November 27, 2014

The duck pond comes back to life!

Today, I went to Sanjeevaiah Park today on a whim. The winter cold has set in -- 11 degrees in Hyderabad, and it was tempting to walk in the sun, along the Hussainsagar, the route that I used to take earlier, but don't take any more ever since the Duck Pond was destroyed. Well, today, I was in for a surprise.

The duck pond had been like this when I saw it destroyed in September 2014:

Totally shocked and agonized, I had written this blog post about it. Upon advice from my sailing instructor/friend Suheim Sheikh of the Yacht Club of Hyderabad, I sent the link to Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority, to a few activists and NGOs working in this area and of course, posted it on Facebook.

Today, I found the pond like this:

Spot the purple moorhen in this photo!

Lots of ducks

Water lilies 

Shades of green

Thank you, Nature (god), for forgiving us, and for giving us one more chance. Thank you, HMDA, for changing your mind, whatever the reason.

BUT, the truth is that Nature will not always forgive us for the mistakes we repeatedly make. Humankind needs to put its arrogance aside, and understand this.

October 19, 2014

TypoDay 2014

Vijay and I attended the Typography Day 2014 (28 Feb-2 March 2014) at Symbiosis Institute of Design, Pune. Our daughter Ragini was in the core team and had been working on this prestigious international event for the last several months and so, we were tempted to register and be part of it. We were also curious to see what discussions on 'Typography and culture' - the topic of this Typoday - could be all about.

The place was colourful, artistically decked up and abuzz with activity. The sheer energy of the place was invigorating for this team from BluePencil, normally used to a quiet and sedentary work style.

While the list of topics and papers presented can be found here, some that I enjoyed listening to and made notes of are briefly detailed below:

Matilda: A typeface for children with low vision (Bessemans Ann, Belgium)
Besseman researched on the font preferences of children with low vision vs children with normal vision, and based on the findings of this research, she developed a font called "Matilda" to provide support for visually impaired children in the first stages of the reading process. Even though the presentation itself was a bit too academic, I found this study interesting and meaningful.

Sensory experiences in Typography (Meaghan Anne Dee and Cassie Hester, USA) 
While the presentation of this paper was somewhat monotonous, the paper itself is very interesting and suggests that to be effective, designers should think of incorporating as many of the five senses into their designs as possible. For example, while one sees type all the time, musical score is the most literal visualization of sound. Similarly, designers can incorporate smell (scratch and sniff technology), taste (watermelon to represent summer) and touch (caramel letterforms make you feel the stickiness) to their designs. I liked this quote by Paula Scher: “Words have meaning. Type has spirit. The combination is spectacular.” The presenters also mentioned a very interesting TED talk: Design for all five senses by Jinsop Lee. I did watch it after getting made me view design with a different perspective.

Hawking gawking in Singapore (Kok Cheow Yeoh). 
This paper investigates how the three nationally recognized languages of Singapore - Mandarin, Malay and Tamil are used on hawker center signage. Hawker centers are unique attractions both for locals and for tourists. Yeoh feels that designers should find a place to speak from within culture and not position themselves outside and above it. He seeks to find answers to how visual treatments of multilingual fonts could be enhanced. He concludes saying that while the taste of the food is very important, signage should not merely be decorative, but should influence the effectiveness of the message. Yeoh has an interesting website. Check it out.


A break from the papers to talk about the poster display that was part of the event. The posters were designed for a competition by students from various countries and from different design colleges in India. I particularly liked posters by students from Turkey and Iran, and by Shrishti School of Design, Bangalore.

Across Opposites - 'Life and Death' by, Özgür Alican, Turkey

More posters can be seen here.

From within it, from outside it, and from above it (Deshna Mehta, India)
Deshna drew our attention when she said, "In a country with many needs, why should designers create a need and then try to meet that need?" Referring to a book called "Thinking design" by S. Balaram, she said designers should not have a one-way take-take relationship with society; it should be a two-way give-take relationship. I also liked this: "Don't make something unless it is both necessary and useful. And if it is necessary and useful, don't hesitate to make it beautiful".

The focus of her paper was primarily on the process of creating display type and the documentation of it, with the Indian masses as the intended audience. Deshna runs an organization called Anugraha where they design, write and publish, do art research, curation and photography. (Check out Anugraha on FB and Deshna Mehta on Tumblr).

Gunjala Gondi script: A new tracing (S. Sridhara Murthy and Prof. Jayadhir Tirumala Rao)
This was another meaningful work which made me feel that considering the number of tribes and languages under threat of extinction in India, a lot of work was needed to be done in this field. This paper explores details of a particular kind of Gondi Script of a hundred years antiquity, and still alive in the village Gunjala in Adilabad district in Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana State). Old manuscripts in Gunjala script were still intact. Based on this, a font has been designed and the first text book designed and the book "Undi Vachakam" released in January 2014.

