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Some things don't change, while other change so much that you don't like them anymore. A colleague who has been a great friend and a mentor is moving on... I dread coming to office on Monday to my cubicle... Adios amigos friend!

posted: 30.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

All Things Dawn...

One of the things that I’ve been yearning to click besides the sunrise is pictures of morning dew. There were quite a few bamboo plants at the resort where we were staying about a week ago (Jala Dhama near Talakad). I discovered, that for some reasons, bamboo leaves hold on to droplets of dew (or rather the droplets stick to bamboo leaves, how does it matter, gets you the same result ;-)) for periods longer than other plants. In fact, I came across a few bamboo shoots, where every single leaf had a dew drop clinging to its tip! Here are some of the dewdrops that I photographed: (this should definitely give Mountain Dew’s “do the dew” phrase an entirely literal dimension ;-))

The first one is my personal favorite. The broad bamboo leaf in the background forms a perfect canvas on which the droplet casts a shadow. Sometimes using flash, even during broad daylight can get you stunning results. This is one such case. The color, the shadows and the contrasts were all enhanced greatly owing to the use of flash. Though I must confess that its use was a bit of serendipity, thanks to weak light early in the morning.

The second picture has two dew droplets. One perched atop the leaf like an overturned crystal bowl, the other about to drip from the leaf’s pointed tip. Both these droplets, reflect bamboo leaves around them. In fact both of them look impregnated with miniature worlds of their own – two drops, two worlds…

I couldn’t help smiling to myself once I saw the final outcome in its full resolution on PC. Both the leaf and the light brown bamboo shoot in the background are out of focus (much more pronounced in case of the bamboo shoot), but the dew drop looks sharp, largely because you can see a tiny in-focus reflection of the blurred bamboo shoot clearly through it.

posted: 28.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Images Broken... :-(

The images on my blog are badly broken - issues with box where I host them, should be fixed by tomorrow.

Update: Back in action now! The links to High-Res images should work...

posted: 27.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Abandoned Homes
Here are two of the recent pictures that I had clicked at Talakad (a small village about 400 KM away from Bangalore).

The first one was particularly hard to capture. I stumbled upon the cob-web during the course of my early morning saunter – that was easy, what was tough was to get my camera to focus on it. Most digital cameras, with their auto-focus, don’t like being told where the focus should be. It kept getting “locked” on to the green leafy background; totally ignoring the cob-web. Fortunately, the sun was rising right behind and its golden, morning rays illuminated each strand of the derelict cob-web evenly, making my job a tad simpler. After a few attempts, I heard the magical “click” sound capture a memorable (?) snap. The spider in the center was probably dead or had perhaps grown too old to bother mending its abode. The area around the spider, does look like a glass smashed by a speeding bullet (you’ll probably need to see the picture in full resolution to debate that observation. Do that anyways, because for some reason the slender filaments of cobweb look jagged in this low-res version :-)).

The second snap was a breeze. All I had to do was compose the shot patiently. Digital camera and patience? Allow me to explain. I haven’t invested a single penny on my camera and have been content with the 16 MB memory that had originally come with it – which roughly translates into 25-30 pictures, a trifle miserly if you are out on a trek for an entire day. On the flip-side, the limitation has resulted in some positive ramifications (mostly behavioral changes) that I am gradually realizing. I’ve grown prudent in what I click. While it has earned me a bad reputation of clicking more inanimate/inhuman subjects than humans, what I click is usually worth keeping around on my hard-disk. The second outcome has been patience. I don’t mind standing and waiting for 10 minutes if that is what it would take to get me the shot I am looking for. A bad shot is a lot when 25 is all you’ve got. So yes, I’ve evolved means of dealing with the measly 16 MB limit. The shortcoming that I am running into now (and haven’t been able to figure ways of tackling it) is shorter battery life. Waiting too long to compose a shot causes an enormous drain on the camera’s battery, which now runs out in fewer shots than average. Coming back to the picture; these are abandoned nests of the weaver birds hanging delicately from the branches of an old willow by the bank of calm Cauvery river backwaters.

posted: 27.1.04 | permalink | 1 comments

Sinfonia Eroica!

