Saturday, January 23, 2010

An enchanting eclipse...

There are certain opportunities in life that come only once and if you are able to make use of those you are rewarded handsomely. It just needs that extra step and the prize is all yours to cherish. One such opportunity popped up last week and I was lucky to have grabbed it. Few months back I read about the forthcoming Annular Solar Eclipse on January 15th and I was rather overjoyed. I have fond memories of the total solar eclipse I witnessed while I was in school way back in 1995. It was an experience of a lifetime and to this day occupies a very special place in my memory. That Diamond Ring and the untimely night at 9AM on a cold October morning at Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal are simply unforgettable. Since then, I have always felt an uncanny attraction to any such celestial event and made it a point to witness those if it were within my bounds. And I had my rewards too! In the last 15 years I saw a partial solar eclipse, the Hell-Bopp comet and the transit of Venus across the Sun in 2004. All these were one of their kinds and would take ages to repeat and not atleast in my lifetime!

I always wanted to witness the Annular Solar Eclipse as it’s a very rare celestial phenomenon. Moreover, everything needs to be in place for one to witness such an occurrence. It takes a lot to be on the right place at the right hour and with the right weather conditions for the viewing to be successful. And this time all seemed to be perfect! It was winter so there's less chance of clouds obstructing the view; moreover the ASE 2010 was to last for over 10 minutes and would be visible from a wide stretch of land mass in South India.
I was indeed lucky to have got a seat in the bus from Bangalore to Nagercoil on 14th Jan. Being the next day to Pongal, it was indeed very difficult to get a seat but as they say if you are to get it you will get it, come what may! It was for sure that I would not get any accommodation in Kanyakumari to stay overnight so I even booked the return ticket by the same bus on 15th evening. Earlier I had been to Kanyakumari and visited the Vivekananda Rock so I was rather focused on the eclipse.

On 14th my friend Sharmila, invited me to her place. Though we are in Bangalore, we hardly get to meet. Our friend Sumon was also to join us. He was on official trip for few weeks and we all decided to meet up. Being college friends there’s always a lot to chat and that indeed needs time. Now, a footloose that I am I could not help tell her that I had to start early by 3 in the afternoon post lunch. That was something too much to ask I agree but I just could not do away with the eclipse too! But my friends are really cool and they didn’t mind. They rather shared my enthusiasm and I got some much needed initial tips on using the camera from Sharmila’s better-half, Samrat. Samrat is an avid photographer and loves travelling too. Sharmila and Samrat are a wonderful pair and they compliment each other's passion for travelling, reading, photography, music and cuisine. Samrat did mesmerize us with his exotic macros on butterflies, birds, flowers besides the wonderful landscapes. His recent collage on Himalayas is absolutely breathtaking! Do enjoy his extensive captures at

Sharmila cooked well and after a sumptuous lunch I had to bid them goodbye. I was on time at Madiwala armed with my spanking new Nikon D3000, all set to make the journey. And what do I see? My former professor from BSc days is also boarding the same bus! Dr. Pradip Acharya is an erstwhile post-doctoral fellow of IISc. He presently researches on plant proteomics using mass spectrometry at the Institute of Bioinformatics in Bangalore. An expert in Analytical Chemistry, he is a very inquisitive man beyond his laboratory too. It is this scientific fervour that has brought him to make the trip. I was rather overjoyed to see such a worthy companion for the journey!
Very soon our bus took off and gained speed on NH7. Sir was discussing about his present area of research and other recent happenings in the field of Biochemistry. Though I had last thought of a single Benzene ring almost 9 years back when I was in college, it was very fascinating to listen to him. Our talks revolved around the eclipse and I shared my experience of 1995 with him. The national highway past Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu offers a dream ride and kudos to NHAI for the superb job.

