A K-Gudi winter again

Before we get into the trip diary: after much deliberation, and trying out other options (OK, one option), I decided to buy a pro plan with Flickr. The other option was to go with Google photos, but after one attempt I realised it remains as appalling as it was when they retired Picasa. For starters, I cannot link those photos in my blog which itself is a major deal for me. And at close to 2000 photos I was using up too much space to justify a free account anymore. So that’s that.

We seem to have gotten into doing K-Gudi trips in December since 2017. This is usually planned just before the peak Christmas season starts, so the crowds are thinner, and the winter birds are also around. This time the plan was to leave on a Sunday, the Dec 16th and get back on the 18th, 3 of us on 3 bikes. Now that I have a larger lens, one bag was no longer enough, and I ended up with a tied up kit bag and a backpack on top of that. By the time we reached Bidadi it felt like a very, very, bad idea. We had to stop, pull out one of A’s bungee cords, and tie up by backpack on top of the kit bag. This wasn’t entirely a great idea as the taller the back luggage gets the more it tends to list towards one side or the other. Given my fear of right turns, it was going to be to the left. For the rest of the journey I had to put S behind me to keep one eye on my bag, and right after we entered the BRT Tiger Reserve, A took up duty behind me. This was also partly because after the shenanigans post-Bandipur, in terms of a minor accident, I was noticeably edgy in my riding. Inside the reserve the roads curve a lot more, and we needed at least two stops to get the bag back into position.

We reached with no other issues, and news that there was a new naturalist had reached us much earlier. Yes, we were slowly becoming JLR veterans who know the details of not only animal movements but also naturalist movements. The old manager was still around, and Narayan, the veteran naturalist, wasn’t. Also turned out there was just one other guest, so a total of 4 us there. Good fun, and quiet!

As always, the campus yielded birds well before the safari, and we started with sightings of Malabar parakeets, jungle babblers and vernal hanging parrots.
Malabar parakeeet, male

Continue reading “A K-Gudi winter again”

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Books list from 2018

It’s that time of the year to look back and make lists of things. I used to do the movies and TV shows list. But I don’t remember what I watched last year, and I didn’t watch much of interest either. This seems to have made a difference in how much I read too.

Around April, I started having issues with my neck. This mainly meant that I could no longer read in the metro. It eventually got fixed by Iyengar Yoga sessions, which turned out to be my biggest find of the year. After things got fixed, around August I slowly started packing my kindle in the office backpack. Only for the pain to slowly return in a couple of weeks. That finally put paid to any plans of reading in the metro. The options were either Audiobooks or podcasts. But I chose to go with TM Krishna and other artists, paying closer attention to music and just letting the mind relax. These 30+30 minute sessions in the metro are now a time for quiet and relaxation.

But still, I was able to pack in 45 books for the year, similar to earlier years. Even in terms of number of pages, the annual count was high enough at 13600+ which is my third highest ever in the past decade. And the key thing here is that, this is despite the 700 page tome, Malegalalli madumagalu, which locked me in for 5 weeks.

Not sure how much I can pack this year, but I can confidently look at 40+ this year too. Mainly because I don’t think I’ll be doing another 700 pager this year. Oh well, I wasn’t thinking of doing a 700 pager last year either. We’ll see.

Anyway, here’s the list, not in chronological order as that does not make any sense anymore. Continue reading “Books list from 2018”

Once upon a Goa trip…

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since Goa! I remember the “planning” for the trip. Anush did most of the planning and booking. I was visiting from the US, and pretty much just turned up for the vacation. Aswin took a flight from Chennai to Mumbai, and the two of them took a bus from Mumbai to Goa. I had taken an overnight bus from Bangalore to Goa. Got down at the main bus stand, took a bus to Candolim, somehow managed to find the hotel in the pre-Google maps era.

But that’s not what this is about. This is about this picture. Dec 21st, 2008. The three of us, the camera probably timer fired, look how low the angle is. A fort in Goa, evoking Dil Chahta Hai and the three dudes. Yes, the photo was intentional.

img_5640

Aswin, too cool for a reaction, Anush, not sure when the camera is gonna fire, and if it is. Me, having run in within 10 secs, manage to squeeze into the centre, and for a change don’t look like I want to break the camera.

