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Hampi Visit- II. Andante con moto
When driving away (or being driven away as is always the case with me) from Bangalore, the transition from an urban to a rural landscape is not an abrupt one. Tall glass-metal-concrete structures taper off to squat single storey houses which then vanish into vast fields on either side of the road. Bangalore, like our other metros is not a city of enormous distances and within an hour’s drive we were racing on a national highway. The stray light from the headlights of our bus would illuminate an occasional roadside hovel transitorily. In one such hutch, I caught a glimpse of countless white chicken huddled together in a hencoop. Two rats, oblivious of my short-lived intrusion on their privacy, chased each other on the parapet of the same primitive lodgings. And then within moments I was staring into the dark nothingness once again. The tedium of black broke for a few seconds when a white luxury tourist bus sped past ours, offering ephemeral glimpses of its interiors. The only source of light inside it was a small TV screen playing a movie. Having heard from friends and acquaintances the quality of cinema that is doled out on such routes, I felt glad for being where I was.

The cool breeze that now flowed from my window slit, induced in me a state of sweet sleepiness. I took out music from my hand bag; which (the music, that is) to me is as essential a companion as a towel to a hitchhiker in the galaxy.

After having driven for another hour or so, the bus took a left turn on the highway and slowed down to stop next to a roadside restaurant (named very imaginatively like most restaurants in Bangalore as Shanti Sagar). Our Bus conductor made some house keeping announcements on the bus’s public address system in a booming, blaring (which was largely a contribution by the loudspeakers) voice – first in Kannada and then (I think a terser version of the same) in English, with undue emphasis on availability of clean toilets in the restaurants. I sat in the open area of the restaurant, surrounded by a tastefully done kitchen garden, and used broken fragments from my limited reserve of Kannada vocabulary to order a South Indian thaali. A thaali frees you from the taxing exercise of picking what you want to eat – the restaurant makes all the choices (usually the right ones) for you. Having washed a delicious meal down with a hot cup of tea I felt disposed towards a little walk – though the fear of bus departing without me confined me to a limited radius around it; like a planet bound by gravitational vow to its orbit around the sun.

I looked up at the moon and then below at the white sandy wasteland surrounding the restaurant. It was littered with a confused hotchpotch of tire-treads, footprints of children, marks left by designer sport-shoes, dog paws and cattle hooves. To these I could contribute only a few specimen of my own for once other people started emerging from the restaurant, I got back into the bus and busied myself in contemplation of music for the remaining journey. “What shall we play Deepak? Something dark and dour as the road and night ahead? Clara Haskil’s rendition of Mozart’s D-minor piano concerto would be most befitting then!”

I dozed off somewhere during the second movement of the D-minor concerto and when my eyes opened next, John O’ Conor was negotiating a tricky cadenza just before the coda of the first movement of Mozart’s 21st Piano Concerto. From the frequent swerving and careening of our bus it was evident that our driver too was negotiating the movement of the bus on the now one-and-a-half lane wide (though still bi-directional) highway with a skill next only to that of Mr. Conor’s. I slept off once more only to be woken up shortly by violent trembling of the bus. The earphones by some miracle were still inside my ears but the music that they were pouring in, sounded tremulous. The trio of my three tiny ear ossicles - stapes, incus and malleus – have never been shaken so badly before. This is about as subtle as I can be in commentary on the state of our highways. I dumped my musical paraphernalia back into my handbag and tried once again to summon some sleep.

My next rude awakening came about at ten past two in the morning. The bus had stopped on the highway at a roadside fruit-juice and tea stall. A few people got down for refreshments but a look at old lady sleeping on the seat next to me quelled whatever little willingness I had for getting down. I hoped that the driver was enjoying his cup of hot tea. “It should keep him up” I muttered to myself half-asleep. The often heard tales of drivers “sleep-driving” their vehicles on highways were working their mischief in my mind. Two in the morning is no time for such contemplations - as the bus started its not so gentle rhythmic rocking, they were usurped by uneasy sleep once again.
posted: 30.1.05 | permalink | 6 comments

Man and Moon
While the right words answer my summons to appear for my travelogues, I thought I would start posting pictures that either share little context with the recent Hampi visit or could pass with minimal background information:

I took this picture when clicking the sunset near Tungabhadra Dam. As the sun began its downward plunge, the moon sprang up into prominence right behind. Accidentally, it being a busy road, the head of this gentleman passing on his bike, aligned itself more or less perfectly under the moon (visible here as a faint pale blemish exactly in the middle of the two towers) - giving the entire composition an eerie, surreal feel.

