Blank – VII

I feel the blog drying up. I try to write something, but nothing turns up. Those birding write ups, those trip diaries, and those occasional book reviews have been the red herrings, that the real blog that I used to maintain, to pen what I thought and experienced is dying.

I wonder why that is so? Is it that what I feel has been wrung dry here so many times, that I don’t feel the need to write anything about myself anymore? Or is it that I’ve passed the stage where I was questioning myself, my choices, my fate, and have finally accepted what is as what it is? If that is so, is this a burning away of whatever was raging inside me, trying to get me somewhere? Or is it a sign that I am there and there’s no further need to seek?

I don’t know. Maybe there’s a flow chart for it? Am I at peace? If yes, all good. If not, what can I do to be at peace? Do that. Get back to the first question. Problem solved? If only.

I still feel the void that was there a long time back, I feel that every day at work, sitting in front of the screen, and not having much work to do. Maybe that is the curse I’ve carried all my career, of not having much to do. It’s a surprise it has carried me this far, but it’s also that you learn along the way how to make a career out of doing nothing. As I explained to my manager, most career movements, like promotions and hikes, depend on luck. You could go a whole year not doing anything, and then a couple of weeks before the big review, a major customer issue lands on your plate. Your manager is busy with other personal issues, you main guy in the US is dealing with his own personal issues, all eyes are on you. You manage fine, even suddenly landing a presentation to big shots because your manager overslept his post-dinner nap of “20 minutes only”. You get your “visibility” and you are set. On the contrary, you could spend 9 months executing from scratch a big project, only to have your 9 months end 6 months before the main review. Which doesn’t leave you anywhere. A bit like having an attack happen just before your elections, eh?

But I digress. Or maybe not. The whole point of everything is, maybe, luck. You coast 30 years of your life. Land a job at the highest-paying company to visit your college during a recession year, travel abroad to the point that 10 years since your graduation, you realise you haven’t spent more than a year or two continuously in your city, and even laugh, not even in the same continent. You rack up the air miles, counting the number of flights you take, some for vacation, some for work. You cannot be flying higher. And then, suddenly things change. That sudden hesitation in your parent’s voice. That sudden health crises, which slowly consumes you. That hesitation in your life, maybe another year. And before you know it, you are here, writing a blog, about to enter the last of your 30s, a big chunk of your life already behind you.

Where does that leave you? Cynical? Even bitter? Or with (a misplaced) optimism? “I’m going to live my life from now on.” A long time back I wanted to live my life. Many years on, I now realise that you only live your life, you never live others’. Yes, we could think of it as battles that we fight in different forms.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

– Tolkien

When the Mirage 2000 that they were operating developed issues shortly on take-off from HAL the pilots were faced with a choice, and they decided to turn the aircraft around and lost crucial moments to save themselves. The choice to turn the machine around likely saved a lot of lives of unsuspecting residents. I remember reading this thoughtful piece on it.

It was a decision made out of priorities. It only takes a microsecond to take a decision, but the priorities themselves take time to build. Over years, perhaps. It is true that anyone who enlists in the Armed Forces is taught and trained to think about the greater good, and it is possible that it is people who already believe that way are the ones who enlist. But how do we inculcate in ourselves these priorities? Or any priority for that matter?

Yes, there are many things that you wish had not happened on your watch. But as it happens, that is never your choosing. Yes, there will be relief at the end of your watch, but until then, you just have to choose what to do, and how best to respond. What we are and what we become is what we choose to do when things happen on our watch. And everything you do, every choice you make, doesn’t stand by itself, but is a result of making similar choices earlier.

Which could be true, we are programmed to respond in certain ways because we have always done that earlier, and it comes naturally. But, what made you make a choice the first time? Was that also chance? Or is that something ingrained in us? Good person genes vs bad person genes? What makes you a Frodo vs a Bilbo or even a Smeagol, given the same ring? Even easier, what makes a person respond to a road accident the way he/she does, by either driving away, gawking, or being the person who takes over and helps?

How much of what I am is my choice vs what I was programmed to be? Does the answer even matter, though?

 

P.S: Twitter account deactivated for the weekend, although I suspect I might stay away longer. 😉

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February heat

Mid Feb 2017. We were driving to Chennai. Since 2014 it has only been “driving to”. It’s been unfeasible to take the train since then. Aging parents can no longer cope with coach steps, toilets and train schedules that are all stuck in the 60s. I had vetoed the idea of carrying sweaters as it was already Feb and it shouldn’t be colder than in Bangalore in any case. We reached Shoolagiri, and it was 17°C! Chennai was nice and comfy.

Mid Feb 2019. Driving to Coimbatore. We left Bangalore at 20 °C. Memories of 2017 meant that we carried sweaters, just in case. Coimbatore, however, was burning at 35. Palakkad was showing 37! And summer is not even here yet. Nowhere in the middle did the temperature drop below 20.

On cue, world weather reports show that January 2019 was among the hottest years, ever.

January was cold. Temperatures went really low in Bangalore, touching even single digits in the surroundings. But this spell lasted barely a week. Beyond that, it kept getting humid as clouds turned up from somewhere each time, and that kept raising the temperatures. Couple this with daytime temperatures almost always hovering around 30°C and we really didn’t enjoy much of the usual winter days.

As per KSNDMC January was unusually colder when it comes to minimum temperatures. The average temperature was closer to 21.5°C and while the average min hovered at 11.28°C, the average max was 31.8°C. It has been a hot and cold winter. Note also that this has generally been the trend this decade.

bangalore temperatures min and max for Jan 2019
(source: KSNDMC)

What is interesting is the higher day time temperatures. Purely anecdotally, temperatures used to be lower than 30 usually and you’d be fine with a jacket during day time too. There is just one day, early in the year that docked lower than 30, that too barely. If you look at earlier years, much earlier, 2013 and 2014, a lot of days can be seen in the 29s. Even some 27s and 28s would be visible. (Check http://www.KSNDMC.org query interface).

