facility for the students and those from humble backgrounds are also given scholarships. You can also learn Dhrupad for short term courses like Ms. X such as 15 days, 2 months or 4 months.

She explained to me that the Institute in Bhopal aspires to promote and preserve the rich heritage of Indian Classical form Dhrupad through the ancient tradition of learning wherein the students devote their lives to learn from their Gurus. The students are being nurtured and groomed to become accomplished performers.

We then spoke of her research and it was interesting to learn that she had been involved in the introduction of solar dryers for fish in India, Africa and South East Asia. She and her team had provided customized solutions for fish drying using solar dryers of various capacities. It is typically used for drying fish like: Bombay Duck, Pomfret, Anchovies, Prawns, Shrimps etc.

Drying is a method of food preservation that has been practiced since ancient times to preserve food. The traditional method of drying involves sun drying products by laying them out in the open. This is unhygienic and takes a long time. This method is particularly bad for drying fish. Dried fish often contain sand particles as they are laid out in sandy embankments. Fishermen don’t get the right price for their products owing to this. Also, during rainy season maggots start developing in the half-dried fish.

With time, some more technologies have come up. But at present the increasing demand for healthy, low-cost natural foods and the need for sustainable income, are making solar drying as the best option for preserving food. A typical solar drying system has a box like unit for trapping heat from the sun rays, a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel to run DC fans that blow hot air into the drier and trays holding the product to be dried.

When the sunrays fall on the dryer (box) its surface gets heated up, the air inside the dryer is circulated by the fan that is powered by the PV panel. This hot air passes through the food product to be dried. Such solar powered drying units installed across different part of the country has empowered farmers and fishermen who need to dry food products.

I learnt that Orissa has changed the lives of the fisherwomen living there. They work in self-help groups and sell the solar dried fish at a price they had never imagined before. It is giving them handsome profits as the solar dried fish is not only very clean, but also can be stored for a longer time.

Solar dryer installations have also been done in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Despite higher installation chargers the good quality and better hygiene of the products coupled with reduced processing time is making solar dryers a popular choice among farmers and food processing companies.

Protected from rain, insects and dust, the dried fish is a high quality product. Fish constitutes an important and cheap source of animal protein to millions of people in tropical countries of sub-Saharan Africa as well. Sustainable utilization of fish as a resource through various means such as processing and preservation will help meet the nutritional, social, economic, and cultural needs of the people in developing countries.

In spite of fish being a highly nutritious and economically viable food, it is also one of the most perishable because of its suitable medium for growth of microbes after harvest. Spoilage and deterioration is much faster amongst tropical fish species because of high ambient temperature prevalent in the tropics.

Our time together ended in Delhi as she was off to visit the stunning Taj Mahal the following day before wrapping up her trip in India but I definitely came away enriched and much wiser for sure!