Monday, December 24, 2007

Photo Hunt - Theme 'Light'

'Light' is the subject of this week's Photo Hunt.

Capturing light and its amazing effects on Nature requires both patience and luck. The best time for nature photography is during sunrise and sunset. It is not without reason that these times are called 'Golden Hours' by photographers. At this time, the sunlight is not harsh and hence the details are not washed out. There is an interesting mix of light and shade, more so when cloud patterns form myriad textures. Here is an example -

Photo Hunt

Taken with Nikon D40X with 18-55 AF-S DX Lens fitted with Tiffen 0.3ND filter

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Time Is Not An Issue

Digital clocks, multifunctional (calendar) clocks, neon clocks, quartz clocks, this clock and that clock - but what can beat the charm of an old cuckoo clock?

This is a shot taken at a cuckoo clock shop in Interlaken, Switzerland. The clocks, we were told, were manufactured in Black Forest (Bavaria, Germany). The clocks are all handmade. They do not have any electronic circuitry and therefore don't need batteries. The gears are driven by a mechanism of chains & counterweights - to wind the clock one has to simply pull on the chain once each day.

And yes, I did buy one for my home too :-)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Photo Hunt - Theme 'Small'

This week's Photo Hunt theme is 'Small'. Somehow I struggled to identify a photo that would fit the bill. I am not very good at shooting macros, which I think would have been the best bet.

Then I settled on choosing the following shot. This is a baby Himalayan Leopard, and being small (in size, and in age!), I hope it matches the theme.

Even if it is a baby, the big cats are always a sight to behold. Sadly in India their numbers are dwindling rapidly. Rapidly growing human population is resulting in alarming deforestation and loss of habitat. Poachers are at large too - skins and all other body parts of a big cat fetch a fat price in the market. Coupled with that is lackadaisical governance and lack of public awareness.

The question is how much longer will these gorgeous creatures be able to hold out?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Shots from the Past - 4

The Nobel Prize is probably the highest recognition of human excellence. Yes, there are conspiracy theories and some odd omissions. But if one thinks of the great men and women who have been awarded this Prize over the years, there can be no doubt of the collective contribution they have made to human society.

When I visited Stockholm, Sweden in July, 2005 I had the privilege to visit the Stockholm Concert Hall. The Hall is the home of the Royal Swedish Philharmonic Orchestra. This is where the Nobel Foundation honours the Nobel Prize recipients each year on December 10, on the occasion of the birthday of Alfred Nobel, who instituted this Prize. The Nobel Peace award ceremony though is held at the Town Hall in Oslo, Norway.

When we reached the Concert Hall, the Hall had already closed for the day. But on hearing that we had come all the way from India, and perhaps seeing the disappointment on our faces, we were let in! The Director personally walked us through the Hall and even let us get on the stage itself. It was a extremely kind gesture from her, and something which I will never forget. I was really moved to stand on the very stage where so many of the great men in human history have been honoured.

More from the Shots from the Past series here

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Photo Hunt - Theme 'Long'

Have been out of blogging action for about two weeks now. Work took me away from Calcutta for a while, hence the ceasefire. Hope to make up for the lost time by posting regularly from now on.

In line with this week's theme ('Long') here are two shots, one in color and one in B&W. These shots were taken at Muir Woods near San Francisco, California. These trees are called California Coastal Redwood or the Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). They are the tallest variety of trees in the world, growing to a height of 50-85 metres, on average. Sequoia's are found mostly in California and the Sierra Nevada mountains.

When you walk through Muir Woods, these tall (and I mean TALL!) give you the impression that you are entering a cathedral or a hall with huge high doric columns. Being there made me feel small and humble - could not but help wonder again how wide & wonderful Nature's creations can be.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Photo Hunt - Theme 'I Love -----'

This week's PhotoHunt theme is 'I Love ___'

Travelling and photography is what I love the most. And as much as I like travelling in general, what I enjoy most is going to places of natural beauty. There is nothing more grand or awe-inspiring than being mesmerized by the beauty of Nature. I like mountains and forests more than I like the sea, by the way. For the same reason, I enjoy landscape photography more than portraits or street photography.

Enough said. Now I leave you to one of my favourite shots. A shot like this is what the effort of travelling and lugging around heavy camera equipment & tripod worth it in the end. This is a sunset taking place over Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA.

Photo Hunt

Taken with Nikon D40X with 18-55 AF-S DX Lens fitted with Tiffen 0.6ND filter

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tagged by Celine

Celine has tagged me here and the following is the response to her tag questions.

Two names you go by (besides your given name):
1. Nanda (Friends at school, college and some colleagues - abridged version of Ananda, I guess! )
2. Mota or Mote (quite literally meaning fatso - no explantions needed here)

Two things you are wearing right now:
1. Black trousers (I love conservative office attire)
2. Yellow striped formal shirt (Do I love being a loud dresser too??)