Now, what does this mean? Does this tie up with general global warming patterns? Yes, and no; more like I’d rather not wager that way. In Bangalore at least rising day temperatures can do a lot more with general urbanisation, loss of green cover, increase in number of vehicles, ppm and all that. How much has it to do with global warming and how much to do with local causes, I don’t know. I’d guess it’s a combination of local and global conditions. There have been reports of how winter is ending sooner and summer starting earlier (leading to longer summers and shorter winters). So that’s there.

What does this mean for the Monsoons. I don’t know. Last year we had a particularly mild summer, with the temperature barely touching 35°C. The Monsoons were excellent along the coast and Kodagu, but a complete letdown in Bangalore and SIK.

rainfall_blr_swm_2018

There was already talk of El Nino taking effect in the later stages of the Monsoon and that showed in decreased rainfall activity around September and October which are the wettest months for Bangalore. A few days of heavy rain ensured the months did not face too much deficit, but looks like that’s the way it is going to be in future.

El Nino is already in effect this year, and is expected to end by Feb 2018. The last El Nino ended in 2016, around March-May. So it is possible that the current one which has been short-lived might not affect the Monsoon badly.

But here’s some fun cud to chew on. 2014-15 was a weak El Nino year, 2015-16 was a “Very Strong” El Nino year (source: ggweather). We had droughts, officially from 2014 to 2015. 2016 was a drought-free year. Having said that, coming to South India or Karnataka in particular, 2014 was a good rain year, the reservoirs were full by end of October. 2015 and 2016 were really bad droughts! But Chennai was flooded by end of 2015, and Bangalore also received heavy rains.

2017-18 was (a weak) La Nina. For India, 2017 was a good rains year. But, Karnataka saw the Kaveri rising to only 63% of its capacity and there were widespread rows over sharing the waters with TN. Bangalore, and SIK in general, were flooded with heavy rains all the way till October-November that year!

2018 was an excellent year for rains all over. Except that for Karnataka, it was excess along Kodagu, Hassan and Chikmagaluru, the Kaveri catchment areas, and drought for the regions beyond the Western Ghats. The rivers were full, there were floods, but all the action got over by mid-August with scanty rainfall post that.

In this background, what does a normal monsoon prediction mean? In fact, what does a normal monsoon declaration at the end of the Monsoon even mean? Depending on myriad factors, you could have a great year with lots of rains while the rest of the country is declaring a drought, like Chennai in 2015. You could be reeling under a heavy drought, while other parts of your state are celebrating a heavy monsoon and full rivers, and some even drowning in floods, like NIK and Kodagu during 2018. Forget even that. You could be dealing with floods, and have a shortage at the end of it : Kerala after those 100 year floods in Aug 2018.

When just one month of conventional monsoon season is left, India faces a deficit of six per cent rainfall. The normalcy implied by this figure hinges on the enormous excess seen in the southwestern parts of the peninsula this month when around 40 per cent of the country faces drought. Distribution of monsoon rains has seen a deviation from the normal owing to several regional and global climatological factors.

Source: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/environment/at-the-fag-end-of-a-distressing-monsoon-comes-el-ni-o-61483

What we are seeing is a new normal, and country-wide predictions of Monsoons don’t make sense anymore. We need more granular predictions, at least at region levels (NIK, SIK), and try to get them right over the years. Otherwise we’ll continue to be celebrating normal monsoons, while a third of the country will be under floods, a third in drought, and some parts reeling from both.

So what does all of this mean?
Well, welcome to the anthropocene, all bets are off!

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”

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!

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”

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”

Us and Them

“Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?”

I remember sweating this question in college, on the eve of interviews. There always seemed to be so much I had no answer to. “Why should we hire you?”, and the more pernicious “Everyone goes for PG in 2 years, so will you, why should I hire you then?”. The last needed gentle massaging to prove that you won’t be thinking of your own future and leaving a multi-billion dollar MNC high and dry. As impressionable 21 year-olds impressing upon snooty and openly arrogant HR reps, who were enjoying the few days in the Sun when people look up to them, those were hardy days. There were always right answers where you were supposed to be favourable to the company, but at the same time looking after your own interest. “What if you are put in a project that is boring and not challenging, but the company needs desperately?” I had no clue as usual. As long as it pays I guess, I thought. One smart fellow said “I am ok with that for the short term, but in the long run I would hope to get just reward for that and move into something more interesting.” They had a winner there!

Needless to say, the company that I got into eventually was one where I did well in the written tests and reasonably OK in the interview. They had zeroed in right after the test though. But that is not the point of the post. Continue reading “Us and Them”

Butterflies and other bugs – Mallathahalli Lake

This isn’t the season for birding. The winter birds are gone, the monsoons have set in. We are left with the usual suspects – the coots, egrets, lapwings, a few stilts, and some ibises. The Monsoon has also meant a spurt in the Parthenium that takes over the entire path of the Mallathahalli Lake. This usually discourages walkers, and encourages different forms of urban wild to take over. What you usually get is butterflies. Lots of them.
Yesterday, as I made my way for  close to a km through the Parthenium, I ran into at least 5 types of butterflies – Plain tiger, Pioneer, Mottled Emigrant, Common Castor and Common grass yellow. And surprisingly, a tiny spider which turned out to be of the Rhene species.
img_4728 Continue reading “Butterflies and other bugs – Mallathahalli Lake”