April 29, 2017

Awesome Odisha!

I got an opportunity to go to Cuttack, Odisha, to make two presentations at the National Law University of Odisha - one on new media and one on magazine design. First impressions - Bhubaneshwar, where I landed, was very green! Lots of varieties of trees - Kadambas, thick set Ashokas, crape myrtles, laburnums in bloom, tree hibiscus, banyans and peepals, cashew plantations near Konark, and many more. Most of the trees looked old and huge. 'Development' as we know it in the metros has not yet touched these parts, so it looks like the Hyderabad or Warangal of the 1970s or early 1980s. But now Bhubaneshwar has been declared as a smart city, and this makes me afraid for the flora and fauna of the city.

Cuttack is long piece of land between two rivers - Kathajodi and Mahanadi. While Kathajodi was quite dry, Mahanadi had a lot of water. We were waking up to a variety of bird calls - it was such a pleasure! I spotted some birds I had never seen before.

Two days of travelling around Odisha made Ragini and me camera-happy. Let the photos speak for themselves.   

First time I was seeing camels on a beach! There were hundreds of people on the beach, and getting this shot was not easy. I am rather pleased with it :)

It was lovely to see this grandfather playing with involvement with his grandchildren. He was quite old but played with them like a child!

Romancing on the beach! I found the bulls in Odisha different from the ones here. The hump is bigger and makes them look more like the Nandi we find in temples. 

This is the best shot I could get of the Puri temple. The architecture of the temples is incredible, but photography is not allowed. I am happy I went, but one advice about the Puri temple: don't go unless you get some help from someone. 

I can't travel and not write about trees! On the way to Konark - a cashew nut plantation.


Konark was awe-inspiring and left us breathless! 

There are 12 pairs of intricately carved wheels.

The huge chariot is visible from this view. Some maintenance and polishing work is going on.


We were on our way to Raghurajpur, and stopped to ask this beautiful tribal woman for directions.

Raghurajpur is an artists' village and contains a cluster of houses where they paint patachitra, palm leaf paintings and make many other crafts.

This cheerful artisan and his father paint patachitras. Very fine and intricate work, like the carving on Odisha's temples.

Just look at these masks and paintings!

There are these rasagolla and other sweet shacks between Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack..
I thought they were found all over Odisha, but apparently it is typical to this region.


We went for a heritage walk called Ekamra Walks, which started at the 9th Century Mukteshwar Temple, with a bansuri recital. The early morning ambience was perfect, and transformed us to another era.

Again, amazingly intricate carvings.

During the walk, chanced upon these two purohits, deeply absorbed in their newspapers.

Several small houses have such paintings on them, with a bride and groom's names written on them.
They are apparently painted when a wedding happens, and is a kind of an invite to everyone!
Since they don't have too much money, the paintings and the wedding info remains
till the next wedding in the family! 

The 11th century Lingaraj temple complex is beautiful, and represents the Kalinga architecture.
The guide told us that there were 107.5 lingas at this temple. 0.5 because it was incomplete. 

A photo I like very much! A vendor arranges her vegetables under the Lingaraj temple chariot. 
Near the Dhauli Buddhist stupa are the rock edicts of Ashoka. The language is Magadhi Prakrita and the script is early Brahmi. The edicts speak about the virtues of Dharma.  

Another piece of history! Freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's birth place in Cuttack. It is very well maintained and has photographs, letters and objects used in this house.
One can even see the room in which he was born on 23 January 1897. It's the kind of thing that gives me goose bumps!


All photos: Copyright Sadhana Ramchander
Giving credit for use of photos would be appreciated

April 08, 2017

An apology to Africans

We have had a professional connect with Africa for a long time. While at ICRISAT during the eighties, we met and were friends with several scientists from Africa. One of them - Dr Kanayo Nwanze - moved to Ivory Coast after several years in Hyderabad, and gave our consultancy its first turnkey assignment, which set the ball rolling, and we will be forever grateful to him for this. We have worked and continue to work on a day-to-day basis with professionals from West and East Africa. They are honest people, dignified and committed. We consider it our good fortune to have had an opportunity to work with them. 

Africa, by the way, is not one country as many people seem to assume - it is a huge continent with 54 countries. It is the second most multi-lingual continent in the world, and their art and craft are second to none. 

I went to Africa once - to Maputo in Mozambique and Nairobi in Kenya - and was taken care of and kept safe by good, simple people in both these places. It was a wish come true when I met the accomplished Prof Monty Jones - the Sierra Leonean scientist who was responsible for a very successful hybrid variety of rice called NERICA, combining the good qualities of African rice and Asian rice. There are many more enterprising women and men I have worked with virtually, and have never met. 

