Al-Avalathi's Life (Al-Avalathi is the last Mallu to go to the Gelf)
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Earth Hour, what a joke!

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It’s 8pm now. In sometime, as per the wishes of WWF and various other (non)governmental organizations, thousands of “urban upper and middle classes will turn their lights off expressing solidarity for a pressing global issue like climate change“.

I wonder why the so called custodians of enivronment do not promote Bachat Lamp Yojana of the Govt. of India. Is that because that’s a government scheme and is not targetted at the Urban upper and middle classes? Isn’t it so because no corporate will come forward to chip in as the target audience is the bulb using citizen who can’t afford the fancily designed flouroscent lamps? I can’t blame WWF. A BLY scheme does not have a Fairfax’s media muscle or a Leo Burnett’s advertising skills to bank upon. More importantly, there is no glamor, leave money(for a WWF).
Isn’t Earth Hour a symbolic attempt, annually repeated? Can complex problems like Global Warming have such a simple solution? Okay. Earth Hour is not about solving, but raising awareness. Assume that every single household and organization that falls under WWF’s target group gropes in darkness for an hour. How many of these people will turn a light off when not in use? How many of these organizations,leave domestic consumers will listen when the SEBs ask them not to use high-wattage appliances during peak hours? Think about it. Ask your conscience. Aren’t you just getting carried away into a farce?
Isn’t this symbolic act laced with hypocrisy, linked to the heavy promotions, the celebrity endorsements and such? A lot of carbon must have been burnt publicizing the event, enough to reduce the impact of the energy saved. Do you want me to believe that a Junior Bachchan lives in the most energy efficient way as much as he can? It is a great opportunity to see the stars. Haven’t you always dreamt of seeing the stars, counting them, identifying the constellations? We live in a country urbanized and blinded by the lights that we never get to see the stars. Do we?
Lighting candles during the Earth Hour do not increase our carbon foot print? You may have forgotten that, WWF. Just reminding.
Participating in Earth Hour and turning themselves blind for an hour would end up being nothing more than feel-goods for them. After an hour, it’s back not just to normalcy, but a meteoric rise in consumption to overcome the sacrifice they did, the abstitence they had to undergo. A sudden heavy load on the grid.
An extravagant annual event will not make energy saving an everyday practice.
Wishing the urban upper and middle classes an hour of darkness.
Afterthought: After the Dark Ages, there came an age of Enlightenment.
—————
An interesting bit here.
Let’s face it, Earth Hour is fundamentally about Romanticist aesthetics – the thought of being able to see the stars because all artificial lights are turned off and the idea of a retreat to an idyllic past that never existed when cavemen and cavewomen sang kumbaya around a fire. It’s not about efficient energy use (which can be achieved simply by paying attention to your electricity bills and turning off unnecessary switches, something that has always been driled into my frugal self from a young age) or carbon dioxide reduction.
PS: Probably related to the BLY scheme, see what KSEB is doing. 2 CFLs each to 75 Lakh households and subsidized rates in return of 2 incandescent bulbs each. Makes better sense. What happens to these bulbs isn’t known to me. Still, way better option at this hour.

PPS: I did not get into the units saved during earlier EHs as those numbers are all fudged as per my understanding.

 

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March 27, 2010   8 Comments

Letters after my name

It was yet another very ordinary day in school. I was in class VII. It was lunch break time. When my class teacher asked me to go collect a letter that had come in my name,my excitement just grew beyond what I could handle. Food was not what was important. I ran into the Staff Room.

Alas, it was just a post card. It was a returned letter. Damn you!, Manorama year book. How could the French Consulate’s Chennai address given in it be wrong? My post card asking for tourist brochures and such colorful sheets for a Social Studies project boomeranged. Ya, I know that a boomerang *reaches* the target and then returns,whatever.

