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?

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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”

Neck pain and the different types of Yoga

A week of physio left me somewhat in a better state. Regular neck exercises continued, but the neck continued to have issues. A trip to BR hills was done with all this, while I continued to struggle with the neck. Slowly I entered my second month of neck pain. Something needed to be done. I started looking for Yoga centres. The other option was ozhichal (Ayurvedic massage). Yoga felt better as I felt it would give me a more lasting outcome.

Google maps showed me a place close to mine, but that place seemed to have closed, but I got a number and called him. He asked me to come to Chandra Layout where he was starting regular classes after a break. This turned out to be the old Vivekananda Kendra who’s classes I used to attend when in school in Chamarajpet. The teacher, who reminded me of Atul Kulkarni in Hey Ram, assured me that in 2 weeks I’ll have good results. The classes began in the evening. Turned out that they didn’t have enough people turning up. This was also coupled with the main teacher not showing up and his assistant handling the classes.

Ashtanga Yoga advises holding an asana for 5 breaths, but we were ending up holding for close to a minute when the assistant was around. And a lot shorter when the main teacher was around. A week later, my lower back issues had flared up. Two weeks later, the assistant came close to breaking my elbow backwards. All this added up to my general annoyance with how the classes were being conducted. A 4:30 class would start at 4:45 as the assistant would turn up late. The next day I’d be late by 5 minutes and he would be asking me about it. I answered him “howdu, late aaythu” and he stopped asking after that. After all that effort of turning up, he’d end up making us 20 suryanamaskaras and then sending folks home. On asking I was told that there are no people yet. Then another day we ended up doing 1.5 hours of asanas without a break. When the main teacher was there, things were smoother, shorter asanas, he would be engaged completely in running the class even when everyone was in savasana. The assistant would be playing with some kids in the back when he was running it! Continue reading “Neck pain and the different types of Yoga”

Bye, bye BMTC!

It has been 2 years since the Metro was launched between Mysore Road and Byappanahalli. Since the day it opened, it has been my main transport to get to work. So much so that I can’t think of any other way of commuting to work! The issue since then has always been the last mile, the last 6K from the station to the office. I decided to go with BMTC and the results have been mixed.

On mornings, it would take anywhere between 20 mins and 45 mins for that distance, not considering traffic. Evenings, anywhere from 25 mins to 1 hour considering traffic. Mornings, I was mostly down to using one bus, and evenings I had to switch once. None of my colleagues who use the metro chose this option. There is a campus feeder that runs every 20-30 minutes and takes a lot less time between the destinations. I am not a fan of waiting for a feeder and being restricted to its timings. But I realised I was doing pretty much the same with the buses. Once I ditched using BMTC to get to the metro station from home, parking my vehicle there, I was mostly consistent with what time I was reaching BYPL. This made the argument moot. Continue reading “Bye, bye BMTC!”

The pain in the neck that won’t go away

After much though, and fear that this is going to be bad news, I decided to pay the local Ortho a visit. But first I had to get the bike fixed for the reserve light being on all the time. It was a crowded time, and the supervisors weren’t too keen. One, however asked me to come on Monday morning as it might take a while.

I went along to the doctor and even that was crowded. After a wait of half an hour, I was in. What problem? Neck pain for a while. He did a lot of pressing, pulling, making me resist, making me move this way and that. Two X rays, of the right shoulder and the neck were ordered. The giggling nurses did that over 20 minutes.

Once the reports were ready, it was time for the low down. Turned out to be spondylosis, degeneration of the intervertebral discs. Also turns out to be surprisingly common among the jantha with sedentary desk jobs. Occupational hazard I guess. In my case, he blamed it on the long travel. Is it because of lifting the laptop bags? Apparently not. Weights go to the shoulder, not to the neck. Quite likely reading on the metro, constantly being in a position of putting the neck down and reading constantly. After all these years, it takes its toll. Neck needs to be moving at times naturally, one position for a long time will hurt.