All of us, within a year of having completed our Post-graduations. Our aborted attempts at doing normal IIM type MBAs, me moving to Australia for the masters, then moving to the US for work, the first visit back home. Them, having done their MBAs across Dubai and Singapore, one semester this side, one that side, having started on their jobs recently, one in Mumbai, one in Chennai. It was that time of life. The hectic planning, studying, restlessness in our first jobs having given way to our Masters after trials and errors at different things, having now landed jobs and in fields that we hoped to be in for a while. There was going to be no running around after this. This was the deal for the foreseeable future, in terms of work. We were “settling” for the long march.

And of course, in parallel, machinations were beginning at home to settle us down, now that the period of “freedom” was drawing to a close. It might have been one last hurrah, except that we did another the next year to Palakkad, and one more to Pondicherry, but very short ones. Goa remained our second best trip, after Sikkim/Darjeeling.

And then the decade turned. Life changed. I moved back to India, Aswin got married, then Anush got married, one year after the other. And then they moved to the US, different parts of the country. And the inevitable gaps between conversations began. Weeks before you chat, then months.

One slowly cut all ties with the extended family, one still stays in touch, but just about (he’ll hit me for this :P). I realize as I write this, that I have seen Aswin maybe twice after he left for the US, but a few times before that as he was still in Bangalore, while Anush just once after his wedding, just before he left to the US. Not having the same hometown doesn’t help much I guess.

I remember watching DCH and getting really bored towards the end, the post-college life of the 3 of them. We were 21-22, passing out of college at that time, and that’s the part of the movie that mattered, the fun they were having, so much like ours. Looking back I realize how accurate Akhtar was about the whole growing up/old and drifting away part. You hang out together, you are referred to as a group, but before you know it, it’s been years since you’ve even seen them.

Oh well, lifeu ishtene, I guess. Anyway, cheers to the trip and its memories!

Of Fictions and Non-fictions

A lunchtime conversation.

Colleague 1: “So, I am reading this book, which is big and I am struggling to finish.”
Colleague 2: “What are you reading?”
C1: “Oh, not fiction, something non-fiction.”
C2: “OK”*nods approval*
C1:”I don’t read fiction at all, only non-fiction.”*they both nod approvals at each other*

It wasn’t what was said, but the way it was said. The righteousness that comes with NF over Fic. This is something I see everywhere, the shirking away from Fiction as if it is something you don’t want your dead body to be caught with. An accompaniment is also “Since you read books, here is a recommendation”, which is usually something related to work, telling me how to improve my productivity. It is not enough if the book is NF, it has to make you better at doing your every day work – a self-help mostly.

When you say fiction the thing that springs to people’s minds is stories. Someone is telling you a story, and you just go along with it, and at the end there could be a moral. When you are done, you move on to the next story. Fiction thus falls under a waste of time. It doesn’t get you to be better at your job. And almost always fiction always conjures up images of R.K Narayan, whom you likely read in high school(and not even properly), and then graduated to the Chetan Bhagats and the Amish Tripathis who write now. It doesn’t help that they are the poster boys of Amazon kindle and “books” in general. This is something you want to avoid.

In this world there is no scope for fiction that is literary, that exists for the sake of itself. That might not just tell you a story, but can put you through different emotive states. It also raises questions about the purpose of reading itself.

Now, why does one read? I frankly don’t have a clear answer to it, other than I like reading. If I have free time, I would rather be reading than doing anything else. Maybe the beauty of a well-written line draws me, a well-crafted tale about something that I can relate to evokes memories that lie dormant in me, and more importantly it can make me empathetic towards people and their situations. And along the way it tells me about places, people, cultures, politics, relationships, emotional states, among others.

How does one slot a book like Amitav Ghosh’s “Shadow Lines” that is probably about some riots on the surface, but so much more, like leaving home, coming home, memories, history, relations, pasts. Should we even try to slot it?

For a change, this year has seen me reading a lot more NF than usual. 19 out of the 43 I’ve read this year have been NF. But NF would be too broad a brush to paint them under. These 19 count amongst them an autobiography, a biography, 2-3 travelogues, some on science, some on social media, one on politics, climate change. Not a single one would help me with my work. But then, what’s the point if you’re coming home and spending your free time reading about stuff that is only going to help with your work?

