Friday, May 23, 2014

What Narendra Modi for India means to me

In the recently concluded Indian elections, historically the largest democratic exercise ever, Narendra Modi led BJP to a historic landslide win. The least you have to say about the man is he is a very intelligent strategist. Converting just 30% of vote share to 52% of seats in the lower house is no small feat, giving India the most stable government in the past 3 decades. Ever since the exit polls have indicated a win for NaMo, the sensex has been rallying upwards reaching a new all time high each day, and then breaking all the records, climbing up 1400 points on the day of results. Even after massive profit booking, it has still maintained its strong position and is at an all time high (closing). The value of Rupee wrt USD has appreciated tremendously and is at an 11 month high. All these are nothing but immense hopes of economic development that now lies on the shoulder of Narendra Modi, following the lines of the "Gujarat Model". And I think that's the best way to look at him, as a pro development leader who believes in inclusive growth and who can convert his visions into actions rather than a communal Hindu extremist, the way a lot of people have portrayed him. With all due respect to the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, that riots past will keep haunting him, but hopefully such a gory situation will never ever arise again.

Coming back to the Gujarat Model, I have had infinite arguments about this with lots of people who think Gujarat Model is a sham and that people of Gujarat were always prosperous and hard working. Agreed! Even if they were always prosperous and hard working, the least Narendra Modi's government has done is to bring in transparency, thus reducing bureaucracy, cutting down on red tape and keeping corruption largely under check. Hence creating an environment conducive for growth. If this is all there is to the Gujarat Model, it's still good enough for me. If he can implement just this Gujarat Model, it will lead to a very nurturing environment for entrepreneurship and development in general. I am sure there is enough untapped potential in India that's languishing under the ire of excessive bureaucracy and red tape. 

Narendra Modi is not one of your typical old fashioned politician. He is a very very tech savvy person, a trait I guess that appealed the most to the young generation. He led a US Presidential style election which employed big data analytics to effectively target audience, deliver holographic speeches and the episodes of Chai pe Charcha broadcasted live via YouTube. He is also the one who understood the potential of social media to the fullest. His fb page is only second to Barrack Obama and is the 6th most popular political figure on twitter. His tweeplomacy is well known and is very active on twitter, thus giving a feeling that he is very approachable, just a tweet away! His tweets are most of the time informative and speak about actions he has taken. For example the events that unfurled today in Afganistan, where the Indian embassy was attacked by 4 terrorists, only to be completely thwarted by Indian and Afgan army. Hamid Karzai called up Narendra Modi assuring steps to prevent any further attacks and Narendra Modi applauding the help of Afgan army, an information that would have come from the media hours later, was tweeted by Narendra Modi. It just assures you that you are being headed by a leader who cares and believes in transparency and keeps everyone informed.

After the results, the Prime Minister-designate has made all the right noises. He is meaning business right from day -6, looking at downsizing the number of cabinet ministries into half, for improved efficiency and coordination. Forming a task force to look into black money stashed away abroad. Taking along all the senior leaders of BJP, portraying an absolute united front, quashing all reports of rifts in BJP cadres. And the boldest move of them all, inviting SAARC leaders specifically Nawaz Sharif for the oath ceremony. And interestingly all the 8 countries have accepted the invitation. After all diplomacy with your neighbors is what matters the most. David Cameron understood his potential earlier and breached differences, Barrack Obama waited till date. I hope ego does not come into play in the ties of the two largest democracies. Never the less, the least I can tell is that exciting things are about to happen in the next few years. And who knows, if everything goes well, we might have a bullet train corridor by the end of 5 years as per BJP's manifesto :-)

Another very interesting fact to note would be that the calenders of 1947 and 2014 are exactly the same! Does this have any significance? Only time will tell...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jammu & Kashmir

Trying to explain Kashmir is like trying to explain love... its beautiful but its complicated! Kashmir is like a beautiful soft heart that was in love for hundreds of years and then, it broke up, quite literally. Ever since, it has been betrayed, exiled, terrorized, attacked by parasites trying to quash even the slightest glimmer of hope and aspirations, almost asphyxiating it to death, and yet it lives on...  

In this post, I want to bring out the soul of Kashmir, the way I have understood it. It will obviously be a gross injustice if I said I was any close to achieving it, but hopefully will be able to bring out some of its nuances to give a perspective on Kashmir and the reason why it is the way it is. Lets begin with the easiest one:

Tourism:

Tourism is the largest job creating industry in J&K. Most of Srinagar valley and higher remains completely shut for almost 6 months every year due to heavy snowfall and hence a lot of families rely on tourism during the summer months to earn enough for the year. J&K can be subdivided into 3 major parts, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. During my vacation we covered Jammu and parts of Kashmir. We arrived in Jammu on the afternoon of 19th June '13. Jammu is the winter capital of J&K. Situated in Jammu is the beautiful Raghunath temple. Weird part in J&K is that a lot of these places you would have heard of because a major terrorist attack had happened there and you just have to live with it.

Near Jammu is of course the temple of Mata Vaishno Devi, which is where we primarily wanted to go. In fact the whole vacation was planned around the date on which we got helicopter tickets to Vaishno Devi. Katra (base camp for Vaishno Devi) is 2 hours drive from Jammu city. It's always overwhelming to see the number of people visiting the shrine and the excitement they have while chanting Jai Mata Di. Vaishno Devi is a 14 km steep trek from Katra. Devotees cover the trek either by walk, horses, palki or the recently introduced helicopter service. The first time I went, I went by walk and it was an unforgettable experience. You see people from all age groups, small children to 80 year old women, beaming with energy chanting Jai Mata Di and climbing away. This time though we went by helicopter, which takes you to Sanji Chatt from Katra. The shrine is a 2km downhill from there. We stayed at one of the guest houses of the shrine board. It was a quaint place and located in a place from where we could see the shrine from our balcony. It was amazing. We did the Aarti Darshan in the evening which was surreal. 