While there were several papers that were interesting, the two that, in my opinion, perfectly fitted two sides of  the spectrum that defines 'culture' were Jalpa Shah's paper on a Gujarati font she designed and Sujith Eguravatta's paper on developing a font that had common features of Sinhala and Tamil fonts.

'Babuchak' - Gujarati display font (Jalpa Shah, Mumbai))

Jalpa Shah's paper talked about how she developed a font to represent Gujarati culture. It had to be bold, emotive and eye catching, encompassing the look of a display font "that should bring out the emotions of every Gujarati".These illustrations demonstrate the idea behind this font. 

Inspiration from Krishna (above) and from the colourful Garba costumes (below)

Jalpa started by saying, without batting an eyelid, that the Babuchak, the display font she developed, incorporating various aspects of Gujarati culture was essentially rounded like the "obese bottom of a typical Gujarati woman"! With every alphabet having a distinct personality, the font takes inspiration from one of the liveliest and vibrant cultures of India. The designs have been taken from religion, festivals, weddings, paintings, architecture, embroidery, and "most importantly, cuisine"! Jalpa's paper drew many laughs and lightened the ambience of the conference hall. Her presentation was simple, but the work she did on developing this font was painstaking and artistic. I do look forward to travelling to Gujarat and see this type being used. Do read this interesting paper and see the stunning fonts and their suggested everyday use here 

The other letter: A hybrid of Sinhala and Tamil scripts for Sri Lanka (Pathum Egodawatta, Sri Lanka)

This was truly the one paper that affected us deeply. This paper documents and discusses the development process of a new hybrid script based on Sinhala and Tamil scripts. Language has been identified as the main reason for the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and the post-war reconciliation process has created new issues related to language.

Egodawatta attempted to make a font that both Sinhalas and Tamils could accept without resentment. This young 26-year-old's passion for his country and his cause was apparent in his talk. With great feeling he told us about how people used to be stopped on the border and killed because their accents gave them away. He really hoped to contribute, even if in a small way, to solving this language barrier if his font could be adopted for public signage in the country, especially in the war-torn regions where the sense of otherness was very obvious.

Egodawatta's spontaneous and passionate presentation moved me to tears (passion for one's country always activates my lacrimal glands!). Others in the hall were also obviously impressed -- Pathum Egodawatta was the only speaker who got a standing ovation, and without a doubt, he deserved every bit of sound produced in the hall that day. We went and shook his hand and congratulated him, and he looked at us with a "what did I do?" look!

Check out his paper here and other work here.

Before I end, I have to mention that, at the beginning of the conference, we had the privilege of attending the R K Joshi memorial lecture by Ganesh N Devy, renowned literary critic and activist. He was awarded the Padmashri for his work with education of nomadic tribes and for his work on dying languages. "Designers have a responsibility towards preserving tribal scripts in order to empower them", was one of the many things he said that day.

The other eminent person we heard was Prof James Craig  - graphic designer and educator from USA, who wrote the famous series of books, "Designing with type". He is a big name in the world of typography
(www., and we were honoured to be able to attend his lecture.

Typoday 2014 ended with an inspiring and biographical talk by Aurobindo Patel, who worked with India Today and The Economist, and designed 'Ecotype', the font used by 'The Economist'. He strayed into design and typography from Harvard Business School, and spent a lifetime in this profession.

An unexpected meeting with D Uday Kumar, the person who designed the rupee symbol was a pleasant surprise. I jokingly asked him how his life changed after he designed the symbol. He smiled and said it had not changed!

A word about the superb organization of the Typoday 2014. Kudos to the entire team at Symbiosis Institute of Design; they did full justice to a large international event such as this. Great job!...and  I don't say this because Ragini was part of it!

Note: This writeup is not intended for a scholarly audience. It is an informal report of an event in the field of typography that two editors who use type enjoyed attending.  

October 13, 2014

Lens and Sensibility turns 8

Happy birthday, blog! You are probably feeling neglected for I don't visit as often as I used to, and don't write as often. Several reasons, one of them being too much the head, and outside.

Also, blogs are perhaps passe (accent on e), but I still find it a great space to pour out thoughts, without getting the Facebook kind of reactions...some likes, some comments, mostly superficial. Yet I continue to be part of Facebook mainly because I learn from it. People post useful, interesting links, and I get to do quite a lot of reading, and watch interesting videos and films. However, I do wish people (maybe even me!) would ask themselves one question before clicking on the 'Post' button..."Is this post boastful?" If the answer is "no", they should post it. Otherwise, not. But then, FB mainly thrives on narcissism, and all of us are willful victims!