Yes, Fiction is an indulgence. It might not serve you any tangible purpose, but what’s the point of earning your free time if you are plowing it straight back into your work, when you can indulge yourself with some good prose? Remember that forward a long time back about the guy who was idling away at work?

All this aside, it has been a great year for Fiction in India. This was the year the JCB prize for literature was instituted. And it saw a shortlist of 5. I had read 2 out of them, and was hunting for the 3rd (hunting = waiting for the price to drop). I remember sitting in the metro, reading Poonachi on the kindle and smiling wistfully, or even welling up at times. It was a powerful experience. Half the Night is Gone made me sob, as you mirror your life with that of Vishwanath coming to terms with old age, a running out of time, and all  the misgivings from the past with his brother and his father, only some of which he can set right, all after his son dies in an accident far away from home. Go easy on those around you.

There was an instagram giveaway for the JCB prize shortlist, and my name surprisingly came up. You don’t usually win in raffles, as they are low-probability occurrences. So it was a huge surprise, and the books came to me a week later, all of them signed by the authors! Latitudes of Longing was part of it, and the story of fault-lines and people living on them, and through them made me want to read it again. A few years later I guess.

This was also the year I got a new bookshelf made, which is filling up slowly. Hopefully, another few years I won’t have to worry about shelves. Maybe I would also have divested a few books away. Hoarding isn’t always a good habit. It’s just that I find it hard to read good fiction on the Kindle. It works really well for NF though. Not sure why that is, maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, given the large number of books, 2019 should be the year of rereading. There are so many books, that I wanted to revisit when I finished, but never got around to it.

Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth and the Namesake. Ondaatje’s English Patient and Anil’s Ghost. Chinaman – Karunatilaka, Arundathi Roy, the God of small things, Ghosh’s Shadow Lines, and Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom are amongst those crying out to be reread. Can maybe throw in Gabriel Garcia Marquez into the mix. So much of One Hundred Years was contextual, which I missed. Having read Galeano they might make a lot more sense now. Definitely needs a revisit.

Oh well, this was my cud-chewing at the end of the year. The actual list will be up only next year, after Anush is done.

Borewell days

Not every day is borewell day. Apparently there are specific days of the week when they bore wells. Not out of sympathy for the suffering neighbours, but general issues of auspiciousness. The only days allowed are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. I was pleased to note that Saturdays are at least off, only to have sounds of distant borewell rigs boring waft in too many times for it to be a no-borewell day. Maybe they start late Friday evenings, for 30 minutes before winding up for the day.

There has been a sudden spate of constructions all over the area. There is always this overgrown site that people who don’t live close by use to dump their garbage. And then one day you find that it has been cleared, the tree in front chopped if it isn’t too big. And a day later there are decked up people doing some poojai in the site. That’s your cue to go chat with them, try to know the day the rig is going to turn up. That day, you ensure that a tarp is pulled over the house, no clothes are being washed and put out to dry, seal the windows with newspapers and other sundry stuff to block out as much of the fine dust as possible. And then brace yourself for a full day of noise. Continue reading “Borewell days”

Kommaghatta again – Oct 2018

I happened to pass by Kommaghatta lake multiple times post the last birding trip. Each time I noticed that the Pelicans were back. There were also reports from different parts of the city of Painted Storks being in town. A birding walk was much in need.

I set out a bit earlier than usual to pick up A on the way. On the way I brought down a 2-wheeler carrying 3 girls, who were happy to just get up and speed away without any complaints (well, for starters they were 3 in a 2-wheeler without even one helmet between them, and whether anyone had a license is left to your imagination). Thankfully, only some scratches on the bumper for me.

We reached a tad early, by 4:45 and the light was good. We started with a Brahminy Kite eating something. Couldn’t figure out what it was eating.
Brahminy Kite
The pelicans were there, on the island, and floating around feeding. So were the painted storks!
A sleeping painted stork
Continue reading “Kommaghatta again – Oct 2018”

Day ride – Turuvekere and Aralaguppe

The Hoysala hunt continued with two new places added to the list, thanks to Twitter. Technically, there was just one – Aralaguppe, but the place was close to Turuvekere, and a bit of digging showed me two other places there.