We were to reach Nagercoil at 6AM. I never get to sleep while travelling by bus and this time it was even more difficult as I was too excited about the next morning. En-route, the bus halted twice, once for dinner and then for refreshments at around 2 in the morning. The steaming hot tea, the cool night breeze coupled with an eerie silence occasionally shattered by passing lorries and long-distance buses was a complete picture in itself. The twinkling stars and dim lights on the hillocks around the roadside shanty beckoned many a traveller to halt and sip over some hot tea and then move ahead.
Surprisingly, we reached Nagercoil at 4:30 in the morning, thanks to the smooth ride on national highway. It was dark but the bus stand was bustling with passengers. I could spot many an enthusiast from their cameras and luggage, all headed to Kanyakumari. We managed to board an overcrowded local bus. Kanyakumari is around 20km from the district town. Our co-passengers were mostly local fishermen and travellers out on a pilgrimage to the holy temple at Suchindram midway to Kanyakumari besides the eclipse enthusiasts.
In about 45 minutes we reached Kanyakumari and the bus almost got empty. It was an unbelievable site out there! Wherever I looked I could see people! Even at 5 in the morning the entire place was packed like a busy evening market. Men in black, on their way from the holy shrine of Sabarimala came in scores. It was the Pongal and the eclipse further added to the cause.

Up North, the Kumbh Mela was on at Haridwar in Uttarakhand and it appeared as if there was a mini version on at Kanyakumari too! Our stars were indeed favourable I must say that we were able to manage a room for couple of hours in a hotel near the Kanyakumari temple. A quick bath to ward-off all that tiredness from the bus journey and we set out for the sea-shore.
The eclipse was to start after 11o'clock so we had time till then. Unfortunately, I missed out on a pair of goggles so I ventured out in search of one. By the time we were at the sea-side the sun had risen and the golden hue over the unending expanse of the ocean looked beautiful. I could not help but stand still to savour the spectacle. It was simply fabulous! Quickly I got to act and captured as many snaps as possible. An amateur and novice that I am with the SLR, yet I tried my best to use the controls! Just off the shore there is a man-made barricade of huge boulders jutting into the sea for almost a kilometre. You can walk over it and reach the tip to view the ocean up and close. The wind at the tip was enough to blow my cap away and I had much difficulty to hold the camera steady! But it was enchanting! 

Back to the shore and I started looking for the official venue to watch the eclipse. In no time, I spotted it too! Near the Kerala government’s guest house there is a PWD guest house of Tamil Nadu government. A bright hoarding invited us at the entrance. Inside, I could see few amateur skywatcher groups busy unpacking their telescopes and giant screens. I walked up to them and they were very welcoming too. They had come all the way from Maharashtra. One of the team members told me that others were also on the way and it would be indeed a grand affair! We decided to park there for sometime and observe them at work. I too took a sneak peek into their telescopes and my, how powerful they are! 

The clock gradually ticked 10 and I suddenly saw a large group of school students approaching the venue. Great! That's how it should be! More the children watch such wonderful things, more they would be able to appreciate the nature's beauty. Such occasions are the best to implant seeds of inquisitiveness in young minds. In a country shrouded by superstition even in this 21st century, this is immensely important I think. Anyway, back to the saga, I saw group after group of school children, college students, and amateur photographers pouring in. In no time, our national broadcaster Doordarshan also turned up with a gigantic OB van. The Govt. of Tamil Nadu indeed did a good job about spreading awareness on the event. They even organised camps for the visiting skywatcher groups. I could see groups from Maharastra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal walking in and setting up their equipments. There were even people from Japan, US, UK and Indonesia eagerly waiting for the eclipse to occur. 
The backdrop was set, everybody ready with their goggles and telescopes, all set to enjoy the celestial wonder. The clock struck 11:15AM and the camp co-ordinator announced that the moon had made the first contact. There was a loud cheer and everybody was elated. I repented forgetting my solar filters once again. Anyway, I decided to photograph the reflection.
I was sitting with one of the school groups from Nanded, Maharashtra and they had made a simple yet wonderful arrangement to follow the eclipse. Using a tiny mirror they were casting the sun's reflection on a white sheet of paper at a distance. You could follow the entire movement of the moon and look up to see it yourself whenever you wished! It was part of their excursion activity and they were simply enjoying it. It was great to be with the young crowd and their occasional hi5s and hip-hip hoorays just added to the fun. They were very ecstatic, as many of them had come that far from home for the first time.

