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.


On the trail of warblers

The first time I came upon a warbler was when I was trying to round up all the birds around my house during spring-time, February. There were the tailorbirds, sunbirds, tits, flowerpeckers and then one solitary warbler. I could never identify exactly which warbler but I held on to it being a Blythe’s Reed Warbler.

As I dug more I got more about warblers. That they are winter visitors, visiting from the foothills of the Himalayas. And that they have specific territories marked out to visit each year. Means that if you observe one spot across winters, it would be the same warbler individual visiting it each winter!

This year, we did not have the thota outside which used to be visited by a warbler. If it flew in from the Himalayas it would have seen just a black road where its old haunts stood. And not too surprisingly I did not hear any of the familiar “check… check… check” calls. The calls of the pale-billed flowerpecker are oddly familiar, just that the tempo of the check-check is a lot more hurried, the sound is a bit shriller, and they are a lot more common. What you need to watch out for is the measured pacing between the “checks”.

Continue reading “On the trail of warblers”

Catching up with the past

It’s been a few months since this happened. I was in the Metro, Indiranagar station had passed, and I’d started moving towards the favoured exit that’d get me ahead of the crowds and quickly to the exit. As I hung around that exit, waiting for SVR so that I could move into pole position for the last stop, I saw someone who looked familiar. I was more or less convinced who that was, a classmate from PU. But I just could not go up and talk to him. Instead I tried noting things to ascertain if that was really him. His bag was of a premier institute in Bangalore, his ID card was also of a well-known company. Thankfully, he hadn’t noticed me, or even if he had, was probably wondering along the same lines as me. Running into someone after just a few years can raise enough doubts, and this was a guy I was seeing after more than a decade!

I got to work, and promptly checked him out on LinkedIn, as am no longer on FB. He was on my 1st network, the institute and the company matched. It was him. He was a very good friend in PU, but I had just held back. More importantly, this wasn’t the first time I was doing this. When ORRCA gave me a month’s free pass to try that service, the first thing I saw was a classmate from school who used to live within shouting distance of my house in Chamarajpet. We were pretty close to the point where he used to come down to play cricket and hand tennis during weekends and summer holidays. It was a fairly close friendship in school. Our paths had diverged right after school, him choosing a diploma, and me taking the usual PU route. I had added him on Orkut (those days!) and knew that he lived closed to my current house! And thus we were on the same ORRCA bus.  I sat right behind him in the bus. He got off one stop before mine. I went through this charade the whole month that the ORRCA pass was valid for, and promptly ditched it for the normal Volvo pass. I have since realised that having a fixed entry and exit time, which is the norm with such gentrified transport services, doesn’t work so well for me. Public transport, especially the metro gives me the freedom to pick and choose my timing, to a much larger extent that is. I still fret over specific buses and train timings, but that’s also me.

Anyway, unlike in the former case, I had a good one month to talk to him. But I desisted. Once when I ran into a former colleague in the metro there was none of this hesitation. Maybe ex-colleagues are in a different league than friends from what feels like a different planet! Your life feels like a continuation from when you started working, so running into colleagues at different points feels a lot more “natural” than school mates.

I wonder if, more importantly, when you meet ex-colleagues you connect at a more professional level, and your personal life isn’t brought into the equation. The conversation naturally flows towards your jobs and other former colleagues that you both knew. It’s easy. With school or college friends, it gets a lot weirder. You invariably end up with an accounting of the rest of your life after school. Your marriages (or the lack of it, or in almost all cases, the one of it), your kids, your parents, your siblings. Your professional life is given the place that it holds in your life – one part of it. This was probably what made me hold back.

Even as I write this, am reminded of the time I moved back to India. I walked the corridors at my new job, and came across one name which sounded familiar. This was a friend I knew from school, who went to a different college, but our paths crossed again the day he landed his first job (for some reason, his college was asked to send interested students to my college for the placement interviews). Our paths diverged again, eventually ending up in the same company. The day I saw his name, he was away in the US. When he got back I went up to him and struck up a conversation. The flow was straight towards jobs, the different paths we took to end up in the same place, and then towards school friends and school teachers.

But that was a good seven years back. I had just moved back to India, and I was still looking at what lay in front of me. Over time, this forward view has been gradually including things that have gone by, and more importantly things that could’ve been. Over time, I guess it’s only natural I’ll be looking more backwards than forward, but hopefully a lot less of what could’ve been. But that’s life, I guess.

