December 30, 2012

Rape, yes...what should be done now?

We have been bombarded by millions of words written and spoken in the last few days, about the gang rape in New Delhi. The 23-year old girl, being referred to as "Brave heart", "Damini", "Nirbhaya", etc.  died yesterday. It is easy to endlessly discuss problems. I think it is practical to discuss action. Here are some things that  should be done to ensure safety of women in India, according to the two newspapers I read: The Hindu and The Economic Times.  
From The Hindu Editorial, 30 Dec 2012
There are specific steps — administrative, pedagogic, cultural — that must be taken to prevent sexual assault and rape. But there is a wider question: Would the Indian political system and class have been so indifferent to the problem of sexual violence if half or even one-third of all legislators were women? The Congress and the Opposition should forget about playing to the gallery. If they are serious about the rights of women, they should quickly pass the Women’s Reservation Bill. Let the presence of at least 181 female MPs in the next Lok Sabha — and the political mobilisation of women this will slowly catalyse — be Parliament’s way of honouring the death of the Unknown Citizen.

From the Economic Times, 30 Dec 2012

13 ways to ensure safety of women in 2013 and beyond

A girl who was gang-raped in Delhi is dead. Another killed herself in Patiala. These are alarming reminders about the security of women. ET Magazine lists measures, simple & radical, that can ensure her safety in 2013 and beyond.

1/ Better, safer workplaces
Given that we spend most of our waking hours at work, workplaces can play a great part in preventing the abuse of women. By law, it is compulsory for employers of women who are in night shifts to drop them to their houses. BPOs ensure this. But what about retail? More companies must comply with this practice. Companies can also help by training their employees in the basics of self-defence.
Difficulty Level: 5

2/ Sex Offender Registry 
Create a national database of those who are convicted of sexual offence. Their names, photographs, addresses, crimes and the court's perception of risk levels have to be registered. And, more importantly, the public should be able to access the registry. Difficulty Level: 7

3/ Just frown
The next time you hear somebody make a sexist joke, frown. Frown hard at the person who says it and his friends who are laughing with him. Frown when somebody uses a cuss word that begins with "mother" or "sister". Frown when somebody refers to women disparagingly in public or private. Difficulty Level: 1

4/ Download that app 
Find yourself in a dangerous situation or being stalked down a dark alley? At the tap of a button on your smartphone, you can alert a chosen list of friends and relatives about your predicament. Apps like Circleof6 and On Watch send an SMS SOS and relay your location to kith and kin. Can somebody now design an app that sends an alert to the local police authorities too? Difficulty Level: 1

5/ Women traffic cops 
All states should have a women-only traffic police department. The men from this department should be transferred to handle regular law and order responsibilities. With women cops on the roads, men will eventually come to terms with female authority and women should feel safer. Difficulty Level: 5

6/ More cops, smarter cops
Hire more cops. Hire more women in the police force. Also, ensure they are ever vigilant, that they are tech-equipped to communicate better with each other even about a hint of lawlessness as well as to track and capture criminals. Difficulty Level: 3

7/ 24x7 Cities
Imagine what would happen if shopping malls, cinema halls and restaurants stayed open through the night instead of shuttering down by midnight. The streets would be lit and alive all night and would truly never be empty. Safer streets, right? Difficulty Level: 3

8/ More toilets please
In Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar, lack of toilets in homes exposes women to humiliation and sexual violence. Public sanitation and government support for building toilets would go a long way in addressing this problem. Difficulty Level: 2

9/ Educating children
Gender sensitivity should be a part of school curriculum. Children should be taught to question gender stereotyping wherever they find it, whether in families or in the advertising and marketing of products. 

Difficulty Level: 1

10/ Zero tolerance to public drinking
It is a familiar sight outside "wine" shops which serve hard liquor across India. Men consume cheap and industrial-strength alcohol and then start harassing women passing by. Arrest or fine those who consume liquor in public places such as parks. Difficulty Level: 3

11/ Public Transport Safety
For a working woman, the daily commute to office should be a routine affair, not an adventure. A government plan to make photo IDs of bus and autorickshaw drivers displayed prominently in the vehicle is a good first step towards making her feel safe. However, what would really go a long way is creating more public transportation operated by women — women drivers and auxiliary bus staff. Difficulty Level: 3

12/ Tougher laws 
In India, rape has been defined so narrowly that it excludes forced oral sex, or sodomy, or penetration by foreign objects. The government will have to include such crimes under the definition of rape. And there should be harsher punishment for rapists. Difficulty Level: 4

13/ What Men Should Do 
Let's admit it: most men — Indian men, especially — are sexists. And rape, or any sexual assault, is a symptom of this malaise. This attitude has to be purged. And re-learning has to start individually. Change the patriarchal mindset. Start doing what you disparage as "womanly" chores. Small steps, but start NOW.
Difficulty Level: 10

December 25, 2012

A book? a child?...