Two longest car rides:
1. Salt Lake City, Utah to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (roughly 500 kms)
2. Kolkata to Digha (roughly 200 kms)

Two of your favorite things to do:
1. Photography

Two things you want very badly at the moment:
1. A Nikon 12-24 mm super-wide angle lens
2. A month off from work ("No wayyyy", says my boss looking over my shoulder)

Three animals you have or have had:
Never had one (not a pet lover)
Never had one (not a pet lover)
3. Never had one (not a pet lover)

I hope I have not harped on the same thing for too long :-)

Three Things you ate today:
1. Noodles (lunch at office canteen)
2. Manchurian Chicken (
lunch at office canteen)
3. A 'Darbesh' in the morning (a Bengali sweet)

Two things you are doing tomorrow:
1. Office (during the day)
2. Go back home (in the evening)

Overall, that sounds like an exciting plan - or so I hope!

Two favorite holidays:
1. Durga Puja (enough said here, especially the comments section)
2. Christmas (less work, more play)

Two favorite beverages:
1. Darjeeling tea (no sugar or milk, please!)
2. A cuppa of cappuccino

Thanks for tagging me Celine. I hope I have answered your questions sincerely. I am not tagging anyone in particular, but anyone reading this can pick this tag up.

A Change of Seasons

This year we have seen a rather early arrival of winter in Kolkata. The days have become pleasant and there is a slight chill at night. Last year (in 2006), I was in Eagan, Minnesota (US) during winter. That was the most bitter winter that I had ever experienced with very heavy snowfall and more disconcertingly, the howling & bone-piercing winds.

The two winters before that (in 2004 & 2005) I was in Copenhagen, Denmark. Though it snowed regularly, the winters there were less extreme. The days were really short though, with sunlight lasting for only about 6 to 8 hours in a day. Even while it lasted, most of the time it remained muggy and overcast. One of my favourite places in Copenhagen was very near to where I lived - the Frederiksberg Castle (Danish: 'Slot') and the surrounding gardens (Danish: 'Have'). Right below is a shot of the Frederiksberg Slot during the height of winter in Copenhagen (owing to the snow and the poor light the shot is not tack sharp, I must admit)

But in summer, it was a different story altogether. Danish summers are the best that I have ever experienced. The weather is extremely pleasant and not too hot. The skies are clear for days at a stretch. Also it seemed entire Denmark came out to party to make the most of the short summer. The change is pretty obvious if you now take a look at the photo below - it is the same place as the one above. In summer the skies are blue and the grass is green :-)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Photo Hunt - Theme 'Flexible'

This week's Photohunt theme is 'Flexible'. This photo is from San Francisco's famous tourist attraction - Pier 39. The bungee trampoline this boy is bouncing on is called 'Frequent Flyers' :-)

Pier 39 in San Francisco is one of the most visited places in the US. It is part of the larger tourist district called Fisherman's Wharf. The entire area is abuzz with shops, restaurants, a carousel, street performances (the World Famous Bushman, among others) and many other attractions to keep tourists entertained. In most days families of sea lions can be seen lazing around Pier 39. Fisherman's Wharf is also a delight for the seafood lover - the signature dish being clam chowder served with sourdough bread. It is also the place from which ferries depart to Alcatraz island, the infamous prison-island which can be seen across the Bay. Ferries can also be availed for 'Bay Cruise' - an hour long journey which takes tourists under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz island.

For more photos of San Francisco, see my post here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

To Bear Or Not To Bear

I have been reading PG Wodehouse since I was a teen, and his books remain an eternal favourite. The layers of comedic complication that the stories have simply overshadow the simple, and sometimes formulaic, plots that they are based on. The principal charm that his work holds is the humour and the wit, often conveyed in a somewhat obtuse language.

Here's an example that I stumbled upon in one of the fan sites. The author had himself used this to highlight how he and Shakespeare treated a similar situation - the predicament of a man who suddenly discovers that something unpleasant (a bear, no less!) is standing behind him.

Here's how Shakespeare treated it -

"... Farewell!
A lullaby too rough. I never saw
The heavens so dim by day. A savage clamour!
Well may I get aboard! This is the chase:
I am gone for ever.
(Exit pursued by a bear.)''

And here's the PG Wodehouse version. To the uninitiated (and therefore the unfortunate, in my opinion), Bertie Wooster is a recurring protagonist in many of his stories. He is "wealthy and scatterbrained" and often manages to get into awkward and impossible situations, from which he is rescued by his valet, Jeeves. Now, read on :-)

"Touch of indigestion, Jeeves?''
"No, Sir.''
"Then why is your tummy rumbling?''
"Pardon me, Sir, the noise to which you allude does not emanate from my interior but from that of that animal that has just joined us.''
"Animal? What animal?''
"A bear, Sir. If you will turn your head, you will observe that a bear is standing in your immediate rear inspecting you in a somewhat menacing manner.''

I pivoted the loaf. The honest fellow was perfectly correct. It was a bear. And not a small bear, either. One of the large economy size. Its eye was bleak and it gnashed a tooth or two, and I could see at a g. that it was going to be difficult for me to find a formula.

"Advise me, Jeeves,'' I yipped. "What do I do for the best?''
"I fancy it might be judicious if you were to make an exit, Sir.''
No sooner s. than d. I streaked for the horizon, closely followed across country by the dumb chum. And that, boys and girls, is how your grandfather clipped six seconds off Roger Bannister's mile.