The feast continued and with every passing minute the sun got covered inch by inch. Gradually, the sun rays weakened and we could feel that there was no warmth in them! The sun rays bore a pale yellow colour, similar to the face of an ailing jaundice patient! As we neared the annularity, there were marked changes in the weather and it impacted the surroundings too! We could see flocks of bird returning to their nests as if it was dusk and time to return home! The ocean too became calm and the water level rose to submerge the rocks near the shore. The co-ordinator announced that there was a significant drop in temperature too and the scientists were recording the data for further analysis.

Sharp at 1:14PM, the moon was exactly at the centre of the sun and we could see the annularity clearly. There was a huge cheer from the crowd. Everybody was awestruck! With the unending expanse of the ocean as backdrop, it was a sublime spectacle on a clear day. Though there were clouds around but they did not play spoilsport. The annularity lasted for little over 9 minutes. But those 9 minutes were indescribable! You must watch it to feel it! As the sun was behind the shadow we enjoyed the sight without the goggles.

I was a little disheartened as I was not able to snap the occasion, but it occurred to me that may be the best way to immortalize it was to preserve an everlasting imprint of the heavenly sight in my heart, afterall your snaps may betray you but your memory won't! It would be there with you forever and I am sure all of you would agree too!
    On the personal front, with the ASE 2010, I did attain a feat, if I may call it so, as I completed viewing all the three eclipses of the sun, a total, a partial and now the rare annular eclipse. So, whatever we read about the solar eclipses in our school books are with me now..... and that’s an achievement indeed! What say?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Rendezvous with silence.......

That’s what I shall call it. Far from the hustle bustle of B'lore, amidst the serene hills where clouds descend in gallons and winds roar in tandem, and only silence prevails. At times it’s good to go by a whim, at least that’s what urged me to take a break and be myself. Once bitten, it’s indeed very difficult to restrain one and off I go in pursuit of silence. Now, why babble so much on silence? Rather gibberish, but it is really something all of us miss, at least I do. Be it the din in office or on the road and not to forget the electronic instance, it is just nowhere to be found. All these, coupled with a long weekend make me board the 10:45 bus to Chikmanglur. My colleague is to accompany me, but finally his camera does. Armed with a backpack, a camera and few notes on the place (courtesy Google) my journey starts. NH4 is in tatters now, with diversions all over, it takes more time than usual to hit Tumkur road. Gradually, city lights fade out, highway widens and the bus gains speed. Blessed with a window seat there is the entire star studded sky for me to gape at. A thin crack on the window pane makes way to the chilly air, but not to mind, it goes well with the journey. We cross hamlets, coconut groves, barren moor, roadside dhabas and Canara bank ATMs (a must find all along the roads in Karnataka, as it is with Andhra Bank in Andhra Pradesh)!

Journey by bus never allows me to sleep and I befriend the night and the stars, so that they are my companion all the way, and they haven't disappointed me till date. It must be a no-moon night, our entire existence seems so tiny, and the stars appear to be distant spectators patiently watching our moves, as we the mortals take on the elements. We fight, kill, and go beyond all bounds of cruelty, ravage the planet for resources, blame each other and yet are perfect hypocrites, but we are clawless when it comes to fighting nature. Even our combined weaponry is miniscule to the prowess of the million suns lying light years away, for they are hot on our trail and we have to succumb to their pull someday. A sudden screech and the 'Rajahamsa' (category of the Govt. bus) halts for a tea break by a highway side restaurant. 15 minutes of halt and we set out for the next leg of our journey.

It is 5:15 in the morning and the bus finally reaches Chikmanglur. Chilly gusts of wind welcome me to the sleepy town nestled among hills. A cup of steamy coffee and am back to my spirits. The fellow on the other side of counter turns out to be a good samaritan and guides me to the hotel I have contacted earlier. But, life is full of uncertainties, and as usual there are no rooms vacant in the hotel, courtesy a film unit that has checked in last night all inclusive of a heroine from Bollywood and a local hero! So, I stand no chance. Now, life smiles a bit, and here too the receptionist turns out to be kind enough and offers me a toilet to freshen up (possibly my B'lore connection amuses him, after all a visitor from the capital)! Just cannot let go of this opportunity, so I request him to arrange for a taxi. This time it fails, as the hotel does not run any tours. Amidst the discussion, a local transport fellow walks in looking for a room and on listening to my plight immediately arranges for a Maruti Omni! The car would be there in half an hour, so I rush to freshen up and in no time I am into the Omni heading for Mulayangiri, the highest peak in Karnataka.

