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Trivandrum Pictures

While I've mentioned most of these pictures in my previous blog entry, I didn't put anything about the last picture in first row. It looked like an oversized golf ball from a distance, and is actually an interesting shell that got swept ashore by the waves. If you look closely, you can even spot a small fish (or perhaps some other sea creature), sticking its tail out from the left end of the shell.

All the sunset pictures were taken at the Shangamugam beach.

This will be perhaps my last post for this year. I have a whole bunch of neat pictures that warrant posting but due to brevity of time I will need to defer publishing them to next week.

Have a wonderful 2004!

posted: 26.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Two days in God's own country...

It was a bright clear Sunday morning – almost perfect. The skies were immaculate without trace of clouds, the sun shone with brio, and hawks glided high above without any obvious motive. The breeze flowed gently with a hint of chill. The sort of day I would sit home all day and read away, but today that was not to be. I had to visit Trivandrum for a conference on Monday. I was surprised at how poorly connected it is to Bangalore. Just two flights one on Jet the other on Indian Airlines. The Jet flight actually has a slightly awkward route – goes to Trivandrum via Mumbai, needless to say, despite the temptation of free air-miles, I opted for the latter. In either case I had to leave on Sunday because none of the flights get me there before noon, while my conference begins at 9:00. I always avoid our government run domestic carrier as far as possible. It might have its quaint charm but is marred by operational inefficiency, flight delays and poor regard for customer service.

I reached airport about 90 minutes before the flight and was mildly amused at the sight of Indian Airline whiteboard outside the airport entrance, with flight schedules scribbled in blank ink (all this in circa 2003).You can tell apart the difference between the private airlines and the government owned ones right from the start. I was approached by a stocky dark man in his 30s, wearing a loose khaki half-sleeved shirt that hung above his indigo colored pants, to help me with my baggage for screening. He stuck the “security cleared” stickers on my bags before they could go through the x-ray machine. I know that security tends to be a sham at most airports, but you don’t have to give it away! Got my clearance, loaded my bags on the trolley again and proceeded to check-in.

There was a family of four before me in the queue and were in the process of getting their boarding pass. There were two kids playing about, a boy and the girl, unmistakably siblings, while their parents finished the serious business. For a few moments I grew nostalgic about my own childhood days. The boy was much younger than his sister and it seemed that he had just learned to walk. The precocious sister was in complete charge of his little brother and chased him to make him wear his shoes which he had dropped carelessly. Now I might have been the elder brother, as a child I was always lost in my own train of thoughts and so it was my sis who would always took care of my bag and belongings while going to school. I am expecting her shortly (thanks to my frequent traveling I had enough miles to get her a air ticket to Bangalore – her first flight ever!) and couldn’t help reflecting on our days together as kids. I snapped back to present as my turn to get my boarding pass came, and things went off without a hitch (I was carrying a box with about 100 magazines as a give away at the meeting – never realized that they could weigh 21 Kilos!).

Shortly I heard the announcement to get on with the security checks and so I presented myself at the entrance promptly. The guards standing there however would not admit me. I made an exasperated gesture and tried my best to convince them that a security check has been announced but they just wouldn’t budge. The lack of coordination between the Indian Airline staff making announcements and the security staff is just one of many small things that irk you now and then. At last they grudgingly relented when more people going to Trivandrum poured in.

Another one of the Indian Airlines routines that irritate me is their baggage identification parade. Before they get your luggage on board, you are supposed to step out and identify your stuff otherwise it will be left back. The person in charge of the routine will make some indecipherable scrawls on your boarding pass as a proof of your having claimed your suitcases as yours. I am not quite sure what purpose this ritual serves, like every other illogical routine, this is attributed to “security”. A quick perusal of terrorist incidents that took place in recent past would clearly show the willingness of their perpetrators to die for their cause, that being the case, they would happily go on to claim the baggage even if it contains something menacing.

The flight to Trivandrum was insipid. I had been allocated seat 15F – a window seat that overlooks the right wing of the airplane, which pretty much kills your chances of getting a view (unless of course you are a keen student of aviation engineering in which case the wing is your *view*, a picturesque one at that) without significantly exercising flexibility of your neck muscles. The landing was a slightly bumpy one. Trivandrum airport for want of creative words is a “cute” one. There are small, grassy lawns on either side of the spot where the plane comes to rest. The airport is a slightly small one and I think has the smallest atrium I’ve ever seen. I collected my luggage and stepped out, a car was waiting outside.