Laughter, as they say, is the best medicine and in that sense Wodehouse's works can be considered to be no less than a veritable pharmacy :-)

PS: I hope I have not infringed upon any copyright by quoting the above!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Happy Diwali

Wishing everyone a very Happy Diwali in advance !! Tomorrow is also the occasion of 'Kali Pujo' in Kolkata. May the festival of lights bring colour, warmth, hope and joy to your life :-)

A handheld shot taken at Navy Pier, Chicago with a
Konica Minolta Dimage Z2 on aperture priority mode (f/16)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Photo Hunt - Theme "Classic"

This week's Photohunt theme is 'Classic'. Perhaps not a very difficult theme to find a photo on, but I did take my time about it. Had a few options to chose and then finally settled on this one. This is Michaelangelo's La Pieta on display inside the St Peter's Cathedral in Vatican City, Rome.

Taken with a Konica Minolta Dimage Z2 on Auto mode


There is scarcely anything to say about this magnificent work, I think the picture says it all. This is but an example of the heights in art/sculpture/architecture reached during the Renaissance. The Academia in Florence houses Michaelangelo's David, while the Vatican City has two of his greatest paintings. On the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel we can see The Creation of Man and while the wall above the altar is decorated by The Last Judgement.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Book Cover Tag

More often than not, I am at a quandary over what topic to choose for a blog post. Fortunately this time around, my friend Pijush has come to my rescue. I have been tagged by him with the Book Cover Tag.

Pijush's tag had one simple rule. All that I had to do is to go to the Advanced Book Search at, type my first name into the "Title" field, and post the most interesting/amusing cover that showed up.

So I went ahead and performed the search with my first name ("Ananda") and the search turned up 156 results. Most search results were rather uninteresting and did not even have a picture.

Here's the one that caught my fancy the most -

My name translated to English means happiness or joy. So perhaps this was on expected lines. But Infinite Happiness? Gosh - that's promising a lot! Perhaps that's why the book is "currently unavailable' now. I imagine great hordes of Nirvana-seekers would have snapped up this elixir of infinite happiness at a bargain :-)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Photo Hunt - Theme 'Pink'

This is the first week that I am participating in the weekly Photo Hunt. I came to know about this from David's post. This week's theme is 'Pink' - so here goes my two cents!

This, of course, is the Hibiscus flower. They are fairly common in India, with the red variety being most prevalant. This one turned out to be matching with this week's theme - pink!

Friday, October 26, 2007


Moon over Kolkata, India on 26th October, 2007
Nikon D40X with Nikon AF-S DX VR 55-200 mm lens on a tripod

Yesterday in India the moon was the brightest and the biggest of the year, in fact the biggest since December 1999. The moon was said to be 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than the average full moon (source: The Telegraph, India). Yesterday was also the occasion of 'Kojagori Lakshmi Pujo' here in Bengal. Kalyan's blog here gives an excellent account of the occasion.

I had, in fact, hoped to capture a few more details of the moon's surface. But looks like I had either underestimated the distance between the earth & the moon, or had overestimated the power of my 55-200mm zoom! All in all, what you see above is what I got.

Somehow any mention of the moon gets instantly associated in my mind to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Seeing yesterday's bright moon, I could not but help wondering what it must be on the 'other' side :-)

"The lunatic is in my head
The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade, you make the change
You re-arrange me till I'm sane
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There's someone in my head but its not me.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear
And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon"

Brain Damage by Pink Floyd. Album: Dark Side of the Moon

Monday, October 22, 2007

Puja 2007

Another Puja has come and sadly, now gone. As it does every year, the four days of heady celebration (culminating on Sunday, 21st October) have left behind a terribly empty feeling, an equivalent of a withdrawal symptom.

Durga Puja is the biggest festival in Bengal. Its significance is not restricted to the religious aspect only. It is a celebration for the senses and the emotions. For four days the city of Kolkata is lit up with brilliant lights. Puja pandals (temporary structures where the worship takes place) sprout up all over the city - some done to a particular 'theme' and more modern, others retaining years old traditions and artistic styles. People descend on the streets all day and all night long dressed in new clothes. Puja also means a gastronomic extravaganza with everybody from the street food vendor to the 5 star restaurateur doing brisk business all day long.

Puja also means coming together of friends and families. Bengalis all over the world, wherever they are, wish to come back to their homes at this time. The lucky ones who make it feel special, the ones who don't - well, lets not dwell on their agony.

Personally for me, this Puja went like a dream. Most of my closest friends from school-days were in Kolkata. We celebrated like we always do - with good food! The meal at Sanjeev Kapur's Ivory (formerly Grain of Salt) on Saptami night was especially memorable. We also went out to Waldorf's on Park Street for Chinese food and Orchid's (a favourite small place at Elgin Road) for momo's, among others. And then of course, close friends coming together means one very special thing for Bengali's - "adda" (a very rough equivalent of what others would call 'good conversation').

Then this Sunday, it has all ended with Bijoya Dashami. The festivities are now over, my friends have gone back to the cities they work and it is back to mundane life. That's how it is every year - 4 days passing like a heady dream and then ending leaving one heavy hearted. But there is also hope for the future - idols (Bengali: 'protima's) are submerged in the Ganges amidst chants of 'Aashchey Bachor Abaar Hobey' (rough translation: 'Till we celebrate again next year')

Puja 2007
Click on the photo above to open link to photo album

Wishing everyone Subho Bijoya - let the festive season bring you happiness and joy :-)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shots from the Past - 3

In this post, I am showcasing the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii in Italy. As many of us know, Pompeii was a Roman city which was completely buried in volcanic lava & ash after a cataclysmic eruption of the nearby Vesuvius volcano. The eruption took place in 78AD and was rediscovered in 1748 (source: Wikipedia). Since then it has captured the imagination of many, and became a subject of many a book & movie (most famously, The Last Days of Pompeii).