Vaishno Devi Shrine and the terrain around it

The next day, we went back to Jammu and took a flight to Srinagar. That night we spent in the houseboat in Dal lake. All about that you can read here. The next day we went for sight seeing in Srinagar. Srinagar is of course famous for its gardens from the Mughal Era, so much so that there was a whole chapter in my 8th class Hindi text book praising the beauty of Shalimar and Nishat gardens. There are also a few other beautiful seasonal gardens.

Srinagar is also famous for the Hazrat Bal shrine. This shrine has a priceless relic, a hair of Prophet Mohammad. And thus Srinagar is sometimes equated to Madina according to a verse written in the shrine.

The next day, we left for Sonmarg. Sonmarg is known for Amarnath Yatra. It was also exciting to visit Sonamarg because of its proximity to Kargil. There is nothing much as such to see in Sonmarg, but going a little further ahead, you would pass through Baltal, the place where India set up its base camp during the Kargil war. A little ahead comes the northernmost recognized civilian village of India (I forget the name). The road then leads to the Zero Point, apparently the point upto which the Pakistani army could peek into the Indian mainland and view all army movements, when they had Kargil under siege. From here of course, you could see the Kargil peaks as well. 

Next stop, Pahalgam. If you are cricket fan you will definitely know what Pahalgam is famous for... Bats! Pahalgam is home to the finest trees to make bats, the willow tree. Almost all major companies either source the wood from here or have a factory in Pahalgam. I was lucky to get into one of the factories, and experience bat making. The bats are so cheap here, irrespective of whether you need it or not, you ll definitely buy one. Pahalgam is also famous for Kesar, Almond and strawberry. Unfortunately it was not the season for strawberry, but I got to see Kesar and Almond plantation. And since its grown here, its pretty cheap!

Mini Switzerland, Pahalgam

Pahalgam also has some really amazing place to go to. There is a 2.5km trek that takes you to a huge valley surrounded by snow clad mountains. This place is known as the mini Switzerland, its simply beautiful! Pahalgam also has a rafting club, where I did rafting for the first time. The inexperienced me, went in wearing jeans and a full shirt hoping I wouldn't get drenched just like any other boat ride... big mistake! In like a minute into the rafting I was completely drenched with icy cold water. I guess the adrenaline rush of rafting saved me. The raft would literally crash into rocks and then jump up. At those moments, all you can do is hope it doesn't topple. The course was 4km long, the time just passed by, it was amazing!

From Pahalgam, we left for Gulmarg and oh boy! What a gorgeous place it is. No wonder it was one of the hottest destinations for shooting Hindi movies. It has been developed into a great tourist destinations with a huge golf club. It also has a rope way called Gondola which would take you to the peak of a surrounding mountain which has snow throughout the year. The place in itself is so gorgeous that even the wild growth of flowers seemed so beautiful.


Gulmarg

Next to the golf club was our hotel and right next to that was a temple. A very small temple that was oddly very familiar to my father. On querying, turned out, it was the same temple where the song Jai Jai Shiv Shankar was shot.

This revelation dawned upon us as our journey to the beautiful land of J&K was about to get over. Going back to the hotel, gave another shock. There had been a terrorist attack back in Srinagar and Dr. Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were on a visit to Srinagar. Srinagar was put under complete curfew to avoid any other attacks. This cut short our stay in Gulmarg even more, as we were to take our flight back to Delhi from Srinagar the next day. We started off 12 hours earlier than expected. Fortunately we arrived at the airport safely. Curfews are no big deal for Kashmir, which brings me to my next section...

Society at large:

This will be a good time to reiterate some historical events that unfurled after the India Pakistan partition. In 1947, the Indian Independence Act was signed by the Britishers, which basically divided the former India into the Dominions of India and Pakistan. The princely states were given the right to choose whether to join India or Pakistan or remain independent. Most of the states chose based on the majority population being Hindu or Muslim. Pakistan expected Kashmir to be annexed to it. Even though the majority population was Muslim, the Hindu ruled (Maharaja Hari Singh) state decided to stay independent instead. India and Pakistan signed a treaty not to try and invade Kashmir. 

But a certain group of Muslim revolutionaries and segments of Pakistani tribesmen invaded Kashmir. Unable to withstand the invasion, Maharaja Hari Singh approached India for help. Even though Jawahar Lal Nehru was willing to send troops, India was legally bound not to take any such steps as per the treaty as they had no proof that Pakistani army was involved. India instead asked Maharaja Hari Singh to use the Instrument of Accession and join India, and only then could India help Kashmir. Rumor spread that Hari Singh had supported the accession of Kashmir to India and the revolutionaries started making rapid advances towards Srinagar. When they reached the outskirts of Srinagar Hari Singh had no other choice but to sign the accession. It was accepted by India within a day and India did one of the largest military airlifts that the world has seen, took over Srinagar airport and started the pushing back the revolutionaries from there, thus starting the war of 1947. 

Seeing the large scale loss of lives, Nehru took the matter to UN. UN worked out a cease fire agreement and started the resolution for the Right of Nations to Self Determination. This resolution requires the state to have no external influence to have a fair voting and hence the UN advised Pakistan to move out all its troops and India to leave the bare minimum required for administrative purposes. Pakistan did not heed to the proposal and hence nor did India. I am guessing its probably not in the interest of India as well to let the voting happen as people will most likely vote to be a part of Pakistan, and thus I guess, India has the veto of Russia always ready in case such a situation occurs. After the cease fire, India controls about 60% of the state (yes just 60%, the beautiful butterfly like crowns on the India map are actually not in control of India) and Pakistan controls about 30% and the rest by China.