It has now been a year and a half since the release of my book, "Just look see the magic in the trees around you". I was afraid and reluctant to let it go out into the world, just as I was afraid for my children when I taught them to cross the road or when my older daughter left home to join college in another city! Several copies of the book have now left me and have travelled, within Hyderabad, and to Bangalore, Chennai,  Delhi, Mysore, Pune, Warangal, and a few other places in India and some places in the US. People in Bangalore have been very enthusiastic about this little book, smarting as they are, from the cutting down of several trees in their once-green city.

I too have travelled a little, with the book. I was at Bookaroo, the children's book fest in Delhi in 2011 to do a session with children. It was immensely enjoyable. I also went to Silver Oaks school in Bachupally (on the outskirts of Hyderabad) for a "Meet the author" program, where about 50 children shot questions at me about various aspects of writing a book. It was fun, and I admire these bright children for thinking of so many questions! Silver Oaks School also wants me to help kick-start a gardening and nature awareness class in their school. This is exactly what I was hoping would happen. There have also been requests for tree walks around the city, but none of the walks actually happened.

Initially, since I did the distribution myself, I received emails from people asking for the book, and it felt great to know who was buying my book. I also had a chance to interact with my buyers, which was a very interesting experience. I also made some friends in the process, because the people interested in buying this book are nature lovers, and that immediately binds us together.

Since I not only wrote this book, but also published it myself,  I find myself consistently working for its welfare. The happiness it is giving me is exactly like the happiness I feel when I see my children grow and find their way in the world.

I have understood that a book is alive, a book goes places, a book affects people who read it. I think a book also just does not plan it. And I know from my experience with my first book, "Autorickshaw blues and other colours", which was published by Katha in 2004, that a book takes a long time to travel and get noticed.

I am hopeful and enthusiastic about "Just look up...". As I said during its release, I would like this book to be like the Olympic torch…and pass on the spirit of friendship with nature from one generation to the other. More realistically, I would like it to make people take more walks in parks, listen to the song of the koel, and simply acknowledge the presence of the several fascinating varieties of trees around us. On an ambitious note is the hope that once people become sensitive to trees and nature, when an axe hits a roadside tree, there will be many voices that will shout, “Stop…don’t cut down this tree”.


November 30, 2012

Pandavula guttalu

On a two-day visit to Warangal, we went to Pandavula guttalu in Parkal, about 45 km from Warangal. On the outskirts, we passed by a place where they were making sculptures of gods and politicians. We had to stop to check it out.

We then drove on, looking at paddy, cotton, tobacco and banana fields, with the gorgeous Telangana rocks dotting the landscape. There is no board of any sort to indicate the location of  Pandavula guttalu, so we had to ask people as we went along.

And then they suddenly appeared, spectacular, and quite different from the other rockscapes in the region. I later learnt that these were sedimentary rocks while the rock formations usually found in this region were igneous.

The rocks were majestic and there was no one around. Just two villagers sitting in a shed apparently doing nothing. One of them (Narayana) came to us, and he turned out to be a guide of sorts.He had obviously grown up there and loved the guttalu, and seemed to be working towards making this a tourist destination. We climbed up, led by Narayana, and he pointed out, high above, a painting of a deer outside a cave. We climbed for about 45 minutes, passing by stunning rocks, greenery, a spot with embedded foot prints which Narayana said were "Dharmaraju padalu", and came to a shallow cave ("like the hood of a snake", he said). In this cave was a panel of vegetable dye paintings of a scene showing the Pandavas and Draupadi. Sadly, it had already been scribbled on.

Narayana made us light agarbattis, which he had carried with him, and told us about the paintings. To me all this  seemed to point at attempts at making this a tourist destination, not just for the rocks, the caves and the waterfalls during the rainy season, but with a religious angle, which of course, attracts the most people.