Its been a while since I discoursed about western classical… gosh, this blog doesn’t even look like my own! Starting this weekend, I’ve started “exploring” Beethoven’s symphonic works. I had pursued his 5th, 7th and 9th Symphonies but of late have been listening mostly to his Chamber works (the latest being his Op. 104 String Quintet rearrangement of Piano Trio No. 3).

If there is one work that stands out as far as the history of the symphony form is concerned, that’s Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony – “Eroica” (no typos here ;-), Eroica means Heroic). It changed the very way that the world looked at Symphonies. The world of early 19th century had come to suppose the four movements of the symphony to last for 20-25 minutes. Thanks to Haydn, who dominated the musical scene at that time, a symphony was expected to begin gently and then gradually build up to a grand, fast-paced crescendo towards its final movement. Eroica changed both these things. Not only was it a full 50 minutes; it also turned on its head the idea of starting easy and then gradually taking things to an elaborate conclusion. Bold, striking motifs that mark the beginning of the symphony accompany us to the very end – signature Beethoven.

Eroica, like a lot of other Beethoven works, has an interesting anecdote associated with it. Beethoven, by 1802, had realized with absolute certainty that he was going progressively deaf. He took hiatus from his routine and moved to a small village called “Heiligenstadt ”. It is here that he went through a phase of deep depression and even contemplated suicide. Eventually, he came to terms with the grim reality and resolved to create works that would leave their mark on coming generations. His reconciliation with his stark truth is marked by two works: The Op. 84, religious oratorio: Christus am Olberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives) and The Op.55, Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”.

But there is more. Beethoven was very deeply moved by Napoleon Bonaparte. He considered Napoleon a true hero for the way he had ended the despotic monarchy in France. Eroica was written in dedication to his hero Napoleon. In 1804, Napoleon conferred on himself the title of “Emperor”. This gravely upset Beethoven and in a fit of rage he struck the name of Napoleon off the cover of the manuscript of his 3rd symphony so fiercely that it tore a hole in it. However, his admiration for Napoleon did not completely vanish, in fact, he later added “written on Bonaparte” in pencil. However, the symphony wasn’t published till 1806, a year when Austria was at war with France. And so, for obvious reasons, the symphony was titled a more generic, “Sinfonia Eroica” or the Heroic Symphohny.

P.S: Eroica has been the subject of a recent BBC movie, would love to get my hands on it one day.

P.P.S: I am not too pleased with the cover of my Eroica CD. I refuse to associate the color magenta with heroism at any rate, scarlet may be, but magenta? Here is how I would have done the cover: (you can see what the original looks like here):

posted: 25.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Rising Sun

For someone who claims to be an early morning person, it was embarrassing for me to not have a single sunrise photograph in my repertoire. It was definitely not for want of trying, yet despite several valiant, concerted efforts the rising sun had eluded me.

Roughly a year back I was in Goa with a colleague on work (no kidding!). He was reluctant to share the hotel room; given my notoriety for getting up at the crack of the dawn (which is usually followed by drawing the curtains off to let the sunlight in), but eventually agreed. We were having an exceptionally strenuous week and the last thing he wanted, after we came back dead tired in the evening, was to be woken up the next day at 5:00 in the morning. I was visiting Goa for the first time. The last time I had seen a sea was when I was in class 8 so when I came to know that we were putting up in a resort by the sea, I insisted that we sleep with the windows open to allow the soothing sound of the sea to pour in. This was all very fine but for the fact that we let a nefarious army of mosquitoes in as well. Given our fatigue levels we could ignore mosquitoes and were indeed snoring in no time and yet the moment the dawn beckoned I was up, all ready to capture the sunrise in all its pristine glory on the borrowed digital camera of my colleague. I rushed out of our cozy room to the beach and waited for the sun to come up. Minutes passed, it had gotten very bright but there was no trace of sun on the horizon. And then suddenly it sprang above our hotel rooms, too bright to be shot. I was disappointed because what I had in mind was a sunrise from the sea. It then occurred to me that Goa is on the western coast of India and so I might get picturesque sunsets, a sunrise is something I would never catch there – at least not from behind the sea. The experience taught me to always check my directions before darting off at dawn with a camera.