Trivandrum weather was hot, humid and blissfully oblivious of the fact that its “winters” elsewhere in the country. The drive is picturesque and makes your re-adjust your ill-contrived, city-bred notions of “lush”. When my plane lands in Delhi, I look for trees amongst the land, its just the other way around in Trivandrum – I struggle hard to spot land amongst thousands of coconut trees! I was staying at hotel South Plaza, in the middle of the city. There are couple of interesting buildings around the hotel which are constructed in red-brick and are good specimens of Victorian architecture. The hotel room was very spacious though the rancid small of carpet spoke of neglect. These brief stays also provide me to surf what’s playing on the tele. (Don’t have a TV at home for a year). The only thing worthwhile was “Desi Toons” on Cartoon Network. You have animated versions of Indian folk tales set to animation. The quality of production of most of these toons is high, the colors very vivid and vibrant, and the voice-overs tasteful and lively. There were however some elements which were introduced to make these tales suitable for the urban, cable/internet savy kids of today. For instance the wrestlers that descend on Vijaynagara in a Tenalirama story spoke and acted like WWF wrestlers! Also came across a small promo for a program called “Mumbai Live” on NDTV’s 24x7 channel. Can't help mentioning that the signature tune for it is a straight lift from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and is a rather sorry rehash for synthesizer at that. Left a bad taste - but then I am not sure if sensitivities of Beethoven fans count in the grand scheme of things.

My hobnobbing with the tube was put to an abrupt end (I am glad it was!) by a call from Nishant. He came over and we went to a local joint to grab snacks and coffee. The coffee was nice, though very sweet. Unlike in Basirta where I decide the quantity of sugar I pour in my coffee, here the coffee was served pre-sweetened. When I stirred the contents of my cup with the spoon, I realized that there was a mound of sugar at the bottom of the cup! But coffee is coffee, and a hot cup, no matter how sweet, is always refreshing. We had about 4 hours to kill and we contemplated on how we could spend time. Delhi, where I grew up, is land-locked. So is Bangalore. Quite naturally, when Nish mentioned that Kovallam (famous for its sunny beaches) is just 40 minutes away, my excitement was obvious.

The drive from city to Kovallam is awesome! Forests of thousands and thousands of coconut trees on either side of the road. We stopped on our way over a bridge that over looks a small valley of sorts. You stand at the edge and all you see is more coconut trees – the sea of endless green. I snapped a few pictures and we resumed our journey. We went a little off our way and reached a road that would take us to one of the posh, five-star, private beaches which is something I wasn’t after. We re-traced our way back and soon found ourselves descending down a very steep road (it was so steep that I was scared that our car would go out of control and just skid downwards). I could now see the sea in the distance! Our descent finally ended at the beach where we parked the car. The beach was very clean, the color of water turquoise in places, dark blue in others (the cleanest I’ve seen in India). Strong sea-breeze flowed constantly, ridding me of fatigue totally. In the corner there was a small rocky hill with a light-house perched on top of it. The entire scenery had a very dreamy feel to it. There were spots at the beach where the life-guards had placed two crossed red-flags to warn users not to go too deep into the sea at that spot. The addition of man-made red to the shades of sand, green and blue made it all very surreal. We sauntered at the beach for an hour or so and headed back to the city.

The city also has a beach (Shangamugam beach), used mostly by the fishermen and we decided to catch sun-set there. The harsh, white glaring rays of sun gradually dimmed to golden till eventually there were no rays at all – just a glowing, orange ball that hung low in the horizon. A boat with half a dozen fisherman passed us by with unexpected alacrity (I couldn’t even compose a decent shot!). Nish drew my attention to our shadows on the sand, I was surprised to see my 6-feet frame cast a shadow that was 25 feet long, very eerie! The sun finally drowned in the sea, a purple-orange gleam hung high in the firmament and we soon found ourselves bound back to our hotel.