Yes, the other thing is that there is so much writing happening everywhere that I sometimes wonder why I should add to it. And there is so much good writing happening that I feel I have nothing to contribute mainly because I am somewhat lazy and don't try too hard to write well because 'other people are writing anyway'! BAD attitude!!

The posts I DIDN"T write: 

In February-March, we attended the Typography Day 2014 at Symbiosis Institute of Design, Pune. We were curious to see what discussions on 'Typography and culture' -- the topic of this Typoday -- could be all about. We heard interesting talks ranging from why an Indian designer who studied in London suddenly decided to come back and work only for non-profit organizations to how a designer in Sri Lanka is working to bring about  peace in the country by developing a font common to both Sinhala and Tamil. I hope to write about this some time because it needs to be out there.

Last year, Kobita and I took sailing lessons and discovered a whole new world. I do need to write about this, as also about my timid entry into a swimming pool after the Omega we were sailing on capsized a couple of times (nothing to be alarmed about; it is the rite of passage in the world of sailing!).

End September, we took a much-needed break and drove to Sula Vineyards near Nashik, a 6-hour journey from Pune. The wine-making process is very interesting, and I hope to write this story too.

I wanted to write about the spectacular Bathukamma pandaga celebrations by our enthusiastic new government on Tank Bund early this month, but posted the photos on Big Bad Facebook instead! Here's the link to the photos.

The other thing that turned our world somewhat topsy turvy over the last year has been that my mother-in-law began to need more and more care and attention, mainly because of her dementia. Physical illness is one thing, but dementia is quite another thing. I do want to write about our experience some point.

Writing about death is very difficult. We lost our Aditya (cousin, friend, comrade) in an accident in June, and the whole event is painful, unbelievable, and wholly unfair and unnecessary. Perhaps we will never be able to completely comprehend that our fun-loving Aditya whose smile always ignited many more smiles, is no longer with us. It just seems like he is travelling or in office. Aditya was too young to know how to die, dammit. But he went. He went 50 years too early, just like that.

I read this somewhere: "Often I feel angry with death and the Gods. They take away the best in a way that leaves me inconsolable. I feel helpless not just because of the pain of missing them but because my world shrinks, my map of friendship collapses into empty outlines..."

With permission of his family, I post this delightful photo of Aditya. Miss you, friend.

September 08, 2014

Two sentences about the sounds of my city

On Ganesh visarjan day, in my swelled up city, 
which is actually a conglomeration of energetic bastis with people - 
young people, lots of them, shouting, screaming, 
drumming and dancing teen maar and playing music - 
everything over loudspeakers -- bhajans, folk, lungi dance - lungi dance - 
mixed with the sounds of garbage being dumped and garbage being cleared, 
mingled with the sharp "aaaaah" made by the child with a mental disorder, 
immediately followed by the scolding by his mother, 
and then from the second floor, a celebratory "Ganapati bappa moriya" 
by a leader and the led; 
cars and scooters zooming past is a constant, the blaring of horns too - 
then from the road, "Ganesh maharaj ki jai" as a procession zooms past; 
then a car reverses, spreading its mechanical repetitiveness; 
the old woman coughs; 
someone drags furniture across the floor in the flat above mine; 
and simultaneously the banana bandiwala on the street shouts, "mauz, mauz"; 
I also hear the tapping of Vijay's keyboard; 
then a sneeze somewhere -- a Very Loud Sneeze - 
interspersed with the boy's "aaaaaaah" and the "kik, kik, kik" of the lift; 
I then hear the "pooo, pooo, pooo" of what we now know as the vuvuzela; 
I hear the "treeeeeeng" of the bell calling the watchman, and then suddenly 
the prayer from the masjid - over loudspeakers - 
the beep from the UPS, and then someone is using a grinder, 
someone else has put on the TV, 
and the children have begun to play cricket. 

Somewhere amidst all these sounds, as I work at my desk in my office on Street no 5 in this busy, dizzy, animated city, I also hear the sun birds and the bubuls chirp.  

August 24, 2014

Monsoon watch 2014

I write this on 24 August 2014. We had a bumper monsoon in 2013, when rains started early and went on and on...they just wouldn't stop. Read about it here.

This year, as I recorded on this blog, there were rains in March, and in some places, hail and 'snow' (yes!). Then, my own observation is that it wasn't continuously hot in summer. It kept raining on and off, and everyone lamented about mango crops getting affected. I also remember waiting for one continuous hot week so that I could make my pickles. So summer wasn't typical even though it was hot end May and June.

But July-August have compensated for the untypical summer. Hot, and unusually humid. Never before have we experienced this stickiness in Hyderabad. Normally we need a light blanket as soon as summer gets over, and we never sweat this way. Now, even breeze from the fan doesn't seem to reach us and there is no relief even in the nights. Humidity levels are very high and it is like being in a sea-side city. What kind of a curse is this?  