However, this is not about my travels or about the people I met or worked with. It is just to state my admiration for Africans, based on my association with them. They are a gracious people, immensely talented, have a unique character and have the same kind of tehzeeb that we in Hyderabad are proud of. Treating them with disrespect or worse, attacking them because of their skin colour or wrong assumptions based on one's own ignorance is such a tragedy. 

I am not a VIP, nor am I an official in the Indian government. I am an ordinary citizen of India, and I feel compelled to write this apology for the attacks on African students in Noida. I condemn these attacks and am ashamed they happened. I offer my profound apology to the Africans to whom this treatment has been meted out. Please know that there are many of us who consider you our brothers and sisters, who respect you, and warmly welcome you to our country. Please have a safe and comfortable rest of your stay in India.  

April 02, 2017

The doggy quagmire

There's one thing even my closest friends (from my adult life) don't know about me, and that is that I am a hopeless dog lover. I come from a family where everyone, grandmother downwards, loved dogs and had their own theories about them. When I was 3 years old...we had a handsome, furry cross breed. Everyone in the house adored her and even played Holi with her, dousing her with colourful love! After this dog died, we had a Dachschund cross - Sheba - given by my aunt's friend in whose house there had been a litter. Sheba grew up and gave us eight puppies one stormy night, and pretty much like the 101 Dalmatians story, one of them almost died, washed away as it had in the open drain. Oh no, we only have seven puppies, we thought sadly. We found the pup in the garden in the morning, with a couple of black ants holding on to its skin. It was shivering and barely alive. We removed the ants with a forceps and covered it with a blanket and revived it, yes, pretty much like in the movie. And then there were eight puppies once again!

There were others - Shwetha, a Pomeranian given by a friend; the Labrador Blacky, who wasn't happy in my maternal grandmother's house, and so we brought him home. Something told me he would run away, and he did...but not before I wrote our address behind its collar. Sure enough, someone found him and called us. We went and brought him back. Blacky was big brother to Swetha and then became her puppies' uncle, and let them climb all over him! It was really cute watching them...

As an adult, I've never had dogs. One, I live in a flat, and two, Vijay has always said with finality, 'Either a dog or me'. So far, it's been him! :)

The children did ask for a pet on and off, but for the general peace of the household, and the fact that dogs needed space, the 'I-want-a-dog' demands were, sadly, discouraged. To prove her need for a pet, 6-year old Malini even had a pet ant in a box! The box was soon antless and that made her sad. When she was little, someone once gifted Ragini a small bowl with three fish. I don't like fish in a bowl or birds in a cage. So the fish soon swam free in the murky waters of Indira Park.


Now is a great time to keep a dog, I think on and off. Once in a while, when I forget Vijay's 'dog or me' statement, or when we have a fight, I am very tempted to get a dog. Those cute puppies videos on FB are difficult to ignore. A friend posts photos of her dog, another narrates a heart warming incident, yet another posts a slow motion video of his dog running towards the camera...aaah! difficult to smother the temptation; it is sheer torture. I too want a dog!

So once in a while, to please myself, I visualise the whole scenario of my getting a dog. "What breed should I get?" I ask myself. "I always wanted a Golden Retriever!" Excitement! I imagine a cute puppy in my house, me playing with it, training it, taking it for a walk. My children coming home and making friends with it and loving it...my heart overflows with joy at the thought.

And then the voices of my conscientious street-dog-supporting friends criticise and scoff me for thinking of getting a dog of a certain breed and not picking up one from the street. Oh, no...what will they think of me? I ask myself horrified. I open the newspaper. "Adopt a pet" columns come every week, offering dogs and cats. They don't look very cute to me because I want a Golden Retriever. They make me feel that I am a cruel person to want one, and that makes me feel worse. Then someone posts about traumatised Beagles rescued from scientific experiments, and they're up for adoption too, and I have to pass an eligibility test to get them. I am sure I will fail that test because all I really want is a Golden Retriever. But then, I look at the photos of the science dogs and my heart melts, and I begin to feel very noble...this is not for long, and I feel like a terrible, cruel, very bad person for not wanting to adopt a handicapped or a street dog.

Ah, life has become very complicated since the time I had dogs. Nothing is simple any more, neither the choice of a dog nor the way one looks after it. One friend tells me they cancelled their holiday because the temporary home where they left their dog was full up because they did not book in advance. And when I heard of what it costed to leave your dog there, my head reeled in shock. Back then, there was always someone at home to take care of the dogs while you were away.

I snap out of the reverie, and ask just for the sake of asking - "Hey, Vijay...how about getting a dog?" "Either a dog or me", comes the predictable answer, this time somehow making me relieved that I don't have to take a decision about which dog to get!