The driver is a young chap, who makes his living out of short trips to B'lore and neighbourhood towns. Gradually, roads become narrow, shady bowers welcome me to the coffee estates of Chikmanglur. My first stop is at Sheetalayangiri, a perfect place to be for the sunrise. One sneak peek into the deserted temple and off we go to Mulayangiri. Gajendra, my driver cum guide, takes the Omni as far possible and then we start to climb the rugged steps. After a taxing climb, we reach the peak. The surrounding hills look heavenly; the sun rays glisten on the waterbodies far and reflect on the clouds atop valleys. The summit is deserted except a dilapidated temple and the lone Nandi Bull guarding the shrine. Snaps captured, we start the descent and meet the next group making their way to the top on the way.

Now to the next destination, Dattapeeth. Gajen explains me the significance of the shrine. Centuries ago, a Muslim saint Baba Budan came to Chikmanglur and sowed the first coffee seed that later grew by millions and made the place a coffee hub. Sadly, the saint’s shrine is out of bounds to public, courtesy a communal brawl few years ago. Meanwhile, we reach the place and I have to satiate myself with a view of the 'Dargah' from this side of fence itself. There are others too, from far off places, who have come for a glimpse of the holy shrine and spend few days in the humble rooms next to the Dargah.

It is nearly 9 in the morning and time for breakfast! Couple of 'parathas' served on a not-so-clean steel plate in a dimly lit eatery by a very old man in tattered clothes, and we are ready for our next destination. Manikyadhara is a place by the slope of a hill, where water falls after passage through thick foliage. People flock to bathe in this water as it is considered to be pious. Here, something worth mentioning catches my attention. A look around the point shows heaps of clothes, old, new, worn out, torn to bits, all among the rocks. Gajen explains me that according to custom people must throw off a piece of cloth after bathing in the waters and that continues to this day irrespective of the notice put up by district administration banning the act. He points to the worn out board that speaks of a 50 rupees fine and the clothes that adorn the notice itself! A little away from the falls, I come across an old man decorated with beads, stones and well maintained white beard. He greets me with a smile and I cannot just avoid taking a quick snap of his, for he is the custodian to my shoes, which I have to leave before visiting the holy waters! Possibly from my Hindi, he makes out that I am not from Bangalore and enquires about my native and then advances his palm for something in return to the service. Not far from the point, on a nearby cliff, I climb a view point and get mesmerized by the landscape. Far away Mulayangiri appears hazed behind clouds, the Chikmaglur town a distant maze and the houses liliputs. Gusts of wind blow away my cap and Gajen runs to catch it.

The sun is nearly at its helm and we advance towards Hebbe Falls, our next stop. The road gradually turns narrower and last patches of bitumen disappear among tufts of green foliage. Potholes, bumps and dry leaves carpet the path, bamboo shoots make up arches above, tall grass bar my vision on the steep side of the road. Occasional streams greet us and make their way down the deep gorge. There is an eerie silence all around except the continuous chirping of crickets hidden in the trees, the wind too seem to respect the forest's supremacy and pause for a while. Tall eucalyptuses, mahoganies, sals and other unknown ones stand in attention to the left while a thick cover of algae adorn the rock wall on our right. Our Omni slowly makes way through this trail at times stopping for a start after a sudden jolt from one of the innumerable potholes. Suddenly I see a swarm of colourful butterflies on a wet stretch on the road and ask Gajen to stop for a snap. Oblivious of our car, the butterflies seem to quench their thirst . A close snap and I am back to the car, when Gajen points to a yellow sign post barely visible behind the bamboos. It reads "Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary Limit Starts" and just below it is the obscure figure of a predator. I am ecstatic, for we may come across some wild inhabitants if luck prevails. But my driver is not that confident. He blames the countless vehicles enroute that blare air horns, good enough to frighten deer and other animals. After much trouble, we finally reach a diversion and another signpost directs to Hebbe Falls. We whiz past a rusty board that reads "Kudremukh Iron Ore Mines" and the road ahead speaks of it boldly as it turns reddish brown by every turn we take. After driving for nearly 2 kms our Omni finally gives up. It is unable to take the boulders any further. Gajen spells out doom, that it is indeed risky to take the car any further as the road is worst ahead.