P.J.: The guy must’ve had a really bright idea for the entire moon to be glowing over his head!
posted: 28.1.05 | permalink | 4 comments

Hampi Visit- I. Preludio: Allegretto ma non troppo
My decision to visit Hampi was an impulsive one – the act now, think later sorts that I usually make first thing in the morning while I am still coming to terms with abrupt end of a pleasant dream. I broached the idea of a weekend trip with friends and colleagues alike but as all of them claimed preoccupation with one thing or the other, it became obvious to me that I would be going solo. Thus began a frenzied search on the net, for more information on Hampi, first hand accounts of other visitors (such as one wonderful photo-essay here), and most importantly for means of getting there. After some contemplation I settled for a Karnataka Tourism packaged tour. The deal offered by KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation) looked fabulous – for just 1,045 Rs, I could visit Mantralaya, Hampi and Tungabhadra Dam; accommodation included! That Mantralaya is a place of great religious significance in Andhra is something that I learned only much later (more on that and other theological matters a little later) – the bus was to go to Hampi and it was all that mattered!

I slunk out of office after lunch on Tuesday to the KSTDC Corporation Circle office and procured my window-seat bus ticket for the 3 night 2 day whirlwind tour. The balance working days were soaked in anticipation and anxiety (and occasional display of braggadocio and my bus ticket to friends who had refused me company ;-)). Friday introduced some jarring notes into my cantabile sonata. My piano class was cancelled. An important meeting at office (which unlike the piano class I did not look forward to) was cancelled. I began to take these events as portents that my trip too would shortly meet with same fate. And indeed, thanks to all the hoopla surrounding the evangelist Benny Hinn’s visit, it came frighteningly close to that. At five in the evening however, having been reassured on phone by the good folks at KSTDC, I began packing in right earnest. The trip was still on and on on-time!

A little evening snack, and a rushed auto-ride later I was at the KSTDC office once again, this time for boarding the bus with other passengers.

Having recently heard a spectacular account of KSTDC’s Tirupati tour, I had begun to fancy that my journey would be in a plush comfortable vehicle. The bus I shortly found myself in, was anything but that. The overhead bin above my seat was occupied by defunct air-conditioning gear, forcing me to share my already capacious quartes with my backpack. It was a little warm inside, so instinctively I tried to open the seat’s window. But alas, it was jammed so badly that even after application of my entire mortal self to the purpose of sliding it asunder, I could only manage to push a little crack between the glass and the window pane – large enough to allow passage of air sufficient for keeping a mouse from being asphyxiated. The chairs would recline but only after a tricky maneuver involving reasonable force. Overall the conditions were just marginally better than an economy class flight. I say better because I not only had my own supply (whatever little) of fresh air, I would also be spared airline food! (These buses halt for fresh meals at road side eateries, which, as I found out, serve fare which is both delicious and economical).

Ten minutes after the scheduled departure time, the engine of our bus roared to life. We began our crawl to the national highway outside Bangalore city limits.
posted: 26.1.05 | permalink | 12 comments

Impressionism and where I've been
Leaves or careless strokes of an Impressionist?

On personal front, back home after visit to Hampi. My trip notes and countless pictures need some work before they are shipshape. I am glad that 26th is a holiday - for it will give me time to dragoon appropriate words to assume their rightful office in my trip write-up. Not too happy with the way the pictures have finally come out - clicking historical ruins in harsh sunlight for a whole day is obviously an endeavor very different from my usual urban escapades! I have also realized that my knowledge of Indian History rests on a very shaky ground; an abject inadequacy that I must address in coming days.