I visited Pompeii as part of my trip to Italy in March, 2005. Since it is not very conveniently served by public transportation, we took a guided tour from Rome. Our guide was a colourful character - animated, alive and with a lilt in his voice. I love the way most Italians speak English, with their soft 't's and almost musical accent.

The shot above is of the Forum of the city of Pompeii, with the Lattari Mountains in the background. It was the social, political and religious center of the city. The shot below offers a tantalizing & touching insight into how little time the citizen of Pompeii had before fate struck them a cruel hand. When Pompeii was excavated, the archaeologists poured Plaster of Paris into the cavities left where human bodies once had been. Then they broke open the natural casts formed by ash & lava, and found shapes like the one below.

The two shots below illustrate how the houses of ancient Romans used to be. Well to do families had a open courtyard in their houses, quite literally the center of all activities in the home (first photo below). The second photo below shows a kitchen hearth, preserved almost intact under the ash.

The last one is my personal favourite. This is an ancient zebra crossing to allow pedestrians to cross the road. Note how the stepping stones have gaps between them to allow the chariot wheels to pass through - ingenious!

More from the Shots from the Past series here.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Trip to Gangtok, Nathula & Chhangu Lake

"These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me..."
- Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits

That is exactly how I felt last weekend on my trip to eastern Sikkim. Usually bad weather never fails to accompany me when I go on vacation, and this time it was no different. The mountains were shrouded in mist and were soaked by occasional spells of rain. I missed out on the a sight that is worth dying for - a view of the majestic Kangchenzongha. Added to the trouble caused by the rain gods was further trouble in Siliguri (the major rail head for North Bengal & Sikkim) when we landed from Kolkata.

But in spite of the hiccups and the irritants, overall the trip turned out to be fantastic in the end. Most of all I was glad that finally I had got a jinx out of the way. Though Soumyajit and I been friends since we were 3 year olds, somehow this is the first real long distance trip that I had made with him. We had planned & persevered many times before but never failed to match our schedules.

We had pre-booked the ride to Nathula Pass & Tsomgo (Chhangu) Lake from Kolkata itself. Foreign nationals are not allowed at Nathula and even Indian nationals need to get a permit to go there. It is a good idea to pre-book as the number of visitors the Army allows in each day is limited. One cannot be sure of getting a permit at short notice, especially during peak season.

The experience of travelling through stunning mountain landscapes and reaching Nathula Pass at 14,000 feet was awe inspiring. There was a sense of history as we travelled through the famed Silk Route of yore. It was touching to talk to the Indian soldiers posted in these heights. Equally moving was to be able to trade handshakes with their Chinese counterparts across the barbed wire. The album below contains photos from the Nathula & Tsomgo (Chhangu) Lake daytrip.

Nathula & Tsomgo
(Chhangu) Lake

We utilized the only other full day we had at our disposal to do some local sightseeing in Gangtok. Of course, the bad weather robbed us of the chance to get good views - but Tashi View Point, Ganesh Tok & Hanuman Tok are all nearby and offer excellent views on clear days. Rumtek Monastery is the headquarters of the Kagyu sect of Mahayan Buddism and is about an hours drive from Gangtok. I would also recommend a trip to the Himalayan Zoological Park - it is extremely unlike a typical Indian zoo. It offers unrushed and upclose views of Himalayan animals and ample scope for photography.

Gangtok Local Sightseeing

The album above contains photos from Gangtok as well as that from the resort (The Hidden Forest Retreat) where we had put up. We found the accommodation to be expensive but it was an extremely nice place to be in. The resort is family run. The food was fresh, cheap and great tasting. The staff were extremely polite & courteous. Most of all, the resort is far from the crowds & nestled in the hills. The forests that border the resort abound in orchids, rhododendrons & many varieties of birds.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Shots from the Past - 2

"Wonderful Copenhagen" - that is how the city of Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark is touted as. It is certainly a wonderful place, very Scandinavian and very charming. I was there for almost two years on a project - memories of which I will cherish forever.

When I first landed there, I was a somewhat dismayed by the lack of people on the streets and the rather subdued & understated architecture in the city. Copenhagen is by no means as flashy as Paris or as historical as London. But then slowly I started enjoying the charm of the city and by the time I left, I had formed a bond.

Places to see in Copenhagen are concentrated primarily in two areas - the City Center/Town Hall Square (Radhuspladsen), and then the Walking Street leading down from there to Nyhavn (translated as New Harbour) and the adjoining Palace & waterfront.

This is the Amalienborg Palace square. Amalienborg Palace is the winter residence of Denmark's monarchy. There are four different palace buildings (two are visible in this picture, on the left and the right) that open out into the octagonal square. The bronze statue in the middle is of King Frederik V. The church in the background is called MarmorKirchen (The Marble Church).

