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Since retirement from his business, he writes regularly, Blogs in English and in Marathi. This is a compilation of some of his Blogs.
A Book of Blogs
By Chandrashekhar Athavale
All Rights reserved by author. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission of the author. Contact address. Shekhar.email@example.com
Other links to blogs, books and websites Created by author. Random Thoughts- English blog chandrashekhar.sulekha.com The Life and Times of Mrs. Parvatibai Athavale- A web site athavale.netfirms.com ध्यास- नारायण महादे व आठवले यांची जन्मकहाणी- my e-book अक्षरधूळ, मराठी,ब्लॉग-Marathi blog chandrashekhara.wordpress.com
TO MY DEPARTED MOTHER
Travels & Countries
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Visiting Bali AU REVOIR In Search of Wilderness Singapore Ruminations Pleasures of International Air Travel The Return D.I.Y. - U.S.A Road to Sembawang 03 09 15 21 27 33 37 43
9. Killer Schools 10. Silence of the Lambs 11. Repairing the Roads 12. Poverty of Imagination 13. A Bleak future for Senior Citizens 14. Working Class 15. Quality of Life 16. All the Aces up our Sleeves 17. Pot of Pain 49 53 57 63 67 73 79 85 89
18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. Digital Library On being Irrelevant Inner Web Freedom from Cooking Roots Walking the hills Musings of a Silverfish Art of doing nothing 95 99 103 107 111 117 121 129
26. Technical Basis of Hindustani Classical Music 27. Mahabharata War; Making a Mountain of an Anthill 28. We are Special 135 139 143
29. Dating Era of Lord Rama (A Book Review) 30. Mapping the sky in twenty one Verses 31. Peshawa of Pune 149 155 161
Travels & Countries
The flight to Bali is crowded with people from all corners of the world. I try to communicate with a German couple, sitting next to me. The attempt is largely unsuccessful as their knowledge of English and my knowledge of Deutsch are more or less at the same level. After finding out that I am from India, they immediately draw the conclusion that I must be a computer expert. After some effort, I manage to convince them that I have retired and do not work for living any more. Besides, my knowledge of computers is also at a very rudimentary level. We manage to make friends as they are also in the same situation. The lady keeps on chattering something unintelligible, for the rest of the flight. The aircraft makes a smooth landing on ‘Nagurah Rai Airport’. As we taxi towards the tarmac, I look out of the window. What I see, really impresses me. This little airport is unbelievably clean and well laid out. Not something expected in a third world country. The airport buildings are clean and freshly painted. The usual ‘dharavi’ style ‘zopadpatti’, which encircles the Mumbai airport, is totally absent here. The green grass patches between concrete pavements appear well cut and maintained. I also don’t see aircraft gear, such as ladders, cargo trolleys, lying here and there in a disorganized manner. The aircraft comes to a halt. I come out of the aircraft through an aero bridge. I cannot believe my eyes. Even today, much aclaimed Bangalore International airport has managed to get only a couple of them
The arrival hall is not furnished with any luxury, but is largely functional. We form a small queue but I get my visa in a jiffy. For an Indian passport holder, getting a visa without hassles is unbelievable. There are no documents to be furnished. No health insurance certificates or proof of finances is to be submitted. The immigration and customs staff is courteous. No one asks me silly questions such as the purpose of my visit. Bali wins me over at the first step itself. The guide starts his introduction with a ‘Namaste’. I infer that he must have done it so, knowing that I am from India. But to my surprise, He chants the ‘Gayatri Mantra’ and explains the meaning of it. They worship the trinity of Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesha. Balinese people are 95 % Hindu and are also very proud it. Through out my stay, I am reminded of this fact by airport porters, hotel staff and taxi drivers. There is also a little confusion about time. Even though part of Indonesia, Bali does not adhere to Jakarta time. I recollect the inconvenience of having sunrise at 3 am and sun set at 3 pm forced on Assamese and Manipuri people because of the Indian standard time. Bali appears to have two faces. On one hand, the cities are crowded with pubs, discos, spas and wine bars. On streets, lined with motor bikes, a group of teenagers, presumably college going, is chatting. Then, one of the girls suddenly approaches you for a highly dubious massage service. There are American style eateries, 24hour shops, retail outlets for major fashion houses and shopping malls. In fact, there is everything that a tourist needs. A pop artist called ‘Peter Pan’ attracts so many
crowds, that the roads leading to his concert are jammed with motor bikes parked on them.
The other face of Balinese culture still retains the Hindu mythology. On this plane, Balinese appear to be living in a different age. A street corner near the airport is adorned with a huge statue of Ghatotkacha riding a chariot with six horses and fighting his last battle with Karna. Another huge statue of King Rama dominates a street corner in capital Denpasar. Lord Vishnu riding on Garuda, Ganesha, you name the god and it is there. Balinese art, centers on Hindu mythology. A peep in Telephone directory reveals names, which could appear in the directory of any Indian city. There is a ‘Hotel Yudhishtira’. A transport company is named as ‘Sindhu ghosh transport’. But still, Balinese people are different. Their food, the way they dress, is very much Indonesian. Still the bond of religion appears to be very strong. They have great love and affection for India. They are genuinely sorry that very few Indian tourists visit their beautiful country. I am on my way to view the Kintamani, ( k is pronounced as ch ).the active volcano which had erupted as recently as in year 1926. I am told that the volcano crater is now adorned with a beautiful lake. On way, I cross village after village with the main streets lined with artifacts. Every village however has its own specialty. Woodcarvings, stone carvings, bamboo articles, wooden furniture, the list is endless. Statues of Ganesha and King Rama mingle with Greek gods, elephants, horses and Komodo dragons. As our vehicle starts climbing towards Mount Batur, we have a flat tire. On northern horizon I
see an ominous purple black nimbus cloud. Suddenly things appear very gloomy. As we reach Kintamani village, it starts to rain. Visibility is almost reduced to zero. There is very heavy fog. I stop near a restaurant lined with huge French windows to view the volcano. The rain is pouring by now. I decide to have lunch and wait for the weather to clear. The buffet spread is sumptuous. The rain gods however, do not appear pleased and Kintamani remains totally invisible to us. Dejected with this sudden development, I decide to return to the hotel. On way back we visit a huge exhibition of wood carvings. The place is huge, poorly lit and water leaks from the roof. Inside however there is an amazing spread of Balinese art. In a wood carving, King Rama and Princess Sita are seen riding a chariot. Their attire is distinctly East Asian. Another wood carving depicts scene from the epic, Mahabharata. There are birds, animals,lizrds, human faces and figures, Khajurao style erotic couples, all carved in wood. Another carving depicts an old man holding a chicken in his hand. His beard and mustache appear almost life like. I am traveling to ‘Ulwatu‘, the southern tip of Bali Island. The landscape changes. The heavy shrub forest is wind swept and wet. Small village huts appear once in a while. The road ends and I have to walk the last mile. The dress I am wearing is not acceptable and I have to put on a blue sarong along with a yellow ribbon around my waist. The way slopes down and I suddenly come upon the most breath taking view I have ever seen. The land ends with a sudden drop of couple of hundred feet. I see below, the blue waters of Indian Ocean with huge waves rolling and undulating. On left, there is a cliff and perched on the top of the cliff is a pagoda like temple of
Lord Ganesha. The temple, supported by land only on one side, almost appears to be hanging in the air. I walk up to the temple but the gate is locked. As a special privilege, I am allowed to enter the premises. The actual temple at least twelve hundred years old, is located about six feet above the ground and is supported by four solid wood pillars. I find that the door to the sanctum is closed and locked. I am told that it can be opened only by the holy man. Lord Ganesha of ‘Ulwatu‘refuses to oblige me. I pay my homage and decide to enjoy the scene. I am surrounded by water on three sides. Only eastern part of the temple premises is connected with land. The rain gods again turn spoil sport and it starts pouring. I make a harried exit. On my way back, I visit a modern show room of ceramics. The range of products is simply stunning. The Balinese touch given to these articles of daily use by the local artisans is something unique and extra ordinary. The time is six-thirty in the evening and I am eagerly waiting for the start of ‘Kechak’, the exclusive Balinese dance performed by Sahadeva dance academy. The spectator gallery is multi storied and spartan. Bamboo topped benches and chairs are provided for sitting. The open stage is constructed with stones and surfaced with mud. At the center of the stage there is a ‘Deep mala’ burning several oil lamps. The entire arrangement gives a certain authentic and haunting appearance. The sky is already dark with rain bearing nimbus clouds and it could rain any time. I wonder about the prospects of the dance performance if rain gods appear again. About hundred men now pour on the stage. They wear checkered ‘Sarongs’ and squat down in a semi circle. The dance guru appears and blesses them. The choir
starts to sing softly some words which sound like ‘Chuk’, ‘Chuk’ in a rhythm. There are no musical or beat instruments. The effect is spectacular. As if given a cue, the raindrops start falling and King Rama and his queen Sita appear on the stage. Their attire is bright and East Asian. The dance poses are quite striking. The moods and feelings of characters are conveyed through movements of wrists and fingers. King Rama’s anger, Sita’s fear is expressed through their trembling fingers. The choir changes the rhythm. The story of Ramayana slowly unfurls before our eyes. The end however is little different. The monkey king ‘Sugreeva’ kills the demon king ‘Ravana’ as King Rama serenely looks upon them. There are few more dances and the finale is provided by a dance on burning coconut husks. For dinner, I decide to visit Gimbaran fresh seafood court. The place is almost touching the sea and is very windy because of the high tide. The seafood is kept live in huge water tanks. I am asked to select the fish or prawn or whatever I want to eat. It would be cooked and served to me. I find that whole concept quite unpalatable and decide to return to my hotel to have some familiar ‘Nasi Padang’. Next day, I catch my return flight. Images of Bali stay with me.
31 December 2005
Finally, for me, the time has come to say adieu to this beautiful country. After having spent two odd years here, even though in bits and pieces and not at a stretch, there is a feeling of loss. As I wander aimlessly around my favourite haunts, memories of my days spent here, randomly flood my mind. The breathtakingly vast expanse of this country, the natural beauty of the land, the awesome spectacle of ever-changing seasons and the overwhelmingly stunning landscape is just unforgettable. How can I ever forget that majestic cliff, El Capitan of the Yosemite national park, that ever watchful and erect, Saguaro cacti of Arizona deserts, that crisp and fresh weather in that little mountainside village of 'Truckee' in 'Sierra Nevada' mountains, or that continuously changing face of the pacific oceanfront. I can still vividly remember the childlike sense of wonder and amazement that had filled my mind when I had set my feet for the first time on this soil. We had left the airport parking area sometime in late afternoon. The weak autumn Sun was almost on the horizon. I had rubbed my eyes in disbelief as miles and miles of Virginia landscape had unfolded before my eyes. There were acres and acres of wooded areas filled with tall trees on both sides of the road with electric blue sky in the background. What had surprised me most was the colour of the leaves. These were not green but of every other shade and hue. The sunlight filtered through the leaves and made them dazzle like gold. I had never seen before, this bloom of fall colours and what I saw on that
day is permanently etched in my memory. There were many occasions later to watch fall colours. A day trip through 'Shenandoah' forests was equally dazzling. However, surprisingly, even a row of maple trees on the small street, where I take my daily strolls, provides same kind of mesmerizing effect. Come October and the emerald coloured leaves of these trees, start displaying such a dazzling range of colours that it is almost unbelievable. From blood red to purple, you name the colour and you can find it there and when mellow golden sunshine of autumn, filters through them, the effect is pure magic. Arid and sandy deserts of Arizona also have left a very strong impression on my mind. When I had visited Phoenix for the first time, I had imagined that it would be a very dull and boring visit. I was proved totally wrong. The tall and erect Saguaro cacti had caught my attention first. These cacti are huge, many a times growing up to a height of ten or twelve feet. They have branches, which very much appear like a pair of arms. I had never felt lonely on Arizona roads with hundreds of these cacti standing on roadsides and giving me the appearance of police officers on traffic duty. The time stands still here in the desert. The landscape has not changed here perhaps for thousands of years. The dusty brown and red soil under my feet, stretches to the horizon. Punctuated perhaps by few thorny bushes and cacti of infinite varieties. The azure blue sky and blood red mountains seen on the horizon complete the panorama. You feel that any moment you would hear the din of the galloping horses with shouts of native Mojave riders raising a dust storm.
My first visit to the Yosemite was equally stunning. We had traveled through miles and miles of wooded country. The view from the windscreen of the car had been very humdrum and monotonous. There was nothing to see but a smooth asphalted road in front of us and blackish green forests on both sides of the road. We had just enjoyed a sumptuous and hearty American breakfast of eggs, bacon and mashed potatoes and this had made our senses bit dull. We had then reached a road tunnel. At the other end of the tunnel, we had parked the car and had a little walk. As I had looked down from that vista point, I had my first glance of the Yosemite Valley. I was simply mesmerized by the sheer beauty of that natural wonder. With the majestic cliff of 'El Capitan' standing erect on my left and that strange looking 'half dome' towering above the horizon in the front, the Yosemite valley is etched forever in my mind. I can also never forget the California seaboard. From those chilly and biting mists of 'San Francisco' bay to those thundering waves of the 'Pacifica' coast or for that matter that balmy sun baked 'San Diego' coast, this great ocean had always presented to me such varied faces that it was difficult to imagine that it was the same oceanfront. The nature has endowed this country with such a bounty that very ordinary things also appear out of this world. Few days ago, there was some light rain in the evening. I was traveling in a car then. I looked outside and I saw a rainbow. But this rainbow was very special. I had never seen before that, a double rainbow with such perfect semicircular shape and with such bright colours. It was really something worth watching. The nature is so
beautiful here that even my routine daily strolls became very exciting. The ever-changing weather always brought up something new every day. Some days there would be that always welcome sunshine. Next day such a dense fog would envelope the countryside that cars would have to move with their headlights full on, even in broad daylight. Next morning there could be ground frost or a light drizzle. The evening sky could suddenly darken and thunder or torrential rain may develop. Whatever was the weather, the landscape always looked so munificent and beautiful. The people here also have done full justice to the natural beauty. The way in which towns in this country have been planned or the roads have been laid. All enhance the natural beauty. Other day, I was walking around with a visitor. He was wonder struck with what he saw. The well laid roads, nice houses with neat and clean yards, wide foot ways, intermediately planted Magnolia trees in full bloom, the neighbourhood parks and to top it all the great natural beauty of the nature affected him immensely. It is no surprise that I love this place. However, the life must go on. The time has now come for me to carry on and leave this place. I shall however always cherish in my mind the memories of this beautiful country, its legendary friendly and open people, their equally open culture and the way they carry out their business, cuisines of the world, which I enjoyed here, amazing bookshops and public libraries and finally those endless cups of steaming hot coffee, in my street corner 'starbucks'. Good-bye Uncle Sam. It was a pleasure indeed to stay
with you in your cabin. April 2006
In Search of wilderness
I grew up in the vicinity of the western foothills, which border the city of PUNE. Our house was located on a gentle gradient, originating at the end of the foothills. There was really nothing but wilderness, except for a small, river like irrigation canal, between our house and this foothill. A small dirt road in front of the house, was the only means by which any transportation from the house could be done. Across the road, a huge guava orchard spread for a mile or so. The wilderness area, was just a shrub country. There were no tall trees. Most of the growth was that off ' Babhul' or Gum Arabic shrubs. Their menacing thorns, were always ready to hurt any passer by. No one, except some sturdy goats, went near these shrubs.. The goats somehow had that in born skill of avoiding the thorns and munching only the lush green leafy growth. The area was very uneven with little ravines formed by the torrential monsoon floods, which roared down the slope. The floods also had taken away whatever top soil, which might have been there, leaving only powdery brown rocky soil on the top surface. Occasionally, black monolithic basalt rocks, exposed by years and years of floodwaters, could be seen. In spite of all this barrenness, during monsoon months, the area would be transformed into a lush green grassland. The grasses however never grew up very tall. By month of October, they would be already golden brown. Little springs of water, continuously fed by the water gushing down the foothill, would bring life to this arid area during monsoon months. From nowhere, small Tadpoles would appear in the water. Small yellow and
white flowers would bloom on the sides and a plethora of insects would appear from nowhere. Small birds would fly form the blue, realizing the abundance of foodstuff. The area would be transformed into a little wonderland. By winter, all this would be gone. All those little water springs would be dry and all the grasses, now completely dried, would disappear in the soil. Only their roots exposed to sun light would be seen. The area would convert to a dull monotony of radish brown soil with few exposed rocks. The area would however be teeming with insects, rats and their creepy predators. Scorpions and snakes of all kinds could be seen occasionally. In the summer months, these would also be attracted to the cool waters of the irrigation canal and sometimes visited our house courtyard as well. All kinds of lizards, from ordinary house lizards to chameleons could be seen. There used to be, a well-maintained, fairly good-sized garden around my house. The flowers blooming in the garden would attract battalions of butter flies flashing their colourful wings in the air. I just loved this wilderness near my house. I have spent many late afternoons, roaming and wandering in that area leading to the foothills. I have spent many summer evenings on the terrace of my house just watching the wilderness. I still recollect those evenings, when the reddish orange evening sun would disappear behind the foothill and the azure blue sky would slowly change to purple and then to jet black colour with millions of stars lighting up. The garden plants would have been watered in the evening. The neighbouring soil, roasted with the sunlight throughout the day, would get wet and produce
a ravishing fragrance that would enthrall my senses. Later, when I was staying in Kashmir, I trekked to Kolahoi glacier. The trek started from a quaint little town of Pahalgam. This small town, situated on the banks of river 'Lidder' is better known in tourist circles, as a starting point for a pilgrimage to the shrine of 'Amaranath'. Two rivulets join each other near this town. One rivulet flows from the 'Sheshnag' lake and the other rivulet is the river 'Lidder' itself. I started my trek along the bank of this miniature river. This river actually flows in a very narrow gorge. On both sides, there are steep mountain slopes. The trek continues along a path, which is only few feet wide with a steep mountain on one side and a deep gorge on the other side. The river valley is heavily wooded with 'Deodars' and 'Fir' trees lined along the way. After a rather steep climb of about eleven kilometers, I reached the village of 'Aru'. After sending a night here, I continued my trek to 'Lidderwat', to a height of about eleven thousand feet above sea level. This place is situated in midst of some beautiful meadows with snow capped mountains in the background. After a night's halt here, I started early next morning, towards 'Kolahoi' glacier. After walking for a few hours, I crossed the snow line. The landscape suddenly changed from lush green meadows to pure white ice, with patches of dirty gray. I continued for some more time, the walking now quite difficult on the slippery hard ice. I decided to take a halt and looked ahead. I could not believe my eyes. Ahead of me was a sight which burst upon me as the most majestic panorama, I had ever seen. This was real wilderness, an original creation of nature and totally untouched by man. In the front, there was a huge billow of pure white snow,
which did not move at all, as if frozen in time and put in a photo frame. I turned my head around. As far as I could see, there were rows and rows of snow capped peaks, which looked shattered and broken, perhaps only to bow to the majesty of the grandest of them all, the Kolahoi peak. This sunlit edge of sheer rock towered at least five thousand feet above me. The peak, rising from the bed of pure white billows and glistening in the crystal clear air, looked very ethereal and sublime, the sunshine creating a virtual halo around the edges. A great glacier rolled from the base, of pure white colour near the base and then turning dirty gray few miles down as it approached me. The Kolahoi peak appeared as a head in a wide amphitheater with a circle of snow capped peaks with barren rocky sides and ridges.. Long sweeps of white hard ice, collected in the caverns and ridges, made them appear even more stark and inhospitable. As I was watching, a cloud appeared from nowhere, around gleaming shoulders of Kolhoi peak and as if they were waiting only for this cue, the icy cold winds suddenly let themselves loose. For me, it was time to return. But the picture of Kolahoi peak, even after so many years, remains permanently etched in my mind. Himalayan wilderness is incomparable and absolute. The scale is so vast and the grandeur is really mind-boggling. I could lay my eyes again on a somewhat comparable wilderness in North America. While on a visit to Yosemite national park, I was driven to a vista point called 'Glacier point'. From here, a 'cinema scope' wide angle view of 'Sierra Nevada' mountains, had unfolded before my eyes. Starting with the majestic cliff 'El
Capitan' on my left, I could clearly see 'Yosemite falls', 'North dome' and the famous 'Half dome' on extreme right. I always appreciate the Mexican people for naming the straight cut cliff as 'El Capitan'. It is really a chief of mountain cliffs. On the backdrop of snow capped peaks of 'Sierra Nevada', rugged natural beauty of this valley and the blackish gray Granite mountains, very well gets accentuated and enhanced. The view from here, reminded me of the view of Himalayan mountain ranges, which I had seen from 'Kufri' near 'Shimla' in Himachal Pradesh. From here, in the northeasterly direction, one can see to the limit of his vision, Himalayan mountain range after range with ice clad, razor like sharp peaks. But possibly, Himalaya landscape is the ultimate of wilderness. The inaccessibility of the region makes it sure that no human activity can ever reach here. 'Sierra Nevada' mountains have been climbed and exploited to the maximum possible effort. With that consideration, what one can see in 'Yosemite' is really worthwhile. I have always felt that when you enter any real wilderness area, your mood and frame of mind undergoes a sudden transformation. You suddenly sense an inner peace. Your mood changes to sublime and incorporeal. I had this experience when I traveled to Mojave country in America. We had just passed through hilly area around Flagstaff. We had left Interstate seventeen and were traveling on highway eighty-nine. The landscape had changed suddenly to that of a desert. On both sides of the road, no man made structure was seen. The red brown earth, electric blue sky and the sporadic appearance of various cacti had a mesmerizing effect on me. I looked around in the vehicle. Everyone, including the usual chatterboxes, had become suddenly
quiet. I believe that the reason for this is that we go nearer to the mother nature here and leave behind all man made stuff. No man made or manicured landscape can create this feeling in you. That is why city parks do look nice but cannot give you that inner satisfaction that a visit to a wilderness area can give. The wilderness near my house is now totally gone. There are no Gum Arabic shrubs and the goats. Those little ravines on the soil have disappeared. In their place, a concrete jungle with asphalt roads has come up. In monsoon months, floodwaters still comes down from the foothill. Now it flows on the roads, making entire area near my house waterlogged. I do not watch sunset from terrace of my house any longer.