Anand Vishwanatha posted this on Facebook along with a fabulous photo of a flock of munias:

A flock of Scaly-breasted Munias (the tan-cream-brown fella in the foreground is a juvenile) feeding on the algae growing in a roadside ditch. This photograph is from October of last year, when the monsoons were munificent. This year, however, with the effects of Climate Change catching up with us, it has been another story -- at least so far (not that it would have mattered, that roadside ditch has been paved, the trees around it have been cut). Hot days followed by humid nights. Humid nights followed by even more humid days. As July segued into August and August segues into September, (across large parts of Telangana and AP) the chilling reality of drought awaits us and the birds.

Maybe, the returning monsoon will still bestow us with its munificence; maybe we will manage to evade a drought, maybe we will all still learn and desist -- from wantonly cutting trees and mindlessly paving the earth, chasing a development ideal that is flawed, a way of life that is increasingly lacking in aesthetic. 

My father said it will rain in September, as it does some years. I am hoping this will happen. I feel really sorry for farmers. What will they do? The other day, a beggar came to me and said something about crops failing because of lack of rains in her village. Venkatamma tells me in her village, the crops looked a duller shade of green this year. At these times I feel a no-rain situation is a great political party is powerful enough to make it rain, no?, please. Make it rain in September...

26 Aug 2014: my Facebook status: "Oh, don't bring the clothes in...let them get wet; let me get wet too! There's thunder and it is last!"

28 August 2014: I said, on Facebook, "This has to be the mother of all downpours! Wow, it is coming down in sheets". :) Yes, it was a huge, huge rain and after that it has been cool and raining on and off. 
I write this on 8 September, and today's newspaper talks about floods in Jammu and Kashmir, and about copious rainfall in Telangana. We no longer have power cuts. 

July 21, 2014

Kalapini Komkali's concert

20 July 2014 was a pleasant, cloudy Sunday morning at the beautiful Sailing Club. What better could one do than to listen to the music of Kalapini Komkali, daughter of the great Kumar Gandharva? I have always regretted not having heard Kumar Gandharva, so it was a wish being fulfilled when I heard his accomplished daughter. Her powerful voice enveloped the packed hall and enthralled the audience.

The raagas she sang included Bilaskhani Todi, Bhatiyar and Sur Malhar. She also sang the Kabir Bhajan Naiharwa, and ended with the soulful nirguni bhajan Guruji main toh ek niranjan. She was very happy that it was a morning concert and that she could sing morning raagas that she hadn't sung in a long time because most of the concerts were in the evening.  

Malini Rajurkar and her husband Vasantrao Rajurkar had were there too, in the audience, and it was wonderful to see the two great singers together.

The background to this concert is also a touching story. This concert was organised by Hyderabad's Bararia family. They are business people, deeply interested in Hindustani classical music, literature and the arts. Apparently they used to have annual concerts during the seventies and eighties, with stalwarts like Jitendra Abhisheki, Kumar Gandharva, Hariprasad Chaurasia, etc performing, but suddenly within a span of two years around 1985-86, they lost two generations of their family. Shattered, they stopped hosting concerts as it took them time to pick up their lives and move on after the tragedy that struck their family.

They have aptly titled this series, "In continuum", and Kalapini Komkali was their first choice. As they say in their writeup, "She bridges for us a musical and personal abyss left open since the passing away of Kumarji. She had come to Hyderabad as a young girl along with Kumarji and Vasundharaji, when he came to perform at our concert in 1980. Now she is here as a worthy torchbearer of her father's art and a fine vocalist in her own right. This is a wonderful moment for both Kalapini and us, as many strands of time and memory converge here after all these years. We host her with much nostalgia and a lot of pride"

The nostalgia trip took an extra hour, but no one minded. Here's wishing the Bararia family the very best. I eagerly look forward to the next concert.     

July 17, 2014

Just look up...second edition!

And so, I printed the second edition!

In the third week of June, the ever-friendly Lakshmi of the charming store 'Either Or' in Pune called and told me that a customer was interested in buying 150 copies of "Just look up...". I discovered I had only about 50 copies left. Since a second edition had been on my mind, and since Lakshmi wanted them by the end of the month, I began work immediately. I had to carry out some corrections I had marked, I wanted to add a few more trees, and most importantly, I had to make sure that this edition had a spine, the lack of which was pointed out by several people in the earlier edition.

It was difficult to decide which trees to add...there are so many lovely trees! Finally, I narrowed down the selection to six trees: orchid tree, temple tree, crape myrtle, cannon ball tree, sausage tree and baobab. I did not have good photos for two of them and so, got them from my friends Kobita and Karthikeyan. We were lucky with baobab because the two trees we recently spotted on Chapel Road were spectacular in June...they had buds, flowers and fruit...something we hadn't seen earlier in Hyderabad. What's more, our inhouse photographer - Ragini - was in town!