Once decided I stretch my otherwise worn out legs and start to trek. Gajen too leaves the car and follows suit. Approximately we will have to walk for 6 Kms to reach the falls. Cautiously we set afoot the slippery trail, jump over poodles, negotiate sudden downhill and continue the trudge. All along the route I can hear the soft mumbling of a flowing stream somewhere below, hidden behind thick vegetation of conifers and coffee hedges. Few Mahindra Jeeps and a motor bike dance past us and disappear over the hairpin bends ahead. The sun is on its way down now and long shadows cast a magical spell on the red trail ahead. The road goes uphill and next moment down followed by sudden strips of vacant land. Deep tyre marks on wet soil serve as our guide. Turn after turn we walk, only to see another turn in front. Long lost memories rejuvenate as I recollect a lesson we learnt some 14 years back in school; that of a chapter in our Geography book "Monsoon Asia" which read of " Kemmangundi in Bababudan Hills is the source of iron ore for the Bhadravathi Steel Plant.....” It's thrilling to see the place that I read of long back. The brown roads, greenery, streams, the sky above take me back to the ground floor classroom of my school. Sweet memories make the journey all the more merrier, I must say.

It’s more than an hour that we have been trekking, yet no trace of the falls. However, Gajen assures me that we are almost there, though a slight interrogation reveals that he has also never been to that place before!! Surprises galore, but I just cannot outdo his optimism, so we move along. Hey, what’s that? I see the Jeeps stationed at an open space and few huts around. Seems we finally reached the place! From there onwards, everyone has to walk to see the falls that lies further deep within the forest. The stream that has been playing hide and seek till now surfaces in front and we must cross it! With shoes in one hand and camera on the other I step into the waters. Oh!! It’s freezing cold! A few seconds in it and my feet go numb. Twice we cross the stream and I save myself from a fall once while trying to jump over a slippery rock. But where is the falls, it’s yet to be seen?? Gajen is ahead of me and I speak of my growing impatience to him. Suddenly he stands still and calls me aloud, "Sir, here it is!" and points above ahead. I rush to the rock where he is standing and in a moment is dumbfound! Within the canopy of high standing trees as if a drop scene lifts up and on the back drop of a strip of blue sky high above the hill the Hebbe Falls comes alive. For a moment I feel as if I am a worn out explorer on the lookout of a mythical beauty hidden in the labyrinth of nature. The stories and the feelings of explorers and what exactly attracts them dawns on me, something possibly us the regular city beings may never be able to realize. All the tiredness vanishes in a moment and an unprecedented ecstasy fill me, for all the effort has been rewarded.

The Hebbe Falls is neither that high nor is the volume of water that huge when compared to other falls I have seen. Yet, it’s so beautiful. Possibly, it’s the cascading effect of the falls that makes it so serene to look at. A single stream of water from high above the hills takes a steep drop on a huge rock and bifurcates into smaller flows before the final descent below. The rock restricts the wild force of the gushing stream and adds rhythm to it. Gajen's voice brings me back to reality and I advance near to the waters. A fine spray of droplets welcome me and in no moment I am drenched. Nevertheless, braving the ice cold water I manage to climb a rock and take few snaps before the camera gets wet. All done, it’s time to get a closer look and this time I slip and straight go into the pool next to the rock! Fortunately the pool is not that deep and no damage done to the camera and my glasses. Now, totally drenched, I prefer not to go any further and admire the spectacle from the rock itself. An hour goes by and I just don’t feel like leaving the place. My next trip plans are set and I must come back some time in future and possibly during monsoon for the sublime spectacle the falls will offer. A final look of admiration, and we set for our journey back. This time, we board one of the Jeeps that bring us fast to the place where we left our car.