And I see my Golden Retriever run in slow motion, far away from me.

March 15, 2017

A truth dawns on me

(This post is not about Indian politics!)

We've had elections in Uttar Pradesh and a few other states, and there has been a massive win by the BJP. Congress is all but wiped out. Shiv Visvanathan wrote about this election victory, and concluded his piece with this paragraph:

"The U.P. elections show that the old covenant around the concepts we once held sacred is dead. The hegemony of the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bajrang Dal combine is almost clear. What we face is what I am going to call the closure of the Indian mind. There are few possibilities of new political dreams. Mr. Modi is offering a straitjacket of a narrow idea of development and globalisation which contain no alternative possibilities, no dissent, no side bets. It is not a post-truth society we are confronting but a creation of a captive mind. This society by choosing Mr. Modi has closed itself to many great imaginations. What we see is not a new generation speaking a new liberated politics but a bowdlerised society oozing simplicities, created by the masterminds of propaganda. India, like the United States, has today become a collection of hard hat minds, facing a tragedy where the aspiration is global but the categories are parochial while masquerading themselves as national. Mr. Modi’s victory signals the victory of the parochial and affordably mediocre over any vision of the cosmopolitan or plural. Deep down it is the future which we have lost today. This is Indian democracy’s most ironic gift."

Reading this paragraph made me feel apprehensive about the future and extremely sad for India and all of us. But suddenly I realised the irony of my own thoughts. For, each of the above statements has been true of my own life where the freedom of mine - and therefore, me - has been in someone else's hands ever since I can remember. Minds have been closed to the possibility of better handling of one major situation in our lives. There are few or even no possibilities for us to dream. We have been offered a narrow solution to handling a universal issue, which contains no alternative possibilities, no dissent, no side bets. Our minds have been captive for a long time...too long. The space around us has been shut to many great imaginations for a great many years now. We too have global aspirations, but invisible walls have been put up at various levels to stop them from entering our minds. Somewhere in the future maybe there is some freedom, but we have lost yesterdays and todays. I revel in my free-spirited lifestyle, but looked at from another angle, this fact makes a mockery of my freedom.

Those who should read and will understand this won't read; those who might read will wonder what I am saying. Let it be that way. Thank you, Shiv Visvanathan, for the words. 

February 25, 2017

Vulture conservation at Bejjur, Telangana

I had written earlier about the fact that vultures are an endangered species in India and other parts of Asia. These posts can be found here and here. We had seen a wake* of vultures on a road trip across Himachal Pradesh in 2011, that gave us great happiness considering that by then we already knew that vultures were an endangered species. Actually, I remember seeing wakes of vultures feeding on carcasses here and there during my childhood, especially on the outskirts of a city or town while travelling by train. I also remember hating that sight, and thinking that they were scary, ugly and cruel-looking birds.

Today, I am writing the fourth blog post about vultures! What have we done to the world?

These cliffs are called Palarapu and the waterbody is called Peddavagu. They are located in the Bejjur forest, in Komaram Bheem Asifabad district, close to Kagaznagar in the northern part of Telangana, bordering Maharashtra. Apparently there were more than a hundred long billed vultures (Gyps indicus) here earlier, but owing to several reasons, the numbers dwindled. Some of the reasons, apart from deaths caused by feeding on diclofenac-injected cattle, were: water pollution because of effluents from Sirpur paper factory, lack of carcasses because most farmers sold their cattle away and never waited for them to die a natural death, and predators such as the peregrine and shaheen falcons.

This habitat was discovered in 2013. At that time, there were only about eight birds. The present count is about 24 adults and 6 chicks, taking the total to 30, which was very encouraging. When we went, we spotted three adults and one chick. Perhaps it was the time of the day - we reached the spot at about 11 am. If we had gone early in the morning, perhaps we would have seen more. The birds are up on the cliff, and are well camouflaged. It is therefore very difficult to spot them even through the binoculars. Here's a photo taken by S. Harpal Singh - The Hindu's Special Correspondent from Adilabad (full article here).

We met Mr M Ram Mohan, Bejjur Forest Range Officer, who is spearheading this effort along with Ravikanth Manchiryala, field biologist-researcher. He told us they did not want to open up this site for tourists because they would spoil the tranquil environment and that would not do the birds any good. They said that birdwatchers and people with a serious interest would be escorted to the site by the Forest Department. When we went, we were accompanied by the team, who set up a machan near Palarapu cliff. They have all the equipment to keep track of a record of the vulture numbers. The hatching of eggs and birth of every new chick is a reason for celebration, and encourages them to persist in this mission. It is a painstaking effort, but the conservation project now seems well established. 