As you turn around a 180 degrees from this place, the sight below greets you. The fountain and the adjoining garden (Amaliehavn) is right across the road from the road. It forms the gateway to Copenhagen's waterfront. Across the water is Copenhagen's new Opera House. It was donated by the Denmark's largest business house, the Maersk group, to the Queen of Denmark.

Other must see places in Copenhagen are Nyhavn, Walking Street, The Little Mermaid, The Church of our Saviour, Tivoli Gardens etc. Hope to post more photos from this fascinating city very soon.

All posts in the Shots from the Past series here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Catch Twenty-2

The Indian flag flew high at the Wanderers on September 24th - India are world champions again! After a lot of promise and a lot of hype we finally have lifted a cricket World Cup - albeit a Twenty20 one. Here was a young team that everyone discounted, here was a captain who gave the impression of being more brawny than brainy - but they proved everyone wrong. Its a champagne moment, a day that we will remember for ever.

Photo Courtesy Cricinfo

What's more, this seemed a total team effort. Yuvraj sparkled in most games, but not all. Rohit Sharma (the find of the tournament for me), cashed in when he got the opportunity. Gambhir has matured and taken his game to the next level. The bowlers contributed handsomely as well - RP has consistent throughout, Harbhajan won a game for us, Pathan sparkled in the final, Sreesanth in the semis. And of course, not to forget Agarkar - his contribution, as always, was immense. His credit lies in the fact that unlike in previous tournaments he showed his true colors in the league stage itself, than thereby spared us his terrible bowling when it really mattered :-)

But amidst all the euphoria, I cannot but feel a tinge of uneasiness somewhere deep down. The reasons are threefold -

1) Just when the public had got bored with cricket, and were coming out in numbers to support other sports like football and hockey - this win will surely have given oxygen to the cricket travelling circus. If it took the 1983 win to firmly establish cricket as the #1 sports in India and a national obsession, the timing of this win could not have been better for the administrators. With millions of dollars at stake at IPL & ICL, this win surely will give them the ammunition they need to rake in the moolah. The 'other' sports could get relegated to the backbenches again, and for some time to come.

2) Already cries have been raised to remove the 'buddhas' (elderly) from the team, the ire being directed primarily at the Holy Trinity of Indian cricket - Sachin, Sourav and Dravid. I am sure the public at large will get blinded by this euphoria and bay for their blood and the BCCI will oblige. But Twenty-20 to me is a different format - this is a game where the boundary between good teams & ordinary teams is a thin line. A couple of players scoring quick 30's and 20's may be enough to put up a good score. But in ODI's and especially Test cricket, it is a different ball game. There you need experience and class - a flashy 20 may please the crowds, but will harly ever win a game. A case in point - from the batting point of view, it is only Rohit Sharma who is new to the team. The other guys already play in ODI's, and in the first team. But it still took 3 century opening stands from the old firm of Sachin-Sourav to win the 3 ODI's in England.

The contribution of Sachin, Sourav and Dravid to Indian cricket have been immense. Their generation was the golden era of Indian cricket. Yes, they are in their twilight zone now - but I still feel we need them for a couple of years more to help India in Tests & ODI's.

3) Lastly, we must remain aware of the big series' coming up. The wounded Aussies are coming to India - surely they would not have enjoyed losing to us in the semis. Pakistan too have lost twice to us, no less in the finals. Shoaib Malik too would not have forgotten his crusade on behalf of all "Muslims in the world" (sic). And then of course there is our own Final Frontier - a trip Down Under. The Holy Trinity have given India many firsts in Test cricket - memorable overseas wins, for one. Last time they came close in Australia (but for a few missed dollies from the baby faced Parthiv) - this is their last chance.

The team needs to forget the felicitations, and the hype and the hoopla very quickly. They have to remember that the Indian public have worse memory than a hard disk with bad sectors. The jubiliation of the T20 World Cup win may disappear faster than a Yuvraj six if we lose at home to Australia, and much more so to Pakistan. I may be playing a spoilsport and a doomsday sayer here, but all too often we have seen a low after a high in Indian cricket. Here's hoping that history is not repeated this time :-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What, 'da' .... ??


Smile.....Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the birth of the now ubiquitous Smiley - "a colon followed by a hyphen and a parenthesis". It was first used as a horizontal "smiley face" in a computer message by Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E. Fahlman.

To quote CNN - "Fahlman posted the emoticon in a message to an online electronic bulletin board at 11:44 a.m. on September 19, 1982, during a discussion about the limits of online humor and how to denote comments meant to be taken lightly."I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-)," wrote Fahlman. "Read it sideways.""

Those of course were the days when the internet (or for that matter computers) remained confined to university campuses. Computer labs were as sacrosanct as temples, especially in India. You had to take off your shoes before you could spend a few happy hours inside and come out looking pleased as punch - er, punch cards...

Its difficult to imagine today how different was it then. Internet today is empowering generations and defining new paradigms in our socio-economic life. The smiley has been an integral part of this revolution. It has firmly estabished itself in our electronic lexicon. Millions around the world use the smiley (or its different variations, collectively called emoticons) every day, in their electronic conversations. A perfect example of technology being humanized, perhaps...