I live in one of those high-rise condominiums on this emerald island. I believe, that most of the inhabitants of this city-state, also live like me. Very few people like those who are super rich or who are top government officials, perhaps manage to have their own house or a bungalow. The condominiums, spread all over the city, have basically very similar constructions. Only few odd architectural details may differ. What these condo's really provide, are the minimal and essential family living spaces, stacked on top and left or right of each other. Each family living in it's own little space and doing it’s own little things. In their own individual spaces, stacked like a pile of checker pieces on top of each other, individual families cook, eat, sleep, defecate, make babies and then also raise them. Sometimes, when I am having my breakfast in the morning or I am lying down on my bed at night ,I get this weird feeling, that many people are probably doing exactly the same thing above or below me or on my sides. With this kind of crowded housing, you cannot really hope to see much, if you decide to peep out of the window. In the fist place, peeping out of the window by itself is not a very simple task. You have to first switch off the air conditioning, which angers almost everyone else in the house. Then the curtains or the blinds on the windows must be raised and then finally heavy glass windows have to be opened with some effort. After all this endeavour, what one sees outside normally, is another huge pile of apartments with long poles poking out of the windows with multicoloured clothes hanging on them. These clothes
drying poles, poking out of apartment windows, look so ugly, that many a satirical letter writers in newspapers, call them as national flags. I therefore consider myself, a very lucky person or one of the very few fortunate people living in this city, because my room has a view. When I look outside my window, the first thing that catches my eye is a long winding river with gently flowing water. Light ripples on the water, shimmer in the bright sunlight. Behind this river, on the farther side, a dense tropical rain forest extends right up to the end of my vision. Some of the big trees in the forest really stand very tall. On nearer side of the river, a nice iron grating has been built by the local town council. An asphalted jogging track runs parallel to the river. I can see joggers taking a trot any time of the day and night. Actually, this flowing mass of water is not really a river but more of a backwater or a creek in which seawater flows in during high tides and flows out during low tides. During the night, some distant lights shine through this rain forest, creating a very mystic environment. During high and low tides, very refreshing sea breezes sway the tall rain forest trees and make the entire place very pleasant. With every tide, a plethora of small fish comes into the backwater. They bring along a flock of white birds with them. The birds sit on the banks of the creek in a row, waiting patiently for the fish to come near the surface of water. Further up, towards the sea, mangroves line up on both sides of the creek. These mangroves and other tropical trees form a natural canopy over the jogging track, which gives a dark and mystic appearance, if one decides to jog around dusk time. This really is the beauty of this island. Not far from the
hustle and bustle of the main street or 'Orchard Street', where top fashion houses like ‘Gucci’ and ‘Prada’ line up their showrooms, you come across a huge natural reservoir of fresh water, pristine in it's natural beauty. This reservoir holds up to two thousand million cubic meters of water and is named as 'Macritchie' reservoir. The authorities have constructed a wooden boardwalk here, around the periphery of the water. This boardwalk extends to almost eleven kilometers and can be very tiring. Because of the presence of such huge amount of water, this entire area has a thick forest cover, which makes the board walk a very delightful experience. In fact, this entire north central region of this city-state, with three water reservoirs and thick rain forest cover is extremely beautiful and surprisingly is also very well maintained. One comes across such nature gems with natural beauty at many places in this city. As I move about in this place, I get an impression, that most of the people here, live in sort of glass houses, well protected from almost everything. With their airconditioned houses, transportation and malls, they are not really bothered much about the seasons or the rain or the heat. They do not face shortages of electrical power or fuel for cooking or even drinking water even though it is imported from neighbouring Malaysia.. Everything appears to be controlled by the Government which surprisingly also believes in market forces. Almost all the utility companies have to face competition. They also seem to have mergers and acquisitions within themselves. But the funny part is that all the utility companies are owned and controlled by the Government only. In the process consumer benefits, so no one really complains. Government has built huge housing
complexes all over city but private housing is also permitted. Government meticulously maintains percentage of various races in every undertaking. People of Indian race are supposed to be eight percent of the population. In a Government housing complex, that many percent apartments would be reserved for Indians. The country celebrates with equal zeal and vigour, 'Id ul-fitra' or 'Deepavali' or Christmas and Chinese New Year. So Christmas decorative lighting is provided on 'Orchard Street’, 'Deepavali' lights arranged in 'Little India' and China town blazes with lights during Chinese New year celebrations. People pay one of the lowest Income Tax rates in the world. The law and order situation is so good that one can walk or ride a public transport, alone in any part of the city, well past midnight. In short, everyone is happy. Nobody therefore seems to be much bothered about trivia like having a different point of view or democracy, which anyway exist only in the constitution. There are no “Medha patkar's ‘ here. When the government takes up a project, it is presumed that it is for the good of the people. One of the best part of the life here, are the fabulous food joints. Food from any corner of the world is celebrated and enjoyed here. For a foreigner, to get his home food here is not something, which is very difficult. However, the Food courts or 'Kopitans' spread all over the island are the most amazing. These are the eatingplaces for the masses. You can easily get Chinese, Malay, Thai, Indonesian or Indian food at a very reasonable cost, in these joints. Sometimes western dishes also are available. If one wants even cheaper food, he can always visit a hawker center. All food joints are reasonably clean and take proper health care.
Government strictly controls the standards. For a connoisseur, eateries serving specialized delicacies are available in abundance. Food is the weak point of every citizen here. Newspapers (all Government owned off course) columns dealing with food are widely read. If a new eatery opens anywhere, it is important news here. Reading News papers or watching Television in this country can be a very funny, interesting or frustrating experience, depending upon your mood. Newspapers print full texts of speeches made by the prime minister or others. Head line news may consist of a house maid having a fatal accident due to a fall. Demographic news such as falling birth rate could be the Headline news on television. Air pollution caused by bush fires started in neighbouring Indonesia is a national calamity and newspaper columns and columns are written about it. Television even shows the minute-to-minute changes in the pollution levels on the screen. Sometimes the tone of the news is still colonial. A big American company opening its office is a very important news item. I have still to understand the rationale behind the large following; people have here, for English football clubs and in particular 'Manchester United ' club. Understandably, any news about China gets precedence over other countries. People still maintain their Asian heritage and values to the large extent. They seem to have managed to get best of the both worlds. Traditional family values are still largely followed. The family has adapted to western attire, they buy groceries at super markets and follow the fashions from the west. They have one of the best public transport systems in the world or if they could afford it,
they could hop into any car made in any corner of the world. Top shopping mall chains from all over the world line up here. French 'Carryfour', German 'Metro' or Japanese 'Best Deinki' and 'Takashimaya' are conspicuous. The citizens of this city state can enjoy Australian milk or French butter or American strawberries or Brazilian chicken. They enjoy the best infrastructure provided by the Government. In short, they seem to have a great time. It is amusing to learn that they have achieved this lifestyle or a jump from third world to first world in a short time span of just forty odd years. Singapore experience appears to have succeeded to a large extent. A question stays uppermost in my mind. Can it really work for a large country like India ? 11 November 2006
Pleasures of international air travel
The day breaks. The morning is crisp and full of cheer. A pleasant cool westerly breeze is blowing. I open my eyes and immediately realize that the dreaded day has finally arrived. My heart sinks with heavy feeling of impending doom. I try to close my eyes and get some more sleep. But my mind is already tense with the thought that I begin my long international air journey in next few hours. With that sinking feeling, I finally get up and start moving. The day is gone, packing and running around with last minute errands. The taxi arrives in time and I leave for the long six-hour drive to Mumbai. After negotiating, evening unruly traffic of Pune for an hour, the PuneMumbai expressway drops me on outskirts of Mumbai in a jiffy. The hot taste of Vada-pav, eaten on the way, still lingers in my mouth. The drive to the airport is uneventful but boring. That is, if few close encounters in the Dharavi area are discounted. As the taxi enters the driveway of the airport, I am already tired and down with fatigue. The place is extremely crowded as usual. It appears that all the people of Mumbai have decided to visit the airport that night. I somehow gather my strength, get down and start looking for a trolley to haul my bags. My taxi driver is resourceful and finds a trolley for me. I load my bags and start walking to the check in counters. As I walk, I briefly remember the airline poster proclaiming their service as a 'Dream in the Sky'. The
dream shatters in an instant as I see a long queue leading to a X-ray machine. After waiting for some time, which appears like hours, I have to haul up my bags to the Xray machine and again put them on my trolley. By this time, I am already fagged out. I start limping towards check in counter. There is another long queue. I see many people jumping the queue. But they turn out to be V.I.P's. Since I have no such labels, I wait for my turn. The check- in is a routine affair, except the fact that I do not get desired aisle seat. For next thirty or forty hours, I will have to adjust myself cramped between two persons. Having gotten rid of my bags, I feel relieved and crash onto a chair. Still there are some forms to be filled. I fail to understand that why should an Indian citizen, in possession of valid passport again has to fill an embarkation form. I keep my resentment with me and oblige. Ready with all documents I start walking towards another set of counters called Immigration. When I am through all formalities, I am already half dead and has started thinking about my foolishness for having taken up this endeavor. Now I reach a big hall with series of hard chairs. I crash into one of them. For next couple of hours nothing happens. I try all tricks not to get bored. I take a stroll. Change my seats, but the wait is endless. After what seems like an eternity, my flight is announced. Another passport check, another Xray check and I reach another hall called Gate no. four. Actually, this hall has many doors. These are numbered four, five, six etc. I find out that other people who were headed for a hall, called gate no. five, also have reached the same hall. This confuses me a little but I decide that this must have been done to provide some fun for the bored passengers. I decide to have a cup of tea. I find
that with my exalted status as an deemed international passenger, the cup of tea, available outside for five rupees, will now cost twenty rupees. Already nine hours have passed since I left home. I remember the airline hoarding, which claimed that their aircraft were really 'Palaces in the sky'. Unfortunately, the gates of my palace were still closed. Now suddenly there is a murmur in the hall. Every one gets up and starts rushing in grand Indian tradition towards a closed glass door. The airline staff however turns out to be a damp squid. They do not share even a bit of passenger enthusiasm. They refuse to let us in and order us to sit down. Every body is now expected to go in by virtue of his seat number. Finally, my turn comes and I move towards my palace in the sky. At the entrance of the palace there are two slim ladies with an over dose of make up, welcoming us. In the wee hours of the morning, some ten hours after leaving home, I am in no mood to acknowledge their gestures. I just nod and move inside. As usual, all baggage racks are already full. I realize that a long queue of people is still waiting behind me patiently. I dump the hand baggage in some corner of a baggage compartment and sit down. I am numb with tiredness and fatigue and doze off. After some time, I am awakened by our hostess, who wants to know whether I am interested in having a mid night snack or a drink. I am annoyed but console myself that the fine young lady is just doing her job and decline her offer. In any case, eating Fried Pulav with Kofta at 3' O clock in the morning is not my idea of luxury. I request her not to disturb me again. She obliges and fixes a 'Do Not Disturb' tab on my shoulder. The meals are
served and cleared. The lights are dimmed. But I find that I can not sleep anymore. I try to move a little in my seat. I realize that the throne given to me by the airline in this palace is designed for the size of a small kid. I cannot stretch my legs. Neither can I change my position any way. Resigned to my fate, I twiddle with TV remote. By now, I have reached the state of 'Sthitapradnya' described in the 'Bhagavadgita'. Nothing pains me or pleases me. Time just moves on. The morning breaks. Sunshine filters through window curtains. The aircraft lights suddenly come on and we are told of our imminent landing. Suddenly there is a buzz of excitement. The aircraft touches the ground and every one wants to get up and move in Indian tradition. Our hostesses again pour cold water on our enthusiasm. We are ordered to remain seated. After some interval of time, there is a scramble to move out. Obviously, every one had enough of the palatial luxury. As I reach the transit lounge, there is an announcement that passengers going to travel further should go to gate E21. I realize that the airline has again pulled a fast one on me. Even when there is an immediate connecting flight, these blokes have put me on an evening flight. This means that I have to spend another eight hours in the transit lounge. I just collapse on a chair and like a zombie, watch the world go by. In next eight hours, I explore every bit of that place. Behind all glitter, there is really nothing to do unless your pockets are lined with Dollars. With my frugal economic state, I am in no position to undertake any such proposition. I manage to survive the day with just a cup of Tea. I suddenly realize the value of that midnight
snack offered to me by my hostess. But now it is too late. I recite my 'bhagavadgita' and keep myself calm. Some twenty-four hours since I left home, our next flight is announced. I reach the gate and find that I am not the only unfortunate soul to go through this horror. There are families, kids and old people in the same boat. They have their stories of horror too. Small kids go without milk and elderly have no place to rest their tired bones. I go through more baggage checks, frisking and passport checks. I start feeling like an fugitive but some how manage to keep calm. We repeat the same drill to enter another palace in sky. On the aero bridge, I see another poster. A passenger happily in state of deep slumber in his seat. But inside the aircraft, I see the same old seats designed for small kids. Next twenty hours or so are spent turning and stretching unsuccessfully in the seat. I eat all kinds of funny stuff. Ice cream so hard that one would like to have a metal cutter to cut it. Orange juice with a metallic taste. Onion bhajia's for breakfast. Stale oily rice with palak, testing like seaweeds. But we just about survive. After some forty-four hours since I left home, the aircraft lands and I come out. Again, that fugitive feeling grips me. I become aware that many eyes are watching us. My skin colour, which was of no importance until now, is now a matter of suspicion. I watch a huge banner welcoming us. But I am rudely awakened by the question, thrown at me by the immigration officer. I am no longer really sure, why have I come here. I am again finger printed, photographed and allowed to go on. More questions, baggage checks follow. I find that carrying food with you on such a long journey is the worst crime
you can do. Finally, I come out of the darkness. In the brightly lit arrival hall, I see my grand daughter laughing and waving to me. My heart is filled with joy. In one instant, I forget all that has happened in last forty hours. The pleasure of international air travel has just begun for me. November 2005
I heave a sigh of relief as the aircraft touches the Pune airport. It has been indeed a very bad day for me. I had left my house in Singapore early in the morning in a rather cheerful mood after a good night’s sleep. I had somehow managed to keep my cheer even when I had found out at the Changi airport that my Air India flight to Bangalore would be delayed by about an hour due to non-arrival of aircraft. True to their announcement, the airport staff at Changi let us go through security and allow us to sit in the departure gate awaiting the departure. We see the rickety-rackety aircraft of Air India parked in front of us. The announcement for boarding the aircraft is due any minute now. The time keeps running slow now. I become uneasy when I find out that no boarding announcement is forthcoming even after further delay of another half an hour. I get up and walk up to the glass window from where Air India aircraft is seen clearly. I see that maintenance vehicles of all kinds now surround the aircraft. After number of anxious enquiries, I find out that there is a technical snag and one engine of the aircraft is refusing to start properly. After further wait of an hour, the maintenance people somehow manage to correct the fault, I board the plane and flight leaves after a delay of two and half hours. I reach Bangalore without any further mishap with same time delay. After clearing emigration and customs, I find to my horror that Air India have simply cancelled the
Bangalore- Pune flight on which I have a confirmed seat. The ground staff tells me that they would have been glad to accommodate me on another flight of some other airline but unfortunately all the flights have left except one operated by Kingfisher Airlines. However, they cannot accommodate me on that flight. Off course, I am entitled to a full refund, which I can get only in Singapore. Desperate by now, I try to get a seat on Kingfisher airlines but I will have to shell out full journey fare. I find that my credit cards just would not work. By now, I have given up all hopes and see that I would have to spend entire day and night on the hard moulded seats of the airport. Meanwhile one helpful staff member suggests that I could try my cards and luck on the ATM machine. I am overjoyed to find that one of my card works and doles out cash to me. Rest of the journey is uneventful. I reach Pune in the evening instead of noon. The airport at Pune is crowded to the capacity as usual.. I find that no one has come to receive me. I come out and stand near the exit. To add further to my woes, it starts raining. I have to move and stand in a cramped style very near the airport wall hoping that my baggage would remain dry. After another wait, my mobile phone rings. I find that due to very heavy traffic, the car that was supposed to pick me up is stuck in the traffic. Further delay but eventually I start my car ride in the heavy evening traffic of Pune. It is almost dusk time when I reach home and unlock my house.