As is done at other similar sites across India and elsewhere, there is a 'vulture restaurant' - basically a feeding site where carcasses are placed for the vultures to feed on. At first the vultures did not come to eat the animals placed there, but there was some success subsequently. This is what the site looks like -
The remains of a carcass at the feeding site
The area surrounding this is pristine and beautiful, proclaiming the absence of a certain intrusive species called homo sapiens. Peddavagu, which we had to wade through, to get to Palarapu, is clear and unpolluted, and eventually flows into the river Pranahita. You can see the Sahyadri mountain ranges from this spot - very dry at this time, but the trees of many shades made it look like a watercolour painting. 

Similar efforts have been on for much longer at the Chamorshi forests in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, about 70 km from Bejjur, and have been very successful, as mentioned in this report. 

Being in wilderness does great things to one's soul. A break from the city is always welcome! 

Our grateful thanks to Harpal Singh for his help and to the Bejjur Forest Department for considering us serious enough to be allowed into the jungle. I do hope that this mission is hugely successful, and that the vulture numbers continue to increase on the Palarapu cliff. 


*'wake' refers to a group of vultures that are feeding; 
'kettle = vultures in flight; 
'committee', 'volt' and 'venue = group of vultures resting in trees

January 06, 2017

Hum, katmal aur woh!

We went for a birthday lunch and were driving back, on a lazy Sunday afternoon. There was not much traffic, and we were talking about this and that. Vijay pointed out a galli where a cousin used to stay, and I said we hadn’t gone there in a long time, and he said, yes, actually we hadn’t driven on this road in quite some time…then we tried to remember when it was that we had last come this way...The lunch must've had a tranquilising effect for as he spoke, Vijay drove right past a red light, even as the cop gestured to him and asked him to stop!

I said to myself, “The ever-alert Vijay…so obviously running a red light?! This is something new.”

So Vijay got down and went to talk to the cop. I sat in the car for a few minutes, and then decided to go stand by his side (remembered those wedding vows, “in good times and bad…”!).

I joined them and heard Vijay saying, “…give me a challan, Sir, and I will pay the fine”.

And the cop was saying, “I cannot give you a challan because I didn’t take a photo…I didn’t bring my camera with me today. So you have to…”

“What is the problem?” I butted in. “Write out a ticket and we will pay the fine”, with a stance of “Don’t you see this man can do no wrong…just let him go, now!”

“Madam…what are you people saying, “write out a challan; write out a challan”. I am telling him I didn’t bring my camera!” Impatience in his voice. 

And then he said something I had never heard before.

“He has to do duty for 1 hour as punishment.”

“What?!” I said, ready to protest and fight, when Vijay stopped me saying, “Don’t fight with him…rules are rules. Don’t question…” and so on in the 'husband voice', successfully shutting me up.

I didn’t like this one bit, and began to wonder what we should do next.

And then, from the corner of my eye, I saw a man with a phone standing on the footpath. The cop too saw him at the same time, and walked towards him, asking him what he was doing there and why he was taking a photo!

The man said, “No, I was talking on my phone. I did not take a photo”.

“Show me your photo gallery”, said the cop. "Did you take a video?" The man showed it to him. There seemed to be no photo or video of this conversation, so the cop began searching other places in the phone.

Some more discussion and argument happened between the cop and the man, the attention of the cop completely shifted from us.

Then another cop came on a motor cycle, and parked next to us.

Suddenly the earlier cop looked at us and said, “Pondi saar” (Go, sir)!


“Let’s go, Vijay!” I said.

Vijay muttered, “Challan ivvara mari?”…Even as he said that, the other cop said impatiently, “We are asking you to go…just go!”

We got into the car, and started driving.

“That was a bit of luck”, I said. “It would’ve been fun to do the traffic duty for an hour, though!”

And then we saw a guy gesturing for us to stop. Vijay recognised him as the chap on the motor cycle, who, the cop thought, was taking a photo or video!

We pulled over, and asked him what he wanted.

He agitatedly told us that he had been taking a video of the conversation between the cop and us! He said, he wanted to catch the cop red-handed, asking for a bribe!

We looked at the guy with amusement, and thanked him for stopping to do this!
Perhaps there is hope in the world after all?


November 15, 2016

And on 9 November, 2016...

In another part of the world, another Pandora's box was opened. 

Donald Trump became the President of USA

My money is not money any more!

We will remember 9 November 2016 as the day when the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes in our wallets ceased to be money. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a television address to the nation at about 8 pm on 8 November, announced demonetisation of these two denominations of currency. We were in Chennai when this happened, and Harsha was driving us to the airport so we could catch our 10 pm flight back to Hyderabad.