The flip side to this sort of language revolution is SMS English, in my opinion. Its origins are obvious - a child of the other major revolution in our day, proliferation of the cellular phone. It is from the widespread usage of text messages from where this trend emerged.

Photo taken at Jungfrau, Switzerland - April, 2005

I consider this form of communication as the bane of our age - it makes my blood boil to see words such as 'n' (and), 'da' (the), 'dis' (this), 'wad' (what), 'fren' (friend) used in written conversations on the internet. Maybe people are plain saving time, or perhaps a silent revolution is underway to eradicate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from the world.

Or perhaps it is me who is thick headed & old fashioned - because I surely don't understand what charm SMS English brings into the picture. It surely would not have received the blessings of the now tormented souls of Wren & Martin I imagine....

So, perhaps there's more than one facet to every story - ditto for the electronic revolution and its effects. The good, the bad and the 'da' ugly :-)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Shots from the Past - 1

This is the first in a series of posts that I am going to make featuring some photos from my travels in the last 3 years or so.

Although I have been into photography for roughly the same period (3 years), it is only very recently that I have developed a huge fascination & keen eye for the subject. Now I am slowly coming to understand the basic technicalities and trying to achieve them in my work. In my Flickr page I have put up the ones where I think I did a decent job technically (Albeit some of them are unconventional choices with deficiencies such as centrally placed horizons, uneven exposure et al).

In contrast, the ones that I am going to post in this series have little or no technical merit. They just relate to some good old memories that i cherish. So here goes!

This is a view of the city of Bern (or Berne), Switzerland taken on a rainy day in April, 2005. I found Bern to be a lovely little city - very European, very charming and very elegant. The city center of Bern has been recognised as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking the narrow cobbled streets lined with medieval architecture, one can sense why. Quiant little red trams trundle along providing a flavour of modernity amidst the old world charm. The building below is The Clock Tower, the most prominent building in the city center.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Looking for a Steve Irwin

Last year on this very day (September 4th), Steve Irwin (of Crocodile Hunter fame) passed away. He breathed his last doing the thing he loved the most - filming wildlife. His shows on Animal Planet was loved by all who watched them. He brought wildlife to our living room couches and sentitized us to the treasure wildlife is. All his life he crusaded for conservation & preservation of Mother Nature's bounties.

Unfortunately today, especially in India, this spirit is waning. It is no less than the Indian Tiger that is at threat. Their numbers have diminished and the clock is ticking.

Fuelled by the demand of their skin and their bodyparts in the international market (primarily Tibet, China and Taiwan), tigers in India are today being slaughtered. Of course economic reasons, more than anything else, is at play here. Apart from the poachers, villagers living in the forested areas also participate in the mayhem by poisoning water bodies - all for less than 10 US$. For a poor man picking wood from the forests, that is indeed big money.

But apart from the economic perspective, I believe there is something more at play. Now, I know there are still quite a few people who love Nature and being one with it. There are trekkers who even go on treks alone, just to be one with Nature. There are some people (notably Valmik Thapar) who has carried alone crusades for conservation India's natural habitats & for tiger protection.

But there are also many, no less in the privileged & educated classes, that just don't care. They somehow don't really appreciate & enjoy the enormous fulfillment and peace Nature gives us. For example, I have seen many instances of a picnic/group holiday to a beautiful tranquil place being marred by loudspeakers blaring 'item numbers' at full blast. To me, it just plain hurts somewhere.

I don't believe this feeling of being one with nature can be taught to anyone. You either have that sensation, or you don't. A few posters/hoardings there and a Born Free movie there simply does'nt do it. I wish Steve Irwin was reborn in India and through his shows inspired that love for Nature again. It is the little minds that can be changed - and they are our future.

I consider today's (urban & educated) children in India singularly unfortunate. Most of the time they are weighed down by huge burden of books, or are being dragged along by parents to activities they don't enjoy. I see playgrounds going empty and children spending their time playing FIFA 2007 on their computers instead. We need an icon like Steve Irwin to make it happen. He was a lovable, adorable maverick who can mix education with entertainment to touch childen's hearts. He is hard, almost impossible to replace. But there is always hope - if not for the Indian tiger in the forest, but for one on the screen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

State of the Nation

Pushed & prodded by my friend Pijush, today I decided to 'pick up the pen' again and write a blog post. Over the last few days, Pijush & myself had been discussing the overall state of our country, especially in light of the recent celebration of 60 years of our Independence.

At the outset, let me confess that I think that overall we have achieved very little to be proud of since Independence. It makes me sad to even write this sentence, but that is how I feel honestly.

First of all, the entire political system is in shambles. Politics may be 'the last refuge of a scoundrel', but politicians are important nevertheless because it is they who decide the country's fate. That's where I feel India's democracy has failed. Inspite of the recent electoral reforms, the politicians that finally get chosen have no merit. Elections are won on money & muscle power.

Politicians are like mutating viruses that ail our country. In early years of the nation, they trumpeted the ideology of socialism. The result - suppresion of the free spirit of enterprise, license raj and creation of behemoth puclic sector units (who bleed the nation more than they contribute to it). But at least the politicians in those days had some conscience, some credibility. Today's politicians have criminal history, more often than not. Political parties place their own agenda and the security of their vote bank ahead of the country's interest. An example - the same political party touting the virtues of industrialization in one state and condemning the same in another state. One has to use a microscope if one has to find any semblance of values/honesty/ideology in today's politics. Perhaps come up short, even with a microscope.