The next day was a very hectic one. The seminar, where I was presenting, was at Nila Technopark, about 15-20 km away from the city. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of infrastructure and other facilities, but what I saw there totally blew me away! A huge word-class campus with excellent infrastructure in the middle of nowhere! The entire area is lush with acres of sprawling, green landscape. I’ve been to other such “technical parks” or “software campuses” both in India and abroad and I can vouch for Nila being international class in every respect. All buildings at the campus are named after major Indian rivers. The building I had my presentation at (also called Nila), had this giant imposing structure outside, which looked as if the torch of Statue Of Liberty had landed by some queer accident; I was later informed that this was the water supply tank for a large part of the campus. There was a small pond outside where a delightful lotus blossomed. We also had the opportunity to visit terrace of one of the buildings and the view from there would persist in my memories for years to come. Thousands of coconut tree all around us as if the building itself was a tiny spec in a gargantuan coconut grove. Far, far away in the horizon you could see the sea water shimmer. The cafeteria at the campus served ice-creams in exotic flavors like clove, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and coconut. They only had cardamom and ginger during our visit and I enjoyed both of them thoroughly. The ginger flavor was particularly interesting because it retained the soothing stingy feel of ginger going down your throat despite it being cold!

We wanted to go out for a quick drink before dinner though Nishant warned us that the “pubs” here are quite unlike the watering holes of Bangalore that we might be used to. He was correct. We went to this place called “Orbit” and it looked more like a shady den for all the goons of the world than like a pub. The place was dimly lit, there were bulbs but they were so dim that you could clearly see the glowing filament. A flickering candle on a stormy night would have been enough to put them to shame. Every one spoke in a sotto voce. Clearly people there were not there for recreation but for addressing their vice. In the background a lone TV set blared loud Hindi film music and since we were sitting very close to it, we found ourselves straining our vocal cords. Frankly, I was glad that the affair did not last long.

Went out looking for authentic Kerala food but landed at a place that not only served standard, predictable north Indian buffet (daal, paneer) but also had live ghazals. The diction of the singer had a heavy Malayalam accent, though he had a beautiful voice that reminded me of K J Yesudas. There would be a long pause after every two ghazals and the hotel would switch on some atrocious, obscure, rap music and then suddenly the ghazals would resume again. Eventually the singer did perform a local Malayalam number, which despite my total lack of understanding of the language, sounded lot better than any of his forced attempts at ghazals. We scoured the menu for vegetarian Kerala food but could find very few dishes as most of the items listed were fish/prawn delicacies. Eventually everyone settled for Kerala parotta with paneer and vegetarian stew with appams, both of which I heartily devoured!

The third day sprang two pleasant surprises. Firstly as part of the Nila technopark tour post a meeting, I found myself outside the office of Toons India Ltd – the same place where Tenalirama toon that I mentioned earlier is produced! The folks there were very kind allowed us a tour of their facility. We started the tour from the meeting room where preliminary sketches, the storyboard of a toon is decided and went all the way to the audio/video suite. Someone for whom computers are second nature it felt a little awkward to come across cubicles with no trace of the PC! All you saw was huge drawing boards, pencils in assorted shades and people sketching away, completely ignorant of the world around them. We also saw a sneak preview of few of their upcoming productions and were very impressed – both with the quality of the work and the overall storyline. The second surprise was at the airport. There was some confusion with my Indian Airline tickets which arose because of them having overbooked the flight. I was worried that I would be dumped but instead, they upgraded me to business class! Perhaps I should be a little kinder when taking them apart on my blogs ;-).

This is probably the longest blog entry I’ve ever made, after all there is so much that I have imbibed in a short span of two days or so! I am certain that there will be addendums to this blog entry, if not words, pictures (there are quite a few of them waiting to be posted!). This has only been my second trip to Kerala (you could read about my visit to Kochi here), and have found the title of “God’s own country” that is so often given to Kerala, to be true in all respects!