We returned telling ourselves that we must go back there and explore all the six caves Narayana told us about. Apparently one cave is big enough to shelter 100 people from rain.

All in all, this was a very interesting discovery, and it is always nice to go to a place to which there are no signboards, and which is not thronged with tourists.

November 01, 2012

Oh, Calcutta!

This was a trip for my father, who has always been an admirer of Bengali greats such as Rabindranath Tagore, Sharath Chandra Chatterjee and Satyajit Ray. I myself have always wanted to visit Calcutta and Shantinikentan. And so we went -- my parents, aunt, my children and I -- three generations, each keeping an eye on the other for different reasons! We were there bang in the middle of Pujo and discovered that, despite warnings to the contrary, this is the best time to be in Calcutta. You don't have to do anything just need to do 'pandle hopping' and be entertained.

Apart from this, the city is frozen in time, sans the glitter and malls of modern cities, somewhat a picture of neglect, and one cannot help wishing that they would at least take good care of the grand old edifices that line the roads. The yellow Ambassador cabs, the tram that suddenly makes an appearance, the rickshaws, the rust and green edifices, the festive lights, the sweets...all give Calcutta its very own character and charm. It is a lovable city. 

The famous yellow cabs of Calcutta, that have been around for a 100 years. 
Heard they will soon make way for new kids on the block. 

The tram appears suddenly; it is lovely!

 The very first Durga we saw, outside Kalighat mandir

Durgas everywhere

 An old sweet shop at Kalighat

I loved the artistic lamp posts of Calcutta

Another Durga...I call this the Midas Durga!

A lot of ads feature the lady of the month...including the Lux Cozi innerwear ad!

The clocktower in New Market...our hotel was right next to it, 
and it had the gentlest gong every quarter hour

 These were the surprises I loved as we walked down Calcutta roads... 

...another surprise...

...and another! LP records being sold like CDs! 
We still have some of the records seen here.

Tagore's house...we couldn't go in because of Puja holidays. 
But, why do I feel like I have been there before?

 This was the most delightful pandle we saw! 
All the dolls and decorations were made of wood. 
It looked like the South Indian bommala koluvu.  

The cute deities. I am quite sure these are not immersed.

Outside Mother Teresa's home...

 We were lucky to be at the riverside when the visarjan started 

Time to bring her down from the truck 

Down she came... 

I found this Durga ensemble rather bizarre 

Tagore is everywhere, but this statue is near Amar Kutir
on the banks of Kopai river in Shantiniketan 

 The meditation hall in Shantiniketan. With artistic lighting, it looks superb even at night.

This was Debendranath Tagore's house 

Our gang outside Vishwabharathi University

My father with his grandchildren at the very place
where Tagore sat, taking Hindi lessons 

Strange plant, with inflorescence like plaits...I need to find out what this is.

Edit: I subsequently tried very hard to find out the name of this plant, and finally it was identified by Venkat Vadva of the Hasiru Group, through Sugunasri Maddala. It is called Desmodium pulchellum (Angel's locks).     

 The mural was done by the renowned artist K G Subramanyam, 
who studied at Kala Bhavan and taught there too.

Another mural by KG...Shantiniketan truly makes one's soul happy...

 ...and fearless!

Love you, Kolkata!
Take care.

Photos: Copyright Sadhana Ramchander. Please leave a comment asking for permission if you want to use any photos. 

October 20, 2012

One ordinary day in Indira park

15 October 2012: It was a morning like any other, except that I had been delayed and was going later than normal to Indira Park for a walk. I meant to take petrol on the way, but the queue at the petrol pump put me off. It was sunny and hot when I entered the park. On days like this, I take a tree-lined, shady route, one that is more interesting than the well-laidout path. Most of the walkers had left and I was enjoying the quiet.

I was on the bridge over the water body when I suddenly stopped in my track, awestruck by what I was seeing. On the slope next to the water below were two 5-foot snakes entwined and vertical. It looked like they were mating. I could not believe my luck! There was not a soul around and I stood rooted to the spot, looking at the action before me. I had gone to Indira Park hundreds of times but had never ever seen a snake. I groped in my bag for my phone and took a few photos. But my hands were shivering and heart racing. One thought dominated my mind. If they came towards me, should I run straight or zig-zag?

This is the photo I took. Please enlarge and look inside the red circle. Not a clear photo but it is a record of an exciting moment.