This being the root cause in my opinion, let me highlight some of it's effects -

>>> The Green Revolution is often used as an example of our achievement & progress. But inspite of the self-reliance it has given us, many many people in India still go hungry each day. An estimated 40% of all Indian children are malnourished. To top it all, some people still die simply of hunger each year.

>>> The health & social security system is virtually non existent. There may be some private health institutions that may be better off, but virtually nothing has been done for public health. Far from providing quality healthcare, government hospitals are hell-holes full of corruption, squalor & filth. Doctors battle against all odds to provide assistance to patients. An estimated 5 million in India already suffer from AIDS and the country is expected to have the largest AIDS population by 2020.

>>> We have scant regard for history & the sacrifice common people for the country. In my opinion, no country can be great without having respect for its past. Historical monuments suffer from lack of funds & maintenance. Soldiers who gave up their lives for the country are allotted paltry pensions - even which their families have extreme difficulty in obtaining.

>>> Lawlessness is the rule of the land (This incident from yesterday, is a case in point). In many parts of the country, it is the gun that rules. The tiny majority in the police that are willing to work are handicapped by lack of funds, archaic laws and more often than not, political interference. The rest of the police system is of course corrupt to the core and perpetrators of violence themselves.

>>> Socially too, we have gone backwards rather than forwards. Evils like dowry, killing girl childs, casteism etc still exist - shockingly even among the well educated. The political system of course adds to this by creating divides in the name of reservation and such like. If the idea was to shield the weak from the privileged, why not base the quotas on family income level? Primarily because that would not helped anyone's votebanks. So - be it in education, sports or jobs - it is not merit but caste that draws the lines. Appeasement is the mantra & it is mediocracy that thrives.

>>> Roads, infrastructure & general services are an area where the country has failed terribly. Contractors make roads that crumble in a few days so that they get a second contract. Cows roam the roads. Illegal shops & hawkers block pavements & roads blatantly. The only traffic rule is that there are no rules. And none of this is likely to change because the law makers & enforcers are scared to hurt anyone's sensibilities.

>>> It is said that the state of sports reflects the health of the country. The statement could not have been more relevant anywhere else other than India. In all sports, the governing bodies are run like personal fiefdoms by politicians. Cricket of course, has spurned money - but only for the BCCI and select few cricketers. It is shameful to see reports of the condition of former players. They remain neglected and struggling to make ends meet. In all sports, apart from few instances of individual brilliance, we have languished at the bottom. To us, participating is defnitely more important than winning.

>>> Our frustration with a corrupt system has in turn made each one of us corrupt. We take the law into our own hands without a qualm. We give & take bribes with impunity, we have lynchings in full public view. Parents spend money on unfair means to get their child into a coveted institutions. "Political demonstrators" come out on the streets at every opportunity - organize 'bandhs', ransack shops (in the name of stopping 'blood-thirsty' industrialists) and paralyze life.

The most unfortunate bit is the mindset that we, as Indians, have got into. In spite of the explosion of media in recent days - a vast majority of us remain ignorant about our rights, issues and in general remain impervious to what's going on around us.

Even when we, the educated few, come across an issue - we choose to turn a blind eye (myself very much included). We follow Kargil on TV with zeal, out blood boils with patriotic fervour when we see a 'Chak De India' or 'Rang De Basanti'. But none of us actually do anything of significance about these evils that ail our country. Unfortunately, the few who do - land up dead.

All in all, India maybe shining in the eyes of some in insulated environs of multiplexes, glitzy shopping malls & IT companies. But day by day, slowly but steadily, we are on the steadfast road to being a failed country & a banana republic.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Yellowstone National Park/Grand Tetons

Yellowstone & Grand Tetons was my last trip on this particular stint in the US. Yellowstone National Park is the world's first National Park and is the largest single piece of wilderness in the US (not considering Alaska). It spreads over three states - Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Grand Teton National Park lies right next to it, near the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

I won't try to describe what I saw or how I felt in this trip, because I can't. This was Nature at its purest, at its wildest and its most dramatic self. Be it geothermal features (geysers, hot springs, mud pots), mountains, waterfalls or wildlife - Yellowstone has it all.

Yellowstone National Park is like a psychedelic whirl of vivid colors - something which needs to be seen to be believed. Note that none of the photos here are digitally modified or enhanced, except exposure corrections in some cases. This is exactly how the colors appear naturally at Yellowstone.

So without any further ado, here goes -

This is the collection of my favourite photos from this trip. This is what you must see, if you really don't have much time or patience to see my photos :-)

The Best of Yellowstone/Grand Teton

On the other hand, if you do have some more time to spare check out the links below -

Grand TetonOld Faithful Area - Geothermal FeaturesMidway Geyser Basin - Geothermal feautures

Mammoth Hot Springs - Geothermal featuresWest Thumb - Geothermal featuresYellowstone - Mountains, Canyons & Waterfalls

Yellowstone Wildlife

Monday, July 02, 2007

Dark Side of the Moon

Allow me to be sentimental and a bit over the top.

No, in my life I have never driven a Ferrari.
No, in my life I have not seen Maradona weave his magic in person.
No, in my life I have not been to the moon.