A rancid and moldy smell greets me. By now, I am familiar to this putrid closed room smell, which has welcomed me every time I have returned home after a long absence. This time, there is more welcome news, for me. Each day, there is an electric power outage, that stretches up to six hours. The water in the tap flows only for three or four hours, that too in the morning. I lock the house again and start walking to the next grocery shop to buy some bottled water. What a home coming this has been! 5th August 2008
One thing that struck me during my stay in US was the easy availability of Handyman tools and gadgets. Just a look at one of those flyers, forced in our house through weekend newspapers, would amaze me by the considerable amount of advertising space that was allocated to a plethora of tools, spanners, wrenches, wood working tools and machines. Further to my surprise, I found regular sale discounts being offered on these tools as if these were some kind of consumable goods or domestic appliances. I am an engineer by qualification. I have used this kind of stuff in my factory throughout my professional life. However, I had never seen before, any shop in India selling workshop tools, except for specialist shops in areas like Lohar chawl in Mumbai. I started to form an impression that US is a country of D.I.Y (Do it yourself) people. During my daily strolls, I passed by many houses where garages remained open throughout the day. Just a glance would convince me that the owner was a D.I.Y. man. At least one corner of the garage would be neatly arranged with worktable, necessary tools for working on wood and metals and few wood working machines. On newspaper stands and bookshops, many types of magazines would be available for D.I.Y projects. This really increased my admiration for American people as real craftsmen. I even found out that in our house also, we had some of basic tools, even though used rather sparingly.
Meanwhile, I found an excellent deal for a refractive Telescope for watching the heavens. I ordered it and it was delivered with promptness. After initial euphoria of obtaining a superb product at such an affordable price was over, I realized that to watch stars, I had to keep that telescope somewhere and in such a way that observation is possible without making myself an acute case of lumbago. My search started again for a suitable mounting and I found that the correct arrangement to mount the telescope was on a tripod. Then I looked for tripod prices in various shops and soon realized the secret behind my getting the telescope at such a rock bottom price. The tripod arrangement for the telescope was available only at an exorbitantly high price. I felt very dejected and cheated. My luck really smiled on me that weekend. As we were driving down the street near our house, we saw a yard sale going on. Just to see what was on sale the car was slowed down and in one corner of the yard, I found this beauty of a tripod stand, waiting for me to own her. I got down and examined the tripod. It was almost perfect. I asked for the price the woman selling the stuff said five bucks. Without thinking further, I paid her and collected the tripod. On retrospection later, I realized that I could have got that thing even for one buck and had paid five hundred percent extra. After coming back home, I spent considerable amount of time in cleaning and oiling that tripod arrangement. Finally, I found that it worked beautifully. I was very
satisfied and had a good night’s sleep for the first time since many days. Next morning however a new problem was discovered. The mounting holes on the telescope did not match with that of the tripod. A transfer plate was required which could be attached to the tripod. The telescope could then be fitted on the transfer plate. Since ready availability of such a plate was impossibility, only option was to make it. And thus began my great saga of D.I.Y USA. I was confident of making that plate with ease because if I would have been in India, I would have made that transfer plate, may be, in half an hour. Even if I had to go to market to buy the raw materials, I could have certainly finished the job in a day. Therefore, with full confidence, I embarked upon the job of making a sketch for the plate. After working out dimensions of the plate, I was stuck up again. There were two threaded holes on the telescopes. The thread sizes and exact locations of holes were not mentioned anywhere. I kept my sketch away and turned to internet. After searching and browsing for number of hours, I found the information. Nevertheless, day one was over. Armed with this new information I started to work on that sketch again. This time it was a screw on the tripod stand. I had just no idea about that screw thread size, as such threads are not used in India any more. Only Americans still use such threads. Then I had to scratch away rust from a part of the tripod, find the manufacturer’s name and go back to internet. Again, search and search. Finally success! I got the information
wanted. Day two gone. Next day I finished the sketch finally. I want to make it in Aluminium so it takes the weight of the Telescope. However, no one has an idea where to buy an Aluminium plate. I make number of phone calls without any success. Day three gone. I feel very dejected. There is nothing, which could be done for the rest of the week, except looking at my sketch and telescope. Week one is gone. On that Sunday, armed with my sketch, we drove to a hardware store. The store was really huge with racks containing tons of materials. Racks must have been twelve to fourteen high. We decided to look for an aluminium plate. After walking up and down for miles and asking many store clerks, we found a rack containing aluminium sheets. But these were not of the type we wanted. We started searching again. Finally, a kindhearted assistant took us to right kind of material. But the sheets available here were very large and my requirement was for a small piece. In India, there are small traders who would cut the sheet to your requirement at a small fee. No such facility here. My plan of getting an aluminium plate vanished in a second. Next best alternative was a wooden plate. We again started searching for a wooden plate. This time we were lucky. We got a ready-made cut plate of right thickness. Only problem with this plate was that it was bit longer. We stood in a queue in front of a cashier for payment. When out turn came she told us that this plate is not listed on her computer hence she cannot bill it. Looking at our desperation, she talked with her manager and told
us to take that plate for free. Meanwhile, I had collected other things such as screws etc. Next day I started to work on that plate. It was necessary to cut it into two pieces. Have you ever tried cutting a quarter inch wooden plate with a knife? But I had no other tools and had to do it that way. It took me three days but finally I had a right sized mounting plate in my hand. I drilled few holes in that plate easily since we had a drill machine in the house. When I tried fixing this plate to the tripod, I found that it couldn’t take the weight of the telescope in the present form. Week two is gone. I thought of two supporting brackets and started looking for suitable material in the house. I found a can of ‘Planter’s Peanuts’, which would serve my purpose. So with help of kitchen scissors and my great knife, I cut two metal strips from the can and bent them into brackets. Drilling more holes in them took quite some time, as there was no proper place to hold the strips. Finally, it was all over. I assembled the Telescope onto the tripod. It had taken me three weeks to make something, which I could have done in a day’s time in India. These three weeks also answered a question, which has been in my mind for long. Why US import almost everything from China? It was obvious that if a small job takes so much of time and energy, one would rather import it from China at dirt prices.
I also understood why I had never seen anyone actually working in garages where so many tools were neatly arranged. People bought these things in store sales very cheap and arranged them nicely in garages. Who could spend so much of time looking for materials? My telescope with mounting, still works beautifully in India. Every time I look at a star or a nebula through my little telescope, I remember my D.I.Y- USA. 17 October 2007
Road to Sembawang
I am not new to Singapore. For last few years, I have been spending a significant part of each year in this place. Yet, this place keeps on surprising me repeatedly, with its natural beauty. I live these days, in the northern part of this island. Compared to the south and the east, this part of the island is less built up with many open spaces between the dwellings and patches of tropical rain forests spread all around. The northern sea channel between Malaysia and Singapore or ‘Selat Johar’, as it is called, is just about three Kilometers from my house. Next to my house, I can see a storm drain canal, built to carry the floodwaters to the sea. A beautiful walkway with mettle surface has been laid on the embankment of this canal. A leisurely walk along this walkway, takes one straight to ‘Sembawang’ Beach. This beach is really just a tiny patch of white sand and is flanked by the ‘Sembawang Port’. Thick tropical rain forest, with some trees as tall as sixty to seventy feet, could be seen just before this beach. This makes this entire area staggeringly beautiful. I take my daily morning walks on this walkway. When I get out of my apartment each morning, melodious tunes of ‘Nadswaram’, coming from a temple of ‘Kartikeya’ across the road, invariably lift my mood to sublime serenity. Earlier, when I was staying in California, I used to take my daily walks along a picturesque street, lined with maple trees and had always considered that street (particularly in fall time) to be the most beautiful path on
which I have ever walked. Yet beauty of this ‘Sembawag’ garden connector (as it is called here), in some ways, certainly surpasses that of maple street. This connector walkway has been laid along a side of the floodwater canal. On the other side of this canal, sheer majesty of a tropical rainforest gives me company all along. The tall trees and the thick grasses create certain kind of mystic air and as the dawn breaks, water vapours gently rise up from the rain sodden and moist forest, enveloping it in a foggy blanket, which further accentuates the mystic aura. Beautiful flowering trees and shrubs have been planted on both sides of this walkway, giving the look of a garden path to this way. Few weeks back, I noticed many ‘Bottle Brush’ trees in full bloom with bright yellow flowers. I also notice along the way, many varieties of Acacias and Crotons with their multicoloured leaves. Behind these shrubs, lush green grass grows on sloping land forming a nice backdrop. At few places, spiders lay out their white fluffy webs on the moist grass hoping for a meal. The webs shine and glisten in the early morning sunlight. The walkway is serenely quiet except for chirpings of all kinds of birds as a backstage musical score. Sometimes, battalions of birds start it at the same time to reach a crescendo, creating a virtual cacophony, which usually lasts for a few moments, later returning the walkway to normal calm. The calm sometimes gets disturbed with huffing and puffing of an odd jogger or when a bicycler whizzes past you.
After a distance, the walkway turns sharply to the right. Not far from here, the land breaks and a clear open view of the sea channel with details of Malaysian coast emerge before my eyes. This sight of the sea always brings a sense of freedom to my mind. However, this is the point of return for me and I stop and turn back. A feeling of contented satisfaction lingers in my mind. 23rd March 2008
The air around the crematorium in Dujiangyan village situated in the western Chinese province of Sichuan, is acrid with smoke and disinfectant as families bid farewell to victims of China's calamitous earthquake, all too many of them children. At Juyuan Middle School near this town, just south of the quake's epicenter, scattered classroom chairs sit in the open sports field where students huddled the night of the earthquake, fearful of aftershocks. The teachers' rooms held up well. However, the four-story main building was nearly destroyed, with about 900 students lost. One small four-story section remains, resembling a lighthouse in size and appearance, of what was once a large complex of classrooms. One school collapsed completely, burying all children within it, in Yingxio Town, Wenchuan County. Children's cries could be heard on and off. Some parents and members of the public formed a voluntary rescue team, but it was hard to take effective measures without rescue experts and specialized equipment. The First Middle School of Beichuan County has more than 2,600 students. As of May 14, there were still around 1,000 student buried in the ruins. The cries from most of them can still be heard. In a northern rural district of Chongqing, about 200 miles from the epicenter, a four-story building collapsed at Center Elementary School, killing at least five students, according to local media accounts. Yet the
apartments and houses behind the school were still standing. These are some of the heart breaking excerpts, from news reports, that appeared in the media after the quake. What is especially tragic and sad is the fact, that other buildings in the area, even when much older, survived the quake but newly built school buildings crashed like a heap of sand, taking away lives of thousands of innocent children. An article published on the internet by an anonymous Shanghai structural engineer, says that although it is difficult to judge just from the photo and video, the explosion like destruction of those school buildings made him suspect that not enough steel enforcement bars were used due to cost cutting. Chinese have a name for public facility buildings that are constructed at low cost and low quality—'Tofu Waste Projects', or in other words Jelly buildings. According to officials, at least 6,898 schoolrooms had collapsed in Sichuan province, where the quake was centered. People suspect that some of the schools, built barely 10 years ago, collapsed because contractors used shoddy materials and wanted to save money. The earthquake was not man made, but collapse of so many school buildings was certainly a man made disaster waiting to happen. It was found at many places that building columns were filled with sand and mud, not cement. Not enough concrete was used to support the iron bars.
Further, what is most painful to heart is the fact that most of the schoolchildren, now dead, were the only child of their parents due to China’s One Child policy. Parents in their middle age saw with their open eyes, their young children in teens, being snatched away. An entire generation is lost in this area. For these parents, the children were their hope and security for the future. Now they have nothing. This man made disaster is really a shame of our time and all of us must put our heads down for it. I do not consider myself a commentator on state policies, particularly of other countries. However, I am sure that when there is nobody to put a question to a Government, this is what would happen. Even with excruciating slowness of an open government, which is elected and therefore answerable to its people, chances of such things happening and that too at this scale, are much lower. Lastly, one thought troubles me the most. We happen to live now in twenty first century. Why should someone tell me and later enforce a limit on the size of my family? Isn’t it an insult to my intelligence and my decision-making capacity? 26th May 2008
Silence of the Lambs
More than thirty days are passed since we witnessed the horrific carnage of innocents in one of the most elite areas of Mumbai. The media created much hype about our possible response to this premeditated act of few criminal minded zealots across our borders. They, (media) interviewed many people, asked them loaded questions and made things appear in such way that it looked as if an attack by our armed forces was almost imminent. However, nothing of the sort actually happened. Some diplomats made angry noises. Some made fiery speeches. But that was all that happened. Things started getting back to normal and after last thirty days, it appears that we have mostly forgotten the incident. I often wonder as to why our reaction to any such attack on our nation is so insipid and almost non-existent. Is it some kind of pregnant pause conceived to distract the enemy so that we can deliver a stunning blow to this evil empire? On the other hand, is it just the silence of the lambs waiting meekly for another attack by wolves? Why are we so dumb? Why don’t we react? I often think of a similar hypothetical situation on the personal level. Suppose I have built a small house on an open plot of land and have put some barbed wire around the perimeter of my plot. After a few days I find that on two sides of my house, ‘Zopad-patti’ or hutments have come up with bad characters as inhabitants. Initially
things are going on well. Soon, one of the gang leaders feels that part of my plot should really be his property and takes illegal possession. I call few friends and police and settle the matter. I put up a taller barbed wire compound around my plot. Now the gang lord decides to create trouble for me and starts harassing my family members. What would I do in such a situation? Do I call police? There is a chance that they may not take any action. Or, do I fight with this criminal? This would perhaps mean a physical injury or even death for me. Alternatively, do I just sell off the house? And go somewhere else. That also may not be possible. Only way then left for me is to just continue living under constant fear and hope for the best. Perhaps our nation finds herself in a similar dilemma or predicament. I am afraid that our Government may be really scared to take any worthwhile action. On previous occasions too, our response to similar situations has been particularly weak hearted. Our national airliner is hijacked. We succumb to the atrocious demands of hijackers and our defense minister accompanies the fugitives as they are delivered to hijackers. Our parliament is attacked. Many brave soldiers die. Even then, we are scared to hang the culprits as ordered by highest court, because some politicians somewhere make hue and cry. It seems that our government wants us to live in constant fear and hope for the best. Our fate appears to be those of lambs, waiting silently for the next attack by wolves.
Many argue that any military action by our armed forces would quickly enlarge into an open war, which may not be the best idea at this point of time. I entirely agree to this point of view because this terrorist attack might have been carried out for just this reaction from us. In that case, what are our options? Provided, we have any. I am neither a student of politics nor military science. However, I can clearly see many possibilities, which can make our adversaries take note and take actions wanted by us. One possible area is the Indus and other river water treaties. We may declare our intention of reviewing these unilaterally if co-operation is not forthcoming. Other area where we can look into is to monitor sea channels around Arabian coast. We may do this under perfectly legitimate cause of eradication of sea piracy. If we start, searching ships at random and delaying them, a clear message would be received by our adversaries regarding our intentions in future. Creating obstacles at world bank or IMF would also aptly indicate our intentions. There are many such possibilities. Where we lag is the will power. We always are more worried about reactions of other countries. We have great amount of inherent strengths. Our economy is strong. We have the necessary clout to back these actions. We have a strong military power to back up. Therefore, it is really up to us. We must decide, if we want to live like a country of strong people or live meekly like a country of lambs waiting for their slaughter.