posted: 23.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments


I've been missing my dog for last few days. Our love for animals, and more importantly its expression, is to a great degree, physical. Lifting your pet cat or dog, cuddling it or taking it out for a walk are all gestures that bind us so closely to the animal. So while I can regularly call mom, dad and sis, I am unable to keep in touch (literally!) with my dog. The closest I’ve been able to do is spend some time observing the dogs on streets. Here is a picture of one of those many dogs that I am sure we all run into. The poor soul might look ragged, forlorn, grubby and flustered (partly because it was noon, and dogs being dogs are mostly nocturnal) but it surprised me with the grace and grandeur with which it rested in its territory; the confidence and composure with which it posed had royal majesty of a lion.

posted: 20.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Marlboro’s Grave…

Every building which is centrally air-conditioned, typically has a place where the smokers of that building congregate. In case of our office’s building, that designated smoking spot happens to be balcony of fourth floor. While I don’t smoke, I do visit the balcony to fill my lungs with “outside” air (prolonged exposure to air-conditioning drives me sick), to watch the beautiful sunset and to indulge in occasional banter (or to pick grapevine). These smoking “hot-spots” typically have sand filled bins, or some-kind of a non-inflammable surface, where the cigarette butts can be pressed into; to rid them of the embers; a sort of burial ground for burning fag-ends (and a good place to research which cigarette brands are doing rounds in your office). Here are the pictures of cigarette cemetery and Marlboro’s grave from my office’s balcony:

posted: 18.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments


While cleaning up my living room, I was paid visit by a petite guest. It rested contemptuously on the mattress, pretending to be camouflaged in the floral pattern of the bed-sheet, asserting the fact that I wasn�t the only one living in my apartment� A far descendent of the dinosaurs, it was a frail, little house lizard!

posted: 16.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Beethoven composed this on my Birthday!
This Saturday was a somewhat strange (I'll call it "exquisite" in hindsight) one as far as the music I was a listening to is concerned. Srini had passed me this two CD set of Mozart's works that was gifted to him by a friend (Srini, like most people I know, doesn't do anything remotely classical - though I should make it a point to make acquaintances with his Mozart gifting friend *fiendish grin*). The first CD besides the usual (read clichéd) En-Kline-Nachtmuzik had a few overtures and �Serenata Notturna. Disc 2 held the real surprise - it had a concerto for Flute and Harp! I had never heard a Harp concerto before, and always thought that the Harp is something you use to embellish your symphonies or ballets or nocturnes, never quite thought of it as a "solo" instrument worthy of a concerto. Amazingly chirpy, gleeful piece - I can already envisage waking up to its sound for next few mornings...

The second big surprise came during visit to Planet M. They've restocked (at least here in Bangalore) their western classical section (and have gone slightly overboard - most of the new stuff they have added is in "set" of 4 CDs or more). For the first time in a long long while they had CDs that I wanted to buy but was woefully short of money (the fact that most "sets" were priced at Rs. 1500+ contributed greatly to this). Anyways I did pick up one CD of works for the Horn (again Horn is something I've heard in concertos or symphonies but never in chamber works (barring Beethoven's Septet, Op. 20) or as a solo instrument) which had Beethoven's Horn and Piano sonata! The sonata was composed by Beethoven hurriedly just a day before its performance on 18th April 1800 (making it a work that was composed on my Birthday!). Even more surprising was the fact that the Sonata was numbered as Opus 17! (my Birth-date again!). I must confess that despite the pleasant coincidence, there is nothing musically exceptional about the work and is one of the rare Beethoven works that are now part of my collection for purely academic reasons...

Hindsight: Realized today (17th December) that 16th was Beethoven's Birthday! What a coincidence to have made this post on his Birthday. Happy Birthday Beethoven!!!
posted: 15.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments

I have no lid upon my head�

I had taken this picture about a month back but deferred posting it to my blog for want of a good caption. The song �Let You Down� from Dave Matthews Band�s album Crash filled in the words for me:

Let You Down
I have no lid upon my head
But if I did
You could look inside and see
What�s on my mind
Complete lyrics here

(My ghastly streak of deriving too literal a meaning from poetic lyrics continues).

posted: 14.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Homage to Catalonia, Baroque Music and Haydn Quartets