Trouble is, this account taking does not put me in the same path as everyone else. No matter how much your paths diverge, they stay parallel in the milestones we add up as we go along. And I might be holding back fearing the questions that follow, and hating having to give explanations. But that’s me projecting my fears into things. For all I know things would’ve just been alright, and it would’ve been nice to catch up with an old friend.

Maybe next time, it’d be worth saying hi and letting what happens be what happens.

Of Resolutions for 2018

Like everyone, I try to say that I don’t make resolutions. And like everyone, I do have them. 2017 was supposed to be the year of no electronics shopping except to replace. It worked surprisingly well. The only thing I had to buy was a phone after one was stolen, and, not had to, a used camera lens. I tried to see if I can do the same with clothes, and even there I managed quite well. Need to do better.

I knew I’d do well on these fronts as I have been on a conscious downward spiral when it comes to buying stuff. This year I hope to look towards the other side of buying to replace – getting rid of stuff and not replacing them.

On this front, the resolutions list from @thetoonguy looks very interesting. I am quite covered on a lot of this, as I use public transport for the office commute and intend to continue using it, I stopped buying bottled water ages ago (even in Kenya, where we were given only bottled water, we used it to fill our own water bottle, which helped us using less than half the water provided), I don’t use straws anymore, even with coconut vendors, and I have started growing my own veggies. Things that I need to work on is buying organic and fairtrade clothes(not hard), maybe get out of using denims(very hard).

What I wanted to work on, is trying to go vegan, and see how that works out. It is going to be very hard, as it’s not just milk that is the issue, but so many things derived from milk. Not sure what’s the best approach here, will need to figure it out. Also need to work on moving further away from rice and wheat towards millets. This will be a lot harder, as millets generally have higher Potassium (at least Ragi does), and mother has electrolyte imbalance issues.

So there, with some additions:

  1. Cycle a lot more than I got done in 2017. 2016 was a much better year on that.
  2. Restart running. (A bit iffy on this)
  3. Cut some JLR trips. Do more treks, birding walks etc instead that don’t need safaris.
  4. Have reduced flying to a trickle. Continue that. Allow max one per year(with return of course), no rollovers allowed.
  5. More theatre visits, barely did a few at RS this year!
  6. And get back to more than 40 books for the year.

Not too hard, eh?

The eye of the Tiger

I know, a very corny heading, but I just couldn’t resist it. You wouldn’t too, if you’ve looked into one. Ah, those eyes! You look into one, make eye contact, maybe just for a few seconds, and you end up having those eyes gaze at you for the rest of your life! Ok, at least for two weeks so far. I can maybe claim the lifetime part after a decade or two.

So, we ended up at Bandipur, just me and S, as A ended up with some viral the night before we were to leave. Our policy of booking for two and paying for the third at location, turned out to be a life saver yet again! The first piece of news was a shock. “You’ll have to shell out Rs. 1000 if you’re carrying a DSLR.” Per day? “No sir, per safari!”
The one thing I always hate on vacations is hidden costs. You pay for something, turn up and are then told about something newly added making you cough up some more money. And then some more. Not a nice experience at all!

We reached there on the 3rd of Nov. The rule had been brought in on the 1st! And they were still tweaking it. So while it was Rs. 1000 on the 3rd, it became a still steep Rs. 500 from the next day. With 18% GST added to the whole thing! Of course, I couldn’t blame JLR as this was a diktat from the government. Ecotourism is an elite cow, that can be milked forever, once you hook enough people into it.

Anyway, the shock over, we went on for the first safari, with a Canadian at front and a couple on the back, along with the spotter and the driver.

Compared to last year, the copious rains had ensured some excellent green cover, and also much fuller waterholes all over the forest. While we went through with a heavy feeling in the pits of our stomachs last year, this one was a lot more cheerful. The birding was good with a few shrikes, hoopoes and parakeets.
Brown shrike

Continue reading “The eye of the Tiger”

Birding – Mallathahalli Lake

News is that I invested in a longer telephoto lens. A used Sigma 150-600mm which I got a pretty good deal for. I decided to take it out for a spin around the Mallathahalli lake. The lake is pretty quiet with very few visitors. This translates to very skittish and shy birds. The lens is heavy, at close to 1.7 Kgs. Combined with the body, it translates to a 2Kg load!

I started off with a butterfly chilling on a leaf. This is a common tiger.