Baobab is also called dead-rat tree and it really looked like a whole lot of dead rats were hanging by their tails! Look at it!

I accompanied Ragini to Pune, and carried the box of 150 copies and handed them over to Either Or. During my visit, I noticed that the store walls had been decorated with collages of various trees with flowers. I was delighted when they told me that the decor was inspired by my book! Either they have very good public relations or they really like "Just look up..."! Whatever, it made me very happy :).

I was curious about this buyer who wanted 150 copies of the book. It turns out she is an NRI passionate about the environment, and wants the copies to gift them to children on the occasion of her daughter's wedding in the US. So this heavy box of books will travel far!

This is indeed a good beginning to the second edition. I have many more boxes sitting in my house...and after being ditched by the Delhi-based distributor (IPDA) for the first edition, I now need to figure out how to distribute them myself. I am optimistic as I usually am...however, suggestions from well wishers are most welcome!  

May 31, 2014

Telangana chakkilalu and Kakinada kajalu...

Telangana is born. History will record 2 June 2014 as Telangana Formation Day.

I am a half-Telangana by birth (father from Warangal, mother from Bangalore), and I should rejoice at the formation of India's 29th State. But, I have terribly mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I think of the hope I saw on the faces of a weaver from Warangal and a farmer from Bibinagar, both of whom told me they were sure their life would be better after the new state is formed. I am very happy for them.

On the other hand, there is great sadness inside me. I have led a fairly comfortable life as an urban professional without any interference from my Andhra brethren. So this division makes me feel as though a wall is being built in my home to make two portions from it, and I am being told it is a good thing.

I loved the largeness and the variety of landscape of my home state, from the sedimentary rocks of Kurnool to the green fields of Godavari, the massive granites of Hanamkonda to the golden beaches of Bhimli. I love Telangana chakkilalu as much as I do Kakinada kajalu. I love Pochampally weaves as much I love Uppada. I am married to a Hyderabadi whose ancestors are from Andhra. I can speak both Telangana and Andhra accents, and despite the several mock fights we have had about this issue, ours has been a happy marriage.

Much as I try to ignore this separation as a politically motivated division, it bothers me greatly. I am conscious of the injustice meted out to Telangana people over the last 50 years, and that it is a battle that deserved to be won. Yet I grieve inside.

It is a partition I am witnessing. And I can feel the birth pangs.

Hyderabad has been decorated with pink flags and huge pink balloons. Streets have been lit up with fairy lights. There will be fireworks on People's Plaza.

I will try to feel happy too...not for the politicians, but for that farmer I spoke to, and I will believe that he knows something I don't, and that what he knows turns out to be right.

I will also hope and pray for Telangana to be governed with care and efficiency by Chandrasekhar Rao's TRS, and for Andhra to develop and thrive under the Chief Ministership of Chandrababu Naidu's TDP. time someone asks me the judgemental question I was seldom asked before and am frequently being asked now, "Are you a Telangana or Andhra?", I will say, "I am a Telugu-speaking Indian".  

May 26, 2014

New government and new PM

After an exciting, no-holds barred 2014 election, Bharatiya Janata Party swept the polls to form a majority government.

 Our new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. 
He was sworn in today.

I liked this perspective on the election verdict:

And here's a message for him.

May 18, 2014

Wanted: law against public urination

I was turning the corner in my lane recently when oncoming traffic was jammed up, and I found my path blocked by a man standing and peeing against the newly constructed wire fence to my left.The footpath had been cordoned off, so he could not go right up to the wall. This was no deterrent, so he stood on the road, shamelessly exposing himself to people around, and doing what he was privileged to do, as an Indian male.  

The corner of my lane has been a garbage and su-su point since years. Vijay and I used to walk back from the bus stand during our stint at ICRISAT and invariably find someone or the other peeing against our wall. Vijay used to stop to admonish the pee-er (!) while I walked on to our house in embarrassment.

We have had several ideas on how to stop this nuisance, from painting gods on our compound wall, to setting up a mock video camera, to throwing buckets of water from our balconies, to the more do-able having a watchman stand outside to check people. We also wondered if we could figure out a way to make the shock-giving contraption from 'Three idiots'. But the fact that the garbage point for our whole locality was outside our building re-directed our focus to fighting the garbage problem first, before we took on the su-su problem, because they were related.  

Why has there never been any movement against this nuisance? Shouldn't something be done about it? When fines can be imposed for wrong parking or for running a red light, surely a fine can be imposed for public urination?