But yes, I have seen a Roger Waters concert in person. Waa Waa Wee Wah !!!!

This was a magical and mind blowing experience - an experience and a privilege that I have never ever had before, and perhaps never ever will have in the future (unless I get to see a Roger Waters concert again).

This was yesterday (June 30, 2007), at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul city. This was part of Water's Dark Side of the Moon tour.

Pink Floyd's music is something generations have grown up with. It is a cult, a way of life, a philosophy - it is something which I am entirely incapable of describing in words.

So when I first saw the ad for the concert and found tickets available, I could hardly believe my luck. The feeling of disbelief, elation and over the top emotions really sunk in when Waters first stepped out onto the stage and started performing.

The songs were sung in three sets. In the first set, 'Mother', 'The Fletcher Memorial Home' and of course 'Wish You Were Here' stood out. In this section, there was song called 'Leaving Beirut' which I had not heard before - it's a beautiful & poignant anti-war song, especially in light of US' current 'war on terror' in the Middle-East.

Here is a a recording of the Wish You Were Here performance - LINK

In the second set, songs from the Dark Side of the Moon album were played. And at the end, there was a 'Encore' set where 'Another Brick in the Wall', 'Vera' and 'Comfortably numb' were sung.

Here is a recording of the Another Brick in the Wall performance - LINK

Here is a recording of the Comfortably Numb performance - LINK

All in all, I would rate this as by far the best experience I have had in my life - THE best!!

Complete set of photos is here - LINK

Sunday, June 24, 2007

San Francisco

"I Left My Heart in San Francisco" - goes the song by Tony Bennett....
Though I did not quite have to do that, but I did leave with an unhappy heart...longing for more.

It was my first time at San Francisco, and the first time at California - and boy, did I like it! The weather was gorgeous with the ill-famed San Francisco fog playing mostly truant. The company was excellent - I stayed part with my cousin an part with my school buddy Abhishek (my school friends will know how difficult it is to call him my his "real" name). And in hindsight, the choice of things to see could not have been better. I think I made best use of the 5 days that I had (14th to 18th June).

On 14th & 18th June, I used my time to see The City (as the residents refer to San Francisco). I also went to Muir Woods, which has the Giant Sequoia (or California Redwood) - the highest species of trees on earth.

On 15th June, I took a tour to Monterey-Carmel & 17 Mile Drive. It was breathtaking beauty to behold, to say the least. The road winds by with the Pacific Ocean on one side & hills on the other.

On 16th June, Abhishek and his wife Chandrani took me to Yosemite National Park. It was a long & tiring journey but I enjoyed every second of it. We returned well after midnight and finished the day with a sumptuous meal Abhishek & Chandrani had cooked for me.

After 3 hectic days back to back, I used Sunday (17th June) to just spend some time with my cousin and his family. Finally, I finished off the trip by spending some time at Pier 39 at San Francisco, which included a hearty seafood lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.

PS: If you are thinking about seeing the photos but being daunted by the sheer numbers, here is a small(er) selection -

By the way, this is the first set of photos with my new camera - a digital SLR, the Nikon D40X. Still trying to judge whether the profligacy was worth it :-)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Back to blogging - Trip to Chicago

I mainly blog when I travel and it has been a while since I travelled. Therefore, it was been a while since I have last blogged. Quad Erat Demonstrandum :-)

I intend to make a few posts in detail about the sights in Chicago, but for now all the photos from the trip have been linked below.

I arrived in the US in February and since then all I had been to was the hotel, the office, the bank and the grocery stores. Not exactly interesting things to blog about! Finally, this weekend I took a trip to Chicago. Monday (28th May) being a holiday (Memorial Day) here, the chance was there to enjoy a long weekend - and I took it.

Eagan (the place where I live in the US) being such a small, sleepy, deserted place had starved me of the city air that I have grown up breathing. It felt really great to be in a big, noisy city that was throbbing with life, people and activity.

I reached there on Friday night, after a 1 hr 15 mins flight got delayed by another 1 hr and 15 mins! A co-passenger told me that NorthWest Airlines actually has the worst service record for any corporation in the US, not just the airlines industry - and that I could see.

There was no sightseeing on Friday. But we made best use of Saturday, even though the weather was lousy with rain and clouds. From morning to late and night we were walking around the city, with a break in between for a hearty Italian lunch. In the end I think we walked about 20 miles in all.

The most obvious Indian connection to Chicago is the Art Institute of Chicago where Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous speech at the Parliament of Religions in 1893. From there we went to the Millenium Park, where you get to see the wonderful Cloud Gate sculpture.

Sunday brought beautiful weather and I grabbed that opportunity to go to the top of Sears Tower. Sears Tower was the tallest building with the world when it was built but lost that position first to Petronas Tower, Malaysia and then Taipei 101, Taipei. The SkyDeck on the 103rd floor offers excellent views of the city and beyond. In the evening we enjoyed the fireworks on display at Navy Pier, on the ocaasion of Memorial Day.

I stayed in Chicago at Souvick's place (Souvick is the childhood friend of my colleague Prabudhha ). The three of us had an excellent three days together - it was great company. Would like to thank Souvick for his hospitality and making this trip a very enjoyable one!