IMG_4138 Continue reading “Birding – Mallathahalli Lake”

Coming home

“Guess who is home?” jumped a message on whatsapp from a friend who lives in Boston, having moved there a year back from Mumbai after her wedding.
The question confused me. Although I could discern that it meant that she was back in Mumbai, I couldn’t resist replying “But you were already home!”

Home. That place where you look out from. Where you go away from, come back to. That point of reference for everything. And when you lose that reference where do you stand?

You see, in our family we don’t know whether we’re coming or going – it’s all my grandmother’s fault. But, of course, the fault wasn’t hers at all: it lay in language. Every language assumes a centrality, a fixed and settled point to go away from and come back to, and what my grandmother was looking for was a word for a journey which was not a coming or a going at all; a journey that was a search for precisely that fixed point which permits the proper use of verbs of movement.

-Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines

I have always been intrigued by the idea of home, about the ability to shift it away to another country. To call that home, while still visiting the place you grew up in. Noting how things have changed, (how much traffic!!) convincing yourself that it is no longer what you called home and returning to the comfort of home.

I could never understand how a lot of my NRI friends could do that, could go away, develop roots in a different place and never return. It feels like you are going away from home and never returning. But I haven’t been able to get past the idea that there is no one fixed home. That it is not a concept that can’t be established somewhere else. You look for greener pastures, find something, you up and go, and put down your roots there. Like trees that could walk, or more recently like transplanted trees.

ಇರುವುದೆಲ್ಲವ ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಇರದುದರೆಡೆಗೆ ತುಡಿವುದೇ ಜೀವನ?

– Gopalakrishna Adiga

How does one reconcile the longing for greener pastures with the one for home? Are they conflicting instincts? Or things that occur in patterns, one after the other?

For long I felt that I was searching. I went out, tried two different continents, sometimes getting carried along by what seemed like winds outside my control. I walked the leafy roads, with sparrows chirping, of Melbourne. Experienced the cold and grey of Seattle with its distinct seasons. I eventually upped and came home. For a few years, I got asked the question “Why did you move back to India?” mainly from NRIs who wanted to fall one side or the other for good. I could only answer it as “I didn’t see a reason to stay on.” I never reconciled to calling anything else home. I was away, and one day I came back home.

And once back in Bangalore, I searched desperately for a home, to find a place where I could put down roots, and just be. 7 years on, I know I am where I want to be. The roots I put down take the form of a garden where I can grow things, in the form of bookshelves I fill up, in the form of the cat that can’t be transplanted anywhere – I stay where you’ll stay. Years of repeating patterns – the Honge tree, and its falling and growing leaves. The warblers, the shovelers, the starlings, the wagtails that turn up during winter. The Kacheris of summer. The monsoon rains, and the spiders and snails that come with them. Every year they repeat their patterns, their arrivals. Yes, in smaller numbers each year. But they’re there and I am here waiting for them every year. I am home. For now.

Festivals and Long weekends

I am no fan of festivals, they always stress me out. There are things that need to do be done, like everyone does, and you sense judgement in the eyes of others in how well you’re doing them.

You start with washing your vehicles, and then learn that there is a specific set of ways to do that. For starters, “I don’t let anyone touch my car!” – Your car is a part of you. A scratch from another vehicle will set your blood boiling. Someone honking at you for driving slowly while talking on the phone will be taken personally. You don’t just own a car. Your car also owns you.

There are thus specific ways to wash a car. You don’t use water directly – you shampoo, you wax, you vacuum it. It’s a labour of love, not undertaken in a hurry or without a detailed plan. You plan and block time for it.

It’s been a few years since I gave up worrying about scratches. It’s also been a few years since I tried washing the car on my own. It’s easier to pay someone to do it, or just let the rains wash it. Clean the insides and be happy about it. The trouble used to start with step 1: Take a clean cloth. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t find a clean cloth. That needs maintenance and planning. Like cleaning up last time’s clean cloth before next use.

You use the cloth you can get your hands on, and wash it with water. After a while, it dries up and looks like you wiped the whole thing with a…. dirty cloth. It even shows the directions in which you moved your cloth. You can take an old newspaper and wipe the windshields to avoid this effect. It seemed like a perfectly good idea, and worked too. Then I got frowned at by folks for suggesting that aloud. I miss the good old days of the US and automated car washes. And powerful vacuum cleaners to pull everything out.