From then on of course, Kashmir has seen decades of terrorist attacks, wars, protests etc. disrupting lives, redefining the sense of normalcy in the valley. Curfews were a part and parcel of everyday lives and the geography doesn't help as well. For a long time, Kashmir used to be completely cut off from rest of India due to snowfall. Terrorist invasion would peak during these times. Basically the people of Kashmir are the ones who have lost the most in the tug of war between India and Pakistan. They are very good to tourists, vary helpful and honest. Unlike a lot of other tourist places in India, people here are very honest. But they have somehow developed a deep rooted dislike for the Indian army. According to them, the army has forcefully occupied Kashmir even though the conditions have become much better now but the army tries to show New Delhi that its not. In fact the terrorist attack that happened when I was there was also interpreted as if the army was trying to show Dr. Manmohan Singh who was on a visit to J&K then that conditions aren't normal. And the fact that two terrorists on a motor cycle open fired on an army convoy and yet managed to get away doesn't sink in very well. As a patriotic Indian I would obviously want Kashmir to always be a part of India and hope the people of Kashmir realize that India is trying to do its best to prevail peace in the valley and pushing developments very hard.

Security:

In other states, you will mostly find police with a lathi, rarely a pistol but that's all nothing more than that. But here in J&K, you will find police with high end rifles, police vehicles mounted with high power machine guns, the sorts you use in video games. And this is just the J&K police. Then there is the CRPF, the BSF in the border areas. And then there is the Indian army, always on stand by in case anything more adverse happens. In case you are worried about your security as a tourist in J&K, then you shouldn't be. The conditions in Kashmir are way better than they were about a decade back and in fact are very normal except for a few untoward incidences here and there forcing police to impose curfews at times. But otherwise, its too good a place to miss if you are enthusiastic about travelling.

Airports:

Both the airports, Jammu as well as Srinagar are military airports being used for civil aviation. Hence the security is much tighter here. When you enter the airport, the army does a complete scanning of your vehicle and the luggage. Inside the airport, the airline does another round of thorough check up. You are not allowed to carry anything other than a laptop inside the cabin, not even eatables or clothes. Thus you are allowed an extra 5kg on your luggage quota. Any sort of liquid will just be thrown out. After checking in your luggage, you need to go identify your luggage when the luggage is being transported into the aircraft, to ensure there are no unidentified baggage that gets into the aircraft. If you do not do the baggage identification, your luggage will simply be left behind.

Another issue with military airports is that if there is any sort of military movement, your flight is bound to get delayed, something that happened to us both at Jammu as well as in Srinagar. In Jammu there was a chartered Air India flight carrying over a 100 jawans to an undisclosed location. In Srinagar, it was our PM whose jet was leaving Srinagar for Ladakh. Although it was all very inspiring to see the sequence of events that ensured the security of the PM. An array of black SUVs came in to drop him off to the jet and then two fighters took off back to back closely followed by the jet.

Shopping:

Kashmir is famous for Cashmere wool also known as Pashmina. Pashmina is a fabric that is so light and yet can keep you very warm and its so soft to touch that satin is probably nothing compared to it. Pure Pashmina shawls start at a range of about INR 10K. Kashmir is also famous for its thread work. It has a distinctive style of thread work which is done on simple plain cloths converting them into something very gorgeous. This style is mostly applied to dresses and bed sheets. Pahalgam seemed to be the cheapest for cloths shopping.

Kashmir is also known for dry fruits. Almost all major varieties of dry fruits, almond, pistachio, walnuts, cashew and most importantly kesar. Go to an authorized place especially while buying Kesar. On the way to Pahalgam are many shops which have kesar plantations in their backyards, and while you are at it, make friends so that you can get all dry fruits home delivered anywhere in India for nominal parcel charges after your current batch gets over. And of course when you are at Pahalgam, just stay calm and buy a bat.

Food:

When you are at Kashmir, it will either be the season for apples, or the season for strawberries and blue berries or the season for cherries. June end was the season for cherries, indulge in some cherry shopping. Kashmiri tea and kesar milk were amazing. Definitely try the Kashmiri pulav with shahi paneer, the best shahi paneer I have ever had! All curries in Kashmir are generally pretty rich with dry fruits, making them taste much better.

Now for the most important part, the Kashmiri wazwan. Wazwan is a 36 course meal, yes 36! that used to be served in royal banquets. Out of the 36 up to 30 dishes could meat based (chicken and lamb) and the rest are sweet dishes. To be able to prepare the Wazwan is considered art and a matter of pride for Kashmiris. Now of course its prepared only in some select few weddings of super rich families, but a few of its dishes can be tasted in a select few hotels. They have a Wazwan platter which consists of small amounts of about 15 to 20 dishes. The platter is an assortment of some amazing kebabs, murgh and ghost curries and sweets usually consisting of milk and kesar.