George Orwell had fought in the brutal Spanish civil war of 1936, the book Homage to Catalonia is a vivid memoir, with an occasional chapter or two on the political situation in Spain of 1936, that chronicles his ordeal and narrow escape. His account of the year or so he spent fighting both at the front and in the streets of Barcelona makes you understand how he could come-up with brilliant, timeless classics like Animal Farm and 1984 � classics that have almost assumed the status of universal truth (which in a way is a sad reflection on civilized world�s inability to learn from its own mistakes). Another reason why I had a fringe interest in Spanish civil war (that made me pick this work by Orwell) was because of the fact that it had had a profound impact on Dali (Soft construction with Boiled beans is a work he produced to express his horror at the prospect of civil war in Spain, while Autumn Cannibalism was painted after the civil war broke out in July 1936.). Stark. Definitely worth a read.

I am enamored by Baroque music for last two days. I had heard Bach�s Brandenburg Concertos earlier but they couldn�t quite get me to pursue Bach beyond a point. But I�ve recently picked his double violin and violin concertos and now just can�t stop playing them! Its worth mentioning how my interest in Baroque was revived � one of the old Rahman CD I had picked from Chennai, had on it, score of another movie, by this composer called Deva. Now Deva is known less for his creative finesse and more for blatant plagiarizing, and indeed, true to his reputation has used a complete baroque piece as intro for one of the Tamil songs � I liked what I heard (the intro that is ;-)) and thus decided to give Bach another chance! I personally feel that these violin concertos are lot richer than the acclaimed Brandenburg concertos and have forced me to re-rank Bach somewhat higher amongst my mental list of classical composers.

Another surprise pick this week was Mozart. As much as I like western classical, I�ve never quite been able to cultivate taste for Mozart (barring 5 or 6 odd compositions by him). I picked first two (No. 14, K.367; No. 15, K. 467) of the six quartets that he had dedicated to Haydn (which is why they are sometimes collectively referred to as �Haydn Quartets�). The fact that Cleveland Quartet was performing them made the choice a little easier. [The Cleveland Quartet split up in 1995, and had performed for most of their recordings on a matched Stradivarius set that once belonged to Pagnini, on loan to them from Corcoran gallery of art]. Enjoying both the quartets � the final movement of K. 467 for some strange reason reminds me of Bach, perhaps it has a dash of Baroque in it. Both quartets have this noble, jovial romantic quality that makes you play them on and on�

These occasional digressions apart, I am glad that I mostly stick to Beethoven, the volumes of work other composers - most notably; Bach, Mozart and Haydn (100+ symphonies!) - churned out, would make it almost impossible for me to own their entire works without looking at the calamitous prospect of liquidating most of my tangible assets�

posted: 11.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Scary flowers�

Right at the entrance of our office there is a small patch of soil which has strange looking white flowers that resemble a hooded snake. The flowers are white � a color that you wouldn�t go on to associate with snakes at any rate, but their shape is what makes them so peculiar. They look especially wicked when a gentle breeze sets their long tender stems into a to and fro swaying motion, like that of a snake waddling its stretched hood under the influence of a snake-charmer�s music.

My camera has a mode where the shutter remains open for a longer time than usual � useful for flash-less photography in the dark against the backdrop of a well lit building. Conventionally, you are supposed to hold the camera very still after releasing the shutter so that the background is fully captured. However, if you move the camera rapidly, contrary to what conventional wisdom dictates, you can get some very interesting effects. The most common of them is the effect of light leaving blurred trails that gives the entire picture an eerie, dream-like appearance.

Shooting these flowers after setting my camera to this over-exposure night shot mode, and using the technique that I just mentioned, gave some astonishing results, the proof they say is in the pudding, here it is (click for the picture for the bigger version, it has not been touched digitally):

posted: 6.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Some music, and a healthy alternative to a late night pizza dinner�

  • A. R. Rahman has composed score for a Chinese movie! From the looks of it, the movie, Warriors of Heaven and Earth, has the makings of another Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, though a colleague, who watched it in Shanghai, didn�t find it impressive. Perhaps its one of those films that fare poorly locally, but end up appealing to the audiences worldwide (not to mention the Oscars they collect under the foreign movie panorama) As for the music, which is perhaps the only reason I bothered to mention the movie, is brilliant (at least whatever little the site has to offer). Do check-out the video for a visual and acoustic treat� Another CD gets added to my most sought after list.