The news first hit us via the ubiquitous Whatsapp...my friend Rekha messaged on our college group. We were sure it was a hoax. Soon, people on other groups to started posting this news, and we began sitting up, quite alarmed by this sudden announcement. The change would become effective 4 hours from the time we heard it!

It was about 11.30 pm by the time we reached Hyderabad and took a cab. We were not sure that our money would work. Luckily, we managed to get a cab who would accept the 'old' currency, and so, we got home.

Modi had opened a Pandora's box, no less.  He had managed to take the entire country's mind off what was happening 10,000 miles away - the election in the United States of America between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump!


10 years and 299 posts!

Wow, I've done 10 years, and I can't believe it myself! Although one can ask, why should the number 10 be more important than any other number? It should not be, but since we have words like 'dasha', 'decade' and so on, it is a mark that is recognised and respected. For me, it is a very important number because I was born on 10 January!

Since 2006 when I started blogging, all of us are 10 years older. My children were 13 and 8, Vijay and I were in our 40s/50s, my parents and other older people in the family in their 70s. We have all moved on the conveyor belt of time. While this is a good thing, there is sadness too. The children have left home, my parents have had their share of hospital visits, and we sometimes feel like we are back at the drawing board, wondering what life is all about. Existential angst...but then, you realise that growing up is good, and old and older is a good thing.  

The other thing that makes me very sad is that my teacher, Jaganmohan Reddy Sir, has been missing since 2 years now, and some close people like Mohan mama and Aditya are no longer around. 

Moving on to happier  thoughts, the one thing that makes me very happy is at how empowered we all have become over the last 10 years. Our smart phones are so loaded with incredible apps that life has indeed become much easier. I went to Ahmedabad 2 years back to visit Ragini who was interning there. I did not know the city. Got off at the airport and called an Ola cab. Then I set the GPS to the remote locality she was staying in, and I was the one who guided the driver to find her place. Made me feel really good because the only feeling I remember going to a new place and taking a cab or auto is fear and anxiety. 

The other thing that makes me happy is the social activism that internet has facilitated. From Facebook and Twitter to www.change.org to www.ipaidabribe.com to www.ichangemycity.com, there are so many ways in which we can try to make our voices heard.

Lots of nonsense happening in the world and it certainly makes me angry. A country like USA not having a proper choice for President is a statement that is loud and clear about the state of politics in the world. I am also angry at the many injustices we see and read about every day, about which we can do little, and at how intolerant we human beings are becoming day after day. I feel frustrated by the faceless, impersonal model that many businesses are adopting - banks, insurance companies, phone service providers and so on. I have written about this in earlier posts. I really would like to see this change. 

Apart from that, the small joys of life - the rain, the rainbow, trees and birds to meet, my childrens' and my own learning, discovery and travel. Then there's reading, writing, laughing, friends, movies, sports, food, chocolates, and sometimes Whatsapp! Life, when viewed from this angle, is always good. :)

And so I blog on into my 11th year, whether to celebrate discovery or express anguish. Some people tell me they still come here - my love and thanks to all of them, as also to my parents who are a regular readers. As for the wonderful friends I met through my blog, my life is that much richer because of them.

Happy birthday, Lens and Sensibility!


September 13, 2016

Smitten by the mockingbird!

Thinking back on my 6-week trip to the US during June-July 2016, I realise that it is moments of discovery, mostly of the natural world, that formed the high points of my trip.

We were in San Diego, with Vijay's cousin and were about to leave on a road trip to San Francisco in the morning, when I heard a bird song from their backyard. I ran to see if I could spot the bird. I did spot it and then followed the most amazing conversation between this bird and its mate on another tree close by! The song was not monotonous like that of other birds...these birds made all kinds of sounds! I excitedly called Vijay and asked him to listen. I had no idea what the bird was, and was later told that it was a mockingbird!

For people living in the US, it may be common, but for me it was novel. Apart from the title of Harper Lee's book, I never really thought of the mockingbird or read about it. Yes, on an earlier trip, at Three Sisters Island near Niagara Falls, I did hear a bird sound like a the tring-tring of the telephone. I was fascinated but had not explored further. Maybe it had been the mockingbird!

The mockingbird is not very attractive - small and grey, with long legs and a tail. Males and females look alike. BUT this is what it sounds like. Just listen to it!

I opened a book I own titled, "Why birds sing" by David Rothenberg and found a whole chapter - 'Listen with the mockingbird'.