Disclaimer: The events described above do not follow any thorough documentary research and may not be completely accurate.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dal Lake, An amazing city on water

After a very short flight from Jammu, witnessing some of the most amazing views of my life on board an aircraft, we finally arrived at Srinagar at around 4:00 PM. A 20 minutes drive took us to the Dal lake, and the first thing that will strike you is its enormity. It's not one of the largest lakes in India, but its the biggest in the middle of a city. The lake is adorned by the traditional Shikaras, a cultural symbol of Kashmir. 
It is also surrounded by an enormous number of gardens. Some of the most famous ones are of course the Shalimar and the Nishat gardens built during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, and also the gorgeous Centaur Hotel, where 'Wazir-e-Azam' Dr. Manmohan Singh was to stay on his trip to J&K 2 days later. This just makes the lake look so beautiful that it's rightfully nicknamed the jewel in the crown of Kashmir. 
We were to stay the night on a houseboat named the Peer Palace. Houseboats in the Dal lake were introduced in the early nineteenth century by the Britishers, and their grandeur is still completely intact. They are so luxurious and grand that they could be easily compared with a 5-star or a 7-star hotel. But I wouldn't do so. It's just a completely different experience! Following are some of the images that I took in the house boat that we were staying in, the Peer Palace and let them stand their own testimony.
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After a 15 minute Shikara ride on the cold and calm waters, we reached the houseboat. We were hungry, and the manager had a bad news for us. The houseboat's cook had gone out. He added that we could order from a hotel that would give home delivery. It was a little surprising as to why would a hotel come and give home delivery to a houseboat in the middle of nowhere? The manager then cleared it to us that it's a floating hotel, a hotel right in the middle of the lake that takes orders from the houseboats and delivers food to them. He also said that there is a market, a school, a police station, a post office and lots of other amenities within the lake. That's when it hit us that its not just a lake. its a complete city in itself. He then promised to take us around and show it to us. After having some delicious pakodas and the Kashmiri tea, we headed to experience the Dal lake. 
First we visited the usual tourist spots, the gardens, the water sports area and the Char Chinar, a small island in the middle of the lake which just has four Chinar trees (remember the leaf on the flag of Canada?). Then we headed for the Kabutar Khana, a small palace  on water which was built by the king of Kashmir to watch birds!  Imagine owning a piece of water, on which you have a palace built, which is then surrounded by lilies and lotuses... reminds me of the lyrics of the song from Mission Kashmir, Socho ke jhilon ka sheher ho, leheron pe apna ek ghar ho, hum jo dekhen, sapne pyare, sach ho saare, bas aur kyaaaaa..., which again was shot on one of houseboats here on the Dal lake. Now of course, the palace has been converted into a CRPF camp, surrounded by speed boats and high end rifles (a sight that is very common in J&K, but more on that in my next post). 
Then we were headed for the inner parts of the lake, the parts that are not affected by the tourists, a very calm and peaceful place, we set sail into the setting sun...
You must be wondering as to how could people built homes in the middle of a lake? Well nature has its own miracles. They are built on pieces of floating lands, yes, pieces of land that are absolutely floating on the top of water, and if the owner wants to move somewhere else in the water, all he/she needs to do is wade the piece of land through the water. The land is kept in place by the water plants that have been grown. These lands are also used for growing vegetables, which are then sold in the local markets in the lake!  Here's a pic of some of the houses and the vegetation around them, and their mode of transportation...
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Soon we were at their school...
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Then we were headed for the market. Passing through complete wilderness, the quietness was just refreshing. It was like a completely different world out there, there were the birds, the plants and the trees, the still water and me with my family in a Shikara, wading through roads made of water...
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We then reached the market. If you have visited any major melas in any major cities, you would have definitely come across Kashmir handlooms and emporiums. All their outlets are here. From clothes to vegetables to snacks, everything is available here. People residing in the lake actually prefer marketing here than going out anywhere else.
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In the winter of course, the markets stay closed, in fact the whole of Kashmir valley remains almost closed due to the heavy snow fall. By the end of December till late january, the Dal lake remains completely frozen, so much so that you could actually walk on it. In fact it turns into a playground for children during the winters, and people play football, cricket and hockey here as I was told (of course the ones who can bear the severe cold :P).
After an amazing night of sleep in the calm wilderness, the next day we were headed for the rest of our trip of J&K. More on that will be on my next post, but right now all I can say is reiterate what Mughal Emperor Jahangir had to say about Kashmir...
Agar firdaus bar rue zamin ast,
hamin asto hamin asto hamin ast!

(If there be paradise on earth, 
it is here, it is here, it is here!)
A lily from the Dal lake...
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And the rest of the images from the Dal lake...





Saturday, February 23, 2013

And all those amazing times we have had...

Through those insanity
Through those craziness
Through those weirdness
And all those amazing times we have had

Through those movies, sometimes without a ticket, sometimes back to back
Through those theme parks
Through those restaurants
And all those amazing times we have had

Through those philosophical night outs
Through those movie night outs
And those top secret two wheeler night outs
And all those amazing times we have had

Through those failed love affairs
Through Analog Circuits and its Heirs
Through the last part of the seventh sem
And all those "not" so amazing times we have had

Through your random name calling
Through all your beautiful surprises
Through all your awful surprises
And all those amazing times we have had

Through those amazing trips
Through those random shopping sprees
Through those wolfing spirits
And all those amazing times we have had

Through those stupidest of the movies that no one likes
Through those teasing instincts that everyone cherish
Through those walks back from the main gate
And all those amazing times we have had

To all those amazing times we will have...
Dedicated to my ever stupidly crazy friends :-)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Craziest things to do in a Cyclone...

Cyclone is coming! Just imagine all the crazy things you could do in a cyclone! Here are some!

Do a Oppan Gangnam Style:

You could do that part of Oppan Gangnam style where a huge fan blows wind at him and he eats foam! All you need is a blue jacket, someone to spray a foam can at you and a hope that you don’t get blown away.

Bungee Jumping:

Find a high bridge or tie a long pole across the hostel from the even wing to the odd wing and jump off from it. The wind will make you feel like you are flyyyyyiinggg...