For now I have to deal with my fusty apartment which is only marginally better (especially in accumulation of dust) than an excavation site.

posted: 23.1.05 | permalink | 10 comments

Short notes on some of the books I finished reading recently (last two months or so) in no particular order:

To The Ends of The Earth: Was originally conceived by the author William Golding as three separate books – Rites of Passage, Close Quarter and Fire Down Below. The book, right from its Foreword - where Golding gives an interesting account of how the trilogy came about – to its very last page, is an enjoyable read.

The story, set in early nineteenth century, is a first hand account of our imaginary protagonist, Edmund FitzHenry Talbot’s journey from England to Australia. It is one of those rare books about a long Sea voyage which has no buccaneers, no shipwrecks and no islands (not if you consider Australia an island – but then come to think of it, all continents are islands), though you will get your fair share of tempests.

There is a certain charm in Golding’s witty writing which I wish I could even scarcely imitate! Take for instance this entry from Mr. Talbot’s journal which he writes after waking from influence of a paregoric; having completely lost track of days since when he was keeping his log. He puts a big X on the masthead of the page and begins his entry:

‘I think it is the seventh – or the fifth – or the eighth perhaps – let “X” do its algebraic duty and represent the unknown quantity’

If you like Golding, pick it up right away. If you don’t, perhaps you need to take another look at the author and this is just the right book for the purpose. If you haven’t read Golding, you have been depriving yourself of some of the finer things in life (not to mention some of the finer works of English literature!)

Beethoven’s Hair: When I read the title of this book for the first time, I took it for handy work of printer’s devil. Surely the author meant Heir not Hair! It so turned out, the devilry here was of my own ignorance. When Beethoven died in 1827, several locks of his hair were snipped and kept by his admirers as souvenirs. One such lock appeared at Sotheby’s for auction, where it was picked up by two American Beethoven enthusiasts. The lock, neatly folded in a glass locket, was extracted from it in December 1995 for biomedical research (the 1997 BBC documentary on Beethoven’s life actually begins with a recording of this very event). The book traces the journey of this lock of hair from Beethoven’s death-bed to its present owners. It also gives fascinating details of forensic studies performed on these hair which throw light on causes of Beethoven’s suffering, deafness and death.

The book’s narrative is dry but the approach taken by the author Russell Martin is an interesting one. The chapters detailing the story of the lock of hair are interjected with chapters that give biographical account of Beethoven’s life – so you learn a great deal about the composer and not just his hair!

A must have for any Beethoven fan (the book that is, acquiring his hair is beyond my fiscal status or taste). For yet to be Beethoven fans - if history and science interest you, you might want to flip through the book when you visit the bookstore next.

Malgudi Schooldays: Is a slightly abridged version of R. K. Narayan’s novel Swami and Friends and includes two stories not in the original. The book came to me as gift from a friend, who I must thank profusely! Narayan’s prose is lucid, and his characters simple, yet they leave a profound impression on you. It brought back fond memories of my own schooldays. Though setting of my schooling was very different from the pre-independence, small south Indian town setting of Swami’s, it is probably the universal appeal (at least to anyone who grew up in India) of Narayan’s themes which make these stories touch a chord.

The book is my first introduction to R. K. Narayan, though not the first one to Swami and his friends, thanks to the TV series Malgudi Days. I should be reading more of his works!

Postscript: Does anyone know if the poignant title music from the series is available anywhere? I’ve heard it set to ring-tones but that, as you would probably agree, is no substitute for the original! (I am unknowingly beginning to hum it as I write this!).

Mainstream: Modern Short Stories: This book is a little unusual in how it came to me. At the end of each academic year, our school would recognize outstanding students at the annual valedictory function. Either I or my sister got it as a prize for our academic performance (which means that it probably must’ve been sis ;-)). It is one of those books that land up in excess stock at your school library and are promptly (should I add ostentatiously) dumped at one of these school rituals (yes, age, along with a crop of grey hair, brings sarcasm. The former I am yet to cultivate while of latter I could claim surfeit).