The sun is pretty low now and another bumpy ride of 3 Kms brings us to Kemmangundi, site of the Krishna Rajendra Hill Station, developed almost a century ago by the Wodeyar King of Mysore. Our Omni takes a circuitous route to the top of the hill where riot of colours greet us. The state's horticulture department maintains a sprawling rose garden that’s home to some hundred varieties of roses in all possible hues and tints. From falls to flowers, my eyes feast on the wonders of nature. All around the hill station, man made gardens adore the steps with flowers in full bloom. We are just in time for the sunset and I climb the flight of steps to the view point at the summit to see the last rays of the sun die behind the hills. From nowhere clouds come down and cover up the entire horizon in an enchanting blanket of whites. The long day comes to an end. It's time for the birds to retire to theirs nests, for the flowers to fold their petals and sink in slumber. Nature sends in its emissaries for night, I look up to see the twinkling stars amidst the rising mist, all set to welcome the enchantress of night, the moon.

Gajen tells me that we will take a different route to Chikmanglur as the road is much better than the one we took earlier in the day. So we set off to a 57 Km long haul at 6:30 in the evening. The road is indeed better as it’s a state highway and my driver makes full use of it. At 60 Kmph our fog lights pierce through the pitch darkness and casts shadows on the surrounding coffee plantations. After around 10 Kms, the road again brings us to Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary. This time the road is even steeper and hair pin bends appear too often, except that there are rails on its sides to prevent falls at turns. Gajen adeptly negotiates these turns and any occasional vehicle that comes from the opposite side. We blaze past villages, groups of home bound coffee plantation workers, herds of cattle and tiny dots of lights embedded on the hillocks. After a descent of almost an hour, the forest limits come to an end and far away I can see the lights of the town. The forest appeared completely different by night than in the day; the sounds have changed, so have the sights, all for the vagaries of nature. In few minutes, I reach the hotel. Still in a trance of the day long journey, I thank Gajen for the wonderful trip and for his accompaniment. His innocent smile just adds to the saga and he bids me bye wishing that I will visit again. Deep within, I am also sure that I will be back. After a quick dinner I take a stroll on the hotel’s terrace. On the backdrop of a moonless night, the entire galaxy seems to beckon me. My thirst is quenched; I have found the long sought silence.

snaps courtesy: The wonderful Canon camcorder generously lent by my colleague Mr. Sukhjinder Singh

Saturday, November 29, 2008

On a rainy November evening.........

Far-off trees look shrouded in the mist. Rooftops appear as dots amidst dark green foliage. Look up to find an unending grey blanket, ready to dislodge its contents, just awaiting a tug. Our friend the squirrel, a frequent visitor to the office balcony, has long retired to its nest, so have other mortals, thanks to the gusts of chilling winter wind. Though it's different, yet nothing uncommon, courtesy the November rain in B'lore.

Does anyone know, why emotion at times rule over reason? May be someone knows, but the answers may never be fully convincing. There can be innumerable debates on this, but eventually, none of us know the answer to this 'Why'. Probably that's why we still cry, laugh, smile and at times whimper. Science says, its nothing but simple Biochemistry (read secretions of various hormones to varied stimuli), but what is it that triggers these? For sure the happenings around us, isn't it? A question remains, how have these automatically got associated with a specific form of external manifestation? Simply put, what makes us sad on death and happy on the arrival of a new life? Is it because of those long-standing traditions that humans have been harbouring for ages, those which have in someway made way into our genes or is it the society and our surroundings that have instilled something in us and we are simply pawns to the amino acids? Not sure though. Not at all sure. Being foes, a fierce battle begins deep within and finally one comes out triumphant. At times its reason while at others its the emotion that has the last laugh. A laugh so powerful, that overrules logic and drives one to the point of no return. Barged by the horrifics of life and strangled to the last point of acceptance; one looks forward to an end to life's tribulations as the only solace and ultimate respite from an otherwise painful existence, far far from the vagaries of this world.

The mist dissipates and the blue umbrella reappears, birds chirp away to a distant land, new hopes pave way to new desires, but memories remain and memories haunt. Memories of friendship, of togetherness, of casual conversations, of debates on mundanes, of the afflictions and those of rejuvenation, of the pangs of separation, of those silent tears by dusk, of glances that go unnoticed, unattended and left to find a place for themselves in the corridors of oblivion. For us on this side of life, all these remain to brood upon, while the lone wanderlust has already set out on a long trudge to fulfill the supreme desire, the wish of being all alone in a moonlit night among those distant twinkling stars.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A dawn very special..........