I have now read about this and learnt that these snakes are neither dancing (snakes do not dance) nor are they mating. What I saw was a wrestling match between two male snakes of the same species. This is what Janaki Lenin says in her article, "Snake Wrestlers" (The Hindu, 2 March 2012).

"Duelling snakes twine their lower bodies around each other, rise high off the ground and try to slam the opponent to the ground. Their heads weave higher and higher, midair, as each tries to gain the height necessary to throw the rival down. Their fluid and graceful movements seems more like dance than battle. It can go on for an hour and saps the snakes of energy. Stamina is a prime criterion for winning. The one that tires and gives up first is the loser...
...There’s often a female snake in the vicinity of such coiled combat.
When two snakes are engrossed in each other, they become oblivious to their surroundings. A pair of large king cobras fought a long, hard battle across a bridge in Karnataka while people parked their vehicles and gathered around to watch. Unmindful of spectators, snakes have fought in rice fields, plantations, and the courtyards of farmhouses."
Sure, they were engrossed and did not bother about me. Anyway, after a while, they separated and one of them moved in my direction. I turned and took a few steps back and began walking away. Then I saw it  go into the bushes. I decided to stand there and watch the other one till it disappeared. 
It was a very exciting moment in my life. I felt that the unusual delay in the morning was so I could see this sight! I felt special and blessed!  This will be one of my favourite stories and I will add it to my lizard-garden lizard-snake encounters (yes, a blog post on that later). And I know that I will feel the thrill every time I narrate this particular incident to someone! 

October 19, 2012

A car rally with a difference

Sunday, 14 October 2012. Tara and I participated in a time-speed-distance car rally conducted by the Dialogue in the Dark and Madras Motorsports Club. This rally was unique because the navigator was blind. Our navigator -- Kamruddin -- was given the navigation chart in Braille, and, in a role reversal, he was to lead the way by reading it to us.

 The rally went on quite well, but as I drove, there were moments of extreme helplessness because we could not ourselves read the tulip chart. We had to depend so totally on Kamruddin. Since he did not know the city well, he struggled to read out the route to us. And, because the sheets given to him had not been stapled, he once in a while read out from the wrong sheet. Tara's role was to quickly note down what he was saying and then we would interpret the notes and go from one point to the other. We took many a wrong turn, struggled to follow what Kamruddin read out. There was frustration at not being able to interpret what he was trying to say. Yet, we knew we had to be patient and not lose our cool.

It was a very humbling experience, and we realised what it is to depend on someone for our movement -- something that the blind live with all the time.

The best part of the drive was that we made friends with Kamruddin, a student, in the third year of a 5-year integrated course in Hindi, in Central University. He belongs to a village near Vikarabad. He has always lived in hostels. When I asked him what he did in his spare time, he said he liked to 'watch' movies, and when he was in the village, he liked to spend time in the fields where there were a lot of birds. Kamruddin thought the number 39 that was assigned to our car was a lucky number.

It was also wonderful to see normal people mingling with the blind, making friends, walking with their hands on their shoulders. The children who volunteered, also handled the blind very well, making them sit in the cars, taking them to the toilet and for lunch, and making them cross the road. These interactions, for me, were the touching moments that made the rally worth every minute. Thank you, Dialogue in the Dark and Madras Motorsports Club, for making this happen in Hyderabad.

Some criticism: While the rally itself was meticulous and very well organised, the 'entertainment' (unnecessary, in my opinion) and the prize distribution  were handed over to an event management company, and that was when the sincerity of the rally took a beating. Frivolity set in as the loud compere made the blind among the audience sing, dance, and do was a rather pathetic turn to an otherwise enlightening event. It would've been great if someone from the National Association of the Blind spoke to us, or if the people from Madras Motorsports recounted anecdotes from 24 years of 'blind' rallying.

Hopefully, these issues will be addressed next year. I will be there with Tara and Kamruddin.

Note: I deliberately use the word 'blind' and not 'visually challenged'. I believe in plain-speak. Saying 'visually challenged' does not make their life any easier. 

October 07, 2012

The most dangerous animals are two legged

This was an article I wrote for Teacher Plus, October 2012. You can read it below, or go to this link: 

I have been reading about the proposed ban on tourism activities in core areas of tiger reserves in India (see box at the end of the article). I am not surprised at all by this move, having visited the Corbett National Park in Uttaranchal in July 2011. A brief account of my visit will tell you why I am not surprised...