Also happens to be that this isn’t the first set of discs to go out of commission. The lower back had gone for a toss years back. I have been managing with exercises since then. Once again, it is surprisingly common with a lot of people. Our roads do their bit too.

So what’s the route ahead? More exercises, this time for the neck. A lot of medicines – he loves getting his patients to visit his pharmacy and racking up a bill there. Most of the medicines were supplements like Calcium and vitamins, with one NSAID. A cervical pillow for the neck and head, and a neck brace. Why the brace? Wear it when traveling. When riding the bike, or in the car or in any form of travel. That should look interesting. A bill of Rs. 3700.img_4504

Get an MRI too. How much would it cost? Around 7k. Last time my father had got that done, he had asked him not to bother with the MRI, and to go for it only if the pain does not dissipate. The referral was written in the letterhead of the place which does the MRI, which kinda gave me my clue about why he was insisting this time.

So, the plan is to add the exercises to my existing routine, wear the neck brace on the bike or on the bus. The decathlon bandanas come handy now, can be worn on top and look perfectly normal. And also travel less to work, maybe once or twice a week. I barely feel any pain on days I WFH and weekends. It is always the travel days that suck. It might even be necessary at some point to look for a job closer home.

Thankfully no restriction on things like walking, running, swimming (which I anyway don’t do), and cycling. So am good on those things. Continue with the good things that people should be doing, and avoid the bad things. I played a round of tennis in the morning, and it didn’t hurt much. The shoulders have a lot of radiating pain though, which might take a while to go.

Thus it goes. One part of the spinal cord is being managed over the years, another gets added to it. Things we have to learn to live with!

As I speak more, I hear more about others, same age or younger, and their issues with slip discs and having to live with it. I wonder how many things we exchanged for a desk job – heart disease, obesity, diabetes, spinal issues. The list keeps growing. What price development, eh?

And as for the city, as travel gets worse every day with increasing distances and burgeoning traffic, who bears the cost for all this? And what does it all lead to? Where does it all end? How many parts can continue to run without management? Turns out even the brain needs to be managed with interesting activity to avoid dementia or alzheimer’s at an older age. Means we are not getting stimulation even there?

I guess the only truth is in exercise. Exercise, exercise, exercise and live happy. No other options. And if possible, commute less.

Update:

After 4 days of struggling with pain, mainly from the cervical pillow which takes some time getting used to, I decided to get an MRI done. I found an online code for the nearest MRI place which was to give me a 25% discount. Except that when I got there, turned out that the offer had elapsed a long time back. So I had to pay the full Rs.7000 and lie down absolutely still for close to 30 minutes inside a cylinder while it made all kinds of loud noises.

The report came in 2 hours and said that there was “NO DISC BULGE”, and “LOSS OF CERVICAL LORDOSIS”. This meant that the doctor was completely wrong on the slip disc diagnosis. Loss of cervical lordosis means that posture has created some straightening of the usually curved neck vertebrae. Bad news, but not as bad as it was assumed to be. The doctor suggested taking 4-5 physiotherapy sessions and continue with daily exercises of the neck. Also, don’t sit in one position for too long.

I started physiotherapy yesterday and after all the machines were done, the therapist held me at the nape of the neck where the skull begins and pressed hard. The pain was unbearable! But after he released me, he asked me to turn left and right. The relief was immeasurable! Hadn’t felt that way turning my neck for years. All those years had accumulated inflammations in the muscles. Today had another session where he worked on some more muscles there. The feeling is a lot better, but he ruled out bikes for a few weeks. The doctor however didn’t disallow, only suggesting short distances while wearing a neck brace. I guess I’ll just drive around then.

Anyway, this is the story. Thankful that it wasn’t such bad news. But then, this is a proper warning call about taking posture and exercise seriously.