The next opportune moment to grab a sunrise came this weekend. We were visiting a small sleepy village in Karnataka – Talakad which is a few kilometers away from Mysore. The place is famous for Cauvery river backwaters. I was determined this time to catch sunrise. (It might not be the same thing as the sun rising at sea but its definitely as breathtaking). I got up early (inconveniencing yet another colleague) and this time managed a few decent snaps too! Enough anecdotes, lets now move on to the obligatory descriptions of the pictures…

The first picture is that of the crescent moon – hang on, wasn’t this all about sunrise? Actually, couldn’t resist clicking the waning moon just moments before the sunrise. The sun gradually rose from behind the river – a gentle glowing orange ball of fire that you can easily capture. Within seconds the docile sun turns into a fierce glowing sphere that you cannot even stare at, leave aside clicking a snap. The last three "sunrise" pictures were taken only seconds apart and yet notice how daunting the sun appears in the last one.

posted: 22.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Black and White Photography

As far as photography is concerned, I am (still) an amateur. This makes me unfit for disputing or endorsing the merits of black and white photography (never poke your nose into matters you don’t fully understand :)). However, when opportunity to experiment with the form did present itself, I did not hesitate. Here are the results:

  • This one is titled “Childhood Memories”. The rest of the explanation, as they tell you in textbooks, is left as an exercise for the educated reader... ;-)

  • Now this one would take a bit of explaining. I had taken this shot during my recent trip to Kovallam beach. It was a bright sunny day. The only colors that seemed to dominate the scenery were the blues of skies and the sea, and the pale-grey of sandy beach. Then I came across these two crossed red flags, hoisted there to warn the casual swimmer of the perilous depth ahead. The hue of these flags added a dash of vibrancy to the otherwise monotonous landscape. Which is why when I converted the original to grayscale, I left the flags untouched…

Random Quote of the day: “If only shadows had colors…”

posted: 21.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Quintessentially Indian

Here is a small 30 second video that I captured while coming to office in an auto-rickshaw. I stay barely 3 KM away from work, but the stretch, is replete with clichés that you would attribute to a commute in any big city in India today – chaos, dust, smoke and bumpy, very bumpy ride. There is very little lane discipline and you’ll see two wheelers, taxis, auto-rickshaws and buses all mired in perennial contest to overtake, outdo each other. A local Kannada number belted out by the loud radio in my auto, forms the perfect background score for my first attempt at doing a video. In fact, the track blends itself so nicely into the video, that you would almost think that I was attempting a music video to start with!

Watch the video

Note: You will need Apple's Quicktime besides lot of bandwidth and patience for the video to work :-).

posted: 18.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Terse Verse

I wanted to keep
This blog entry terse
And so I’ll state things
Entirely in verse
I am no entomologist
Heck I never even tried
Yet this blog entry
Deals entirely with Butterflies
The first pic was taken
On a road-side bush
The brown winged butterfly
Fluttered around for a while
And then suddenly it rested, hush

The second one was at roadside
In Bangalore
Purple leaves, play of light and shade
And two butterflies galore!
The first one on top left
Is a folded, pallid leaf
The second, brown again, in the center
Is real! You better believe!
The third one rested delicately in an unusual spot
That I would find it there
Is not something I ever thought
Life they say is not in black and white
Except old movies, zebras and some Butterflies!

posted: 16.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

15th was a day off in Bangalore for Pongal/Sakranti, which gave me time to catch up with quite a few things. Here is another trio of unrelated, inconsequential, random ramblings:

  • My apartment has been in a mess for last few days (didn’t quite have a flying start to the new year – was in bed on 1st Jan with high fever, all alone!). A bright sunny day is always perfect for mopping and laundry today was no exception…

  • Finally finished another William Golding novel – The Inheritors. Like the last two works of Golding that I’ve read, this one too is a masterpiece! Golding takes us to a time when Neanderthal man was giving way to the modern, more evolved species of humans. We start with a small Neanderthal family. The language, used by Golding during this phase of the novel is very simple – short sentences with very little coherence between them. Something that captures the uncomplicated, inconsistent thought process of Neanderthal man beautifully. Somewhere later in the novel, our Neanderthal family is confronted with their more advanced cousins. The “new people” have evolved the institution of family further – into tribe. The novel here switches to a style of writing which is reflective of the way the “new people’s” minds work – intricate, complex. We suddenly enter a world of convoluted human relationships, the world of love, jealousy, hatred, fear, revenge. A range of emotions far diverse than what Neanderthal man is shown to be capable of. Don’t want to give away too much – this book is a must read!