My daughter and I were on the last lap of a ride in my cousins’ sports utility vehicle, in which they had set out on an ambitious drive along the entire border of India. We had joined them on the leg across the spectacular Himachal Pradesh and were to get off at Ramnagar (the gateway to Corbett), en route to Delhi and then back home to Hyderabad. It was 11.30 pm, and as we neared Ramnagar, the drive suddenly became exciting as we began hearing forest sounds and seeing fl ashing eyes and outlines of civets and deer. The hope of seeing more animals was dashed because we were suddenly in the midst of an endless row of guest houses and hotels... there were so many that it seemed like we were back in a busy suburb! Where had the jungle gone?

The sight of those guest houses was the first shock at Corbett.

In the resort where we stayed, we were told that there are two sides to the jungle – one, the famous and much-in-demand Corbett National Park; and the other, the Reserve Forest. Since there was a waiting list for the Park visit, and as we had no patience to stand in long queues, we decided to go to the Reserve Forest. “Animals don’t distinguish between names of forests”, the naturalist/guide reasoned. Another shock. Since we were told that there was no concept of a shared jeep, my daughter and I reluctantly hired ‘our very exclusive’ open-top jeep, forced to erase any concern about crowding the jungle with one more mechanical animal. The comforting factor was that our guide turned out to be a nice chap, well-informed and sensitive. The 4-hour drive began like a just-fl agged-off rally, with one jeep after another speeding into the jungle, filled with tourists shouting, hooting, singing, making merry. Were they on a picnic?

The drive into the forest
Corbett is an amazing jungle, and one finds a predominance of sal trees – the tiger’s favourite. There are also teak trees with humongous leaves, and several other tree species including Acacia (khair) and Indian rosewood (shisham). It is a beautiful, dense forest, and consists of grasslands, wetlands, riverine areas, water bodies and swamps. Our guide sensed our concern for nature, drove slow and pointed out various plants, trees, and mudhills; alerted us to the bird calls; and explained various aspects of conservation. We told him that we were not expecting to see any animals – that we did understand that they may not be seen because of the people and their preposterous behaviour. His response was simple: “The most dangerous animals are the two-legged ones!”

We could not spot too many animals, defi nitely not the tiger. However, we did see spotted deer, which darted away startled when they heard the loud horn of a jeep that overtook ours and zoomed off hurriedly. We also saw rhesus monkeys, langurs, a monitor lizard, a serpent eagle, several white-crested laughing thrushes whose decibel levels seemed louder than those of the tourists!

We drove deep inside, till we came to a temple called Sitavani where legend has it that Sita raised her twins – Lava and Kusha. It is not an impressive temple, but these legends are interesting. It is easy to imagine that Sita raised her children in this deep, beautiful forest, but then, there are many other places in India that are ‘home’ to the legend of Lava and Kusha, which is what our amazing country is all about, I suppose.

Outside Sitavani we also saw a small shop selling chips, biscuits and water in plastic packets. Yes, we also saw empty packets of the above strewn on the ground here and there.

We drove back from Sitavani as night fell. The forest took on a different hue… it was scary with the magnified insect and bird sounds, and the shadows. Add to this the tall trees, the clouds and the moon. After what seemed like a never-ending drive, with us wondering where the end of the forest was, and how our guide could find his way out, we were back into the dusty overcrowded village outside the jungle, and to our resort where a corporate group from Delhi were having a party on the lawns.

Entertainment culture
There are apparently about 150 resorts outside Corbett National Park. These places seem to have become huge money spinners, functioning basically as entertainment centres. Events are frequently held by business and corporate houses. The participants go wild, shout, play on the lawns, and invariably sing and dance to loud music. This is not what a jungle resort should be like! In my opinion, a jungle resort should have the responsibility to educate people and sensitize them to nature and wildlife. What is happening to our forests? What is happening to our tigers? Why are their numbers dwindling? What can we do about it?

Jungle lodges should ideally have very basic amenities, maybe not even electricity. They must offer meaningful, nature-related activities for guests. They could show them videos on conservation; educate them on the necessity for respect and silence while in the forest. Conservationists and naturalists could talk to people, make them aware of the wonders of our natural world. Jungle resorts should be about serious nature tourism, not corporate entertainment.