This time S joined me for the ride, and we left at aroud 7:45 AM from my place, me on the Bull 500, and S on his Electra. For the second half of October it wasn’t too cold. We did the usual route of Tumkur road -> Hassan Road and the usual breakfast stop at Swati Delicacy before Yadiyur. After Yadiyur, there was a right to be taken towards Turuvekere. Right after the turn we were greeted by a pristine B road. Two lanes width, just about wider than that, and going all the way in that condition to Mayasandra where we had to take a right and then a left to avoid going towards Gubbi. Turuvekere was reached at around 10:15 AM.

The first temple on the list was a Chennakesava temple, from around 1260 AD. Unlike other Kesava temples, this wasn’t too ornate. It didn’t have much carvings outside, and the ASI or PWD had also done a shoddy job with some concrete support at the top. img_5283 Continue reading “Day ride – Turuvekere and Aralaguppe”

Khaki fears

One of the perks of studying in a school close to home is that you can just walk down to it. And one of the perks of living in Chamarajpet was that you could walk down to pretty much everything. And then we moved to “faraway” Srinagar. Srinagar, so far away that there were snakes on the street, where jackals were said to howl on the banks of the Vrishabhavati that flowed behind the house. Never mind that it is only 5-6 kms from the railway station and only 2 kms from Gandhi Bazaar. When you have to walk 0.75 km to get to a bus stop and sit in a (black board) bus to get anywhere, you used to think you were living far away.

I was in the 9th Standard when we moved to Srinagar. For the next 1.5 years I used buses and autos to commute to school. And that was my initiation to the world of BMTC. And it wasn’t pretty. Buses hated students. Schools all leave at around the same time. Between 4 and 4:15 PM bus stops got crowded out by students of different schools. Drivers and conductors hated that crowd. Students come with passes and are not ticket-buying. And most annoyingly, for them, students come with huge bags dangling from their backs making it difficult for them to move around. A close friend was punched in the eye by a bus conductor and had to get admitted to Narayana Nethralaya. His father duly approached the media, and the next day we woke up to our friend’s face, swollen eye and all, gracing the City pages. The conductor was suspended, “pending inquiry”, and silently reinstated later I guess.

We were scolded, cursed, called names, pushed around – basically bullied every day as we tried to catch buses that didn’t want to be caught, sometimes waiting at traffic signals before the stop and jumping into moving buses. Buses didn’t have doors those days. We had to hang onto footboards in crowded buses.

You learned to fear the driver and the conductor, trying not to earn their attention in the first place. The only defence was friends. You learned to negotiate buses with friends, to not really care for the crew too much. The mark they left turned up much later.

As an adult you enter a bus with the same fear. You learn to be defensive when the conductor shouts in your face to go to the back even though your stop is next. You have your moments when the bus gets stopped at random places for the conductor to finish issuing tickets before a stage, and you speak out. Sometimes a few more join in. Most times, you are on your own, everyone else having fought their battles, lost and silenced to suffer.

You learn to also be careful with the staff. I once chased a 500K from Bellandur to Silk Board in a 500C after he refused to stop at the stop I was waiting at. The standard approach is to hide behind another bus while approaching the stop, overtake and scoot as the bus in front slows down. I caught the bus at Silk board, and in a moment of anger started raging at him. What are your names, I asked them, having been encouraged by BMTC’s site to complain there. “I’m Ramesh and he’s Umesh” said the conductor and laughed. As I was getting down he warned me that he knew how to keep track of people’s stops, so I better be careful with him. I have never been happier to permanently leave buses.

Having said that, most of my problems with buses have happened on the ORR side. West Bangalore has generally been peaceful for me with buses for some reason, maybe the lack of competition, and lack of Volvos makes like easier for them too. Also, there are a lot more women conductors this side of the city for some reason. I am yet to meet a badly behaved woman conductor.

And when you think Khaki, there’s the next version – Autos. I know friends who swear by them, and also friends who just can’t deal with them. I’ve oscillated regularly between the two. For every auto driver who accepted what I had when I ran out of change (surprisingly common post Nov 2016), I’ve had auto-drivers with parents in hospitals, whose meters are broken down with no money to repair, who believe that the rate per km is Rs. 26.  But the toughest part is always the negotiation. There have been those who asked for 20 more, but “seemed to agree” to a smaller rate, only to bring it up as you are paying the fare. Once you get past that, and having sent some of them on their way, you can usually have a peaceful ride. Being an adult helps here a lot. The West of the city also has a lot more autos that run on meter. Days when I used to take them regularly to get to the bus stop, some dude would not turn on the meter. When asked, he’d quote the standard meter rate and add “I’ve dropped you so many times, saar.”