Get Some Wings:

Well your KFC chicken wings won’t work here. You will need something bigger. May be try catching a vulture, steal its wings and jump off the roof of BT department. If you can fly, you will do a great service to science. If you can’t, well you tried and science will remember you forever :P

Do a Felix Baumgartner:

Take a hot air balloon (a tutorial on maneuvering a hot air balloon in a storm can be found in any biography of Richard Brenson), go on top of the cloud (9th one preferably) and jump off. You might not breach Mach 1, but you will definitely breach a few layers of soil after falling on earth.

Paragliding:

Make a huge kite, grab it and go to St. Thomas Mount, and jump off towards the airport with it. Hope that you don’t collide with a flight. You can then enter the airport, hijack a kingfisher flight (they are anyways out of use) and fly away…

Get some Trampolines:

A whole lot of ideas above involved jumping off… So let’s jump up now. Get some trampolines. Use your basic kinematics to find out how far a distance you should place them so that you jump from one to reach the next one. You could do this wearing a space suit, record a video and send it to NASA saying it was taken in Neptune :P

Do a Titanic:

Build a titanic, well a 1000 times scaled down version of it, and stand in front of it with your arms widely spread. James Cameron would be very proud of you.

Surfing:

If you ever wanted to sail alongside sharks, this could be your chance. Since the sharks would be busy running away for their lives, you could surf alongside them.

Driving:

You could ride a cycle till the main gate, from where you could break into a car and drive it through the ECR road to Pondicherry. (If you can of course :P)

Sleep on the roof:

If you want to “feel” the cyclone up close and personal(in which case, a certain prof in Dept. of Electrical Engineering would be very happy with you), you could go to the roof and sleep there. Then you could measure the luminous intensity of lightening and the breakdown voltages of air, and think of harvesting power from lightening.

Tie yourself to a wind mill:

If you ever wanted to experience a centrifuge but do not have access to NASA or a Lockheed Martin facility, you could tie yourself to a wind mill. You will experience the centrifuge with zero carbon footprint and hence doing a bit for yourself and for the earth :P

Most of it came up during a fruitful mess discussion with Vaibhav. There were a lot of shady stuff as well, of course I am not going to tell them here :P

The Plan of Action:
As Ironman would have said, the plan of action, is action! Take a hot air balloon and go to the 9th cloud and jump off. After falling through the 9 clouds, engage wings. If you are able to fly great! If not, engage parachute and fall exactly next to a cycle in IIT Madras. Break open the cycle and ride it till main gate. From there drive a car to St. Thomas Mount, where your para-glide would be waiting for you. Jump off the cliff, dodge as many flights as you can, and enter the airport. Break open a plane (kingfisher preferably) and fly away. After a proper take off, shift to auto pilot with a course towards the center of cyclone (somewhere between Cuddalore and Nellore) and do a bungee jumping from the plane (you can have the James Bond (Skyfall) or Jason Bourne theme playing in the background). Keep yourself taut to the plane until you arrive on top of Nellore. On top of Nellore, cut the ropes and jump into the sea. Your surf board would be waiting there for you. Surf alongside sharks till you reach your Titanic. Now sail the Titanic to Chennai, and arrive at Besant Nagar beach. From there, you could tie a sail to a mast on a surf board and sail on land towards insti. After reaching insti, you could ask your friends to spray foam at you and you could do the Oppan Ganganam style.  Then you could go and sleep on the roof of your hostel and think about what you have done!

OR

You could just stay indoors, put peace, and do yourselves a favor by not putting yourselves in danger and probably read one of my experiences in a real cyclone here and stay safe :) 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Some fond childhood memories of Dussehra...

Dussehra, also known as Durga Puja, is one of the biggest festivals in Odisha. For me though, it was more like that time of the year with 10 days of school holidays, awesome food, huge pandals with amazing blinking lights and patterns made out of them. Societies in Odisha have a great knack of pulling of such beautiful pandals that you would be really amazed just by seeing their size and their beauty. They would be themed, sometimes the Titanic, sometimes the Taj, sometimes the pandals would be covered with obsolete 5 and 10 paise coins, the whole pandal, the size of a 7-8 storey building of it. The major ones will have amazing work of gold and silver, and one in Cuttack where the Goddess would be made completely of silver every year. Its really so inspiring to see the creativity and dedication of the workers in making these pandals just for the sake of a few days. Then they would be decorated with lights about 500m radius around it. So essentially, 70% of the roads in Bhubaneswar would be decorated in lights.
The first few days of the holiday would be spent with my parents visiting these amazing pandals in Bhubaneswar. About the 6th or 7th day of Dussehra, we would go to my grandparents place. Both my grandparents live in a quaint little place called Jagatsinghpur, about 60km from Bhubaneswar. At my paternal grand parents place, me with my cousins, and my father, would go for fishing! We would play cricket for like 6 hours out of 10 hours of daylight, and the rest would be spent eating and pulling each others leg. At my maternal grandparents place as well, it would be my uncles and aunts instead of my cousins. There, there is this culture that everyone gives everyone delicacies specially made for Dussehra, things like Kakara Pitha, Nimki, varieties of sweets especially Laddu and Rasgulla etc. (Heaven!! :D) And since both my grandparents come from a background of Zamindaars, they have a huge list of people to give. (even better :D). And hence cooks, just to make all these, would come. A makeshift kitchen would be set up in the backyard, where the cooks, typically 2, would continuously keep making stuff for us for about 2 and half days and they would be continuously consumed or given away. There were just too many people who would visit my grandparents. I, on the other hand would stay put at the makeshift kitchen. I just loved watching them being made, in those huge kadhais and of course popping in one or two at times :D. Whether it was the aroma, or the color or them taking shape, I don't know. But I just loved watching them being made. I was like the food inspector, every lot of whatever was made, had to pass through me first :D.  When laddus were made, I would don the hat of the chef trying to give the laddus their shape. I had this signature style of shaping the laddus (any shape but spherical :P) that every one who saw it, knew I was the one who made it :D