'You stop, we stop'. I was overjoyed when I recently saw this video about an anonymous anti-public-urination group in Mumbai called "Clean Indian", who go around on a water tanker squirting water on men urinating in public. The video made me roll on the floor laughing, anguished as I had been with the nuisance for decades! Now, this is a great beginning towards a clean India, and this idea could be replicated elsewhere to bring about awareness and to bring the issue to the notice of authorities.  

Another idea that worked for a friend was to put up a board outside their compound wall "Mootrashala, kukkalaku matrame" "Urinal, only for dogs".  

This is not a battle of the sexes, and should not be interpreted as one. Public urination is unhealthy, demeaning, and shameful for our country, and SHOULD BE STOPPED. Why is it that only men cannot control their urge to urinate? What do women do? We wait till we get to a simple as that. We train our children to relieve themselves every time they leave home, so that they don't need to use a toilet for some hours. How's that for a simple solution?  

April 18, 2014

"We are star stuff" - Carl Sagan

My friend Anita Vaccharajani posted a link to this touching article on Facebook. It is by Carl Sagan, American astronomer, whose TV series "Cosmos" was very popular during the eighties. 

Lessons of Immortality and Mortality From My Father, Carl Sagan

While the article is well worth reading, I was very deeply touched by these paras, especially the last one, and thought I should preserve them here.

One day when I was still very young, I asked my father about his parents. I knew my maternal grandparents intimately, but I wanted to know why I had never met his parents.

“Because they died,” he said wistfully.

“Will you ever see them again?” I asked.

He considered his answer carefully. Finally, he said that there was nothing he would like more in the world than to see his mother and father again, but that he had no reason — and no evidence — to support the idea of an afterlife, so he couldn’t give in to the temptation.


Then he told me, very tenderly, that it can be dangerous to believe things just because you want them to be true. You can get tricked if you don’t question yourself and others, especially people in a position of authority. He told me that anything that’s truly real can stand up to scrutiny.

As far as I can remember, this is the first time I began to understand the permanence of death. As I veered into a kind of mini existential crisis, my parents comforted me without deviating from their scientific worldview.

“You are alive right this second. That is an amazing thing,” they told me. When you consider the nearly infinite number of forks in the road that lead to any single person being born, they said, you must be grateful that you’re you at this very second. Think of the enormous number of potential alternate universes where, for example, your great-great-grandparents never meet and you never come to be. Moreover, you have the pleasure of living on a planet where you have evolved to breathe the air, drink the water, and love the warmth of the closest star. You’re connected to the generations through DNA — and, even farther back, to the universe, because every cell in your body was cooked in the hearts of stars. We are star stuff", my dad famously said, and he made me feel that way.

April 04, 2014

My favourite music: Farida Khanum - Aaj jane ki zid na karo

I discovered Farida Khanum's romantic ghazal in Raag Yaman Kalyan, when my friend Lakshmi Prabhala posted a link to an article and the ghazal on Facebook.

At these times I love FB. I listened to the ghazal four times in a row, revelling in the melody and the music, and the 'haye'!  I know I will listen to it again and again to this uplifting and hopelessly romantic gem.

The article: The Djinn of Aiman

The ghazal: Aaj jane ki zid na karo

April 03, 2014

My city before it changes: Saifabad

Views of the Legislative Assembly that will be gone forever after the metro rail comes up very soon, since work is fast progressing in this sector. 

 This is a house in a galli off Saifabad. I do hope it stays like this forever.  

March 27, 2014

My city before it changes: Himayatnagar

The old complex opposite Hyundai showroom that is bound to go. 

Did anyone ever notice 'New Likeme Hairdressers'? Who goes there?

Meherbaba stationers is where we sometimes buy stationery, and used to get my phone recharge for my first mobile phone. 

The grand edifice of the residence of a business family. This has always been well maintained, and a pleasure to look at. 

March 09, 2014

Weather watch: Hail and 'snow' in Andhra Pradesh!

On Wednesday morning, a sudden and unexpected snowfall was witnessed at in villages of Ranga Reddy district. A thick fog enveloped the whole area in the morning and visibility was almost negligible.

It is 9 March today, and it is cold. It has been raining since more than a week. We went to Pune on 27 February, and at that time, temperatures in Hyderabad were increasing (but not the typical Feb heat), and we had been gearing up for the summer days ahead. Then, on 2 March, we heard that it had rained heavily in Hyderabad, and assumed it was the usual mango showers. Then a few days later, people around Hyderabad started posting images of hail, and then I read about 'snow' in Chevella! I am sure there is some connection between this and the amazing cloudscapes we saw on the way back from Pune.

Here is the link to the unbelievable story, as reported in Deccan Chronicle.  