The coming of the Metro meant that I could easily jettison all the khaki dealings and have a peaceful ride. Only to be confronted by them right from the point you enter the station. Have your body and bag scanned, and if the scanning machine is broken, open your bag and subject it to wider scrutiny. I was even asked to open a box of tea-bags at the station. “Illa!” I insisted. He didn’t press the issue, as he didn’t speak Kannada, and I refused to answer in Hindi. Of course, when in a hurry, I have smuggled the bag in without scanning multiple times. Wonder what we are protecting by inconveniencing people so much!

And then you hit the escalators. Depending on station, you might have a security guard shouting at you for walking up the escalators, never mind that most of the time people like to stand next to each other, block the path and even scream at those who rush past. You enter the platform, and the guards look at everyone as if they’re out to either walk around the platform or jump in front of the train. “swalpa hinde banni”, ” illi ninthokolangilla!”, “alli hogangilla!”, “photo thogalangilla!”. There are no rules as such, but hey, I can make them up and you are bound to follow. The train arrives, the doors open, and the guards go into a frenzy of orders – “horage barorige jaaga kodi!!”( leave space for those exiting, I admit, needed with our kind of etiquette), “olage hogi” and a version of “munde hogi” directed to those standing inside. Probably the only peaceful thing you can do in a metro station is exit it. No one gives a shit.

I am not even going to talk about the epitome of Khaki – the Police. There are almost never good experiences. Almost every transaction has meant a constable asking how much I earn to know how much to ask as bribe. There’s one here detailed.

The gist is basically this: If you’re going to use your own vehicle to get around, you’re going to get pissed and stressed out by those like you. If you’re going to use public transport of any kind, you’re going to get pissed and stressed out by someone in Khaki. Getting around is stressful, no matter how you want to! We just cannot communicate smoothly and make life easier for ourselves. It shows in the way we drive. And this paragraph is becoming too big for a gist.

I’ll end this with this song of Kamalagasan playing the mythical benevolent bus conductor. Also a piece of Bangalore nostalgia. Wonder why they don’t have his photos all over buses like Shankar Nag(who did the equivalent for autos) on autos, eh?

October birding day

Every once in a while Team eBird holds a birding day. The idea is simple, you download their app, head out to a birding location near your place or even walk around your neighbourhood. As you see birds, you note down their species and numbers that you see. At the end of it, you review the list and submit. We try not to have reasons to bird, but having something like this helps. You at least make sure you’re going to bird so that it’ll be part of some larger database collecting info on birds.

This time, me and A decided to go birding at Kommaghatta lake. Kommaghatta offers a larger array of waterbirds with fewer passerine birds like stonechats or sun birds. We usually end up with a shorter list, close to 20 whereas the Mallathahalli lake gives us around 30 usually. There are chances of catching shikras, Kingfishers, bushchats, swallows and peafowl at the latter place, which is a lot wilder with hardly any human activity. Kommaghatta offers a nice path to walk around and a larger presence of big birds. It is the only place to boast of Indian cormorants, purple herons, oriental darters and black-crowned night herons this side of the city. Also, being a smaller lake they are more easily photographed.

We reached the place around 5:00 PM and we started off with the usual sighting of the Indian cormorants on the Peepul tree at the start of the path.
Indian cormorant, close up Continue reading “October birding day”

Myristica swamps and other things

The Monsoon trip is supposed to be freewheeling. You are not supposed to have a plan. You end up near Jog Falls. And then freewheel. But over the 3 visits, over 2013, a dry ‘15, and ’18 we seem to have come up with places to tick off. The Chaturmukha Basadi is a must-see. A stopover at Belur or Halebeedu on the way back. A stay at the Forest Department nature camp. This time there was no A, while S made his debut.

This time, the Monsoons had been plenty. The reservoirs were full. We expected to see Jog in all its glory. Except that the rains the past few days had slowed down. The reservoir was shut, there was below average outflow. The falls were there, not glorious, not a thin wisp of water either.
Joga with its rainbow. Continue reading “Myristica swamps and other things”