On the 8th day of the Dussehra, or the Durga-Ashtami, a huge puja is held. Everyone would have to wear new, its just so childish now, but the feeling then was amazing. Then the 10th day would be the day when the "victory of good over evil" or the Vijaydasami happened. This is the day when an huge effigy of Raavan would be burnt. Unlike I guess the rest of India, Jagatsinghpur has this amazing tradition of all gods coming together and watching over when lord Ram killed Ravana. Wherever Dussehra is celebrated, pandals have either Goddess Durga or Lord Ram or sometimes Ravana. But in Jagatsinghpur, you will find pandals of lord Krishna, Ganesh and Shiv as well. And on the Vijaydasami day, during the evening, at a huge ground in front of the office of the district collector, there will be the effigy of Ravana ready, lord Ram would be straight in front of him, all the other gods and goddesses would encircle them standing on huge trucks. It's just so magical, as if it were happening in heaven. And the effigy would be burnt up with rockets, and I would count the number of them. It would go on for about ten minutes (I would have given up counting by 5 :P), and then there would be this feeling that something good happened over something evil. Some evil died. And that is the ultimate spirit of Dussehra isn't it?! 

More amazing pictures of Dussehra at Bhubaneswar can be seen here (Courtesy: "Stunning Bhubaneswar" fb page):
2012 and 2010 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Weekends Out

I always put in a lot of thought on the way I start my blog posts but for this, I have already thought for three days and I have truly no better (or worse.. readers discretion required :P) way of starting it. Everything about these trips were so awesome that I really can't pick one particular moment to start off from.


It was all out of the blue one day when we decided we would go somewhere awesome for the whole weekend. The first obvious choice was Ooty. But then also came up the suggestion of Yercaud and Hogenakkal. Ultimately, it was decided that we would go for Yercaud and Hogenakkal...

Yercaud and Hogenakkal

We started off on 22nd June at 11:00pm (even though it incredibly became 1:30am of 23rd and Manoj had to play hide and seek at Bangalore Central, but just for the records, Dino, we were not late :P). We had hired a bus with a robot as a driver (trust me a robot would have done a better job in terms of knowing places in Bangalore). Well nevertheless, we finally boarded the bus and started off. As if on a mission to not sleep, we started off playing multi-lingual antaksheri. 

In antaksheri, there are three types of people. One who does not sing at all. Second, the normal people who sing when they get a nice song and playback for others for the rest of the time. And then there is Pranitha, the living database of songs. Have her against you, and you are deemed to be doomed. Well the doom went on for two to three hours more, when every song in Telugu seemed to be ending with either, ल, म, or र. Finding myself completely out of songs, I slept off. Sometimes while sleeping, you dream about waking up amidst something awesome, may be a heap of chocolate (gold if I were uncle Scrooge), or inside Disney land may be. But I woke up to this...


And to say the least, it was breathtakingly amazing. We had started ascending to Yercaud. The views around were awesome. I had heard of the beauty of the Eastern Ghats before, but this was the first hand experience and it was beautiful. 

We reached Yercaud at around 8:30 in the morning. We had already booked the hotel, so went there straight and after getting freshened up, and after some amazing Dosas and Idlys and Vadas and cups of Coffee at Sarvana Bhavan nearby, we hit the road. First we went to  the Karadiyur View point. The roads to the place were a bit steep and our robot couldn't drive. After pushing the bus so many times, we finally decided to walk the whole of last 2km and asked the bus to go and stay put at the place. After walking for about an hour, we finally reached the place and it was totally awesome.


Then after lunch, we went to the boat house at Yercaud. Ironically, hardly anyone of us knew swimming. Thankfully we had life jackets. Here we had a ball which was supposed to be thrown at each other in order to wet each other. Basically we were in 4 different pedal boats and each boat was a team trying to wet others with the ball.

After the boating, we went to Pagoda point. Here is where the funda of front, side and top views came up. Side view was the amazing view of the hills, front view was the temple and Nitish who saw the top view, and here's Nitish... Tadaaaaaa

Disclaimer
All character(s) appearing in the Image below are undeniably non fictitious. Resemblance to any person dead alive or in a state of pure awkwardness right now is totally intentional :P

<lower part has been censored after negotiations>
<PS: Can be made available on further negotiations :P>



After Pagoda point, we came back to our hotel. After a game of Poker, we had our dinner. Later in the night, it was wolf time! We started playing at about10:30pm. With 15 people playing, each game was bound to take a lot of time. But it was fun! The biggest highlight of the game was when Dinesh was wolf and came out as a Cop, Priyasha being the real cop. It has been since then that Priyasha and Dinesh are Jaani Dushman, that whenever we played wolf since then, each would point at the other, even when bloddy both are wolves. Valluru as usual "I am the wolf, kill me". Vaibhav was the god and quite literally so. Sidharth was pulling stunners after stunners with his acting. It went on till about 5am in the morning when we decided to get freshened up and start off for Hogenakkal straight away. Everyone went to their rooms and as soon as in the rooms, everyone felt asleep except only for Chitra, who actually got ready immediately and was waiting for all the other people to get ready without actually knowing everyone's already deep asleep... 