Repairing The Roads
I was returning from my daily walk, the other day, when I observed a curbside notice put up by Singapore public works department. It briefly said that on next evening, no vehicles could be parked on the roadside, because there was a plan to carry out some urgent road repairs over a stretch of that road. The notice really puzzled me, because I had never seen before in my adult life span, any such intimation. In the first place, to my eyes, which were very familiar with the lunar landscape roads of my hometown, PUNE, the stretch of this road appeared very smooth and silky, as if it was made up only yesterday. Secondly, it was beyond my comprehension, that an advanced notice of this kind could ever be given by a road repairs department to general public so as not to cause inconvenience to them. Usually in PUNE, one comes to know of any such upcoming event, when in the middle of night, some heavy dump truck discharges a load of crushed stone, in front of your house, with a loud noise and a mini dust-storm or some workmen start heating up barrels of bitumen over a fire, built from coking coal, which incidentally is not very kind to your sense of smell. This fire is usually lit up under some flowering tree so that by the time, the road repairs work is finished, the tree is already dead with those obnoxious fumes. With this kind of mental frame up, I looked around sympathetically, at the lush green foliage and trees
spread all around me, wondering which of them would be sacrificed tomorrow. Next evening, as I was returning from my daily stroll, I noticed a gang of workmen with yellow or orange jackets digging up that stretch of the road with giant pneumatic hammers. I noticed that they had completely removed and had taken away in big dump trucks, the top surface layer of the road, maybe two or three inches thick. Next came a giant paver, which first surfaced the road with bitumen mixed with crushed stones. After this was done, a top surface layer of bitumen mixed with sand was put in place. After some rolling, the job was done and the gang cleaned up everything and disappeared. To my surprise, the new road surface was not higher even a centimeter. No crushed stones or sand was found dumped anywhere. No bitumen heating anywhere. All the trees and foliage were intact as yesterday. Later on, I found out that this road repair work was carried out because they had found out that in a thunderstorm, which had lashed Singapore few days back, the storm water had not drained off within minutes and some realignment of road camber was necessary. The road in front of my house in PUNE, has already grown higher at least by a foot over last couple of years, every time pushing my house to a new lower level. My house now looks as if we have purposely built it in a ditch. Every time they decide to resurface the road, they simply put a top layer of bitumen over the existing road and never bother about the level. So in a couple of resurfaces the so called pedestrian ways or foot paths on the curbside come down to road level. So to overcome
this problem, the footpath level is raised. This just goes on without bothering about storm water drains or their absence. There are no storm drains or any road camber which would drain the rainwater. The resurfaced road soon takes up the contours including those of potholes of the surface below. This usually happens within one monsoon season, bringing everything back to square one even though at a slightly higher level. And off course, there are always telltale signs. Heaps of crushed stones, sand and removed earth could be always seen around. They usually lie there until next road surfacing happens. There is a road in the vicinity of my house, called ‘ Karve Road’. The road repairs carried out on this road could be considered as an ultimate exercise in road building. This road is being repaired for last three calender years and is still not complete. This road is being repaired under some scheme called ‘Integrated Road development project’. I just do not know what it really means. But the process went on something like this. About three years back, they dug some ten feet wide trenches on both sides of the road. Some concrete walls were built in the trenches. During monsoon season, the trenches naturally were converted into roadside canals or swimming pools for cars and two wheelers. Quite a few vehicle owners must have unwillingly bathed their vehicles in these bathing pools. Since these waterways had replaced the footpaths and since not many pedestrians were exactly fond of swimming on the roads, they decided to walk on the road itself. Obviously, they
had to share these roadsides with parked vehicles, heaps of construction materials and machinery. This made the useful width of the road so small that only one vehicle could pass at a time. After the monsoon was gone, the water collected in the trenches dried up but that was all that happened. The road repairing work for some unknown reasons had come to a standstill. After a gap of few months, the trenches were filled with loose earth. When the rains came down again, the canals of yesteryear were now converted into mud canals. This was even better because one could now have a free mud bath if desired. As Sun came out after the monsoon, the mud also dried. By this time, they had realized that whatever they had tried to build below the mud was no longer required and they decided to lay concrete pipes everywhere. Pipes were laid along roadsides. Pipes were laid across the roads. This created number of shallow trenches across the roads. Thick iron sheets were laid on the road to cover these trenches. This is the present state of this road. Hats off to the engineers, builders, and more to people of PUNE for negotiating this road every day, come rain or sun. I have now decided to keep away from any road, if I ever see a board mentioning IRDP project. Study of the surfaces of PUNE roads should be of a great help to astronomers and people who study Mars or Lunar surfaces for any reason. One can find craters of every size and depth here. From a crater having a depth, which may present some kind of difficulty to a spider or a bug, we have craters, which can take in a moon-buggy. There are craters, which are some centimeters wide. We
also have roadside craters, which will have to be measured in meters. The variety is immense. Some thirty or forty years back a contractor from MUMBAI, was given the work of building an important road in Pune. The contractor appears to have been black listed since. He was never given any work again because the road built by him is still as smooth and silky as it was when he built it, even after these thirty or forty years. This appears to be not a very happy situation because there is no further work on this road for municipal contractors. As we progress in twenty first century, the road building endeavor of our municipality has taken a third dimension. So far, this third dimension was found only in speed breakers and craters. Now they have also started building fly- overs. I had a basic doubt and asked a friend of mine. “On what exactly, would these fly-overs fly?” Snap came the reply. “You ignorant fool, off course these would fly over the road craters, ditches and the speed bumps.”
29th March 2007
Poverty of Imagination
On the northern limits of PUNE city, a river winds through a gorge, on its way to the East. Any one, who wants to exit the city in that direction, has to cross this river. British rulers had built a low bridge here long time back, which always got flooded during monsoons and cut off this exit. A plan was mooted to build a new bridge here. The bridge was built and also inaugurated with much fanfare by some state minister, but as usual no approach roads were built in time. When subsequently the approach roads were completed, it was found out that the new bridge was just not wide enough for the traffic, which flowed on that road. There were huge traffic jams and it was felt that the earlier low bridge, when not flooded, was somehow better. No sooner, this new bridge was opened for traffic, need for a larger and wider bridge was felt. Maharashtra state electricity corporation had signed a contract with ENRON corp. of USA to build a power plant on west coast of India and agreed to buy all the power produced by this plant at a price, which was somewhat higher than the rate prevalent in those times. In retrospection, we can say today that it was a good deal. This plant started producing power and then something went wrong. Some politicians felt that the Government was being taken for a ride by ENRON Corp. They managed to get a review committee formulated under chairmanship of an ex- civil service officer. This committee came out with a most amazing
finding. They found (Only God knows how!) that Maharashtra state has big amount of surplus power and there was no need for ENRON power. The plant was closed down and plans for building new power plants were all scrapped. Today, because of this action, we have in Maharashtra, power outages extending up to fifteen hours on every single day. The life has become absolutely miserable for the people of this state. How these civil servants and politicians failed to realize, what could be envisaged even by a small child, that the power requirement of a growing economy would just continue to grow, is something one cannot comprehend. These are not isolated cases. An unending list of such projects can be produced. One can not therefore find solace by giving a justification, that such errors of commission and omission have occurred because of the lack of quality and quantity of the cerebral grey matter for some odd state planner or a civil service officer or some state politicians have not been gratified to their own satisfaction.. Problem is much deeper and lies in our psyche. New Delhi city is famous for its magnificent buildings and munificent parks and boulevards. It attracts tourists from all corners of the world. Unfortunately, credit for this does not go to Indian Government or people. New Delhi was built by British and even the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, was British. The downtown Mumbai, boasts of many quaint and grand buildings, which in my personal opinion, can beat any day, so called famous buildings of Manhattan and London. To take a stroll
along the wide boulevards and gardens of Esplanade in Kolkatta is always a memorable experience. The magnificence of Victoria Memorial needs no words. But again all these magnificent structures have been built by the British. We only seem to specialize in devising ways, by which the grandeur and splendor of these buildings can be undermined. Recently I visited one such building in Mumbai. My heart bled to see those wonderful long and well decorated verandas being divided into small pigeon holes with help of horrible looking wooden partitions and the pathetic loose wires and cobwebs hanging from the artfully decorated ceilings. To my mind, reasons for this lacuna are deep within us. We seem to be incredibly poor in imagining things. We are a very intelligent people. We have super builders, architects and Engineers amongst us. If a plan is given to us, we will execute it superbly. We however fail at the plan making stage. When we plan to improve a two-lane highway, we think of four or at the most six lane highways. We never think of ten or twelve lane super ways. The result is that when the new road is ready, the density of traffic has already increased so much, that the new road cannot cope up with it. We never seem to imagine things on a grand scale. Some of our corporates, seem to be thinking above this imaginary mental poverty line. In 1965, TATA Motors started to build their PUNE factory. The size of the land acquired by them in those days was stupendous. For a decade or so, few lonely buildings stood on this huge tract of land. Many wondered at the wasteful ways of TATA’s. Some one dared to ask the chairman of the
company about this huge investment. The reply was “Do you know what is in our minds? ” Today after some forty years, this huge land is full of factory sheds and almost each and every car produced by TATA’s, rolls out of the gate of the same, once barren, landscape. The Refinery planned at Jamnagar by Reliance could be considered as another excellent example of such above poverty line planning.
If we do not raise ourselves above this poverty line of imagination, I am afraid, that the TAJ MAHAL would remain as the only grand structure, exclusively planned and executed by Indians ever. 1 May 2007
A Bleak Future For Senior Citizens
I read a very disturbing news story this morning. An elderly couple trying to cross a busy thoroughfare in Pune, had managed to cross it up to the road divider point and were waiting for the traffic on the other side to slow down, when a speeding car brushed past the gentleman. He fell down on the road and was very fortunate to survive. Some kind-hearted people helped him and the couple somehow managed to reach home. My first reaction to this story was naturally this. Why did this couple tried to cross the road at some random point instead of a pedestrian crossing point? How can we blame the vehicle driver for this? But when I read full details of the episode, I realized that such a disaster can strike almost any senior citizen. Apparently, the gentleman had an appointment with an eye specialist as he was suffering from loss of vision. Since there was no one else to help him take to this specialist, his wife, a senior citizen herself, agreed to accompany him. After his eyes were examined, the couple came out on the road and tried to hire an auto-cab to go home. Number of cab drivers who were passing by, refused point blank to take this elderly couple home. The nearest signal light, which had some resemblance to a pedestrian crossing, was quite far away and the elderly couple was in no physical condition to walk up to that point. They realized that they were also not in a position to keep standing there on the road any longer and wait for a cab. In a desperate
move, they decided to cross the busy thoroughfare to try and get an auto cab. One may argue that the couple invited the disaster themselves and no one can be blamed for their plight. Can a cab driver refuse a passenger if the fare meter flag on his cab is up? Why no pedestrian crossings at convenient points are provided by the Municipal Corporation? Why no policemen could be contacted on such a busy arterial road for help? What should a senior citizen do if he or she needs some help in a public place? Questions and questions! But no one has any answers. As we move from an era of joint families to nuclear families, it strikes me that the senior citizens alone will have to bear the brunt of this social change. Just a generation back, no senior citizen would have had required to go on his own to consult a physician. He or she would not have had to do grocery or stand in queue to pay his electricity or phone bills. Some younger members of his family would be always available to assist him or do the job. Social changes that are now sweeping through our societies have made just this group very isolated, helpless and vulnerable. It may be argued, that senior citizens from western or other developed nations, have been facing this kind of situation for some considerable period. It is just, that the time has come now for seniors in India, to face the new realities. So why this much ado about nothing. In this argument, we are unfortunately ignoring the de facto situation in these countries, which can not even be
compared with situation in India. In these societies, special facilities are created by the local authorities to serve the elders .There are mechanically operated escalators for crossing the roads. Bus or other transport doors are designed in such a way that a physically weak person also can enter or leave the bus. Bus drivers will wait at bus stops until elderly passengers enter the bus and are seated properly. For people who are economically better off, taxicabs can be called by making a call and above all, real help from Police or Medicos, is just a telephone call away. Special transport vehicles at nominal costs are available for seniors in most of developed societies. Senior citizens in India, mainly who live in cities, today find themselves living on an isolated island. Because of the heavy congestion and traffic on the roads, they are afraid to move about and remain confined to their dwellings. If they happen to stay in an apartment, their situation is even worst. They cannot climb the stairs and are afraid to use the lift, which may fail anytime because of the vagaries of electrical power and generally poor maintenance. The sense of insecurity dominates their minds as day after day, news stories of elderly people being robbed appear in the press. Feeling of loneliness is perhaps their biggest woe. Younger generation obviously does not find their company particularly enjoyable and physical impossibility of traveling to meet other elderly persons increases their isolation. There is also a continuing feeling of having become an unwanted and useless
member of society. Only a generation back no such problems existed. Most of the elderly were part of a larger family and were well taken care off and happy. An easy evening stroll could take them to other seniors for a chat. They generally had much less feeling of isolation and boredom. Some people advocate the idea that such elders should move to special condominiums where all facilities are available for the elders. I personally loath to accept this idea. There is nothing more depressing for a senior citizen than to meet and interact day in and day out only other aged seniors. Besides, given the cost of such dwellings, very few seniors can really afford to move to such places. Better medical facilities, newer medical treatment and more effective medicines have increased the longevity or the life span of most of Indians. This also means that there would be more and more isolated and lonely individuals confined to four walls of their apartments. These people still have enough interest left, in life. They like to watch theater, enjoy music concerts and would like to listen to speeches from litterateurs and persons of eminence. They still like a bite of exotic foods and drinks, occasionally. They want to buy and read new books. They also want to look fashionable and trendy and would like to buy new apparel. In short, they still want to and are capable of enjoying many good things of life. But the congestion in the cities as well as changing social situation is putting them inside four walls from
where there is no escape but a maddening feeling of greater and greater isolation and frustration. For senior citizens , the future really appears very bleak. 8th August 2007
A few years ago, I was visiting a manufacturing industry plant. During the course of my visit, I was having a meeting with one of the senior departmental managers, in his cabin, when I noticed a rather strange thing. On one sidewall of his room, there was a medium sized glass window with a sliding glass panel. A table was arranged inside the room next to this window. A register of sorts was kept on the table. After every few minutes, somebody would slide the glass panel, look at a wall clock, which was hung on the opposite wall, jot down something in the register, pick up a bunch of keys, which were kept on the table and then close the glass door. After some time, the same person would return again, jot down something again, and keep back the keys and leave. This went on and on, throughout my meeting with this manager. I felt disturbed every time this window was opened but the senior manager did not appear to take notice of it at all. It would have looked very impolite for me to ask this manager about this window, so I remained silent. Later, I was sent along with a junior engineer to take a look at some problem equipment. This junior engineer turned out to be a very jovial character and a regular chatterbox. During this little excursion we had, I asked him about the window in the manager’s cabin. His happy face suddenly turned very pensive. It turned out that this arrangement was a way, in which management of the company controlled the time spent by the employees in the loo. Whenever any employee wanted to visit the loo, he had to show his face to the
manger, write down the time in the register and take the keys. After his visit, he was expected to repeat the procedure. My young friend also told me that each and every employee in the department, resented this arrangement but had no choice really and some of the middle management fellows, in fact feel so terribly insulted by this arrangement that they somehow want to leave the place. It appeared to me also at that time, a very obnoxious and inhumane way of treating employees. Later, when I was visiting another very large industrial plant, I had to inspect another piece of malfunctioning machinery, this equipment was located in a room next to the rest rooms and the access to this room was through the rest room only. Being a fairly large industrial plant, this rest room was a large arrangement. The conditions inside the rest room did not appear very clean. A stink pervaded everywhere. To my utter surprise, I found few workers in blue overalls squatting and smoking near the walls, which were stained with red traces of spit mixed with betel nut juice and tobacco. I found few workers, even sleeping in that stinky atmosphere which carried a strong smell of urine and phenol. I had expressed my surprise to the maintenance engineer who was with me. His comment was rather interesting. He said that it is the mentality of Indian working class. They want to relax at companies cost and here in rest rooms, no supervisor or manager would turn up Now, what exactly is this Indian working class? And why do they behave in this fashion? Why their working
time needs to be supervised and monitored? During my visits abroad, I had visited factories in Europe and even in America. No where I had seen, these types of controls on the employees. The workers there would be seen, leaving their work places at will. I had found that there were cafeterias and ping-pong tables for them in work place. Why no such facilities were provided in India at least till advent of ‘Infosys’ and similar software companies? Questions remained in my mind without answers. Later, I found out that this so-called working class also argues squabbles and fights on every inconsequential and petty issue with the management. One day the complaint would be about a particular brand of biscuits served with tea. Next day quality of uniforms would be found to be of poor quality. Later in my Life, when I started my own Industry, I found answers to all these questions that were hidden in my mind. An Indian industrial worker is a perfect picture of sincere ness, earnestness and willingness for first six months of his employment. He would exactly follow the instructions given by his superiors. He would never leave his work place and complete all tasks without complaints. However, when he completes his probation and is confirmed, a magic transformation now takes place. He joins the great Indian working class and acquires its mentality. Five basic postulates are now imbibed in his mind. Every situation faced by him or observation made by him is now analyzed on the basis of these five golden postulates. Firstly, the company he works for is the biggest cheat, liar and thief, exploiting the workers and giving them peanuts in return. Secondly,
all his supervisors and managers are lackeys of the company. Thirdly, each and every facility provided by the company along with his pay is his birthright and can not be taken back. Fourthly, he may abstain from work any time and for any length of time without any prior intimation to the management and whatever loss of production or work that may happen as a result is solely the problem of the management and in no way he could be held responsible. Last but not the least, is the assumption that no power on earth can now remove him from his job, whatever may be his actions but he can leave the job without any notice. In our factory, we had to complete, dispatch of a machine on a particular day. This was very important for us from cash flow as well as future business considerations. A specific finishing operation had to be done just before dispatch. We had a specialist worker to do the job. He worked on the machine, on the previous day until late evening and promised me that he would report for work next day, early in the morning. To my horror, on the day of dispatch, this worker did not report for duty. I had to send someone to fetch him from his house. But I found out that he had left for his hometown in the night itself. This worker reported for duty after a fortnight and when he was asked to explain his absence, he gave no specific reasons for his absence. In another instance, a lady engineer told me one morning that she has got married with her sweet heart yesterday evening and they would be flying to USA that very evening. I took quite some time to restore the production schedules and status with this sudden development.
As an incentive to workers, we used to send them on an excursion trip during yearly Deepavali holidays. The management paid all expenses for this trip. In a particular year, this could not be arranged. I had a surprise waiting for me. After a few days I got a letter from the workers that stated that they should be compensated with extra wages as this facility was not given to them this year. In a factory, computer controlled machines were introduced. The machine operator now had to feed input data to the computer. Rest of the jobs were done by the computer, since operator had no work, management suggested that one operator could operate three such machines simultaneously. The response from the workers was they could do it provided they are paid three times the usual wages. Most of the managements in India overcome these working class mentality problems by building staff redundancies at every level. But the problem here is that when a job could be done by one person, you need to have two or three persons available. Why only Indian workers behave in this fashion? Why workers in other countries do not have this mentality? In this era of globalization and competition, how can our enterprises compete with the world, with this dead weight around their necks? To my mind, this entire problem is the result of one legacy; British bureaucracy has left to us. It can be simply described in just two words as ‘Job Security’. In pre independence period, to make Government jobs attractive, they were made secure. This meant that
whatever you do, you stay on the job until you retire. This concept has now spread all over the country including the industry. Management of a company finds it very difficult today, to sack or remove an employee because he does not do his job as expected. How do we solve this problem? How do we re bottle this Genie? The solution is simple. Just forget about the concept of job security. Each and every job should be a hire and fire job. If an employee wants the job, he better perform. Managements should be allowed to get rid of workers with working class mentality. Perhaps some of our friends who swear allegiance to flags of certain colour, may not like this idea. But there is really no other way. We do not need to keep records of worker’s visits to the loo then.
18 November 2006
Quality of Life
For last couple of years, power outages have become a big problem in India. Last summer, we had a severe power shortage situation in Pune. Things became so bad, that every day, power was switched off by the electricity provider for as long as four or even six hours. Work, leisure, almost every thing, had to be rescheduled. Rich, poor, everybody suffered equally. Life became absolutely unbearable during those summer months with Sunlight baking us in our houses and no fans to cool us. Luckily for me, I could leave Pune at that time, for a long sojourn in U.S.A. After I had reached my destination, my sense of relief was almost beyond expression. I had never felt so much distressed before, in any of my previous visits to this country, by the difference in the quality of life in the western world and India. I returned to India and found that power situation, even now, was equally bad, but life had become bearable because of the change of the season. My relief was however very short lived as to my utter dismay, I found that another man- made problem had cropped up. Pune city has been growing up at a very fast pace in recent years. It has also become a wealthy city. This has resulted in a big increase in number of vehicles on roads, which however continue as before. The Municipal corporation, instead of increasing vehicle carrying capacity of roads, keeps on tinkering with traffic flows by devising strange and idiotic schemes such as ‘one
ways’ and ‘ no entries’. During my absence, some brilliant traffic planner, acting on a brain wave, had introduced a nutty traffic flow scheme. The result was that the entire traffic, including those of heavy busses, which earlier flowed on a near by big street, now flowed on a narrow road around my house and made my house a de facto, virtual traffic island. The continuous drone of vehicles, squeaky sounds of brakes being jammed and the blaring of the horns, from early wee hours in the morning to midnight, made all of us regular lunatics in few days. Desperate thoughts, such as sale of the house, became the topic of hot discussion. Meanwhile my luck smiled and I was again able to escape to U.S.A. The tranquility, peace and quietness of living in the first world were almost impossible to believe. These are just two little irritants perhaps in my personal life. But the fact remains that the quality of life in India was, is and will remain at least for our life time, nothing else but very poor.I recently found out that according to the Life satisfaction survey, carried out by the Economic Intelligence unit of the ‘Economist’ magazine in the year 2005, India ranks at a lowly number of seventy one out of one hundred and eleven countries surveyed world wide. India also just about manages to get a score of 5.76 on a scale of 1 to 10 as ‘Quality of Life Score’. This score is based on nine ‘Quality of life determinants’. These nine factors and the indicators that are used to represent these factors are as following. Material well being –GDP per person Health–Life expectancy at birth.