  • Despite it being a working day today, I caught the last show of The Last Samurai yesterday. Nothing exceptional (predictable Hollywood fare) though worth a watch. Western Classical Trivia: The sequence in the beginning of the movie where Tom Cruise meets his Japanese counterparts over dinner, had Mozart’s String Quartet No. 14, K. 387 playing in the background. The first movement of the quartet plays very faintly for about two minutes and then fades away… I almost wished that I could turn the dialogs down and crank the background score’s volume up. Quartet No. 14 is first of the six Quartets that Mozart wrote in dedication to Haydn and is one of the few Mozart works that I really enjoy.

posted: 15.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Lakeer, Salmons and Op. 135
The three of them are not related except for the fact that they all appear together in today’s blog entry. Read on….

  • A. R. Rahman composes for a Hindi flick; Lakeer – his first release for this year. Unfortunately it’s a thorough let down. Of the six tracks, three reuse tunes from Tamil movie Rhythm. The other three disappoint too. Copying tunes from his own score is nothing new for Rahman but not once have I enjoyed the redone, rehashed versions… Now I have some fond memories associated with the original Tamil version. I was in Hong Kong in Aug 2000 and had been there for over 15 days, my first visit away from home and India; naturally, I was terribly homesick. We were working late. It was a stormy night outside and I could clearly see streaks of lightening; with rain gushing down, from my 9th storey cubicle window. Audio for Rhythm had just been released back in India and I had managed to get hold of the first track online – Nilamay Poru Nilamay. Just listening to Shankarm Mahadevan’s voice and Rahman’s captivating score filled me with a strange warmth and vivid emotions - for moments I was back home again. Snap to year 2004; I am listening to Daler Mehndi’s blaring voice reproduce the most unflattering rendition of the same song, dubbed, Nachley – valid reason to be upset?

  • Raj is a great friend and colleague of mine. On our way out to lunch, we often indulge in these strange verbal duets that mostly defy any logical pattern but usually brood on a variety of topics both personal and professional. When I told him about how nonplussed I’ve been at my sudden mood swings of past few days, especially since I’ve been back from home, he quipped – “change of weather my friend - if you were a salmon, you would be swimming upstream against the current to lay eggs”. He was hinting at a topic which is of eternal concern to all moms of the world – seeking lifelong companionship for their sons (or daughters), though I am sure no mom would put it across quite the same way… Fortunately, I am no egg bearing trout though I do act fishy at times… (bad one!)

  • I’ve recently finished my collection of Beethoven’s String Quartets (17 of them including the Op. 133 Grosse Fugue). Its been an interesting journey. His Quartet works are (very imaginatively) classified chronologically as “Early”, “Mid” and “Late”. I got involved with these Quartets about eight months ago, beginning with the Late works (Op. 132 and 135 were the first works I picked, Op. 135 being last Quartet that Beethoven wrote). I was listening to western classical fairly extensively then but was random in my pursuit (Symphony one day, Piano concerto the other and hardly any chamber music). The switch to Quartets was triggered by Milan Kundera’s book – “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” – basically a love story (or may be I am trivializing a bit here) analyzed from a very deep, philosophical perspective. On page 31, there is an account of Beethoven’s Op. 135 quartet (complete with sheet music illustration of final movement’s opening bars!) and on page 191, the famous “Es muss sein” anecdote that its final movement is often associated with. In fact, Op. 135 is a recurring theme throughout the story. Let me quote from the book itself:

    “A certain Dembscher owed Beethoven fifty florins, and when the composer , who was chronically short of funds, reminded him of the debt, Dembscher heaved a mournful sigh and said, ‘Muss es sein?’ To which Beethoven replied, with a hearty laugh, ‘Es muss sein’ and immediately jotted down these words with their melody. On this realistic motif he then composed a canon for four voices: three voices sing ‘Es muss sein, Es muss sein, ja, ja, ja, ja!’ (It must be, It must be, yes, yes, yes, yes!) and the fourth voice chimes in with ‘Heraus mit dem Beutel!’ (Out with the Purse!). A year later the same motif showed up as the basis of the fourth movement of the last quartet, Opus 135. By that time Beethoven had forgotten about Dumbshcer’s purse. The words ‘Es muss sein’ had acquired a much more solemn ring; they seemed to issue directly from lips of Fate. In Kant’s language even the words ‘Good Morning’, suitably pronounced, can take shape of metaphysical thesis. German is a language of heavy words. ‘Es muss sein’ was no longer a joke; it had become ‘der schwer gesfasste Entschluss (the difficult or weighty resolution).”

    Now while I won’t highly recommend the book itself (for several reasons), I would definitely vouch for Beethoven’s string quartets. They are undoubtedly the pinnacle of his musical expression. On one hand, not having anyone around who would appreciate or understand their technical merits sometimes makes me feel terribly lonely, their beauty and vivacity balances this feeling of void out…
posted: 13.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Looking Skywards (II)
As child, while walking on a busy road, I was always admonished to look straight ahead and not at the sky. The habit has lingered on with one change - now that I have a camera, I have something to show for my absent minded skyward gazing…

Moon again. I am fascinated by moon, especially when it is sighted in the noon. There is an inexplicable charm about the crescent, wispy mid-day moon that I find hard to ignore. In the picture below you’ll also see a patch of cloud, to the left of the moon, resembling head of a dragon; complete with a protruding snout, all set to devour the moon…

The sky was clear without a speck of cloud. Quietly, an airplane drifted away across the skies. Smoothly, effortlessly, afloat…

posted: 11.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Lego Workers
As a software developer I was always glad to never have been in a situation that would warrant using products which I had developed. (I could state with certitude the general applicability of the statement to manufacturer of medicines too).

From the fourth floor balcony of our office you can see (as you would expect from a fourth floor balcony in a city) a vast array of buildings. A little far away in the corner you can locate a prominent concrete structure which is coming up fast. During the day, you will find workers in their yellow or white construction helmets toiling hard at the gargantuan concrete box. The distance between this new upcoming building and that of our office is such that all you can spot is the frenzied movements of tiny match-stick sized human figures and their shining head gear. As if those construction workers; from a child’s Lego set, had come alive…

I wonder, if just like me, they also are only too glad never to have used what they produced…

(you must see the picture in its full resolution to appreciate the “Legoesqueness” of the construction workers)
posted: 8.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Trip to Mysore...
My only connection with the subject of “History” is the fact that it rhymes with “Chemistry” (I am a Chemist by education). Had someone told me a few days back that I would be attending a congregation of Historians from across the various parts of the country in Mysore, I would have dismissed it as a mere flight of fancy, though if I put to use the advantage of hindsight I have now, that dismissal would have been utterly misplaced. My sister is studying to be a historian and as part of her pre-doctorate studies she had to present a paper at the Indian History Congress, which this year was being organized at Mysore University. Since she was to leave from Bangalore, I joined her for the trip. (Sometimes just being with people who are not even remotely connected to what you studied or do professionally, can give you surprising perspectives to things you thought you knew well). Mysore is well connected to Bangalore via both trains and road. It is about 150 KM away and makes for a pleasant drive that lasts a little over 3 hours.

The preparations for our journey started with selection of the car we wanted to hire. We were on a shoestring budget and wanted to keep the travel costs low, so a big car like Esteem was ruled out from the word go. It boiled down to choice between the good old Ambassador (fondly called “Ambi”) and Tata Indica. I’ve traveled to Chandigarh from Delhi once in Indica and it makes for a good ride on the highways and so we opted for the latter.

Our journey started sharp at 5:00 AM in the morning from my flat. It was still dark outside and a tad chilly too. Moments into the drive, my sis dozed off, while I listened to Mozart’s Piano Concerto 20 – its one of the two piano concertos of Mozart’s that he wrote in a minor scale (D minor). The recording I have is digital avatar of an old Clara Haskil recording and makes for a somber, sublime listening (especially the second movement). Given the lack of traffic early in the morning, we soon found ourselves cruising on the Bangalore – Mysore road. Sis was still blissfully asleep, while I continued my observations on Mozart and the world scurrying past outside.