Rest in Peace, Putty Girl…

The Cat came into our lives in Jan or Feb 2011. I had just moved back and saw this scrawny cat sleeping near the house, and not running away. Some milk bowl filling happened, a few kittens were brought along, a few were delivered under the TV, some neutering done, and the cat hung around for 6 years after that. What was a blink of an eye and a maturing decade for me, was a lifetime for a cat.
Curled up cat
The year dawned with her meowing less, and soon stopping making all sounds. I made fun of her, some sound came, and then even that stopped. She looked weaker, and her movement more trying, that feline grace was no longer there, she scaled 4 ft high walls, but was knocking the milk bowl when trying to gain her stepping, things she never did all these years.

She became more bent, people who visited commented about it. It was harder for me to register the changes. Most likely, I refused to notice the changes. It’s summer, she gets thinner now for the heat. Will be alright once the Monsoons come. Then she started drooling, and not grooming herself, which meant she was now smelling.

A vet visit happened, with a photo taken. I waited inside the one room setup, while a pug was brought in. The elderly vet suggests a chest belt, gives it a few injections, and suggests some diet changes for its weight. How much? Rs. 300.

My turn. I gave him the whole history. Does she drink water? Yes. Then no rabies. Of course not, she’s been vaccinated for that! Plus she’s not afraid of light, craving for it rather.  A couple of meds were given, one an antibiotic. Try feeding her these in milk. What’s wrong with her? Baayalli Happale, mouth ulcers. She can’t swallow because of that. How much do I owe you? He waves me away. It’s nothing.

The cat refused to drink, refused to eat anything. Next morning, she isn’t seen. Once the Sun is out she’s seen lounging by a neighbour’s compound wall. I ask them permission, go in, and pick her up into the common compound wall. She goes to sleep where I can reach her. She’s no longer drooling. Has the drooling stopped or is it dehydration?

Afternoon, I call him. Give me half an hour. I drive down to his clinic. A she-goat outside, with her owner and an auto-driver he’s arranged to bring it. Three injections for her standing by the road. Once in, the farmer gets called. How old is your goat? 40 years sir. Amused vet. How many times has she delivered? Twice sir. He writes down 4 or 2 in a diary. The farmer gets instructions, bring her tomorrow for more injections, give her some bevina soppu (neem) and agase soppu(Flax). She’ll be ok. Don’t go and sell her just because someone offers you a deal. Arthavaaythenayya? OK sir, he leaves.

The other guy waiting before me, gives some sample of his pet for a lab. He gets a long list of meds to give, when to bathe, how much to bath the dog. After 20 mins of lots of meds, and a Rs. 800 bill, he leaves. How heavy is the cat? Must be just over a kg. He fills up three syringes, antibiotics and a couple of general meds. On the way I ask him about the previous guy. German Shepherd. Has skin issues. Skin issues are caused by diet. Which is surprising because this guy is a regional head for Pedigree (food products corp). Most people can’t care for their dogs properly.

We reach home. The cat still sleeping. Be careful, if she wakes up in shock, she might go into delirium and bite. Get a cloth. I find something. Now cover her head and her front body and hold tight. I try holding her, she escapes a bit. Tighter. No loosening. I hold her tight, the cat struggles, then gives up. He checks using his stethoscope. A sanitary wipe comes out, she gets the 3 injections one after the other. I release her. She goes and sleeps a few feet away. He confirms dehydration. She needs to drink water or milk. She’s blind in one eye, he announces, but she’ll be ok. Cats manage.

I drive him to his clinic, my nerves jingling. He gives me an ORS bottle, maybe she’ll drink. Clean her with a wet cloth, and then this antiseptic swipe (which he gives me). How much do I owe you? Rs. 200. I come home, wipe her with a cloth, see if she can drink some milk, she drinks a bit, eats a bit. And goes to sleep near the door. I have lunch, and then can’t find her.

She’s found at a neighbour’s keeping her back towards a wall. Happy to say hi, but not coming anywhere. I give her some food there, she eats and leaves some. Next day I see her in the middle of the road drooling slightly. I carry her in, give her some milk which she drinks, and some cat food which she eats. There’s a faint meow, a sound of relief. She goes to sleep near the door and is missing again in 15 minutes. I find her at the same neighbour’s, but leave her there.