  • I had chanced upon a rare Beethoven website - UnheardBeethoven.org just a few days ago. It�s a compendium of Beethoven works that are performed rarely, and unlike his symphonies and piano concertos, have little commercial availability. I had picked one of the works mentioned here at Amsterdam airport recently (Op. 40, rearrangement of his serenade for flute, violin and viola; for flute and piano), without knowing that it�s a rare piece. Another work which had eluded so far was Op. 104; which again, happens to be a rearrangement of one of his earlier works (Op. 1, Piano Trio No. 3). Found it just 2 days back at Amazon. The work features prominently in Vikram Seth�s An Equal Music and apparently in US, the book comes with two companion CDs containing pieces of classical music mentioned in the book. That settles another one of the rare, unheard pieces. (Thanks Vineeth for picking these up for me!). There is a merit to be sought in Beethoven�s own rearrangements of his previous works. The skill with which he takes two string instruments out of a score and replaces them with a piano (Op. 25 � Op. 40) or takes the piano out and introduces three string instruments (Op 1, No.3 � Op 104) leaves me marveling at the genius he was. Found Op. 130 and Op. 133 � the only two missing pieces from my Beethoven string-quartet collection � at Amazon as well. I�ve also spotted Beethoven�s Piano Concert No.1 as part of a box-set at the local store, and though it will be a terrible waste for me (I own concertos 2-5), I guess I�ll pick it � its Beethoven after all ;-).

  • Been listening heavily to Schubert�s Trout Quintet these days. It has gradually grown on me and is a lively, cheerful piece. For the first time I had picked a western classical CD not because it featured a composer that I was particularly fond of, nor because it had a piece that would interest me, but because the work was being performed by musicians that I really enjoy listening to � The Cleveland Quartet. The piece is also slightly unusual in its choice of musical instruments � never before, have I heard, a chamber work featuring Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass and Piano. The other piece I am hooked on to is Brahm�s Op. 25 � a Piano Quartet. It is a total contrast to Schubert�s Piano Quintet, slightly stark at that (you would expect that from a G Minor composition). In fact the string instruments have more of a collective identity than individual one. The �conversations� usually take place between the chorus of string ensemble and the Piano, the string instruments talk very little amongst themselves (or the exchanges are not very pronounced) � quite different from any of Beethoven�s string quartets (the second movement of Beethoven�s first Razumovsky quartet is an excellent example of what I mean by �conversation�).

  • If you are having a late night at work and are not particularly sure if you want to gorge yourself with a cold cheese laden pizza, then bear those hunger pangs for a little longer, head to the nearest Barista and pamper yourself to a Dark Hot-chocolate and cinnamon cookies (or the recently introduced wild-berry cookies); not only is this combo filling and delicious, it will also result in a deep, placid sleep (as I found out yesterday).

posted: 4.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Two studies in contrasts:

Here are two pictures that represent utterly contrasting themes and range from mildly amusing to profoundly thought-provoking�

Anyone with basic knowledge of Indian history would reckon that Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi though were united in their ultimate goal, differed greatly in their ideologies. While Gandhi believed in confrontation without actually confronting, Bose adopted the path of direct struggle to attain freedom. Though I am by no means qualified to justify either means (perhaps it�s a combination of the two that worked for us), I did ponder over the fact that one man�s seemingly rightful resistance for freedom can be other man�s terrorism (one wonders in what light would western media have portrayed India�s quest for Independence). So when I came across pictures of Gandhi and Bose hanging together in one frame, on my way to office, I was a little stupefied:

Gandhi, Bose

Like most interesting subjects so far, I came across the second one too while sauntering to office. I was a little disappointed at having missed clicking another butterfly (having clicked only flora so far, I now crave for fauna as subjects) just a little earlier in the day. I didn�t have to stay upset for long. I saw this beautiful creature delicately festooning the hard concrete surface of the road, as if posing there just in anticipation of a photographer. Needless to say, I didn�t disappoint the delectable, delicate butterfly:


(The butterfly fluttered in wings and disappeared within moments of my having taken this picture; I am feeling lucky!)

posted: 3.12.03 | permalink | 0 comments

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