Well, finally at around 7:30am, we had our breakfast and started off for Hogenakkal. This time in the bus playing Literature and Contact. Finally we reached Hogenakkal at around noon. Unlike Yercaud, Hogenakkal was very dirty, with the smell of fried fish all around and people sans the sense of educated social etiquettes. To put it in IIT-M lingo, the place sucked, so much so that we were actually planning to leave then and there and head back to Bangalore. But just for the sake of having gone thus far, we continued towards the waterfall. Hogenakkal is apparently called the Niagra of India, but unfortunately because of the summer, the main water fall was just about 6 feets wide and was disappointing but then we went for boating and that was truly heavenly and gave some of the best memories of the trip. 
The 'tokri' boat..

The mime Rajnikant..

The cave..

After this we were on our way back to Bangalore. It was during this when I said out of the blue that lets go for Ooty next weekend. When you have crazy people like Dinesh, Sunaina (order is debatable and more importantly negotiable with me :P) followed by Pranitha followed by me of course, this out of the blue statement was like a spark to some of the most volatile gases, It had to catch fire... We stopped once for a lunchinner and got back to Bangalore exactly 48 hours after we had started this amazing trip.  
And then on Tuesday itself we decide, we are going to Ooty the following weekend...

Oooootyyyyyy...

The planning happened to be quite similar. We had hired a traveller, this time with child driving (technically cause he cried when we didn't feed him on time). We started off at around midnight of 29th June, again playing multi-lingual antaksheri in the bus. At around 4 o'clock in the morning we reached Mysore, and incidentally, the child parked the bus very close to Mysore palace in order to take a nap. So we all nocturnal creatures, except for Manoj and his partner(s) :P went walking to the front of the palace. It was lit beautifully and was in its full grandeur. 


Then at around 6 O'clock, we reached the gates of Bandipur national park. The gates were closed so had to wait for half an hour or so, and then entered Bandipur national park and passed through some really interesting animals...
A bison..

Deer..

Elephant..


And of course...

We reached Ooty at around 10:30am, got freshened up in the hotel and immediately went for the highest peak in the Nilgiris, the Doddabetta Peak. After this, we headed for the rose garden, and seeing roses in summer was like being in a dream. It was a beautifully maintained park and very scenic. 



 And after a lot of craziness and pictures like jumping jacks,



We headed for the tea museum. After getting enlightened about the process of making tea (yeah as if anyone remembers anything :P) we bought chocolates and teas, of course the randomness, the craziness continued. 

Then we went to the Ooty lake. Unfortunately, this time, we forgot to get a ball (no puns intended), so instead we spent time talking and admiring the nature and of course the craziness, throwing water and crashing into each other. And then there was the bubble blowing session, and Sunaina made her statement for the day if you guys remember. We took some infinite pictures.. poor Abhinav.


We went back to the hotel at about 5pm, where I crashed straight away. When I woke up, I was informed about Manoj's enlightenment about the statement " **** like a horse ". Later in the night after an amazing dinner while it was raining outside and coffee at CCD with a lot of fart, we started off with wolf again. And well, on the first game itself we had two cops again and they were none other than Dinesh and Priyasha yet again, and two games later both of them accused each other despite both being wolves. Even though most of the games were marred due to various reasons it was still a great session, with the highlights being Dinesh always wanted to be a wolf so much so that he would exchange his villager cards. I finally got to become a wolf, Pranitha finally got to become a villager. Only one out of the 6 games we tried to play actually ended up properly but still it was fun!


Next day morning we went to Coonoor first. We were supposed to go to places called Dolphins nose and Lambs rock. We did go to two lambs on a rock...                 But no one really knows if that was supposed to be the lambs rock, though the lambs were convincingly possessive about the rock. The place though was really good. We were literally on cloud 9 (we didn't actually count the clouds :P). Then there was the beautiful tea garden and the greenery all around due to the garden. We were already late so decided to skip Dolphins nose and headed for Sarkar palace where we had to do the most important bit of shopping.. chocolates. :-)   After which we headed for the Pykara falls.



After an amazing veg buffet, we went to the Ooty wax world which you could say was the Madam Tussaud of Ooty. It was small alright but the craftsmanship was amazing, showcasing some of the prominent figures of our freedom struggle, current leaders and some with a great social message. it had a small market of scented candles and we bought some.


At Pykara falls, Abhinav scripted a movie in which there was a entry, and then there was a dance scene, a chasing sequence, there would have been an Item number but we were missing Nitish, which all went helter skelter. Trust me Abhinav, had I been able to walk then, you would have already got an Oscar :P Although the movie didn't really happen, we did get to see a lot of action, and romance in the woods :P

Then the bloody child made us walk for one and half km to reach Pykara lake. Here we again went for boating, this time though we went in motor powered boats, truly admiring the nature. And of course the craziness..
The Titanic pose.. (I wonder if you both enacted the scenes after this one too :P)

The Captain Jack Sparrow pose..

Then we got down at Gudalur to get refilled, where we did not find a single restaurant which could serve anything other than Idly and Dosa. So we had to live on Banana chips and Soan Papdi thanks to Abhinav, Manoj and Valluru. After refreshments, we started playing contact. This by far was the best game of contact that we played. Later we stopped in a Dhaba at Mysore for dinner at around 10:30pm and then continued on our way back to Bangalore. As if even god didn't want this beautiful trip to end, the bus broke down twice on the way. We finally reached Bangalore at around 4O'clock in the morning of  2nd July.

These trips were like some of the best days of my life. Honestly its not the destination that matters, its the company that really matters. One more person that I really need to thank here is my manager/mentor. Himank Shankar, who let me take leave on Saturdays. No matter how maggu and workaholic IIT kgp people are, they are very good at their hearts and that's an honest generalization guys :-)  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Super Cyclone!