Chevella in Andhra Pradesh hails the 'snow'

A few paras from this article:

Several villages in three mandals of Rangareddy in Andhra Pradesh were completely transformed on Wednesday as ice covered the entire area after a violent bout of hailstorm. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience for people living in seven villages in Chevella, Moinabad and Shankarpally as hailstones, some as large as boulders, started falling from the sky on Tuesday night.

Unconfirmed reports suggested that about nine people had died and many had been injured in the hailstorm. There were also heavy losses to livestock as huge pieces of ice came crashing through flimsy roofs.
On Wednesday morning, the entire area resembled a valley in Kashmir in midwinter. Roads and fields were completely covered with small pieces of hail while extremely large ones, never witnessed before, were seen scattered all over.

Scientists said that the hailstorm that struck Chevella in Rangareddy was an extremely rare atmospheric event, one which had never been recorded in the area.

According to scientists, the hailstorm was caused by a severe thunderstorm where the clouds had risen above the height of 10 to 12 km. They said that global warming could also be a contributing factor to this extremely rare phenomenon.

And these incredible pictures. Check out the article for details and more photos. 

Snowfall was witnessed at Shabad Mandal, Shadnagar near Chevella in Ranga Reddy district.

Locals said that along with the hailstorm, there was violent thunder and lightning for 15 minutes.

March 08, 2014

Games children_don't_play

I wrote this article for Teacher Plus. It was published in  March 2014

Mere yaar patang udaya kar
Kat jayee to gham na khaya kar
(Dr Mathura Das Pahwa, Lahore)

Living in the centre of a city that goes crazy about kite flying during Sankranthi, we, along with some friends, fly kites on our terrace every year. It is something we enjoy doing together and don’t usually miss if we can help it. We buy kites and maanja, get the charkas ready, go to the terrace with all the necessary equipment, keep a tab on the ‘score’ – how many kites we cut vs how many we lost, and shout “kaate” with excitement every time we cut a kite! Others from our building are out on the terrace too, and more than a festival or a sport, it is an experience that we cherish.

This year my teenage daughter, instead of joining us, went with her friends to play Laser tag in a mall! It is a well-known fact that the attraction and comfort of mall-related activities, play stations, computer games and social media have stolen urban children and teenagers away from simpler games that used to provide tremendous amount of fun to generations of children.

Traditional games around the world

Traditional games are games that connect children in some way or the other, to the earth. Every culture around the world has its own set of games. Remember the handkerchief game you played as a child, where you sat in a circle and one person ran around and left the handkerchief behind one of the children? This game is also played by children in Chile, where it is called “Corre, corre la Guaraca, which means “Run, run la Guaraca”! Pakistani children play a game called ‘Oonch neech’, which is also played in India, the Telugu version being called ‘Nela banda’. A version of five stones is played in Korea and it is called ‘Kongk Noli’. Apart from these there are several games that are typical to the culture or environment of a particular region, such as ‘Catch the dragon’s tail’ from China, where the players form two chains, placing their hands of the player in front, and the aim being for the ‘head’ of the dragon to catch the ‘tail’ of the other ‘dragon’! ‘Go-Go-Im’ from Israel is a game where children play with apricot seeds called ‘go-gos’; this game is played during the apricot season. Some European games such as hop scotch, leapfrog, skipping, and ‘oranges and lemons’ are also played in the US and in India too, many of us have grown up playing these games.

In India too, every state and culture has its own games, and in this aspect also, we have a rich heritage that we need to tap into to entertain ourselves in a simple and healthy way. Some games I grew up playing in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh include char pathar, seven stones, the wooden top, kites, hide and seek, I spy, Nela banda, Kabaddi, Vangudu-dunukudu, hop scotch, skipping, five stones, Chain, Salt, Colour-colour, King and Statue. I never really played marbles and gilli danda myself but watched my brother and his friends play these games. Apart from all these, in the rainy season, we played with red velvet mites, those small red insects that we called ‘arudra purugulu’ in Telugu and ’birba buddi’ in Hindi. And every time we went for a picnic next to a pond, we invariably entertained ourselves by skipping stones on the water. Basically,
the environment determined our play and we were outdoors a lot.

Why should we encourage children to play traditional games?
• Most of these games are indigenous and environment friendly…not bought from a toy
shop but played with natural material available close by.
• These games promote much-needed social interaction among children, in days of
mobile phone games and play stations which are single-player games.
• Many of these games give children exercise, help develop sensory skills, and hand-eye
• These games are our part of our cultural identity. They tell us about who we are and
where we come from, and therefore need to be preserved.
• They teach children not only about winning but also about losing.
• Apart from everything else, they are a lot of simple FUN…and that’s what childhood
should be all about.