The Bangalore-Mysore highway is not a “flat” one. There are gentle slopes that you continuously negotiate. The road although somewhat narrow for a highway, has traffic flowing in both directions. There is a demarcation into lanes, but that is hardly ever adhered to. The bigger your vehicle, the more is your audacity to shun lane discipline. This combined with the sloping nature of the road makes the entire journey a little scary- even more so when it is dark. As you are approaching up a gentle slope, you would see a halo of light hanging about far away. The halo would gradually approach you and in no time it would turn into clearly demarcated beams of light. Within moments you would be confronted by harsh headlights of a vehicle, coming at you at a ludicrous speed. This blinds you for an instant and makes it impossible for you to tell the exact nature of the vehicle – all you see is a glaring pair of headlights which could be of a car or of a truck or (as is case the on this route), a tourist bus. Fortunately our driver was an old hand and negotiated all these challenges deftly.

It was 5:45 now, the dawn would crack in another 15-20 minutes but for now the stars still twinkled clearly in the firmament. The illuminated dashboard of the car reflected in the glass pane opposite the driver’s seat and merged with my view of the numerous stars. Dawn descended gradually. A gentle orange gleam hung at the horizon which very subtly manifested itself into a golden pall that covered the entire land. With the sunrise, the seemingly featureless dark spaces on our either sides morphed themselves into green fields, coconut trees and distant huts. Our car gradually came to a halt at a petrol pump. We had reached our first stopover – Maddur.

Maddur is half-way between Bangalore and Mysore. Across the road was a small restaurant called “Maddur Tiffany’s” that serves an array of snacks including ubiquitous idlies and dosas, but what takes the cake is a delicacy called (quite imaginatively) “Maddur Vada”. I had eaten it before in Bangalore but did not know that its name is attributed to the place of its origin. Unlike the conventional vada which is doughnut shaped, this vada is disk shaped and is very “stiff”. The dough used in its preparation is probably similar to vada and is deep fried with shredded onions. It tastes more like the “mathri” that we get up north and is served with a thick paste-like coconut chutney which has a hint of sourness probably due to a dash of tamarind that is added to it. We liked them so much that we got six of them packed for folks back home. Of course the breakfast would be incomplete without idlies, vada and a strong, sweet filter coffee!

After this refreshing twenty minute stop over, we proceeded to the second half of our journey. The scenery remained more or less consistent throughout. Occasionally we would hit a small town and would see walls plastered with scores of posters of latest Kannada movies. Its funny how traces of English or Hindi vanish - even from the graffiti - as you make inroads into deeper parts of the state, giving me ample opportunity to brush up my Kannada reading skills. Within 45 minutes we found ourselves in Srirangapatnam which was the capital of Tipu Sultan a very small town which we could drive across in less than 10 minutes.

At last we found ourselves at our final destination – Mysore. My first impressions were that of a stereotypical, small, dusty, sleepy Indian town. It was 8 AM on a Sunday and so the town was still coming to life when we entered. The clock tower was the hub of activity but most shops were still closed. Being in the middle of the town had considerably slowed us down. Although we knew that we had to reach Mysore University, we weren’t quite sure where it was. Unlike the famous palace there, it is certainly not a tourist attraction which meant that our driver was as clueless as we were. A little bit of asking around the auto-wallahs thrust us in the right direction and got us to the main university campus.

The campus is somewhat secluded from the main city. Very quiet and quite lush. There is even a small lake near-by. Two banners with their big English lettering beckoned to us our arrival at the “Senate Hall” which was the hub for this year’s Indian History Congress. The atmosphere did not have a hint of formalness and could be easily mistaken for a grand picnic. We entered the main hall, and began our search for the registration counter where my sis could submit her paper. I was a little taken aback by the lack of organization and chaos. There was an air of uncouthness with which the business was being conducted. Not a single computer in sight – everything was being done manually with heaps of dog-eared papers, commotion and queues all around. But then this was historians we were dealing with. After standing in two queues, witnessing few unruly scenes and a resilient effort later my sister could register herself. The main inaugural function was at Crawford Hall, about 1 KM away from the main Senate Hall. We followed the official shuttle and reached there at 10:45. The entry to the hall was restricted only to the attendees of the conference which meant that only my sis could get in. I was more than happy to excuse myself from the proceedings and set out to explore…

I first told the driver to take me to an eating place where they served local food – preferably where the hoi-polloi ate. Not sure if I quite got my point across as I was soon taken to a rather posh looking Hotel Siddhartha. Outside a giant Santa cutout, with a trumpet in one hand, wished me a merry Christmas and a happy new year. The interiors were plush but the place did server authentic Mysore food. I devoured a handsome Mysore Butter Masala dosa with a strong coffee. Food, glorious food!