This para, among many others, captures the essence of this bird:

"The real bird imitates all in his path, with clear and graspable rhythms. Evenly paced clicks. A break. The same thing sung higher and faster, faster, then a quip, a turnaround, a stop. Space. Another melody, a game played with that. Rules you think you almost catch - twists you don't expect, like a fine jazz solo. It's all alone, at the edge of the field. He's got his territory, he's looking for his mate. Then he finds her. Then he doesn't stop. He keeps on singing. Singing on when there's no more need. If it's taunting anyone, it must be us - Fool, you think you can explain me! You think I tease you with my abilities? I sing the song of the world, the recombination of all that I hear. Listen in and listen good".

They sing to woo their mate. And they sing as they mate, the song of the male lasting far longer than the actual mating! "Shall we respect the song as an end in itself?" asked Rothenberg.

Then there's this delightful para: "What happens when he imitates clocks, car alarms, and barking dogs? He cannot use the same method to make those sounds as their sources do, but he does translate those sounds into new challenges for the syrinx (voice organ of birds). Why, why, why does he go on in threes, fours, and sixes? Ask him that. Ask him that. Ask him that. That that that. Ask Ask Ask."


Rothenberg apparently asked Partha Mitra, who works on sound comparison software and on rules of communication that govern the brain, "Do you think a detailed notation of this mockingbird music will help us make sense of it?"

"Listen", Partha said, "Indian music has gotten by without notation for thousands of years, and it is deeply complex. I think the mockingbird is much closer to improvisation than written composition."

Since we live in this amazing virtual world where one thing leads to another, I browsed around and chanced upon this song composed by Septimus Winner, composer of several of 19th century's most popular songs, and who published under the pseudonym Alice Hawthorne. His biggest hit of all was "Listen to the mockingbird", which spread faster than any song of its day. It actually sounds like the song of the mockingbird!

I'm dreaming now of Hally
Sweet Hally, sweet Hally
I'm dreaming now of Hally
For the tho't of her is one that never dies;

She's sleeping in the valley,
In the valley, in the valley,
She's sleeping in the valley
And the mocking bird is singing where she lies.
Listen to the mocking bird
Listen to the mocking bird...

So goes the song.
Listen to it here by Dolly Parton and Stuart Duncan and here by Brother Bones and his Shadows and here by Louis Armstrong.

As for me, I am truly smitten by the mockingbird!

Related link: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/05/listen-to-the-mockingbird/?_r=0

September 05, 2016

A thank you note to my government

In February 2015, I had written a worried note about some announcements made by the Telangana government, a few of these being building a stadium in NTR grounds, bringing the Osmania Hospital building down, emptying Hussain Sagar and building skyscrapers, and replacing the outer periphery of KBR Park with a road, which meant cutting down several trees and blasting beautiful rock formations.

So far, so good. None of these threats have been carried out. Perhaps the decision makers are busy with more important issues! Let's hope they never have the time to do these terrible things.

On the other hand, I must give credit where it is due. This is a thank you note to the Telangana government for some of the improvements I see around me. Except for random outages, power cuts have become a thing of the past, Mission Kakatiya seems to be a huge success, and in my area of interest, the parks in Hyderabad are getting more and more beautiful by the day, and open spaces have, so far, been left alone.

There's something new in Sanjeevaiah Park every other day, and it has expanded even! Earlier, I used to see the typical blue wall cordoning off a large area, and I was sure some horrible constructions would come up there. So what a pleasant surprise when I found the wall gone and a new garden in its place, complete with trees to suit various zodiac signs. It is in this area that the huge flag has now been installed, instead of the world's tallest tower announced earlier (shudder, shudder!).
The 291-ft high flag set up to mark the 2nd birthday of Telangana. The flag itself is 72-ft high and 108-ft wide, making it the second largest in India (the tallest is in Ranchi, Jharkhand at 293 ft)

The butterfly garden in Sanjeevaiah Park is awesome...the number of butterflies you see there in season is unbelievable!

I spotted a young peacock and a peahen in this park for the first time!
KBR Park: We are so lucky to have a natural forest in the heart of the city. This park, apart being a fantastic lung space, also gives an opportunity for urban dwellers to walk in a forest, spot small animals and birds, and plenty of peacocks. Let us please keep it this way.
Thank god there is no landscaping done in this park! It is very important to retain wild plants, which are often referred to as 'weeds'. 
There are peacocks aplenty in KBR. Porcupines too have been noticed by quite a few people. 
Indira Park is closest to my home and I go there often. While I get depressed seeing the state of the water body in this park, there have been other improvements. The government nursery, that was in a bad state, is now lush and has a wide variety of plants.