Two cousin brothers, one jobless evening, both their fathers out of station, unusually, no restrictions from their mothers, and the perfect setting happened to be during Dushera, some adventure was definitely on cards. They had to have some fun!    
So they decided to go for the newly released and hugely acclaimed Oriya movie named Bidhata (meaning, God), starring Uttam Mohanty and Mihir Das. 

October 27, 1999, 
17:00;
The cousins went ahead with their plan for the movie, with their mothers and their uncle. But their grandfather wasn't really happy with it. According to him, what we understood, something bad was going to happen and he wanted us all to stay at home.But in an Indian middle class family, its the "Bahus" who rule the family. Their mothers persuaded him saying they would be back early. 

21:00;
The movie got over, and it was truly a great movie, fitting to all its hype and the statures of the stars in it. Everyone came out. It was drizzling mildly outside. Until then everything was fine, when suddenly one of them happened to see the sky. It was completely red. It was as if someone had painted the sky with red paint, and then suddenly current went off. It was unusual, cause Orissa then happened to be very self sufficient as far as power was concerned and cutting off power in the capital, that to during Dushera, a festival totally lifeless in the part without their beautifully lighted pendals, was very unusual. And then we started hearing some announcements from a Police Jeep in a distance. It became louder and started to come from all around the place. The voice was kind of eerie, but my uncle, being a proud new recruit to the Indian Air Force, happened to hear it properly, and asked us to get in the car as soon as possible and drove. We were supposed to have dinner out, instead parcelled it to home, and on the way bought some candles and biscuits. We did not quite get the reason behind the rush, but we did hear the word "Batya" (Oriya for Cyclone) many times, but didn't really know what it meant. With the mystery of the word "Batya" in our heads, we reached home, quickly had dinner and were put to bed.

October 28, 1999,
06:00;
I woke up, and suddenly got an essence of some kind of buzz going around, in the house. I went out to the dining area, and everyone was already there and were gazing out as if they never saw that huge window in the dining room before. Paying a little more attention, I saw air was flowing outside, and then a little more attention, I saw wind was blowing at a speed more than 200 kmph!! Current was gone, cable of the TV was gone, It was raining heavily and wind flowing at more than 200kmph. It was a cyclone, the 1999 Orissa Super Cyclone
We did not know what exactly it was then. Was it happening all over India, or just over Bhubaneswar, we were totally clueless, when suddenly my badepapa called from Kolkata (luckily the landlines were still functional). He was the first contact,who explained exactly what it was, and gave strict instructions, not to go out of the house, and we thought that was obvious and we would obviously not leave the house and go out, but until evening.

13:00;
We had a light lunch. The sound of the air had grew and was peaking at 260kmph. It was growing kinda scary, when the last resort for any sort of help was about to go off in front of our eyes. A mango tree was almost uprooted and was about to fall on the land-line telephone pole. Cellular network then was very costly and only my badepapa had one. We immediately called him saying that was probably the last call to him. And the tree knocked off the pole, leaving us all to ourselves.

16:00;
The rains continued, the wind continued, the only thing that stopped was words coming out of every ones mouth. And then we realised, water had started entering the house through the drawing room. All tries to stop it, went in vain, and within half an hour, every part of the floor was wet. The water started growing. We were terrified. And on top of it, we were just one part of the family. There was my father, who was at Paradeep, which happened to be a port city. There were my maternal grandparents and uncles, also in a place close to a coast. We had no clue whatsoever about them after our own landline was down. The tension was killing us all, especially for my father. 

19:00;
Water was now almost reaching bed height. We were all on one bed and the mattresses started to get wet. It was time to do something. We no longer could wait in the house. We had to move to a higher place. Going totally out would have been very risky, so we decided to move up to the staircase room which lead to the roof. The staircase room had the entrance from outside the house. So basically we had to risk the cyclone to get their, and we had no other alternative. We took along with us, every single thing that was edible, few bedsheets and a few candles and matches. We kids were lifted by elders on their arms, risking the cyclone, we finally reached the room, climbed half way up, and all of us sat there. 

21:00;
We had all reached the staircase room. I was so scared that not a single piece of word was coming out of my mouth. I generally don't talk much but still. Unfortunately, we had forgotten that the room had a roof of asbestos. And worse, there were five coconut trees around and if they managed to fall, would definitely fall on the house. The asbestos, due to the wind kept making noises as if someone was breaking glass on it. Probably to give us   little hope or may be just to break the silence, my grandfather started telling about his own experiences about a similar cyclone in 1982. And it was least of all, a bit comforting to hear someone talk after so long. We spent the whole night there. Probably at about 3:00 in the morning I dozed off. 

October 29, 1999,
07:00;
Was the time about which I woke up. The cyclone had subsided. We had survived. The asbestos was safe, one of the coconut trees did manage to fall, but we were safe. But then came in the tension about others, more specifically my father. We tried contacting everyone possible authority, still there was no clue. We finally got in contact with my maternal grandparents, who lived close to Paradeep, and got to know that my uncle with his friends, had already left for Paradeep to search for him. 

Next few days:
The tension continued for two more days, when finally on the third day, he reached home. His part of the story was even more adventurous (may be another post!) but we were so very happy to see him. He and his colleague had literally pushed a car along with them for about 20km in order to drive the next 90 odd km, pushing aside corpses, and corpses of not just human beings..... I am sure I would have died, had I been in such a situation, but I know, my father is great!
On the fourth day, my badepapa arrived, and we knew we were all safe. But the cyclone left its marks so deep that its still remembered as one of the worst natural calamities in Indian History. It killed more than 15,000 people, making lakhs of people homeless. I myself have been through two more floods, a mild earthquake and two scary flights, but nothing comes as close to this.