Mysore is probably the only city I know of which has been named after a demon from Indian mythology – “Maheshasura”. The demon was slain by goddess Chamundi whose temple is located atop a hill named after her. The hill is barely 7 KM away from the center of the town. On my way, I saw a set of govt. flats in the foothills. They looked very toy-like with the massive Chamundi hills in the backdrop. The hills are covered in vegetation and there is well constructed road that takes you to the summit where the temple is. The drive to the top is like any other drive uphill – a measured, careful drive up the curling, serpentine road that spirals around the hill all the way up. Within twenty minutes you find yourself facing a giant statue of Maheshasura with a primordial sword in one hand and a big leopard-spotted snake in another – a very popular milieu, especially amongst kids for getting their pictures snapped. Right behind the statue there is an open area encircled by small shops where you park your vehicle. To your left is a narrow lane; with hundreds small shops on either sides, that you walk through, for reaching the temple. The place, this being Sunday, was very crowded. During my passage through the lane, I came across shops selling eatables and cold drinks, religious offerings for devout worshippers, cassettes, toys, bracelets, bangles, incense sticks, handicrafts, charms, stuffed teddy bears – you name it! The 500 meter lane opened into another wide open space where enormous, adorned temple stood tall. While driving up the hill, the way the noise from the city traffic faded, I was lead into anticipating an august calm at the temple – the reality was far from it. Thousands of restless, chattering devotees standing in a huge queue for getting inside the temple made a collective din that ruined the peace of the serine hilltop. The summit is also not a great place for taking snaps of the city below. The vegetation obscures the view and all I managed when I looked down the bushy thicket was two buffalos leisurely swimming in a muddy puddle below.

I grew uneasy and decided to head back without a visit inside the temple. This time I paid some more attention to the shops surrounding the narrow lane and found a few interesting things - mostly musical - worth mentioning. A lot of the shops sell toys – one of them had a rather cheesy looking toy piano with an incomplete octet – just the C, D, E notes then a complete octet followed by another triplet of C, D, E keys and a lone key in the end – a full white key without a “sharp” black key. Above it was a toy gun. The piano had been murdered and the weapon was left on the site. Few steps down the alley, was another shop selling cassettes. I was dumbfounded by the sheer assortment of cassettes – from latest Tamil, Hindi, Kannada flicks to compilation of A R. Rahman numbers to Alisha Chenoy and Adnan Sami’s albums to cassettes with devotional songs all sharing the same shelf-space. As if the owner of the shop had taken upon himself to showcase the vibrant diversity of our country! What blared from speakers in these shops was distinctly religious – from chants of gayatri mantra to hymns and prayers in one of the Indian dialects that I don’t understand.

Since was atop a rather tall hill, I definitely wanted to click a few snaps of the view below. Once I was out in the open parking lot, I looked around for a good vantage point for my shot. There was a narrow corner where a small road went downhill. I walked down and finally came to a spot from where I could see a great part of the city clearly. I composed my shot with intense concentration which was very shortly disturbed by the sound of trickling water. It didn’t take me long to realize that what I considered a vantage point was also a popular spot for men to face the valley and take a leak. A disgusting, disturbing public toilet habit in India which I’ve found everywhere with striking consistency. . I brusquely rushed to the car, upset and appalled.