Political stability and security– Political stability and Security ratings Family life– Divorce rate Community life– ILO world value survey Climate and Geography– Latitude Job security – Unemployment rate Political freedom– Freedom house survey of political and civil liberties. Gender equality– Ratio of average male and female earnings. It may be argued, that some factors like climate, are loaded against southern countries and GDP values may not be true indicators of the real purchasing power of the people. But over all, the factors used in the survey, seem to be fair and balanced because some factors like family life, actually work in India’s favour. As expected, most countries of the west and some Asian tigers like Japan, Korea and Singapore, are ranked at the top and would be considered as First world countries. ‘Economist’ emphasizes that income of the people or GDP, though very important, is not the crucial factor. On the Macro level therefore, we do not seem to be doing so badly. But it appears to me that at the personal or micro level our performance is absolutely horrific and dismal. To my mind, the factors at micro level, which cause such poor quality of life, are as follows. First and foremost factor is Corruption. Government or local government machinery just does not move in India.
At each level, favours are expected. For a common person, this is the worst irritant. Our total disregard for civic responsibilities. We just do not care about others. We celebrate festivals with mega level sound and burst loud crackers at midnight. We seem to blow vehicle horns for no reason. We do not seem to have the concept of space for an individual and tend to tread on other people’s toes. Public cleanliness is something from Mars for us. We do not mind spitting or littering the public places. We make use of public utilities such as urinals in such a way that these become unbelievably stinky and dirty. Our traffic sense is shocking. We just do not follow any traffic rules. Unreliable availability of goods and services. One day cooking gas is not available. On another day Petrol pumps run dry. We have no guarantee that essential goods and services would be available reliably. Poverty of conceptualization. We just do not plan for the future needs. A new bridge near Pune was built so narrow that within just few years it was found to be totally inadequate for the traffic growth. We have power shortages because ten or twenty years back, somebody did not envisage the future electricity demand properly. Meanwhile, things seem to have improved, back at home. The industries around Pune have decided to help
people of Pune by generating enough electrical power on their own to meet the short fall. The Municipal Corporation also has since withdrawn their nutty traffic scheme. Things are quieter near my house. I can only hope that when I return to India this time, there would be no surprises waiting for me and I do not have to make another dash abroad. 23rd December 2006
All the Aces up our sleeves
The year 2008 has not brought cheer around the world. On the contrary, news from many countries is depressing and gloomy. Global food prices have risen dramatically, adding a new level of danger to the crisis of world hunger. In Africa, food riots have swept across the continent, with recent protests in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Senegal. In most of West Africa, the price of food has risen by 50 percent—in Sierra Leone, 300 percent. In Cameroon, Reuters reports that at least 24 people have been killed; over 1600 people have been arrested since February, and already 200 have been tried and given jail sentences of up to three years. In the United States, there has been a 41 percent surge in prices for wheat, corn, rice and other cereals over the past six months. The most acute effects have been seen in Egypt, where thousands of people have resorted to violence due to shortages of basic food commodities and rising food prices. At least 10 people have died in riots that erupted at government-subsidized bakeries. The unavailability of basic food products such as bread, rice, sugar and cooking oil, coupled with high food prices has led many to protest against the Egyptian government and resort to violent tactics. Thousands of Indonesians demonstrated outside the presidential palace in Jakarta after soyabean
prices soared more than 50 per cent in the past month and 125 per cent over the past year, leaving huge shortages in markets. News reports from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mozambique tell similar stories. In Malaysia, there were large-scale demonstrations when palm oil disappeared from the grocery stores. The simple reason for this disappearance was that the palm oil prices had increased dramatically in world markets but the stores were forced to sell it at controlled prices. On June 2nd, speaking at the UN food security summit held in Rome, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon warned that unless world food production increases by 50 per cent, a billion people world wide may go hungry and violence and food riots on a large scale is a distinct possibility. Adding to the woes, the rapid-fire increase in the price of crude oil to an unimaginable level of one hundred and forty US dollars for a barrel increases the cost of production of food as well as transportation costs. These news stories from around the world made me wonder about the possible scenario for India, which after all is the home for one fifth of the humanity. Would we have enough food to eat or our poor would have to resort to rioting to fill their bellies, was the question uppermost in my mind. To satisfy my curiosity, I turned to internet as usual. A short search came up with some astounding and reassuring results.
India produces over 136 million tons or rice in a year and is ranked second only to China, in the world. We produce well over 72 million tons of wheat and are again ranked second in the world behind China. Corn production in India is over 15 million tons with Sixth rank in the world. In oilseeds, we are ranked at five with a production above 34 million tons. Sugar production is expected around 25 million tons again at second rank, only behind Brazil. As far as milk production is concerned, we are world’s top ranked country with production exceeding 100 million tons. Undoubtedly, this is a very reassuring and confidence boosting picture. Food security does not seem to be an issue at all for India. Furthermore, since the food is produced domestically, transportation costs are bound to be limited. Many small countries like Singapore, import hundred percent of their food. For such countries, oil prices are very crucial as transportation costs of food are directly linked to oil prices. In Singapore, food prices are continuously on the rise as oil peaks newer and newer heights. For many years, environmentalist authors like Mrs. Barbara Kingsolver from U.S.A. have been speaking against long distance import of food and how detrimental it is for our environment. According to them, burning of fuel for this transport produces large quantities of green house gases for no valid reason. It is true that I might miss strawberries from California or grapes from South Africa on my dinner table if only locally grown food is available to me. Here again, India seems to be in luck.
We produce almost every type of fruit in the country. We may miss California strawberries but the same fruit produced in western Maharashtra would be always available to us. In a way, this explosion in the transportation costs would be welcome by environmentalists as it helps their cause. India therefore seems to have all the aces up her sleeve as far as food security is concerned. What is required is an efficient distribution system and completely open market economy, which is fully open to competition. 7th June 2008
The pot of Pain
While bringing my car through the compound gate, I saw some wooden poles, bamboo sticks and lots of rope lying on the roadside near my gate. With a sinking heart, I instantly realized that the dreadful day of the earthen pot must be round the corner. Next day few more items arrived. These included some steel frames and more rope. A gang of workers soon arrived and started digging big holes on the mettle surface without bothering to the least, about the municipal directive not to dig the roads. In no time, the workers erected scaffolding frames along the roadside with a bridge like structure across the road. Steel frames were used to create a dais right in the middle of the road with heavy car traffic passing by. I was reminded of those legendary worriers, who fought their battles in the midst of very adverse conditions. These workers also never looked around them and never saw any incoming vehicles. With singleminded devotion and zeal, they set upon their task in the middle of the road. The vehicles, braked, slowed down and detoured. The steel frames were later covered with bright red canopies to give a festive look to the roadside. The posters came later. These were giant and colourful. All the posters had, like a common denominator, a huge picture of Lord Krishna
playing his flute. His chubby face appearing sweet and benevolent. All around the lord, like a string of butchered demon heads garlanding the goddess kali, some expressionless spooky faces adorned the billboards. The posters claimed that these were the selfless kind souls, who in their relentless pursuit for the uplift of the downtrodden and poor in the society, had got together to organize this event for the benefit of the true disciples of the lord. The posters also claimed that this group was the only and true representative of the ‘Mohalla’ to organize this great religious Endeavour. After looking at the posters, I felt that I might not be very enthused to meet any of these characters in person. The most dreaded piece of equipment arrived on the day of the pot. At first, I was amazed to see two black walls moving towards the center of the road. I soon saw the light that these were not walls but high power audio speakers stacked on top of each other. They were positioned in such a way that any person who happens to be in a wide arc in front of these, would startle and jump when these went on. The combined power of these giant and powerful noisemakers was surely in thousands of watts. After the speakers were positioned for the kill, a flurry of activity was started. A long rope was hung across the road with a decorated earthen pot tied in the middle. I did not know what it
contained. But I guessed that it would not be filled with sweet yogurt as was preferred by the Lord. It happened to be a Sunday and after a good meal, I just dozed off. Around mid noon, I was suddenly awakened by a deafening sound. Still under the spell of my afternoon siesta on such glorious warm day, I imagined that I was in the midst of some battlefield. I soon realized that this ghastly unnatural sound originated from the speaker walls across the road and was actually a devotional song in praise of Lord. After a few devotional numbers, the DJ or whosoever was in charge of music selection thought that enough was enough and started with Bhangra, Disco & Rock numbers. The roar was unimaginable and extremely painful. I tried every trick I could imagine. I closed windows, curtains. Closed all doors and sat in the farthest room. Put on earplugs and even pressed a pillow against my head lying down on the bed. The thumping beat just kept on engrossing and enveloping me. After some painful and agonizing period, I realized that if I wish to see light of another day, I would have to do something and that to very fast. I got up, locked my door and started walking until I could not hear that killing sound any more. I do not know whether any modern day incarnation of the Lord actually managed to
break the pot to get the yogurt, because when I returned, it was past midnight and things were quiet once again. However, one thing I know for sure. Next morning, when I went for my morning walk, the roadsides were littered with broken liquor bottles and glasses. 24th August 2008
Digital Library Project
In the year 1881, in a small village named as ‘Bakhshali’, near the city of Peshawar in the northwestern corner of India, a farmer discovered during course of an excavation, a manuscript written on birchbark. The greater portion of the manuscript was found to have been destroyed but about seventy pages had survived. The manuscript was later found to be dated around 800 AD and was found to be a compendium of the rules and illustrative examples together with their solutions and was entirely devoted to Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry. When I came across this bit of information, I was very curious to find, more information about this ancient book on Indian mathematics, which was supposed to be the earliest work known on this subject. I browsed on the internet hoping to find more details. I actually found thousands of results, starting from various encyclopedias to those even from the proceedings of Philosophical society of America. However, I realized soon that most of these references only mentioned about existence of such a book. I found out that the British rulers transferred this manuscript to one library in Oxford and it is lying there only. I also found that in the year 1927, Government of India, published a book written by a mathematician, Mr. G.B.Kaye about this manuscript and its contents. This book itself has now become a very rare book and is no longer available. Another commentary by
Mr. T .Hayashi is priced around US$ 200 and hence was out of my reach. I felt that this was the end of my quest for this book. But later, while searching for some other information, I came across a reference, about a research paper written by one Mr. Bibhutibhushan Datta and published in the year 1929 in a journal called ‘Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society’. I again thought that this would certainly be a dead end as it would be impossible to lay my hands on a research paper published so long ago. Even then I decided to make a try to look for this paper and I searched for this bulletin on the internet. I was really surprised to find that almost all back issues of this journal are now available on the internet. I also found the research paper that I was looking for. I downloaded it and had all the information in my lap to satisfy all my curiosity about ‘Bakhshali Manuscript’. This is how I came across ‘THE DIGITAL LIBRARY OF INDIA’, a project undertaken by the Government of India under direct initiative from the President of India, Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam. This ambitious project plans to scan, digitize and put on internet, a million books, journals, newspapers and old manuscripts. The project operates from 21 participating centers spread all over India. The project very well seems to be on the track, because as on today, they have already digitized about Ninety Six Thousand seven Hundred and Seventy Five books written in 27 different languages. I sincerely feel that we all must salute President Dr. Kalam, for this great initiative undertaken by him.
There are number of Organizations including ‘Google’, who have undertaken such digital library projects. But they have very few Indian books and those are mostly written by British about India. There are absolutely no books written in Indian Languages. As against this, The Indian digital library for example, has already digitized more than two thousand ‘MARATHI’ books. I went through the list of these Marathi Books. I found many titles, which I had read about fifty years back. I have noted down many other titles, which I plan to read later. While searching for English books, I found that they have already digitized many back issues of the ‘Journal of the Asiatic society’, a virtual treasure house of information about India and Asia.. The ‘Digital Library of India’ is a web site, which should definitely be on the favourite list of sites of every Indian Internet user. I also hope that one day in near future, I would have the original ‘Bakhshali Manuscript’ on my laptop.
On being irrelevant
Some time back, I was visiting one of my business associates. When I went to his office, I found that he had gone out for some work and would return only after a little while. I decided to wait in his office. I happened to know one of his assistants quite well and decided to call upon him. I observed that he appeared to be grossly unenthusiastic and positively dejected about almost everything, instead of his usual effervescence. When I asked him the reason for this, he was not very communicative and refused to come out of his shell. In the meanwhile, my business associate came back and we got on with work. Later, I mentioned to my business associate, my observations about his assistant. My business associate told me that there has been office reorganization and that poor fellow has been completely side tracked and superseded by his juniors. Overnight, the fellow has become irrelevant. Fortunately for our friend, this type of irrelevance is not a one-way street. Our friend can retrieve himself from such a situation, maybe by working harder to prove that he is indispensable to the organization or he may even change his job. This way, he can fully salvage his selfesteem and self-confidence. However, in the life of every person, a point of time comes, when he (which also includes she) finds himself rapidly becoming irrelevant. This irrelevance is irreversible in totality and no person can escape from this reality. However, one may find
solace to some extent in the fact that this irrelevance comes only in stages and not suddenly all at once. The first stage of irrelevance is mostly reached when our bodies start to indicate this fact to us. For a woman, the indication is much sharper with onset of menopause with nature clearly stating the fact that she is no longer relevant to the re-productive process of the human race. However, even here, nature is not that cruel. The process of onset of menopause can continue for many months, giving adequate time for that woman to brace and prepare herself for the change. Men do not get any such sharp indication and may continue to live in a fool’s paradise much longer even though slow and progressive weakening of their bodies indicates the same end fact. Many a persons from either sex may mentally refuse to accept this fact, resulting in many odd and pitiable behavioral problems. Next stage of irrelevance is imposed by the society on us in most of the cases, instead of our reaching it. We may be fully fit and operational in the physical and mental sense. Nevertheless, most of us are forced to retire from our job. If the person has no other interests, he finds it very tough to be acclimatized to the new realities. He struggles to adjust himself with new financial constraints and loss of so-called self-esteem. For women also, even if she was not the breadwinner for the family earlier, change of status for her husband makes an impact. She also has to face these problems in the form of domestic budgets and change in socializing. Some professionals in service sectors such as accountants, lawyers and those in
medical profession are more fortunate and can avoid this stage and continue to work to their capabilities Final stage of irrelevance is reached when the person becomes weak, mentally and physically. He is more or less discarded by the society and even family members. Only his near family members may pay some attention to him. But luckily for him, he himself is so much detached from the earthly things that these things do not matter to him any more. He has become truly irrelevant. The way in which a person spends these years between the stage of forced irrelevance and final irrelevance really determines whether he or she is a happy and contented senior. Many seniors find it impossible to accept the fact that they are no longer required in their job and tend to cling to whatever bits and scraps that are thrown their way. They only deceive themselves and ultimately when the final break with the job comes few years later they are totally devastated and broken. They simply do not have any other interests to turn to and life becomes inconsolable misery. Addiction to drinking or Television is commonplace. What should be the correct approach? I feel that every person, when he realizes that the nature has given its call to him, should plan for his senior years. Gradually cutting off links to his business should be a good start. Those with a job, have no choice, but have to end abruptly, all links with their job. New hobbies and interests according to person’s temperament and liking must be found. Some people try their hand in social
service. Some try writing. New ways of socializing have to be found. Even an hour of chitchat with friends can pull the person through his lonely day. Finally, extra efforts should be made to keep fit and healthy. This may include diet control, exercise and keeping free radicals in your body away. Without physical fitness, happiness can never come to a senior. We must be open to changes. Seniors should have the eagerness and curiosity of a child to new gadgets and technology. Seniors who developed expertise on computers and internet have found new avenues of socializing like blogging. They communicate more easily with their far away children. I happen to know a Lady in her nineties, who wants to learn computers. Can you beat that? Attitude to life makes a lot of difference. It is the real difference between relevance and irrelevance.