It's 3:45 in the morning, the alarm cries.... I rush up and immediately call up home. Ah! its not yet late, assures Maa. Am pacified, and there follows a deluge of instructions on where to place the cell phone! Cellphone, to be placed infront of the radio ( just a 12 year old Philips two-in-one that has already started to creak! ). All set, the communicator positioned, we place ourselves closest to my roomie's i-mate with speakers on full volume. The 'Vande Mataram' is due any moment and then the magic begins. But what's it that awakes me in the wee hours of this late September morning? Nothing, its 'Mahalaya' and 'Mahisasuramardini' is on air!

Flashback from late eighties, some twenty odd years back, i can trace back my first memory of listening to this masterpiece. That melifluous voice wafting through the dawn, 'Shiulis' on our neighbour's courtyard, pious elderly gentlemen heading towards the river.....and then that sudden realisation that Pujas are just round the corner. Years have gone by, but to this day, the spell captivates me. Life has taken many a turn, and brought me away from home, that small North Calcutta flat of two rooms to the southern city of Bangalore....but deep within that 'something' still remains. Something, that urges me to take the long winding route down memory lane, across the sweet shop on the corner of Northern Avenue, past the purple bougainnvilea vine next to the age old coconut tree and then a left turn by the then novice astrologer's, finally to that house I still call home, where a boy is glued to an ancestral Philips, apt in attention.... for the 'Mahisasura' must be slayed and the powers of good must triumph over the evil.

That child within, awaits each year for the October dawn, when he would walk along those memory lanes, those long lost ones, misted by the vagaries of time yet dotted with the dew bathed Shiulis.

*** 'Mahalaya' is the new-moon day in September-October, when offerings are made to all departed souls.

*** 'Mahisasuramardini' (the demon slayer) is a classic musical piece composed by stalwarts of Indian classical music, brodcasted by All India Radio Calcutta, every year on the pre-dawn hours of 'Mahalaya'. Soulful songs coupled with an enthralling rendition of Sanskrit slokas have captivated generations of listeners over the last 70 years. Of those luminiaries, a handful still live to this day, but the magic continues.

*** 'Shiuli' is an autumnal flower from Bengal, that ushers in the arrival of goddess Durga.

Snap courtesy: Anandabazar Patrika

Friday, September 19, 2008

Remembering Ra'prasad

Ra’prasad, the ever beckoning, mouth-watering (debatable) food joint opposite to Brigade Towers is the protagonist of this monograph. Now, the obvious question arises in the reader's mind, why on Earth write on Ra’prasad? There can be varied answers to this. To me, the most important being our close association to that venerable establishment (as if a government in its own merit!) that prompts me to write. The place is special in some way or the other. With my colleagues, it's popular as 'Rampu' (aka the BPO team) and some other variations of the same name.

Once inside, an unaccomplished and hungry customer is welcomed by a healthy gentleman seated across the counter (in all probability the owner himself) who has a unique way of returning balance and change to the customer, while maintaining a constant vigil on the trepid workers. A slight mistake on the bearer's part and he lashes out at him in a thunderous voice followed by an equally violent action. Being on a busy thoroughfare, there is constant din inside as well as outside the establishment, but the owner in his high pitched, gloomy voice sends across the message for a 'Parcel' to the kitchen with effortless ingenuity. A close observation reveals that 'he' has a typical way of pronouncing few words viz. the word 'Twelve' which sounds 'Twel' with the 've' left to find a place for themselves somewhere in eternity.

Coming to the offerings, there's everything from South Indian to North Indian (which also taste rather Southie) sans one element, hygiene. However, that’s not a big deal when compared to the long list of compromises we all make. Ra'prasad, in a way, highlights and stands tall as an example of monopolistic business model (the management people may disagree to this!) even in this world of fierce competition. With all the unhygiene, dirt, dust and uncleanliness, its business and clientele seem to be soaring and that too with least advertisement and publicity. Indeed a feat to be reckoned with admiration and awe!

A final note with reference to Lord Tennyson, who once wrote in his poem 'The Brook' : "For men may come and men may go, but I go on for ever" thus, illustrating the stream's timeless existence. May be, the quote is equally applicable to Ra'prasad too!