The nursery looks green and well cared for.
There's supposed to be water here! And facilities for boating.
In general, the water bodies in Indira Park and Sanjeevaiah Park need to be restored.
The other side of the bridge is lovely, though!
 Thank you, Telangana, for these small, but very important improvements.

Now that I am feeling hopeful, how about doing some smart planning
to ease the traffic situation, guys :)?


August 22, 2016

My badminton story

Rio and the badminton matches inspired me to write about my own tryst with badminton – an important part of my life because I am what I am today because of this sport. Really.

If you ask me what I was doing from age 8 to age 19, apart from the things all children do, the one significant thing I did a lot was play shuttle badminton. I belong to a sports family, and badminton, particularly, was a rite of passage for each of us.

I was born in my grandfather’s ancestral house in the heart of Hanamkonda, in Warangal district, and lived there with my father’s seven brothers and two sisters, his mother and her co-sister, and several other extended family and friends. It was a house that welcomed everyone, and was always buzzing with activity. My uncles and their friends played cricket in the limited space we had. They also played gilli danda, marbles, tops and flew kites when it was the season. There was also an air gun with which some of them practised shooting…the gun was also fired in the air to scare away monkeys!

When I was six, my parents began building a new house - designed by my mother's brother Seetharam -  and everyone was very excited because the original plan had a badminton court on one side and a swimming pool on the other, thanks to my father’s love of sports and the good life, despite all odds (believe me, there were plenty of those)! Eventually, the swimming pool idea was chucked because water was scarce and there would be maintenance issues. But we did get that badminton court!

When I was seven, we moved to ‘Ratnakara’, our new house. It was beautiful, and much bigger than the old place. As we settled down, my uncles and their friends began working on the shuttle court. They brought a manual sports ground roller from somewhere and used to work very hard to make the ground smooth, sprinkling water as they went along, after which they used to draw the lines with lime powder. Soon a fine shuttle court was ready, to exact dimensions, and my father, his friends and the older of my uncles and their friends began playing in all earnest. 

My father’s badminton days date back to his college where he used to play a number of sports. Very good at all the games he played, and a very stylish player at that, he soon won my mom’s heart (she was his junior in Law College) when he defeated the guy who was stalking her, and who she wanted to see defeated! :)

Back to Ratnakara. So while the older people played in the court, my youngest uncles and I played in the open space in front of our house. So I started playing when I was about 8; my brother started at 2, very often interrupting our attempts at playing! It was serious stuff, and over a few years, we were allowed to play for a while in the shuttle court, and we played enthusiastically every evening, guided by my father. There were many young people around, and they all were greatly interested in the sport. And soon ‘Ratnakara Club’ was born. 

We began having serious matches for seniors and juniors, complete with a chief guest, prizes and all! We all just loved playing! There was nothing else we would rather do with our evenings -- remember there was no TV, leave alone computers! My mother also started having serious doubts about our progress in academics.

In the meantime, the Officer’s Club (renamed Warangal club in later years), 2 km away from my house, built an indoor court. Quite a few members began to play and we slowly graduated from the outdoor court at home, to the indoor court in the club. We now had a wider selection of players to play with. We took advantage of this space, and apart from having a lot of fun, we also improved our game to the best of our ability.

We then started playing district tournaments – it was a big thing in Warangal. There were a lot of good players and good competition. We played as Ratnakara club and won most of the matches. There was a rolling shield and we won it year after year! My father invariably won the men’s singles title…I don’t remember when he stopped competing. For some time, I played as his partner in mixed doubles, we were a great team, and we used to win every match. Winning that shield was a heady thing, and we worked for it all year with a great deal of determination. Like the singing Von Trapp family in Sound of Music, we were the sporting family of Warangal!

I had my share of initial highs before better players came in -- one year I won women’s singles, doubles (with Lakshmi), and mixed doubles (with Srikanth). The headline in the newspaper read, ‘Triple crown for Ratnakara’, one more said, ‘Sadhana shines’…my two seconds of fame tasted sweet indeed!
Year after year we played district tournaments, and other matches held elsewhere. Then for the first time, we had a coach. Rammohan Rao Sir arrived from Hyderabad, and we signed up for coaching. We had to wake up at 4 am, exercise, jog and then play badminton. He taught us the right strokes, he made us practice shots, drops, rallies. It was tiring, but our game improved. Rao was a tough task master and we had a love-hate relationship with him! He expected a lot from me than from the boys because it was easier for women to get to somewhere worthwhile. But I don’t think I could give so much of myself to the game at that time, and meet his expectations.

I came to college and represented my university twice, once to Dharwad University and once to Calicut University. The trips were great fun, but both times, we hardly had any practice, we had no facilities, and returned after the first round. I played in the state tournament a few times, and the highest I reached was runners up in under 19 in AP. I never tried to better this title. 