I always consider, the ‘World Wide Web or (WWW)’ as a collection of online information, stored on servers around the world, that are connected to the Internet. For accessing any of the information, you need to know the way, the path, and the address of these servers, where the required information is stored. This address is usually called the ‘Uniform Resource Locator’ or URL of that information or of that server and is in the form of a text string, called a Hyperlink. I have no idea, from where, the researchers at the ‘European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Switzerland got this idea for such a world wide network. But the fact remains that WWW has now become the most important source of information for people around the world. I recently realized that another kind of web resides in the minds of all of us. Surprisingly the resemblance between WWW and this web inside our minds is very striking. I prefer to call this web as ‘Inner web’. This web is very personal but it works exactly like WWW. It also has servers, where information is stored, a connecting media similar to internet and addresses like hyperlinks including hypertext links from one web site to another. Let me carry out a little experiment. I shall sit down comfortably and let my mind wonder freely. There is a window in front of me and I can see traffic moving on the road. I see a bright red coloured car moving past the
window. I instantly remember the show room from where I bought my car some two years back. The details that come to my mind are very vivid. I remember the negotiations for the price, the sales person and even the sweet meat box, which they gave me along with the car. In fact, at that instant I am re-living that past experience. While I am still in the car show room, there is some reference to a music system. My mind reads the hypertext and instantly takes me to a music shop on Ferguson College Road. The time period is early Sixties, I am a college going young man and the shop has small wooden cabins, which are made sound proof. I pay twenty-five paise to the owner and ask him to play a tune, which I like very much. ‘Colonel Bogey’ from the film ‘Bridge on the river Quai’. He puts the record on the player and the tune starts playing in my mind. My mind has already left the scene and I am suddenly a little boy practicing to play flute on the school ground for the school band. The tune is called New Delhi. The Band teacher then takes all of us to a restaurant named as ‘Jeevan’ on Tilak Road and the crisp Masala Dosa filled with bright yellow potato stuffing is in front of me. I can even now feel the aroma of that hot Dosa filling my nostrils. Suddenly before mind can recover, I am at the Changi airport in Singapore. I see a board, which tells me that on way ahead there is a south Indian Restaurant. But I don’t go that way at all and just turn back. All of us can try this and would be amazed at the speed and variety with which things appear in our minds one after another. This can go on and on until we get tired or fall asleep. But let us compare this little trip made by my
mind with an experience with WWW. Suppose I open a browser like Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox on my computer. On my home page, there are advertisements as well as news items. I click on something. I am on to a new web site, which has no reference or relation to my home page. This can go on forever until I am bored of Browsing and decide to switch off the computer. Or, I might see or remember something and decide to search that word or something with a search engine. It will lead me to some web site from which I can just go on and on until I am tired. When exactly same steps are followed by my mind, I call the thought process in my mind as ‘Random Browsing on the Inner Web’. But this kind of Random browsing need not be the case always. When we sit down and start thinking about a specific problem, our ‘Inner Web browsing’, becomes more systematic. Let me give you an example. Suppose I have to make a trip to Mumbai on next day morning by my car. As I think about it, my mind would invariably go to inner web sites storing experiences of past journeys made. Check the air pressure in tires, check fuel level. Then find information about the road, where to park, how to go around, after reaching Mumbai. I would call this as organized Inner Web Browsing. We all do it continuously. Another strange thing, which I have noticed about this Inner Web, is that about Ninety percent of information stored is about failures and unpleasant experiences. Only about ten percent Inner Web sites are about happy events or pleasant experiences. Going back to the example
above I am sure to recollect any flat tires, minor troubles on road, parking problems in Mumbai etc. Very few pleasant experiences would be available on my Inner Web. Another striking feature of inner web is the presence of a huge number of graphics. Majority of information is available in pictorial form. We may think that the inner web exclusively consists of our own experiences. Actually, information gathered from experiences of other people, information from what we might have read from books or seen on TV is also stored and is available readily. But, should we really allow our inner web browsers to run wildly and in random fashion. This exactly is the teaching that all our great saints and poets have been trying to implant in our minds for hundreds of years. A well-balanced and stable human mind should be able to control this wild browsing and restrict itself to only organized browsing. This probably would be only the first step towards being a better human being.
Freedom from cooking
When I was a school-going lad, I used to spend a part of my summer holidays in Mumbai with my mother’s relatives. Their family was rather a large one consisting of three brothers, wives, kids and the aging parents. What I distinctly remember from these visits is the enormous work, the womenfolk of this family used to do in the house from daybreak until late night. No doubt, theirs was a very large family. With so many mouths to feed, my great grand mother along with her daughters in law used to cook almost throughout the day. In those days, I did not feel anything odd about it, but today I honestly feel that it was a colossal waste of those intelligent womenfolk, who were capable of doing much more intelligent and superior types of assignments. People in the west, realized this long time ago. Perhaps the world wars during thirties and forties brought up the point very clearly for them. A large percentage of male population was involved in the wars. For doing day-today jobs, the only choice that was left was to employ womenfolk of the country. The women did rise to the occasion and there was no stopping after that. In these societies, you would find that women do almost all the jobs shoulder to shoulder with men. This was real emancipation of women. During eighteenth century, the condition of women in India was worst than those of slaves. Some great social reformers like Dr. Dhondo Keshav Karve, realized this
and because of their pioneering work, the conditions for women, improved dramatically. To-day, there is equality of education, legal rights for both the sexes. Women can find jobs worthy of their intellect and capacity. Let us consider a case of a modern urban nuclear family. Here husband as well as wife are both well qualified. Both of them are also equally well employed. In short, theirs is a DIWK (Double income with kids) family. They have super income, all the comforts of modern life. They can go on holidays. Nevertheless, if you look at the individual workload, the wife, besides fulfilling her responsibility at the job, also has to look after kids and the kitchen. She is expected to provide food for the family whatever may be her involvement level in her job. Modern Indian cities have no facilities, which can really help her here. The good eating-places or restaurants are prohibitively expensive and mostly serve oily Punjabi food. The wife cannot even think of this as a daily alternative to cooking at home. The cheaper places are dirty and food is mostly cooked with suspect raw materials and is unhealthy. Perhaps, the Singapore experience may be of relevance here. In this city, almost every major cluster of residential buildings, commercial buildings or entertainment enclaves have large eating areas, popularly known as food courts. These places are fairly large sized halls with food vending stalls around the perimeter. The choice of food is just staggering. Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Korean, Japanese and Indian food to some extent is available. The food is fresh, hot and very
reasonably priced. The food is displayed in a very attractive fashion and one can stroll along and make a choice of the menu. The quality of food and the raw materials are top class. All these food courts are selfservice areas with low overheads. Government machinery ensures that health standards and quality of food is maintained. It is no wonder that with this kind of facility available, most Singaporean families do not cook at home. While returning from work, the husband or wife picks up the food for the entire family and comes home. Immediately on reaching home, the families eats fresh, hot food of wide choice and then throw away the food containers. There is no cooking or cleaning the utensils. The singles may prefer to eat in the food courts, where comfortable seating arrangements are provided. With elimination of a major household chore, the husband and wife both can concentrate in a better fashion on their work or looking after kids. For the people working in these food courts, it is a job and a profession, which earns them a living. Just try to fit this scenario in the Indian context. Can you imagine the freedom womenfolk would have in India? Indian women are extremely hard working and intelligent. To keep them busy, day after day, in a monotonous job of cooking is a colossal waste of work force.
This would be the real freedom for women of India. The freedom from cooking. June 2008
A small winding road, leading to the erstwhile princely state of ‘Javhar’, originates from 'Satpur', the westerly suburb of modern industrial city of Nashik. TwentyEight kilometeres down on this road, lies the beautiful old temple of 'Trimbakeshwara'. This temple, constructed from black basalt stone, is an appealing specimen of fine temple architecture. As you enter the huge black stone courtyard of the temple, a legion of priests descends on you. They carry with them a special type of notebook with myriad maze of handwritten entries. You may furnish to the priests, a little information about you, such as your full name and maiden name of your mother. They come out in no time with full details of visits made by your forefathers to the temple and in particular, the exact religious functions or 'pooja' carried out by them. Even though the system of record keeping is remarkable, what surprises me most is the fact that, very many devotees who visit the temple are actually interested in finding out these details. It is also curious to note, that later on, they usually carry out the same 'pooja' or religious function, carried out by their forefathers few decades before. I had always wondered about this inner need to connect to somebody in the family past. Few years back, we made a journey to the 'Kokan' area on the western seaboard of India. Even though this trip was planned only as a holiday excursion, there was another hidden motive in my mind. I wanted to reconnect to a small part of our family history that had happened in a small forgotten town, located in the interior 'Kokan' region. I was fortunate enough to locate
a small-dilapidated house in that dusty little town. Luckily, for me, the house was still habituated and was almost in the same condition as it must have been for last hundred years. With permission from the present occupants, I wandered throughout the house and finally reached the sanctum sanctorum. A small dark room where all the family deities are kept and worshiped. As I stood there, my mind raced back some hundred years in the past. This was the very place where my great grand father, still in his thirties, had died an early death. This was also the same place where, few years later, my widowed great grand mother and her orphaned six-yearold son had prayed to the family deity for the last time, before venturing out to a big city, looking for better future prospects. Spending those few precious moments in that dusty dark place had a strange impact on me. I felt that I was no longer just a survivor in an alien world. I belonged to those people from the past. I was connected to them. They were my roots. Looking for your roots appears to be a very common human urge. It however has to be an emotional journey. Otherwise, it does not serve any purpose. In an Indian society, bound rigidly with it's caste system, a surname automatically marks a group of people having common ancestors. Writing family history or tree of such groups is very common. How ever, what is achieved by drawing such family trees is very doubtful. Most of the people in such a group have nothing in common except the surname. They differ widely in their educational and social status and usually come from very different economic strata. Social gatherings of such groups naturally tend to be very dull and impersonal affairs. Emotional bond of any kind is totally absent. These
studies however certainly help in finding some answers to the basic questions present in our mind. Who am I? And Where from have I come? The western societies are supposed to be totally class less. (At least in theory) and therefore have no such emotional platform. It is therefore virtually impossible to find one’s roots even for last three or four generations. There are genealogical records kept. But if every one in a family tree has a totally different name, how can the lineage be ever traced. However, human mind is the same everywhere. And westerners are no less keen to find answers to these questions. No wonder that providing genealogical information has become a big business in western world. But why stop at three generations. If I am residing in North India, I would be curious to find out about my ancestors. Who were my ancestors? Did they fight in Mahabharata war? Were they on Pandava's side or Kaurava's side?Were they Aryans? Did they come from central Asia? Or they were native Indians. If they came from central Asia, where were they before that? There is really no end to these questions. Unfortunately, so far, there was no scientific method to answer these questions. By analyzing the DNA, scientists have now found a new method of establishing genetic lineage. We all know that every human cell carries twenty-three pairs of chromosomes inherited from the parents. The last pair of chromosomes is of particular interest. If the off spring is a boy, he carries the Y chromosome inherited from his father. This also will be the only intact chromosome, which he will pass on to his son. All male descendants in a family tree therefore carry this chromosome and establish a clear line of paternal ancestry. What has been
found out now is that a very similar thing happens with female off springs. Each and every human cell including embryonic cells has a very similar structure. There is a cell nucleus, which normally carries all the chromosomes. The substance outside the nucleus is called cytoplasm. In this cytoplasm there are small structures called Mitochondria. Surprisingly, Mitochondria have there own DNA. Every female carries a unique 'Mitochondrial DNA' inherited from her mother. This again is the only DNA that is transferred by her to her female off springs in intact form. 'Mitochondrial DNA’, therefore just like a Y chromosome, establishes a clear line of maternal ancestry. By putting special colour markers on the small mutations found in Y-chromosomes or 'Mitochondrial DNA', it is possible to easily establish blood interrelationships between various groups and nationalities. In year 1991, a dead body was found in the snow-covered Italian Alps Mountains. The body was dated as about five thousand three hundred years old. Scientists managed to mark the 'Mitochondrial DNA' found in the bones of this body. Later on, an offer was made to public to match their 'Mitochondrial DNA' with the 'Mitochondrial DNA' found in this old body. Many volunteered and surprisingly three matches were found. These three people now know that the old body was that of one of their ancestors and they are also related to each other. Another thing becomes very clear with these findings. In any one generation, besides immediate nuclear family members, the paternal male cousins or maternal female cousins are the only real blood relatives having a common gene. How clever is this arrangement made by
the nature. During early human migrations, the groups of humans were isolated and small. For healthy propagation of the species, it was absolutely necessary to avoid birth of any off springs originating from parents having common genes. Since all real blood relatives are of same sex (except off course the immediate nuclear family members) this could be achieved very effectively. Applying this knowledge on a worldwide scale, scientists have proved two major migrations to India both originating from Africa. One migration is from North Africa, Persia route and the other is via Europe, North Asia route. This conclusively proves that the origin of all of us is a place in West Africa. If we want to find out the route by which our ancestors came to India, it could be done by our DNA analysis. Finding our roots has now become a science. I can even find out, if I have a cousin in Turkmenistan or Zambia. I do not have to make emotional trips down the memory lane.
February 2006 .
Walking the hills
The City of Pune, is one of the few fortunate cities, to have a range of hills, right in the middle of the metropolis. The hills, even boast of a modest peak, about Eight Hundred meters high. A very rudimentary temple, of a tribal God called ‘Vetaal’, exists on this peak, along with an observation tower, mainly used by Fire Brigade people. The people therefore call this entire range of hills as ‘Vetaal’ hills. I have been wondering and trekking on these hills, ever since I was a school-going lad. As young boys, we would aimlessly wonder amongst the hills and dales on many afternoons and early evenings. Now days, I take a calculated walk along a fixed route, as a part of my daily fitness routine. Nevertheless, the joy, the exhilaration and the feel good factor after the walks, has remained just same over the years. Pune is known for its salubrious and temperate climate through out the year and the hills reflect that climate. Some people call the hills, ‘The Lungs of the city’, as highly polluted city air is somewhat absorbed and cleansed by the abundant, lush green, foliage in the dales. With ‘Vetaal peak’ as central point, the hills spread over an area of about ten square kilometers in almost all directions, with beautiful dales created between the hills. A thick sub tropical forest covers these dales to a wide extent. On the hilltops, patchy forest cover augments the natural wilderness of the hills. A stone quarry, no longer
exploited due to opposition from environmentalists, adds to the beauty of the view from north. Entire area is interlaced with small footways. At many places, heavily grown foliage, completely covers the footways and provides cool shadowy spots even at noontime. West side extension of the hills is rocky and bare, except for few shrubs and seasonal grasses. This may be because of the exposure of this side of the hills to scorching hot sun light through out the year, which results into low level of moisture in the soil. In addition, the terrain here is such that torrential monsoon rainwater carries away whatever little top soil, may be there. On the other side, in a very wise move, the forestry department has handed over the northern part of the dale to a private trust, for developing a nature preserve. I have been observing this area for last couple of years and going by the growth and the quantum of the trees, which this trust has planted here, the area is likely to develop into a botanical conservatory of great natural beauty. To a regular trekker, the hills appear to change with seasons or even with time of the day. Dawns in summer are very different from sunsets and the landscape appears vastly different during rains, as compared to summer or winter. Nevertheless, I always feel that the hills look delightfully picturesque; whatever may be the season or the time of the day. Now days, I walk the hills, early in the morning as the dawn breaks. There is a vista point on my route, from where; view to the east is clear and unobstructed. I watch the Sunrise from here every day in summer. Even if the sky is clear, some cloud patterns are always seen on the
horizon, creating a fascinating Sunrise spectacle. As first light breaks through the hilltop forest, rows and rows of denuded, white skinned ‘Dhup’ trees, appear in your view like gigantic sculptures from outer space. With the advent of Monsoon rains, dark green foliage returns to the forest, creating a mysterious façade. Every nook and corner of the forest appears bewitchingly secretive. The grasses at some points grow tall and hide the footways completely. There is not much wild life on the hills. One can see occasionally, some wild rabbits being chased by stray dogs. Peacocks are seen more often, particularly during summer months in the denuded forest. If one sticks to the footways, reptiles maintain their healthy distance and do not come in way. I remember to have seen some huge birds and owl only couple of times. During my school days, I learnt a very valuable experience on these hills. Five or Six of us were going for a walk, when a strong muscled ruffian approached us and threatened us for no reason. He was carrying a big stick and all of us were very scared. Next day after much discussion, we decided to take the same route. To our horror, we found the same hooligan coming our way. Even though we had not planned any attack, all of us felt so angry that we pounced on him as if given a cue. His bullying strength and tactics did not work against combined strength of five or six small boys. His big stick was broken couple of times and under our combined onslaught, the tough guy was beaten to our heart’s content and finally started crying.