I have earlier been to Pakhal and Eturunagaram in Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh, to Nallamalla forest near Srisailam, to Bandipur in Karnataka, and to two sanctuaries in Africa – the Maputo Reserve (Mozambique) and the Nairobi National Park (Kenya). Nowhere did I see the crudeness, the unruliness, and the commercialization that I saw in Corbett. We used to go to Pakhal on a school picnic every year, and it was there that our love for nature took root. We had gone to the Eturunagaram forest at Tadvai several years ago… the forest was quiet, isolated, unpredictable and therefore gorgeous. I recently learnt from the Forest Office in Warangal that Pakhal and Eturunagaram are now out of bounds to the casual tourist… you need official permission to go there, and there are no facilities for overnight stay. It made me sad when I heard this, for I feel people should have an opportunity to experience our forests.

Surely, the ideal lies somewhere between the isolation of Eturunagaram and the overpopulated Corbett?

On 24 July 2012, the Government of India banned tourism activities in core zones of tiger reserves in India. This is what some activists have said about the ban:

“…Tourism operators would do well to move away from an obsessive tiger-centric focus and promote themselves as offering a broader nature experience, with the tiger as a tantalizing possibility.” – Shekhar Dattatri, Conservation fi lm maker in The Hindu, 8 August 2012

“… clearly this is a case where the law has confused the current impact of tourism (negative) and the future potential of tourism for conservation (positive). Banning tourism because it is bad today is like banning cricket because there is gambling. The answer surely is to regulate tourism and make it difficult or impossible for builders and contractors to turn forests to cement. By banning tourism in the core areas the eyes and ears of non-governmental agencies have been walled out of forests where tree-cutting, illegal mining, road building, poaching and worse are rampant.” – Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia

“For many proponents, tourism, if done sensitively, is part of the solution to the many conservation related challenges we face today” – Pankaj Sekhsaria, Editor, Protected Area Update, in The Hindu, 2 August 2012


September 14, 2012

SIX years old on blog space

Six years of Lens and Sensibility. Somehow, this number makes me feel very young :) 

In the past one year, I know have written fewer posts than during earlier years. This could not be helped for there were work-related and personal issues that occupied my mind. A lot of what I posted were also pictorial because it is easy to post pictures rather than write. This makes me unhappy, even though my blog title justifies the presence of photos.

In this yearly writeup, I would like to give a quick update on some stories  I wrote over the years, but did not follow up on. You can click on the stories to read the posts, if you want to know the background. 

Red velvet mite (birba buddi/arudra purugu): One of my very first posts was about this little red insect. I ended this post with the words, "In the meantime, my search for these red beauties continues. I hope I find one on a weekend, so I can show it to my children.". So, did I find them again? Did I show them to my children? Yes, I did find them on one of the rock walks, and both the children were with me. But they were not too excited about having a birba buddi crawl up their hand as we used to be, and as I still am! Oh, never mind! At least, they saw them. 

Surabhi theatre: I saw a few very good Surabhi shows after my 2006 post. I followed their journey closely, and was very happy to see that they were getting much support from the Andhra Pradesh government. I was immensely pleased when they were included in the Qadir Ali Baig festival of drama in Hyderabad a few years back. Then I read that in 2010, with active involvement of the eminent theatre personality B V Karanth, they performed in several state capitals and in Delhi. Karanth also worked on three new plays with them. Read the story here. I am very happy for this fantastic theatre group of whom we should be proud of. 

Vultures: I wrote about the dwindling numbers of  vultures in India, because they feed on cattle injected by a drug called diclofenac. I have been following up on this story in the newspapers, and looks like there is more bad news than good. I did read that the numbers have increased because of conservation efforts, but apparently diclofenac has still not been banned. In the light of this, on our drive in Himachal Pradesh in 2011, we were excited  to see a huge group of vultures feeding on a carcass, and hoped that it was not  infected meat they were eating. There was a talk on this issue in Hyderabad recently, but I could not attend it.     

The garden I planted now has big trees and shrubs, which are such a pleasure to the soul. I can look at  the treetops  from my balcony, and I know that one day, I will look at a bird eye-to-eye, and then look up at them from the third floor....and they are all my babies...ah, the pleasure of planting trees! Right now there are passion flowers, cordia and swastika flowers, and the clockvine creeper has just started to bloom. Then there are pomegranates (still small) and papayas, which I have the pleasure of distributing to different people in this building. I am waiting for the African tulip tree,  the tree jasmine and champaka to flower, and the gooseberry tree to start fruiting. I also have a small fig tree and it looks happy to be part of the garden. Confession: sometimes, I look through a binoculars for signs of bloom! At times I wish I could do more in the garden, but I don't want to be ambitious, and would be happy if I can maintain it the way it is.  More than anything else, it is a pleasant green space, and there are more butterflies and birds now. 