Years passed, and each of us reached a stage when we had to leave Warangal to go to study elsewhere. I applied for Communication and Journalism in Osmania University, a much sought-after course at that time. I did not get the seat in the general category. I got it through sports quota…all those certificates I had earned came into good use and I got myself an education!
Then 'life' followed, and somehow badminton was not part of it. I often wonder why not, but I haven't found an answer to this. Perhaps it was the time we lived in.  
Last week I was in Warangal, watching Olympic badminton matches sitting next to my father. I would not have traded this for the best sports bar in the city. As we watched the games, we felt what the players were feeling, we knew exactly what they did right and what they did wrong. And both of us rejoiced in the fact that shuttle badminton, which had been an insignificant sport when we were playing it, has come to be a much-loved sport now. 
This post is:
-  For Pa, who introduced a whole generation of us to badminton and the wonderful world of sports.
-  For all the people who constituted Ratnakara Club and made our growing up really unique and wonderful.
-  And for the people we played with at Warangal club.

PS: The photos are from our albums - pardon the bad quality - I took them with my phone. There are photos of us with prizes the rolling shield, etc. but I couldn't find them on this trip to Warangal. The post couldn't wait!

May 28, 2016

Lost phone...Found phone!

"I lost my phone!"

Vijay came rushing into the house, panicking. It's the new 'serious'...those words we all dread to hear.

He was walking in our street, took out the phone from his shirt pocket, sent a message, put phone back in his pocket, and crossed the main road. And then it was gone.

"What do I do?" he asked.

I had read all about it several times, but couldn't remember! "Google it", I said.

"What to do if you lose phone?"
"Android phone - how to trace?

"Call my phone", he said, even as he was at the computer.

I dialled. No response.

"They're not picking up...maybe they want to keep it"

I dialled once again after a while.

This time, someone did pick up. "Hello...", he said.

One kind of relief!

"Hello...our phone is with you?"

"Yes, I am in Barkatpura. Come and pick it up."

I immediately tried to analyse the kind of person he was, by his manner of speaking. Sounded simple enough, but one never knows. My imagination works overtime at such times.

Vijay hurriedly made his way to the door.

"Wait, I am coming!" I said. What if there was a gang of guys who take him to a lonely galli (is there any such in the city?!) and say, "give us [huge amount of money] or else you won't get your phone back"? I should be with Vijay so we can tackle this together! :) (how, I don't know!)

We fight over whether we should go in the car or an auto. I say car, he says auto. Auto it is, in the hot afternoon sun.

As we walk to get an auto, I notice that the stitches at the bottom of Vijay's shirt pocket have given way. "Look!" I said. "Your phone must have slipped out of your pocket!"

"Oh ****", he says. And goes on to use other words to curse the garment company's flimsy stitching! "...should never buy ready-made shirts****". "Come on, it never happened before", I say.

Through the auto ride he recounts all the precious info that the chap who found his phone had access to. Whatsapp messages, bank info, emails, photos... "Don't you have a pass code?" I ask. "No", he says. "It was too bothersome, so I removed it".

We reach Barkatpura. He wants to get off the auto even before the auto stops! I hold him back.

We call Vijay's phone. The guy says come to the petrol pump. Vijay wants to get off and run across the road. I say let the auto drop us off over there. The auto guy says, "I'll take you, sit down". Together we manage to get him back into the auto!

There are four guys and some bikes.

One of them hands Vijay the phone, points to another wearing a red shirt and says, "He found it".

"Thank you very much", Vijay says, and takes it. He pulls out his wallet and gives red shirt a reward of Rs 200. The guy takes it. Then says give me some more. Another Rs 50 note exchanges hands.

Still, we are grateful he returned the phone. We turn to come back.

The first guy tells us that his office is down that road. That they deal in real estate. And that if we want to buy any property, we should contact him.

In that one extra minute, he did not miss a chance to advertise his business!

We get back home in the same auto. "Good we went in an auto", I say. "Otherwise they would've expected us to pay more." Vijay utters the words he so loves. "I told you".

Back home, he spends some quality time with his phone, going through its contents with great concentration. He then sets a 20-digit pass code, which he diligently inputs each time he now wants to use his phone! :)

"Hey, look at this!" he exclaims a little later when he finds a skewed photo of the road and traffic on his phone. A photo that he didn't take! WHO could have taken it?

He now has his detective hat on and is trying to figure out how that photo was taken...did the phone take it by itself when it fell? If so, how exactly could that have happened? Or did red shirt take the photo as he picked it up and drove away?...I guess we'll never know!