As the city grows, there are many here, who want to cut roads and tunnels through the hills. Fortunately, this has not happened so far. If it happens, it certainly would be one of the sad days of my life. September 2007
Musings of a Silverfish
In the summer of 1965, an opportunity of a lifetime came my way. I was able to spend that entire summer in the Kashmir valley. I was quite young then and a student. Along with few of my friends, We managed to comb the entire Kashmir valley. We traveled from Anantnag in the south to Sopur and Baramula in the north, and from Amarnath caves in the east to Sonamarg near Zoji La pass. We traveled in State transport buses, rode on horsebacks and trekked in the mountain areas above the snow line. We had some great picnics in the famous Mughal gardens. In short, we had a roaring time. During our visit to Baramula town, I distinctly recollect that we were standing on the banks of river Jhelum, when our guide cum cook, pointed his finger in the northwest direction and told us that the areas of Hunza and Gilgit which lie in that direction are still in the hands of our enemy. Being a young man, I had felt very bitter and emotional about this foreign occupation of my country. I had also wondered, why these people do not revolt and join our motherland or why our Government does not do anything for these suppressed people? I had a similar experience later, when I visited Shimla. There is a hill, called Kufri, at a distance of some thirty miles from this town. One can see from here, a fantastic panoramic view of Himalayan mountain ranges in the northeastern direction. Here also I was told that the parts of Tibet and Xinjiang, which lie in that direction, are in our enemy hands. The feeling of bitterness and anger that had remained with me since my Kashmir days was augmented further and later stayed with me for a very long time. My first realization that something may be
wrong with my beliefs came when I was watching a documentary made by BBC about Hunza. It was about time when cable TV revolution had begun in India. For the first time, it was possible for an ordinary citizen, to watch TV programmes not produced by that dreary monolith called Doordarshan. In the BBC documentary, people from Hunza appeared quite different and very much unlike us. In fact, they looked more like people from central Asia. I decided to do my own research and find out about history and geography of these areas. My efforts were completely stonewalled. There was no Internet at that time and since I was not connected with any quasi Government or Educational institution, access to any Library was denied to me. I looked around the Bookshops. To my surprise, they had no books on subject of my interest. The bookshelves were full with textbooks, guides and pirated copies of cheap American sleazy fiction. For an ordinary citizen like me, there just was no way of getting information. Perhaps, things were not so bad earlier. In my school and college days, Pune city was known as Cambridge of the east. There were many reputed and well-stocked bookshops. In fact, one of the shops was so famous that even national leader like Pt. Nehru made it a point to visit it, when he visited Pune. Books on a range of varying subjects like Engineering, humanities, physical, social and behavioral sciences could be easily found. The prices of the books were also reasonable then with a Dollar parity of about four Rupees. However, those good old days were unfortunately numbered. We had floods in year 1961, which almost finished off majority of bookshops. Most of them just could not raise themselves from the financial disaster. The national
Government at that time was also being absolutely enamored with lofty ideas of state controls and so-called socialism. With the country closing its doors to outside world, the books published outside India, were going out of fashion. Resultant inflation in the country then slowly moved the Dollar Rupee parity to ten and then to twenty. This made the books so expensive that nobody could afford them. They became out of reach for most of people. For an ordinary citizen, this finally closed the last window to outside world. The total absence of any public libraries just darkened the horizons further. Pune has a large number of Educational and Research Institutions. They had their well-stocked Libraries. But access to these was limited to their staff and students. For an ordinary citizen like me there was nothing. During British days, a public Library was certainly established. But with total neglect from the local government, it had become almost nonexistent. With these ground realities, it was impossible for me to satisfy my curiosity. I just gave up. Recently, just a few years back, I had my first break during a stay in United states. My old curiosity about northern borders of our country was awakened again, when I came across a copy of the book ' The Great Game' written by Peter Hopkirk. This book describes the rivalry between the British Empire and Russian expansionists. It appears form the book, that the British rulers of India were almost scared about Russian designs on the Jewel in their crown. To solve this problem once and for all, they entered into a treaty with Russians in year 1896, drawing a northern and northeastern boundary for India. They created a buffer zone called
'Wakhan corridor' between two empires and attached it to Afghanistan. This border marking was done solely on basis of the positions of British and Russian political influences in that area at that time. No thought was ever given to any geographical or population synergies. It is therefore no wonder that the inhabitants of Hunza and Xingjian look so different from us and also why they are not particularly enthusiastic about joining the Union of India. This example well illustrates how unfounded information can mislead. I am a book lover. Right from my childhood days, I was a very voracious reader. Starting with vernacular books, I soon graduated to English Classics. By the time I had finished my college I had read a very large number of books. From Charles Dickens to H.G.Wells and from Agatha Christi to P.G.Wodehouse, I had read them all. I had enjoyed the adventures of Bertie Wooster and the advice given by Jeeves. I knew how ‘Hercule Poirot’ demystified the ‘Evil Under the Sun'. Then came the age of darkness, described above. I just could not get any new books to read except some trash. I could not afford to buy new books and there were no public libraries around. It was therefore very natural that later, after many many years, when I had an opportunity to see those wonderful book shops in United states for the first time in my life, my sense of wonder and amazement was almost childlike. The huge area of these bookshops was something unbelievable. It was obvious that lot of effort must have gone in design of these outlets to make them comfortable. The places were clean with no dusty books seen around. Air conditioning or heating was provided
for extra comfort. Seating arrangements were made for the customers to sit down comfortably and browse through the books. A cafeteria serving coffee and light snacks was also provided for the customers. The place was filled with hundreds of very tall bookshelves with books neatly arranged. I also found that prices of most books were between five and fifteen dollars. I thought that this must be a heaven for any book lover. Few years back, I had developed an interest in Astronomy and stargazing. I had searched almost all bookshops in Pune. I had found precisely two titles on this subject, out of which, one book turned out to be very expensive. And here in these bookshops, there were almost two book shelves full of books on Astronomy and star gazing. The same story could be repeated for almost any topic of interest. Later on, I also found out that any book could be purchased on the Internet even at much lower rate. It was a common practice to browse the books in a bookshop and purchase them later on the net. I also found, some old world stylebook shops elsewhere in the city, selling second hand books at very cheap rates. But the real revelation came when I visited a public library ran by the city. These libraries were much bigger and had all the comforts of a bookshop, except perhaps the coffee shop and were absolutely free. Computerized catalogs and other features commonly seen in the libraries anywhere in the world were obviously there. But what struck me as most remarkable was the fact that any ordinary resident of the city could access this library for free and even could borrow books for home reading. To my mind, this was the real secret behind progress
made by this country. This was the real information super highway and it was available to any resident for free. Some of the remarkable titles I found here were, an English translation of Galileo Galilee’s Italian book ' Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World ', Isaac Newton's 'Principia' and ' The character of Physical Law' by Richard Feynman. The range pf magazines available were also interesting. After many many years, I was able to browse through issues of 'Sky & Telescope' or 'The scientific American'. I also noticed copies of 'India today', 'Business India' and 'Times of India' on the magazine stands. I also found that spending few hours in the reference section was truly rewarding. There was enough material about US history, world history and also about famous American men and women. Some peripheral additional services, such as instant copying, microfilm readers etc. offered by the library were quite remarkable. An illustration is worth mentioning here. My great grand mother had visited USA around year 1920 for some social cause. She had met one American lady called Miss. O'Reilly. This lady had helped my great grand mother to a great extent and as per her account, was a well-known figure. I decided to search for O'Reilly in the Library. To my utter surprise, I found that this lady was a famous labour leader. Her name was Miss. Leonora O’Reilly and she was a founding member of Women's Trade Union League. All her writings as well as personal correspondence was well preserved. I could also read full details about how she came in contact with my great grand mother and their association for next couple of years. I was just amazed to see these records. The
meticulous and painstaking effort that must have gone in maintaining all these cross references and records is truly amazing. Perhaps, we can argue that the affluence of the American society makes it possible to maintain this kind of free service for the citizens. But what about a country like Singapore, which has gate crashed in the First world in a short span of just forty odd years. This little country has managed to create a network of free public libraries in a very short period. Every locality in this country has its own library. There are four regional libraries, which are much bigger, and a central library. Any resident of Singapore can access any library and can borrow books from anywhere and return it anywhere else. In the library here, I found many interesting titles. I read books here about history of central Asia, china and Afghanistan. I found an interesting book about sudden demise of dinosaurs about 65 million years ago. Regarding establishment of libraries, what this small country has achieved, is worth emulating. A country can become and remain free, only if all the citizens are informed. Now that we have Internet, things do not appear so dismal in India. But Information on the net can be only a starter. There is no real substitute for the books. And with the Rupee, Dollar parity going down to fifty, not many people in India can really buy books. We must have a network of free Libraries. There is really no other alternative.
The art of doing nothing
Few days back, my wife decided to make a day trip to Mumbai. She had planned to leave early in the morning and was going to return same night. Since I would be alone through out that day, she was very anxious about me and suggested several assignments, which I could take up during course of that day. As usual, I agreed to everything she suggested. On her return, she was very curious about my day and enquired as to how was my day. I told her that I was very comfortable and did not get bored at all. Next morning, she found out that I had not even touched any of those assignments, which she had suggested. She naturally felt that I must have got stiff bored and must have spent my time in melancholy loneliness. It took me a lot more convincing her that I was happy and satisfied that day, not doing anything. I told her that by now, I have fairly perfected my ‘Art of doing nothing’. Some of my relatives and friends, who are actually older than I am, still go to work, to keep themselves continuously busy. If due to some minor illness or other reasons beyond their control, they are unable to carry on with their work, they are very much upset and become very anxious about returning to work. I think they probably feel extremely insecure, without that mental shield, which their work sphere provides to them. When they are working, they are somebody to reckon with and receive due recognition, from their work.
We all seem to have inside our mind, a mental block or a conscious prick, which keeps on pricking us, when we sit idle without doing anything. It motivates us when we are young and re-fires our ambitions. However, as we grow old, this burning desire to achieve something in life actually starts to become a hindrance to our peace and tranquility of mind. Therefore, the first step towards mastering this art is to overcome this conscious prick. We must realize that if we stop working, or do not take up a job or an assignment immediately, the sky is not going to fall or the world is not going to come to an end. None of us is all that important. Our frame of mind is really of great importance. While idling, if we keep on thinking about the great opportunities that we are missing by this wastage of time, the idling would only increase agitation in our mind. The aim of this ‘Art of doing nothing’ is to improve mental health and not degenerate it. It is obvious that we should not carry on any activity such as TV surfing, reading or knitting while idling. We should do nothing. In an ideal situation, which is very difficult to achieve, our thought processes also must come to a full stop. That is something for a ‘Yogi’ and not for ordinary mortals like us. Once we succeed in removing this feeling of guilt from our minds, next logical step would be to start thought processes on some absolutely neutral or harmless subjects. These subjects usually must be issues for which we have neither any feelings nor opinions. As an
example, we might think about ‘Why all the sparrows have disappeared from the city while the crows seem to live happily?’ The main purpose of such thought processes is to remove from our minds, subjects for which we have feelings. Any subject that produces strong reaction is absolutely No-No. One major pit-fall here is to select a very boring and complicated subject. Such a subject may induce sleep and sleeping is ‘Doing Something’. Major difference between a pro ‘Nothing Doer’ and an amateur is the ease with which the pro would find a subject to think. Once we reach here, the crucial stage in ‘Art of doing nothing’ becomes apparent. Our mind may think about the original neutral subject for some time but would soon get tired. It is very important that we do not allow the mind to wonder to some other subject but stick on to the same old subject. Only this way we can train our minds to reach the stage of sublime saturation where our mind virtually gives up thinking. Once we reach this stage, we can consider that we have reached the ‘Nothing Doing’ stage and can continue in it as long as we desire. Once we master this art or technique of ‘Doing Nothing’, our life would immediately shift from a fast lane to a slow lane. We would realize that many things we cherished, such as eating in a particular five star hotel or buying a particular branded shirt are in fact irrelevant and futile. The do or die feeling in our mind about getting a promotion or an increment would loose its sharp edge. We would realize there is much more around us, which needs appreciation. The nature, trees, flowers,
sunsets, darkening of the sky before the rains and, laughter of happily playing children, such a bounty is around us. The things we always wanted to do as kids are still there for us to do. Even the daily work routine or the household chores no longer appear so boring because we know that after the work is over we can have our golden moments of ‘Doing Nothing’. Life is certainly beautiful but you cannot enjoy it unless your mind is at peace. One of the easiest ways to get there is to master ‘Art of Doing Nothing’. September 2007
Technical basis of Hindustani classical music
I like to listen to Hindustani classical music. The various moods created by this music are simply unique. This music can relax your tired nerves. It can invigorate you with burst of energy. Specific RAAGA always relates in your mind to a specific time of the day or to a specific season of the year. The same RAAGA rendered by two artists appears totally different. The same RAAGA can be rendered by both male and female voices, which differ so much in their pitch. I was always curious about technical basis of this music. I therefore decided to carry out a study and here are my observations. Sound energy is propagated in the form of a pressure wave. This wave therefore has a Pitch or a Frequency. The sound radiating from an instrument like a Tanpura has a single frequency while a single note produced by human voice, usually consists of several frequencies. However, in this case also, there is always a single predominant frequency. This single or predominant frequency sound is called a note or SWARA. A young person can usually hear sound notes over a frequency range of 20 to 20,000 Hertz or cycles per second. The human voice box however can only produce sound frequencies over a very limited range. A young adult male can produce sound notes over a frequency range of 80 to 700 Hertz. A young female voice is more versatile. It can produce notes over a frequency range of 140 to 11000 Hertz. A single note cannot create music. We need to have a series
of notes or SWARA. Further, the individual notes used in a series, should be such that when listened together, a pleasant experience results. Hindustani as well as western classical music is made from seven individual notes. The eighth note, which follows, is of double the frequency of the first note. This series of notes is called an Octave or SWARASAPTAK. The individual notes in an octave are denoted as Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni.. After Ni comes Sa', this time, double in pitch, compared to the first Sa, i.e. an octave higher. The individual notes in octaves, follow the simple geometric progression of scales, with a note frequency being 1.5 times the fifth earlier note frequency. The same notes in western classical music are denoted as A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Out of the wide variety of musical instruments available, a piano perhaps produces sound notes having frequencies over a very wide range. The first white key (on left) produces a frequency of 27.5 Hertz where as last white key (on right) produces a note of 4186 Hertz. It can therefore reproduce musical notes over seven octaves. The middle C4 white key is important because it produces a note of 261.63 Hertz. A sound note of this frequency can be easily produced by the male human voice. This note is therefore denoted as basic 'Sa' note in Hindustani classical music and the octave beginning with this note is called Madhya saptaka. The octave below is called the Mandra saptaka and the octave above is called the Taara saptaka. Most of the good singers have a voice, which spans over all three octaves. Even though, there are 7 basic notes in a saptaka, 5 more notes are added to complete it. Thus each saptaka has 12 individual notes. The additional notes are small variants of the basic seven notes. The frequencies of Re,Ga,Dha,&Ni
basic notes are slightly lowered to get Komal or Flat notes. The frequency of Ma is increased slightly to get 12th note of Teevra or Sharp Ma for that Saptaka. Following table gives the frequencies denoted to the notes of these three basic octaves.
Taara Note Sa K.Re Re Ga K.Ga Ma T.Ma Pa K.Dha Dha K.Ni Ni Saptaka Fre.Hz. 523 554 587 622 659 698 740 784 831 880 932 988
Madhya Note Sa K.Re Re Ga K.Ga Ma T.Ma Pa K.Dha Dha K.Ni Ni Saptaka Fre.Hz. 261 277 294 311 329 349 370 392 415 440 466 494
Note Sa K.Re Re Ga K.Ga Ma T.Ma Pa Fre.Hz. 131 139 147 156 165 175 185 196
K.Dha Dha K.Ni Ni 208 220 233 247
Even though Madhya Saptaka notes denoted as 'Sa' and 'Pa' are considered as reference notes. It is not at all necessary for a singer to adhere to these notes as reference. The artist according to his voice or instrument can set the reference note or 'Sa' of a different frequency. Usually, Male artists use frequencies of 261Hz or 277Hz as their reference note. The female artists use frequencies of 370Hz or 415Hz as their reference note. For male singers the frequency spectrum remains more or less same but for female singers the frequency spectrum shifts up as given below.
Taara Note Sa K.Re Re Ga K.Ga Ma T.Ma Pa K.Dha Dha K.Ni Saptaka Fre.Hz. 740 784 831 880 932 988 1047 1109 1175 1245 1319 1397 Ni
Madhya Note Sa K.Re Re Ga K.Ga Ma T.Ma Pa K.Dha Dha K.Ni Ni Saptaka Fre.Hz. 370 392 415 440 466 494 523 554 587 622 659 698
Mandra Note Sa K.Re Re Ga K.Ga Ma T.Ma Pa K.Dha Dha K.Ni Ni Saptaka Fre.Hz. 185 196 208 220 233 247 262 277 294 311 330 349
A male singer, while rendering a RAAGA, can therefor span notes within a frequency band of 130 to 990Hz. Whereas a female singer can span frequency band of 185 to 1400Hz. I think that this is the primary reason for the same RAAGA, when rendered by two artists, to appear different. This flexibility in rendering makes Hindustani classical music so pleasing to the ear. A RAAGA is usually a combination of 5 to 7 notes. The combination may remain same or may change while going up or down the frequency spectrum. This combination usually is in the madhya saptaka. The artist can however use similar notes in higher or lower octaves while rendering. This can produce breath taking or spectacular results. This combination also gives the mood to the RAAGA. In this combination, there are some principal notes and the artist is supposed to adhere to these notes. This in short is the technical basis of Hindustani classical music.
Making a mountain out of an anthill?
Rig-veda is considered by us, as one of our most sacred books. In the seventh Mandal (chapter) of this work, three Hymns, while describing greatness of God Indra, also describe a battle, which was won with the help of Great God Indra. The story of this battle goes something like this. A Bharata king named as ‘Sudasa’ and his clan, named as ‘Trtsus’, has been drawn into battle by his foes which consist of ten tribes and their kings. Out of these ten tribes, Puru, Druhyu, Anu, Turvasas and Yadu are the five Aryan tribes and Bhrugus, two Vaikarnas, Pakthas, Alinas, Bhalanas, Visanins and Sivas are the five non-Aryan tribes. King ‘Sudasa’ is aided by the tribes of Krivis and Srnjyas. He is also helped by his Guru Vasishtha. This battle is supposed to have been fought on the banks of river ‘Parusni’(now called ‘Raavi’ in Punjab). The principal warriors on the side of King ‘Sudasa’ are five and could be listed as King ‘Sudasa ‘himself, Indra as chief warrior, Indra’s friend Marut and the twin Asvins. The principal counsel for King ‘Sudasa’ are his guru, sage Vasishtha and Indra’s companion Varuna who is also the God of waters. If only the numbers are to be considered, King ‘Sudasa’ should have lost this battle on
any day, facing a much superior adversary. But by the help of the King of waters, Varuna, in form of timely storms and floods in the river waters, and also the strategy adopted by Sage Vasishtha, King ‘Sudasa’ has won this battle. Most of his foes have been killed or washed away. The floodwaters of the river were supposed to have been made shallow by Indra and his companion Varuna so that King ‘Sudasa’ and his army could cross the river. But when his foes wanted to cross the river, the waters rose and they were washed away and killed by the fury of the flood. Indra, being the chief warrior and also his friend Maruta, seem to have destroyed most of the foes of king ‘Sudasa’ and have won this battle for him.
Let us summarize again. On one side, there are only five warriors. On the other side, many. There is a counsel who is a companion of the chief warrior. Out of five warriors, only two are the principal warriors. They destroy the foe. And when the war seems to be turning against them, the companion counsel interferes with his divine powers. Something in this story appears to be very familiar. Off course, it is the story of the Mahabharata war between five Pandavas and many Kauravas. Here also, Arjun and Bheema are the chief warriors and the counsel Krishna is Arjuna’s friend and brother in law. And during critical times, Krishna interferes with his divine powers. Add to this, the legends related to birth of five Pandavas,
Arjun is supposed to be Indra’s son and Bheema is Maruta’s son. Nakul and Sahdev are Ashvini kumar’s offsprings. The tribes participating in the Rigveda battle also appear to be either same or have some relationships with the kings and kingdoms participating in Mahabharata war. Sage vasishtha describes the battle in Rigveda, whereas Sage Vyasa, who is the guru of Pandavas, is supposed to have written the Mahabharata. Let us see the time frames of these ancient texts. Indus valley civilizations are assumed to have appeared around 5000 BC and disappeared around 1700 BC. It is assumed that the Vedas were written during this period. Mahabharata’s probable dating is 1000 to 1450 BC. Much later than the Vedic period. Did Mahabharata war actually take place? Or is it a fragment of imagination of generations of poets based on the seed story depicted in the Rigveda? I came across this interesting hypothesis put forward by Mr.S.S.N. Murthy of School of Physical Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in a research paper. His paper is based on many observations by experts and he quotes them in his paper. He has given number of similarities between the two wars and principal characters. His observation, that in spite of great efforts, it has not been possible to find any archeological finds at any of the places mentioned in the epic, also merits considerations. He feels that the battle described in
Rigveda appears to have some historical value. But the fact that no mention of this battle is found in any of the subsequent texts like Puranas is also significant.. According to him it is so, because the story is expanded in an epic named Mahabharata. I really cannot comment upon his hypothesis, as I am neither an expert in history nor Sanskrit. I only feel, that the matter should be researched further by experts.
30 November 2006
We are Special
In the year 1543 AD, a book titled as ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’ was published in the town of ‘Basel’. Unfortunately, the author of this epochal book, Nicolaus Copernicus, had died by then and could not see his life’s work with his own eyes. In this book, Copernicus had stated that that the Earth is not the center of the universe, and that, as observers, we do not occupy a special place. Today, his idea that ‘We are not special’ is wholly accepted by scientists and is an assumed concept in many astronomical theories. A sort of corollary could be drawn form ‘Copernicus principle’. If we are not special then there have to be many like us in this universe. As Copernicus principle became more & more acceptable around the world, many started believing in this and many still do. Mean while, as our scientific knowledge grew by leaps and bounds over the centuries and as our measuring instruments became more and more precise, our knowledge of various physical constants and parameters became highly accurate and reliable. With this new and precise data about physical parameters, a few surprising observations came to light. In our biosphere for example, average temperature, level of oxygen and average salinity of oceans have been stable for hundreds of millions of years. By remaining in continuous state of flux or change, our planet seems to be defying basic law of thermodynamics. There are four
basic forces of nature and hundreds of sub atomic particles discovered so far. Their masses and the forces with which they attract or repel each other are delicately balanced and poised with each other. A small mismatch can mean end of everything. Who tweaks their values so it never happens? How is this possible? Who operates the controls? are the basic questions faced by scientists today. One of the simplest explanations can be given by accepting God as the master controller. But that is not a scientifically accepted principle. We therefore have what is called as ‘Anthropic Principle’. This theory proposes that there are many universes. Exact number could be similar to Two Hundred and Twenty Ninth power of ten. This is an incredibly big number and out of such large alternatives we seem to have found a universe which suites us. Indeed a tall order to believe. It is perhaps better to leave these things to philosophers and physicists and return to realm of real day-to-day world with the realization that our heavens and stars, our habitat, our biosphere and our planet earth have all contributed to give us this beautiful and extremely unique world. We may or may not have company. I always remember a very catchy phrase used by a world famous watchmaker in his advertisements. He says that you can never really own a watch made by him. You merely preserve it for the next generation. I think that this phrase very aptly describes what should our attitude be towards our ecology, our life style and almost everything.