This year things got more complicated. The road surface was pulled out and there’s only cement powder and small stones piled up awaiting tar. This has meant that no matter how much you clean, in a while you’ll have a fine layer of cement on pretty much everything! And on top of that, it rained. And the BWSSB pipe below sprung a leak, and they fixed it, and closed it with wet mud all over, and then the leak sprung again from it. It’s been a perfect storm.

I finally decided to use a hose pipe. But how do you make the tap end of a hose pipe stick and not leak? You use a screwing device. Except that that can make a cut in the rubber of the holding part. After making my father sit and hold the pipe to the tap tightly, the pipe sprung a leak because of the pressure! Bring in another pipe. After much watery misadventures the job was finally accomplished. Easier to hose it down than rub it down. A lot of people seem to solve this by getting their new cars delivered for the festival. After all, it rains “easy EMIs, unlimited offers and assured gifts” during this time.

And this turned out to be the least of my worries. Festivals are also the time folks call each other and wish. And with some relatives it becomes a case of “Look what we did!”. One aunt going as far as “We had a grand function! I danced, my daughter-in-law danced! There was so much joy!” And my poor mother who believes every bullshit said to her kept commenting that their family is so happy, why can’t we be that way. It all ends up with looks directed at me. “If only you had… ” Well, if only everybody came with their bull shit meters properly calibrated.

And then of course, these are festive days, you are supposed to make sweets at home, even if people at home are diabetic. Just go give it to some neighbour or relative, no? Never mind if they also are diabetic, and you know that perfectly well. “Oh we just made it for Neivedhyam, but I am diabetic and can’t eat it, you know that.” The idea is this: If you’re diabetic, you don’t eat it, but you try to get those who are not into your camp. The more the merrier! Eventually every home’s sweets and payasams end up with the domestic helps. Definitely not betting on them eating everything.

And then comes the part about “long weekends”. “What are you doing for the long weekend?” “Ermm… nothing?”. Look of judgement. And from someone who isn’t going anywhere either. Apparently, you need to be hep and happening and do stuff for long weekends. And doing stuff is about trying to make bookings in places that are already heavily booked at 150% the usual price. Then sit in silk board-like traffic as it crawls on Mysore Road, or sit 45 mins in each of the never ending toll booths hoping and praying no asshole cuts the queue in front of you. Then you reach the place you booked to see it full with stressed out parents and their restless bawling kids who can’t for the life of them understand why they’ve been cut off from their iPads and TVs. It’s also the fag end of Monsoons, so you might have enough rain to keep you indoors – cue restless kids and on-the-edge parents all around you. Drive back, sit through toll booths, fight with forest guards for not letting your entitled arse through a forest at odd times. Go back to work and gloat about your ‘vacation’. Thanks, but no thanks. I have vacation days that I can use for this while most of the world is working.

This is also one of the reasons tourism is considered a cancer – people traveling en masse during specific days and descending on places that can’t support so much capacity.

I have never understood the craze for people to have to travel and be somewhere on long weekends. Yes, that’s the only time you get school holidays and all that. But honestly, an 8yo kid can afford to miss a day or two of school during normal days, no? The only good that it has done is that it has made an otherwise gridlocked city a paradise to be in. This is the time you get around, visit friends, relatives or shop.

But yes, the only time I really feel like getting out is during the next festival – Deepavali. That’s a whole new level of madness by itself! Oh dear God, only weeks left for that. Sigh.



A ‘good’ year, so far

I remember last June, how cloudy and rainy it was. Junes in Bangalore are not meant to be like that. You have cooler days after the heat of April and May, but it doesn’t get too cloudy. A spell or two of rain maybe, but the predominant factor is wind – June is meant to be windy in Bangalore. Last year, 2016, it wasn’t. Neither was July. They were cold and wet. We wore sweaters through some of the worst days of our lives, as we all struggled to recuperate from a severe bout of viral infection, not having anyone else to lean on, as everyone in the house was down. The papers recorded record rains – twice the average. KRS got to a 100 ft by the end of July. It was all hunky dory.

And then came August, supposedly one of the wettest months in Bangalore. It barely rained an inch and we looked at dry day after dry day. The monsoons had completely given up. September, the wettest month came and went. And the Kaveri riots came with it. Lack of rains had reduced the Kaveri to a trickle. By the end of the year, after the NE monsoons also failed, we were left counting every drop of the Kaveri, and figured we just had enough to last us till June 2017, only as drinking water. Continue reading “A ‘good’ year, so far”