We began our slow descent downhill and finally came to a spot where a huge billboard informed us of it being an ideal location for photography. I told my driver to stop and went on to take a few snaps in peace of what was labeled “Aerial view of Mysore”. On my left was a small diversion – a narrow road that took us to the statue of Nandi bull. A magnificent idol carved out of a black stone. Very close to the statue was a small decrepit “cave” temple of lord Shiva. A few monkeys played about near the cave, some of them perched atop the trees surrounding the cave. One of them marched around on all fours near the temple gate and though it looked timid and frail, it made me keep my distance. Close to me was another monkey who looked as if one of its limb (arm) had been amputated. My expertise in zoology wouldn’t let me comment if it was a congenital defect or result of some ghastly accident, but it sure looked very weird (and sad) to see a monkey on just three appendages. Within minutes I was back in the car again and we continued our descent down.

A SMS from my sister informed me of the delay she was facing at the inaugural ceremony which gave me another hour to go around the town.

My next stop was the Cathedral of St. Philomena. The cathedral is modeled on the cathedral in Cologne. The cathedral’s two tall towers are what capture your attention at first. Both of them are 165 feet high with a cross another 12 feet in height on top. Inside there are long wooden benches arranged in queues and the walls are adorned with paintings depicting events from the time when Christ was crucified. Colored light filters in from the stained glasses above. And though photography inside the cathedral is strictly prohibited, it did not stop people from using cameras built into their mobile phones from snapping. Overall the grand gothic exteriors of church leave on you a deeper impression than the poorly kempt interiors.

It was now time to head back to the university and run a quick check on what my sister was up to. Outside Crawford Hall a stream of policemen and white ambassadors indicated that someone of significance, a head of Government, was inside. We were grudgingly allowed to park inside the hall compound and I started exchanging SMSs with my sis to trace her whereabouts. She stood outside the main hall and sure looked flustered at the delays that the inauguration was marred with. The guest of honor at this particular event was chief minister of Karnataka Mr. S. M. Krishna and he had failed miserably to leave any mark on the audience by means of his tired oration. Though he had begun by apologizing profusely for his delayed arrival, my sister didn’t think that it (apology) had any roots in sincerity. Ah the little girl is getting cynical already!

Since our early morning breakfast at Maddur, she hadn’t had anything to eat. So the first rare consensus we arrived at, dealt with the subject of lunch. The driver was again instructed to take us to hotel Siddartha. When we reached there we found that another two buses packed with tourists had descended at the same restaurant and it would be impossible to grab lunch in time for her paper. And so we headed off to another place, called The President. The menu here was very disappointing – not a single dish that would make us relate to Mysore. We reluctantly agreed on Hyderabadi vegetables with chapattis. Once we were out of the wretched place I started frantically looking for our driver, who fortunately spotted me and gesticulated to inform us that he had to park at the hotel’s underground parking. Across the road stood an imposing two storey high cutout of a famous Kannada star Upendra outside a theatre showing his latest movie - “Goukarna”. I’ve seen a few liquor ads featuring him in Bangalore. On our way back I saw a poster advertising Nandini milk where he stood with a poly-pack of milk in either hand and sported a broad grin. It all looked so comical that I couldn’t help a hearty laugh (reminded me of the famous “Got Milk” campaign they ran in US a few years ago).

Once back at the university, my sister started her frantic search for the hall where she was to deliver her paper. It was a last moment entry in the medieval Indian history section and that caused her jitters about the shroud of uncertainty that loomed large over inclusion of her paper in today’s proceedings. I joined her at the basement of “Senate” hall where historians dealing with medieval Indian history had assembled. The business here was being conducted with thorough seriousness that you would expect from researchers involved in their subject for long periods. The group of historians present in that room painted a true picture of geographic and cultural diversity of India – both in terms of the parts of the country they represented as well as in terms of the subjects they had chosen to handle. We had papers that dealt with peasants in Deccan India in medieval times to rulers of Jammu around Mughal era. My sister had done a study on one of the authoritative sources on Sufism and spoke on how that source imbibed influences from other sources of its time. While I did not register much of the technical nitty-gritty, what she said did make sense – fortunately also to other members of the audience. There was another paper after hers and the meeting was dismissed for first day.

It was 5:30 already and all tourist spots – including the Mysore Palace – close for public around that time, which meant the only option we had was to head straight back to Bangalore. We resumed our drive, exhausted after the day’s travails. The Sun set to my left and painted the skies orange once again as our car sped along on the Mysore Bangalore road.
posted: 6.1.04 | permalink | 0 comments

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