I am not suggesting at all, that we return to dark ages. I love modern living and modern amenities. I like the convenience and safety provided by them. Even a generation back, health standards were pathetic in most parts of the world. We need all that and yet we must preserve our ecosystems and biosphere. One may feel that it is a matter, which needs to be decided at international forums and by top echelons of Governments around the world. What can really an individual do? According to me, an individual person is the key here. He is the ultimate consumer and entire economics of the world works for him. We may not be special in our universe but in our own ecosystem, biosphere we are special, and it may be a good idea to preserve and nourish this specialty for next generations to come. 20th October 2008
Dating the era of Lord Ram A Book Review
By. Mr. Pushkar Bhatnagar Published by M/S Rupa & Co. I read this book with interest, as the subject as well as methodology of dating is quite novel. According to Mr. Bhatnagar, in the 'Valmiki Ramayana’, the positions of various planets at the time of birth of Lord Ram are mentioned with reference to background stars or Nakshtras by the author. Mr. Bhatnagar uses commercially available computer software to generate the sky view at various dates in B.C. Era and has come to the conclusion that the date of birth of Lord Ram, works out to be 10 January 5114 B.C. He has further tried to date other chronological events in Lord Rama's life using same software. I must appreciate Mr. Bhatanagar, for his pain staking efforts. But after reading this book, my first reaction was that there is something wrong with this book. It took me quite some time to figure it out. These are my observations. 1. All star charts, including computer software are drawn for a particular Epoch of time. We currently use Epoch 2000 as our reference. If proper Epoch is not used, the
star positions may be all wrong. However, I presume here that Mr. Bhatnagar must have taken proper care to use an Epoch pertaining to the dates under consideration. 2. I have another software called 'Cartes du ciel' on my computer. This software is also capable of generating the sky view on any given date. I tried to generate the sky view on 10-1-BC 5114. Unfortunately the view I obtained, did not match with the slides generated by Mr. Bhatnagar. I however do not consider this of great significance, as I am not sure about accuracy of this software around this back date. But an important point must be noted. In such kind of astronomical dating, accuracy of computer software is of paramount importance. I would very much like to know, whether software used by Mr. Bhatanagar was certified to be accurate at such back dates by any independent expert. Otherwise, this whole exercise turns out to be nothing. 3. Assuming that all these aspects have been looked into by Mr. Bhatnagar, I certainly agree with him that the given planetary positions did occur in this year (As per Gregorian calendar presently in use). 4. The present Hindu calendar is called Luni-solar as it refers to positions of Sun as well as moon. This calendar is based on a Book called 'Surya Siddhanta' written around 1000A.D. When Sun transits to a point on the Ecliptic which is exactly 180 degrees away from the Star 'Chitra' , it is assumed that it enters the 'Mesha' Rashi and the next new moon day is called the 'Chaitra Pratipada'. 'Chaitra shukla navami' would be the ninth day from
here. However, this system of denoting first day of 'Chaitra' has no relevance when we are talking of 5000B.C. In addition, there are currently two popular hindu calendars. According to Shalivahan calendar. First day of a new month occurs on a new moon day. Whereas according to Vikram calendar the month ends on Full moon day. Unfortunately, both these systems were adopted around 67 AD and therefore have no relevance at 5000B.C. We have no information about the calendar system followed around this date and any effort to pin point “chaitra shukla navami' may not be necessarily accurate enough. 5. Due to precession of earth around it's axis, all the stars in the sky, rotate around the earth. One such rotation occurs in about 25000 years. Since this is very slow for humans, we do not notice it. The Hindu traditional calendar is sidereal. This means that the points of references are stars or ‘Nakshatras’. The events on earth, such as spring equinox, therefore are shifted in the calendar. The genius of Late Bal Gangadhar Tilak had realized this fact. In his classic book 'Orion’, he has discussed the effect of this precession of earth on our Hindu civilizations .According to him, an effort was always made to have the new year's day around spring equinox. During Mahabharata period therefore, the spring equinox occurred when the Sun was in the “Mrugashirsha' Nakshatra .The first month of the year was 'Margashirsha' or 'Agrahayana'. The spring equinox later shifted to 'Krittika' nakshatra with a corresponding change in the first month of the year. The present basis of our calendar is 'Surya Sidhanta' written in 1000 A.D.
Around this time the spring equinox must have occurred when the Sun was in 'Mesha' nakshatra. Today it is common knowledge that spring equinox occurs when the Sun is in 'Revati' nakshatra. I therefore feel that with this kind of unstable time keeping system, to pin point date of any event such as birth of Lord Rama would be only a shot in the dark and has really no scientific basis. 6. Now I come to most glaring error in this book. Mr. Bhatnagar suggests on page 43 that our traditional Hindu calendar has existed in the same form since the days of Ramayan. As discussed above, this is far from truth. He further goes on and relates the seasons with the calendar months (as these are at present for e.g. Chaitra and Vasant Ritu). If Lord Ram was born 7000 years back,due to precession of earth, the spring equinox must have occurred when the Sun was in 'Ardra' nakshatra. The month of 'Chaitra' would therefore would surely have had a totally different 'ritu' associated with it. 7. Mr. Bhatnagar quotes several 'Shlokas' from the 'Valmiki Ramayana' to establish these relationships between calendar months and 'Ritu'. These most surprisingly are as per present calendar. This is something impossible, if this book was written 7000 years back. The only conclusion that can therefore be drawn is that the relevent 'shlokas' were introduced by some poet around 1000 A.D. This raises a question mark over authenticity of the entire text of 'Valmiki Ramayana'.
8. Also on page 43 of the book, Mr. Bhatnagar has given a chart according to which, around year, 5000 B.C., spring equinox or beginning of the 'Vasant ritu' would have occurred in the months of December or January of the Gregorian calendar. It is a common knowledge that Gregorian civil calendar is based on the assumption that spring equinox occurs around 21st March only. This error has probably arisen because of the basic wrong assumption that Hindu sidereal calendar is not affected by Precession of Earth and the Gregorian Calendar is affected. In conclusion, I must add that this book is a result of considerable research and hard work. Mr. Bhatnagar deserves full credit for this and we can say that Lord Rama was born 7000 years back subject to authenticity of the text of 'Valmiki Ramayana'.
Mapping the sky in Twenty One Verses The genius of ‘Soorya siddhaanta’
On a day, sometime in fourth century AD; a learned Hindu mathematician and scholar gave finishing touches to a treatise on Astronomy, that is still being read and referred, even after fifteen hundred years. The book compiled together, the knowledge and wisdom about Astronomy, measurement of time and the yearly calendar, which was of paramount importance to agriculture. The information had been collected over thousands of years by ancient sages and scholars. In the preceding centuries, new ideas had come from China in the east and Greece from the west. The new Treatise not only took cognizance of these ideas but incorporated some of them in the text. To make the book more respectable and acceptable, the learned author decided to claim in opening verses of the book that the knowledge has come from the Sun God himself and aptly called his book as ‘Soorya Siddhaanta’ or the ‘Sun God’s commandments’. Eighth chapter of this book, maps the night sky precisely in Twenty-One verses. Each verse consists of just two lines. This chapter pin points not only the twenty seven or twenty eight Asterisms or ‘Nakshatraas’ that lie along
the passage of The Sun in the sky, but also include all other major stars that could be seen with naked eye. The method adapted is unique and is independent of any ground reference points. This made the system universal and unrelated to time and place of measurement. The author has also described the rudimentary apparatus, that could be used for taking these measurements. We all know that for defining position of any point object, we need to specify two numbers, which are called co-ordinates of the point, with reference to some fixed reference line or axis. In a simple graph, these reference axes are called the X and Y-axis and distances of any point from these two axes can pin point the position of that point. But in the sky, there are no fixed lines of reference. We however know that The Sun and all other planets including Moon follow a fixed path in the sky as they move every day and night in an apparent motion around the earth. This path is seen as a curved line from earth and is called an ‘Ecliptic. Amazingly, ‘Soorya Siddhaanta’ uses this curved line as the reference line for measurements of positions of ‘Asterisms’. A great celestial meridian or a circle, which passes through the ecliptic poles and the star, whose position is to be specified, is imagined in the sky. The point of intersection of this meridian circle and the Ecliptic is considered as the projection of this star on the Ecliptic. ‘Soorya Siddhaanta’ specifies for each star, two angular measurements to pin point it precisely. First of these two measurements, is called the ‘Vikshepa’ or Latitude of the star. It is just the angular measurement
between the Star itself and it’s projection on the Ecliptic. The second co-ordinate is called ‘Dhruvaka’ or the Longitude and it is the angular measurement between projection point of the star on the Ecliptic and a zero point specified on the Ecliptic itself. Thus with two simple measurements, which can be done with very rudimentary ground instruments, positions of all the stars can be pin pointed. The system of measurements is extremely simple and does not require any ground reference points. Devised in an era, when there were no telescopes, no sextants for angle measurements or even writing paper was not in common use, the method was of immense value. Further, the observations could be narrated in simple Verses so that everyone could remember them with ease. The Zero point on the Ecliptic was called the ‘First point of the Aries’ and was actually the point on the Ecliptic, which the Sun occupied at the time of ‘Summer Equinox,’ when the treatise was completed. Unfortunately, the authors of ‘Soorya Siddhaanta’ did not consider the Precession of Equinoxes, either due to ignorance or on purpose and the position of this zero point drifted away from Summer Equinox point. This peculiar way of fixing zero point remains embedded in a mire of controversies. Rev. Ebenezer Burgess, who translated this treatise in English for the first time in year 1860, defines this zero point as a point 10 minutes eastward of the star Zeta Piscium. Whereas, Calender committee appointed by Government of India, fixes this point exactly hundred and eighty degrees from position
of star Chitra or Spica. Another study taken up later, fixes this zero point at two hundred and forty degrees west of star Mula or Lambda Scorpii and says that the Sanskrit word ‘Muladharma’ has originated from this. This ignorance of Precession of Equinoxes, in fact gives us a powerful tool to fix up the date on which this treatise was completed. Rev. Burgess fixes it as year 560 AD. The calender committee concludes that the date must be in year 285 AD. An independent study fixes this date as 238 AD. We can therefore presume that the great treatise was completed sometime in third to sixth century AD. There are also controversies regarding accuracy of star co-ordinates. Rev. Burgess and early English scholars have compared the co-ordinates with latest star charts to point out the differences. Rev. Burgess has written hundreds of pages not only to highlight the errors but also to justify his view that all knowledge in this treatise has come from either China or Greece. Even the calender reforms committee of Government of India, does mention the difficulties faced by them because of the inaccuracies in the book. But to my mind, all these controversies are irrelevant and besides the point. We have all the latest methods of observation, measurement and calculations. What could be achieved by comparing our observations with those, taken with naked eyes and with most rudimentary apparatus for measurement of angles and time. It is more important to appreciate the genius of ‘Soorya
siddhaanta’, which gave us a method of charting the stars and a method of time keeping, which even today forms the basis of Hindu Luni-solar calender and see how the methods and principles described in this treatise could be put to possible use and applications today. 23rd August 2007
The Peshwa of Pune
In the eyes of Hon. Sir James Mackintosh, Chief Justice, Recorder’s court, Bombay Circa 1805
A majestic and quaint building, called town hall, stands today in the hustle and bustle of downtown Mumbai . This building houses the famous Library of the ' Asiatic society of Bombay'. A society founded in the year1804 by Hon. Sir James Mackintosh, then chief Justice of Bombay Recorder's court.(Supreme court of Bombay as it was called later and High Court as it is called today.) Sir James Mackintosh, a British writer and a public servant, was born in Scotland in the year 1765. He was trained as a physician but after settling down in London in year, 1788 became a writer and a lawyer. He took up an assignment as Recorder of Bombay in the year 1804. Later he became chief justice in vice -admiralty court of Bombay, a position that he held until 1811. Sir James made a short excursion to Poonah (PUNE) on 28th December 1805 at the invitation of Colonel Close, the British Resident at the court of His Highness Bajee Rao, the Peshwa. He had written his memoirs about his visit. Following are some of the excerpts from his memoirs.
Reception at the Border
We did not leave Chincore (Chinchwad) till about seven yesterday morning. We rode slowly on, till we came to river about half way, where we found Colonel Close and others of the Bombay establishment waiting to receive us. Our party was now also increased by some important personages, in whose company I never had the honour of riding before and whose singular appearance ( I was fearful) would discompose the tranquility of my Lord Chancellor of a horse. These were three state elephants belonging to the residency. After having jogged on for about two miles, we saw at a hill called Gunnesh Candy (hill of the Gunnesh) (presently called Ganesh Khind), the preparations made for my reception by Mahratta chiefs. We soon arrived at the spot intended for the interview. About a thousand Mahratta Horse were drawn up on both sides of the road. I looked at them with some curiosity, as a specimen of that terrible cavalry, who has wasted the greater part of India, and subdued so large a portion of it. Sydenham told me that they were a fair sample. Their countenance and air were in general martial, and even fierce; their bodies more robust than any other Indians; their clothes (they seem to have no uniform) and arms appeared to be in the most neglected state: their horses were of the most various sorts-some very wild and some very mean-none that I could observe, showy. When we got about the middle of this body of cavalry, the trumpets and tom toms announced the immediate approach of the 'Sirdar'. We found a little carpet spread in the middle of the road. The mahrattas and we dismounted at the same moment. We met on the carpet. I, agreeably to my instructions, first saluted four or five
of the inferior chiefs and then embraced the head of deputation sent by Peshwa to congratulate me on my arrival in the capital of his dominions. After this ceremony, we squatted ourselves on the carpet. As I had on leather breeches, and had not been bred a tailor, I found the operation troublesome, and the posture not very agreeable When we had taken our seats, Kistanjee (The Mahratta Minister), through Colonel Close said ' he hoped that my health was well after my journey.' I answered, through the same channel, ' that it was , and that I hoped I found them in perfect good health.' “The Mahratta Minister then said, ' that the Peshawa was extremely solicitous that my reception should be becoming and honourable.' I answered, ' that I was particularly flattered and honoured by being the object of His Highness's solicitude.' Kistanjee observed, ' that they considered every visit from an English gentleman of rank, like myself, as a new pledge of the intimate connection between two governments.' After this conversation, I gave each of the members of the deputation two little parcels of betel, wrapped up in leaves, dropped two very small spoonfuls of otter (Perfume) of roses on their hands, and poured rose water on them. At this interview, they were considered as my guests; and these are the ceremonies by which it is politely intimated to the visitors in this country, that they are at liberty to conclude their visit. It would be a good expedient in Europe to get rid of bores; but with us, where visits either are, or profess to be made partly for the pleasure of conversation, it would be obviously to tell the guest, that he has no longer the means of amusing
us. Among the Asiatics, where visits are mere complimentary, the master of the house may, when he pleases, without the least reflection on his guests, put an end to a ceremony of which the object is purely to honour himself.
Waiting upon the Peshwa.
About half past four we went, with our usual train of camels, elephants,&c., to wait upon the Peshwa. We went about half a mile, or somewhat less, through the city, of which the principal streets are paved with flags, and which is best reckoned one of the best built native towns of India. The word bhara (Wada), which is the term for Peshawa's house, ought not to be translated palace, because it is applied also to the houses of the other Mahratta chiefs at Poonah. From its size; it might well deserve the name, the front is about the length of Somerset house towards the Strand. We entered through a gate into a large square formed by the bhara. The walls all around were painted with scenes of Hindu mythology. At one of the corners of this rather handsome square, we had a staircase to climb. At the top of this staircase was the entry of the hall of audience, where I left the splendidly embroidered slippers with which Colonel Close had furnished me. The hall was a long gallery, about the length perhaps of the Verandah at Parell(Governor's House at Parel, Mumbai), but somewhat wider, supported by two rows of handsome wooden pillars, either of Oak or of some timbre exactly resembling it. Behind the pillars, on each side, was a recess of half the breadth of middle part. This
apartment was carpeted, and near the end at which we entered was a white cloth laid, with three pillows; this was the musnud, or throne.
His Highness The Peshwa
On advancing near this spot, we observed the Peshwa coming forward to meet us. He is much the handsomest Hindu, and indeed is a very handsome man, about thirty-four years of age, with a perfectly gentlemanlike air and manner, simply and neatly dressed in white muslin. Like the race of Koncan (Chitpavan) Bramins in general, he is fair; and no lady's hands, fresh from the toilet and the bath, could be more nicely clean than his uncovered feet. His appearance has more elegance than dignity; it was not what might have been expected from a Mahratta chief, and it could not be called effeminate. His whole deportment had that easy, unexerting character, which I never saw but in those who had a long familiarity with superior station, and very seldom in any who had not any hereditary claims on it. I have now been presented to three chiefs of nations (George the third, Napoleon and Bajee Rao), and in manner and appearance, I must prefer the Mahratta. He advanced gracefully to embrace me, and, after exchanging salams, he sat down on the musnud, and I, with Colonel Close and the other gentlemen on my left, immediately opposite him His Dewan was on my right, towards the Peshawa. The etiquette of this court is, that nothing above a whisper shall pass in the public Durbar. The Peshwa whispered an inquiry after my health to the Dewan, which he whispered to Colonel Close, and which
the Colonel whispered to me. The common compliment was whispered back by the same route. His highness was pleased to express a desire to have some private conversation with me. We retired, with three of his ministers and Colonel Close, to a closet, unfurnished, and with bare walls, having a white cloth on the floor, and little pillows, as a musnud for Peshwa. We returned into hall of audience, when the Dewan put a Diamond 'Surpeach' on my hat, and a diamond necklace around my neck, and laid before me several pieces of gold and silver cloth and fine muslins. The cloth was delivered to Cowasjee(a servant), who stood behind at the levee. The jewels remained where they were placed. The usual ceremonies were then performed, of betel, ottar and rose water, and we took our leave.
September 6, 2006
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