This school textbook is a compilation of short, modern literary works by some of the most well known authors/authoresses of 20th century (D. H. Lawrence, Doris Lesing, Joseph Conrad to name a few). While it might have been schoolboy material at a British school, it would have certainly proven itself a little demanding at our school in both language and content, given the general standards of English and its pedagogy there.

Overall a lackluster read with just a couple of exceptions. First published in 1965 I own the book’s sixth 1973 impression (years before I was born!). I suspect it must be out of print now unless it is still prescribed as part of a school’s antiquated syllabus.

posted: 19.1.05 | permalink | 8 comments

To someplace far I want to go
How and where - I still don’t know
And so I watch this world pass by
Time has wings, I don’t; let it fly

posted: 18.1.05 | permalink | 8 comments

While playing with different shades of blue I came up with two designs which look very "Austin Poweresesque". Do try setting them as your tiled wallpaper (which is if you are feeling retro too!)

Experimenting with different colors is turning out to be one of my latest hobbies. You can study volumes on color theory, stare at the color wheel for hours, but nothing is more revealing than getting down to playing with colors yourself!

Technical Notes: The latest version of Paint Shop Pro has an interesting feature whereby you can mix two colors on a palette like you would when painting in real life. You can always choose colors the normal "computer" way, i.e. by specifying their RGB or HSL values but the ability to blend colors in this way, adds an interesting dimension to the whole experience.
posted: 15.1.05 | permalink | 8 comments

darkness threatened
to nudge me astray
then hundreds of suns
lit up my way...

posted: 10.1.05 | permalink | 6 comments

Fall (sort of)
For a lot of trees in Bangalore these days, its not winters – its fall. If you happen to stand underneath them, with a little encouragement from breeze they will drench you in leaves. This season therefore, presents you with two exceptional photographic opportunities – look below and you’ll occasionally find brilliant designs of nature in these trees’ shriveled leaves:

Look above and the intricate skeletal patterns of bare willowy boughs will dazzle you with their exquisite filigree:

posted: 6.1.05 | permalink | 3 comments

Some fifteen months ago, I was pleasantly surprised by discovery of a drey in my bedroom’s window. It has been a constant fixture since then. Squirrels, especially ones I have been forced to make an acquaintance with, are extremely timid. I therefore, keep curtains drawn on my sole bedroom window, almost forever. The nest I suppose is abandoned during summers and is inhabited again each winter – around November. I suspect that at least one of the squirrels sleeps there at night. I can only tentatively infer this from the sounds of its paws grating against the metallic mesh; that normally guards against mosquitoes but in this case lends support to their abode, moments after sunrise. Once it is sufficiently bright outside, two squirrels venture to my balcony, where I usually leave leftovers from night. We have a tacit agreement - in case I eat out at night (which more often than not I do), I share with them my spoil of almonds.

It is a joy to watch squirrels eat. I love the way they squat on their rear legs, slightly hunched, and nibble daintily at whatever food they discover by holding it delicately in their cupped hind paws; at the same time keeping a restless, watchful eye for any impending dangers. So far their shyness and swiftness have kept me from capturing them on my camera. I hope they’ll grant me pleasure of their proximity once we are on even friendlier terms.

A friend told me an interesting mythological tale that accounts for three black stripes on the backs of most common squirrels. It is said, that Lord Rama, when passing through a forest in search of his abducted wife Sita, sat down to rest – tired, morose and desolate. A squirrel on observing this, and finding Lord Rama’s disposition most disagreeable, decided to humor Him. It not only fetched Him some of his choicest nuts and fruits, but also regaled Him with its playful antics. Lord Rama, touched by the creature’s kind gesture, affectionately took it in His hands, and caressed it gently with His fingers. Legend has it, that it is Lord Rama’s three fingers that left a permanent trail on the back of the squirrel. Squirrels therefore, are regarded sacred in this part of the world and are never harmed.
posted: 5.1.05 | permalink | 12 comments

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