A small attempt
With the belief that these games are beneficial and need to be preserved, in Vidyaranya High School, Hyderabad, my friend – Kobita Das Kolli – and I, as part of a nature awareness class, have been introducing traditional games to children of Class 4. It is a once-a-week class, and the main thrust is on gardening and nature awareness. But when there is some remaining time after an activity, we spend it teaching them to play some games. The aim of this article is not to explain how these games are played. It is to share our experience in trying to get urban children to play some traditional games.

Hop scotch: The first thing we notice is that several of the 8-9-year-olds in our class cannot hop! And if they can, they cannot balance themselves on one foot to pick up the flat stone they throw. Some of them just can’t get to throw the stone in the right box. These were things most children could do well earlier. But, unlike the earlier generation where this game was predominantly played by girls, in this school, both boys and girls play together, and the boys have no qualms about playing it…sometimes, ignorance is bliss! There are many benefits to playing hop scotch— it improves concentration, needs skill, improves fitness and can be played over days.

Skipping rope: Now, one would think that all children should be able to skip. But this is not so; many of them begin after we introduce it to them. But they get very interested and love it as they realise that they can easily learn to skip. We also make them skip in twos and threes, using a long rope. The benefits of skipping are obvious — fitness, coordination, group play.

Five stones: Just five simple rounded stones picked up from anywhere and one can play this game and get quite addicted to it. We have not had much luck getting children interested in playing this game simply because they are just not able to catch the stones and soon lose patience. However, we have not had the time to make them play this for an extended period of time. Playing five stones improves hand-eye coordination and motor skills, and can be played with many levels and variations.

Wooden top:
“Teacher! I spun the top four times today!” Sweet words, indeed. An old friend who grew up playing marbles and tops helps us with this class. He demonstrates his skill at spinning the top, at picking it up with the rope as it is spinning and transferring it to his hand, and most impressive of all, flinging it in the air as he spins it and then catching it on his hand where it continues to spin. This gets the children very excited and they become very enthused to try it themselves. Frustrated attempt after frustrated attempt later, some of them do manage to get it! The idea is to give them a taste of the fun that can be had playing these games, and then telling them to buy their own tops and practice at home.

Spinning the wooden top, unlike its modern counterpart—the beyblade—requires skill, there are levels of expertise, and contests too. It costs just about Rs 50, and has entertained generations of children.

Sock ball game: 
Looking for other games on the internet, we found a game that is supposedly played by children in Ghana in West Africa. Thinking that it would be great to introduce a new game, and take the opportunity to tell them it originated in Ghana, we introduced the game of Sock ball. An old sock is filled with tamarind seeds (we used coral bead seeds, available in Indira Park), then folded over, and a rope is tied to the sock ball. Children stand in a circle and one person in the centre whirls the rope around as low as possible. Children must jump to avoid the ball touching their feet. The child whose foot or ankle it touches, is out of the game.

This is a very high-energy game and children simply love it! In Vidyaranya, we were rewarded by a ripple effect when even young children who we had not taught this game to began playing it, having observed older children playing the sock ball game.

I must mention that Ghana did not register or was fast forgotten...they were more interested in playing the game rather than listening to where the game originated from.

Vamana guntalu (Telugu) / Pallanguzhi (Tamil): This game needs quick thinking and strategy. There is a wooden board with 14 pits in two rows, and is played with tamarind seeds. We notice that children like this game instantly. Popularly known as Mancala, this is a very ancient game and is played in several countries. Wikipedia tells us that fragments of a pottery board and several rock cuts were found in Eritrea and Ethiopia in Africa as long back as the 7th century AD! It would be a pity to let such an old game die out.

Kite flying: During Sankranthi, we also make children put rangolis and fly kites, both of which engages their attention and interest.

How schools can help
If anyone can actively help revive traditional games, it is teachers and schools. I do believe that schools should not only acquire equipment and facilities to make children play sports like cricket and tennis, but should also make available traditional games, especially at the primary and middle school levels. It is only when they are available, and when there is an adult excited about playing with them, and when sufficient time is allotted for play, that children will show interest in these games.

How people can help
Ordinary people can help by beginning to play these games once again. In fact, ideally, adults and old people should play them with children. This can also be done in apartment complexes where, instead of sitting inside their individual flats and watching TV or pining for company, people can get together and play games like Vamana guntalu, or Aadu puli attam. Perhaps it would bring back a few childhood moments and help in bonding too.

(For instructions on how to play, check out
and other websites that you can easily find on the net).

March 06, 2014


On our flight back from Pune after attending the Typoday 2014 in Symbiosis Institute of Design (Ragini's college), we saw these spectacular cloudscapes. We had heard that there had been a huge rain in Hyderabad, but having spent the day in sunny Pune, we forgot about the rain. It was great that Vijay asked for a window seat, and this is the show we witnessed. I had to reach out for my camera.

The question is: do you love clouds for being so cottony and breathtaking, or do you hate them for the turbulence they cause?!