Project Sadhana: I am happy to report that I have continued to be fit. I have gained a few pounds, but the pain is gone, and I am quite regular with my yoga and walks. Again, I am not too ambitious...this level of fitness and health are all I ask for. 

Photographs are an important part of this blog. However, I use them merely as a tool to document what I write. The camera I use is a very basic Kodak. I will, however, soon graduate to a better camera as I will start using my daughter's Canon Powershot G10 next month (she's upgrading!)--something I am eagerly looking forward to. So I begin the new blog year with an anticipation of better photos here.  

One thing I have been wanting to tell people about my blog. When I started it in 2006, the url I chose was I was new to blogging and bungled up--I don't know how--and ended up with don't like the missing 's' but I have to live with it! The original url still works, and shows the first few posts, and a very simple, neat look!

The friendships I made through this blog remain the most rewarding aspect of this activity.  I am in touch with all my 'blog friends', and this friendship is not limited to virtual space. All of them are bubbly, beautiful people very interested in different aspects of life's many journeys. 

And to my Followers and whoever else is reading this blog (my mother), THANK YOU. The way to my heart is through my please keep visiting!  

September 08, 2012

My favourite music 2: The Lakes of Pontchartrain

I chanced upon The Lakes of Pontchartrain during my search for another piece of music. This is an Irish ballad about an unfortunate immigrant from Ireland who is given shelter by a beautiful woman, Louisiana Creole. He falls in love with her and asks her to marry him, but she is already promised to a sailor and declines the offer. The song is named for and set on the shores of the major estuarine waterbodies of the Pontchartrain Basin. Lake Pontchartrain forms the northern boundary of New Orleans. 

This piece, however, is instrumental. I find the tune very pleasant and soothing.

The instrument on which this has been played on is called the Weissenborn guitar. According to Wikipedia, The Weissenborn is a brand of lap slide guitar manufactured by Hermann Weissenborn in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s. These instruments are apparently now highly sought after. It is estimated that fewer than 5,000 original instruments were produced, and it is not known how many now survive.

August 19, 2012

My favourite songs 1: Ekla Chalo re

I want to start a series where I would like to give a link to my favourite songs and also give the lyrics and meaning. Here's the first one.  Ekla Chalo Re, is a Bengali patriotic song written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1905. The song exhorts the listener to continue his or her journey, despite abandonment or lack of support from others. The song is often quoted in the context of political or social change movements. Mahatma Gandhi, who was deeply influenced by this song, cited it as one his favorite songs.
Here are links to three versions: the first, by the one and only Kishore Kumar, the second, a sensitive rendering by  Shreya Ghoshal, and yes, the third is Amitabh Bacchhan's from Kahani. It is good too. The lyrics and the translation follow.

Kishore Kumar:
Shreya Ghoshal:
Amitabh Bacchhan:

Jodi tor daak shune keu naa ashe tobe ekla cholo re
 (Tobe ekla cholo, ekla cholo, ekla cholo, ekla cholo re)2

Jodi keu kothaa naa koye, ore ore o abhaagaa, keu kothaa na koye
(Jodi shobai thaake mukh phiraaye shobai kore bhoye)2
Tobe poraan khule (o tui mukh phute tor moner kothaa, eklaa bolo re)2

Jodi shobai phire jaaye, ore ore o abhaagaa, shobai phire jaaye
(Jodi gohan pothe jaabaar kaale keu phire naa chaaye)2
Tobe pothera kaantaa (o tui rokto maakhaa choronatole eklaa dolo re)2

Jodi aalo naa dhore, ore ore o abhaagaa, aalo na dhore
(Jodi jhor-baadole aadhaara raate duyaar deye ghore)2
Tobe bajraanole (aapon buker paajor jaaliye niye ekalaa jolo re)

If they answer not to thy call walk alone.
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou unlucky one,
open thy mind and speak out alone.
If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou unlucky one,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.
If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone.

Music is a very important aspect of my life, and is sure to drive away those low times. I hope to come back to these posts again and again when I need to feel good.