I find her today at the same place, she eats a bit, but the neighbour confirms that she’s meowing a bit. I feel hope, she looks a bit better. No drooling, but no grooming either. I feel a bit hopeful, but I know I no longer will see the cat running up to me, tail up, her meow Dopplering towards me. She’s now an old cat who’ll need to give up her independence and trust humans to look after her, and also forgive the guy who closed her face and got her 3 pricks in the back. The choice will be hers to make, I won’t get a say in this.

Update:

I never intended this to be an obituary. But it is now. A while back a neighbour saw a dog dragging what looked like a cat and leaving it in the opposite site. It was Putti. There was no doubt. I called Kashappa, the area gardener, packed her in a garbage bag, and carried her to the BBMP park. We dug a pit for her, and I buried her, taking one last look at her lifeless body in the glow of the phone’s LED flash. I left a part of me there in the park, under 2 feet of red soil. I’ll miss you girl, miss you loads.

Bees on Pongamia blooms

The ಹೊಂಗೆ(Pongamia pinnata) trees in front of the house bloomed by February. I count three trees surrounding the house, one in front, one across the road, and another on the side of the house. Each tree has its own blooming cycle. The one opposite starts first, around mid-February, followed by the one in front, early March, and then, the one on the side, by mid-March. By April, they are all done, and the trees wear a darker green canopy that they retain until winter.

This year, the ones in front of the house had bloomed by February. Their blooming is accompanied by the buzzing of bees. There are two kinds that I see – Apis cerana, Asiatic honey bee, and Apis dorsata, Giant or Rock honey bees. The much smaller Asiatics were there in decent numbers along with smaller plains cupid butterflies. Once I saw a large eggfly (butterfly type) flitting around, their numbers going down every season.
Apis cerana, Asiatic honey bee

Continue reading “Bees on Pongamia blooms”

Super Blue Blood Moon

I guess this has been making enough news for me to not have to explain what it is. I had been planning for a while as to how to shoot this. I had a longer lens now, so one option was to just point at the moon at the longest pipe length I had and shoot it.

The other, more tempting option was to take photos of smaller moons and then do a composite of the way it unfolded.

Around 6 PM I had set up the tripod and the longest 150-600mm lens on it. There was nothing for close to an hour. The only interesting thing was a pair of Oriental White-eyes on the neighbouring tree. But the light only yielded a couple of out of focus images.

I was on the call with A who had set himself up at Ullal Lake and eventually managed to see a dull red moon pop out of the light pollution, before being kicked out of the lake premises. Bangalore lakes get locked out at 7 PM.

Around 7:10 I eventually noticed the dull red moon. It wasn’t easy to shoot as there wasn’t much light coming from it. The best option would be to down the shutter speed, but even at 1 sec, the moon appears shaken. It’s a large object unlike smaller stars. However I had missed the eclipse happening. This was expected. The goal was now to get the eclipse unravelling the moon.

So I stuck to the original plan and kept shooting at 3-4 mins interval. After a while, around the time the eclipse started clearing, one side of the moon started brightening up. I realised the pointlessness of a large lens and got the smaller 18-200 hooked up and at a length of 170mm. This got me better range with the aperture and was easier to handle. The moon however became a bit bigger from the earlier pics.

But I stuck to this for the next 1.5 hours and managed to get around 30 pics. Of this 23 were useful and the remaining were variants of one or the other of them.

The trickier part was compositing the pics. Initially I tried compositing with the RAW files. This took a lot of time, each addition taking close to a minute. I also ended up with 2 files, one for the red moon and the other for the unravelling moon.

My lack of planning also can be seen in the second one.

The next day I tried putting all of them in one pic. This went well and took me close to an hour, but eventually the program crashed.Seeing the pain I was causing the CPU with RAW files, I wrote all the valid moon pics out as JPEGs and then set about compositing them. I realised that this was what I should have done in the first place. It was a fast and snappy experience to composite on JPEGs.Anyway, here’s the final output of it. One pic to show them all.