August 14, 2012

India @ 66

Today we show our national pride
through a profile picture

Sixty six years ago,
people were a little different

Today we support a cause by joining a page
They joined a march

We stand up for something through a status update
For them, it was a matter of status

We show our dissent by sharing a link
They formed a human chain

We spread awareness in less than 140 characters
Back then, a hundred and forty thousand took to the streets

We express our opinions from the comforts of our Wall
They did it from the confines of a cell

We raise an issue by standing in front of a camera
They stared down the barrel of a gun

We pledge support by sending an SMS
They sent someone from every family

So is it time for us to stop being passive observers
And start being active supporters?

Can we stop rallying from behind
And step up in front?

Let's borrow a little spirit of independence from history
And take it into the future

Maybe then national pride will last longer than just one day.

Happy Independence Day!

(From The Hindu, 15 August 2012)

August 12, 2012

A walk around festive Charminar one August evening

I joined my photographer friend Lakshmi Prabhala and two of her friends for a leisurely stroll cum photo shoot around the Charminar area. This is Ramzan time, and so the place looked colourful and festive. It was nice to be with highly motivated artists...of course, they would have taken fantastic photos. Mine are merely to document an interesting evening.

Here, there, everywhere...
Busy shopping for Eid...
You have to buy some bangles when you enter these shops in Laad bazar!
The colours are such a treat!
Chappals...thousands of them!

Shopping for perfumes, shararas, etc
This guy looked rather lonely
The buzz, from behind a glass
Yummy street food!

July 19, 2012

Kuch toh log kahenge...

This is a tribute to Rajesh Khanna, who passed away on 18 July 2012. This is how he looked in one of my  favourite films--Bawarchi--and this is how I want to remember him always. Yes, I was one of the millions charmed by his looks and style. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, and watching Hindi films, one couldn't not be smitten by Rajesh Khanna's charisma. His acting was theatrical and stylish -- his smile, the way he lifted his eyebrows, the tilt of his head, his eyes, and even the intonation of his voice --  all made sure that hearts went aflutter!
          Because we did not have television and internet then, we did not see actors in ads and reality shows, nor could we google them and get images and info. The only source were film magazines like Filmfare and Stardust. Actors were therefore beyond reach, which made them somewhat god-like! I think this is the reason millions of girls would die for one look from him, leave alone a smile (me not one of those!). And one could only hope to get a glimpse of him, if at all, on a trip to Bombay or at an airport, or if very lucky, at a shooting somewhere.  
          Rajesh Khanna influenced hairstyles and clothes like none other. A whole generation sported his  hair style, and growing up in a household full of boys, I was witness to this craze. My uncles also wore 'guru shirts' that became very popular because of this actor. He also made kurtas very popular in a not-yet Fab-India'd world.
          My mother often said that Rajesh Khanna was only popular because of his youthful charm and that he was no actor. I used to feel let down when she said this and vehemently defended Khanna...he could do no wrong. But as I became exposed to good cinema, I realised what my mother meant. I partly agree with her today, but despite this, Rajesh Khanna will always be special.

          If you see movies and admire actors or singers, they become part of your life and generation. You remember seeing the posters; and looking forward to the release of a particular film with your favourite hero. Sometimes you even  remember the evening you went to see it; the people you went with, and the effect the film had on you. I remember being very uncomfortable by the fact that Rajesh Khanna died in Anand. Bawarchi was Hrishikesh Mukherjee's classic in which he played an endearing cook who solves problems in a squabbling household. It was a role that was tailormade for him. Another all-time favourite is Amar Prem, with its soulful and philosophical Kishore Kumar numbers. 
          Like his other fans, I too am distraught by the recent Havell's fan advert. But, having read that a very ill Rajesh Khanna was overjoyed to have been asked to do the ad, I feel it gave him an opportunity to experience a moment of his old fame before he bid goodbye to this world. Let us forget who we saw in that ad, and simply remember the charmer who will go down in the history of Hindi cinema as the 'phenomenon' and the first real superstar. 
          Thank you, Rajesh Khanna, for smiling the way you did, when I was 15...  
PS: I did get a chance to see Rajesh Khanna at the wedding of a VIP (in Hyderabad...most unusual...I don't normally get invited to these). He was in politics then, and still good looking and smart. He wore a maroon kurta and a waist coat...needless to say it was a bucket-list-tick-off moment!