The US Consultate address in the year book was not wrong. They sent me loads of information. Yes, loads of information indeed. On history,politics,the presidential campaign(Bill Clinton was running for POTUS then), maps and lots more. That was the time when I learnt that mailing embassies and consulates was the easiest way to handle these school projects.

Those were the days when postcards meant the 15ps ones and not the Rs 2 worth Competition Post Cards. Like many others of my generation, I did play a huge part in the introduction of Competition Post Cards. Who can blame us for sending replies to Siddharth Kak and Renuka Shahane,every week,without fail.

This is much after I started writing letters to companies, and responding to all the contests that came in newspapers and magazines.

Respond to every single contest that comes my way be it in a newspaper or on a product wrapper. Not just contests, I was slightly overboard about writing letters to these companies.
My ideas as a kid was, oh-my-god-my-name-has-reached-[any City]. So, I replied to contests; my name went to Madras,Bombay,New Delhi and beyond. Some sent token gifts like key chains,caps and such.
There used to be this puzzle that came as a newspaper insert. An easy puzzle for any school going kid. Many boxes, many numbers. Fill in to make the sum same diagonally, row/column-wise etc. The prize for this one came by VPP, I never accepted that. Oh yes, it used to be a TV but had to pay some ‘nominal charges’ to receive the prize. That would have been a huge box with trash, I am sure. The prize came from Ahmedabad.
How can I forget those Otto Burlington magazines which had suggest friends [Addresee Pays] cards and I could easily make Otto Burlington send those magazines to all my cousins and neighbours. ;)

And those Reader’s Digest forms. Suggest 20(?) more people and get a Handbook of Word Origins for free, or one of such books. Again, many neighbors actually fell for the letters that read “N Narayanan has suggested your name” and subscribred to RD hoping to win prizes. The prizes were blocks of gold. All you need to subscribe to RD was to stick that *Yes* stamp and send the letter back. VPP was RD’s favorite too.

The earliest of such letters was to Home Lites. They were the ones who brought out huge match boxes, twice as big as a pencil box. I somehow felt their match sticks sparked before they lit up. I was in class III then. I told this to dad. He asked me to write a letter to them. I did. I distinctly remember the four-lined-note book, the Class Work as they used to call then. I tore a sheet from that to send a letter to an adddress that had Wimco Matches and Ballard Estate in that. No, I did not Google this now. :) Did I say that I wrote the letter with pencil? They never replied.

I was always curious to know the “Made in” and manufacturing and expiry dates of products. That I still do. It was when I noticed that a biscuit pack had manufacturing date from the future, I realized that the whole point of dates were idiotic. I don’t recollect the brand; was that Bakeman? It was during the Mahabharata days and this brand’s TVC had Gufi Paintal in it as Shakuni. I remember writing to them. Completely forgot if they replied or not.

Then, that Maggi Club membership I managed after sending a few wrappers. The Candico guys who wished me on my birthday and asked me for suggestions. No body told me they were surveys. The hundreds of contests in Balarama and Tinkle…Learning the word ‘early bird’ from these contests…The card that Eveready sent me with autographs of the Indian team sometime around the B&H World cup ’92…

Talking about contests, how can forget the H,M,T and dots on Re1 coins. You collect 1 each of H,M andT and 2 coins with dots to win an HMT watch. Not sure if someone ever won a watch. The exchange 5 empty (Milma) milk packets for a lucky draw coupon to win a truck load of gold offer,aah!. The immense effort in convincing mom to chuck Kannan Devan and buy AVT Tea for the Swarnadhara Coupons inside. The surprise element in opening the packet. The discount of Rs 2 or 5 that I eventually ended up with. Those days. :|

I kept writing letters. Letters to newspapers and magazines. Some were published. Some weren’t worthy of.

Update: I completely forgot about the Goldspot, Thums Up and Limca bottle cap collections, the collection of plastic animals that came free with Cibaca etc. This post was more like a memory test, and so my failure in recollecting these things are way more than pardonable. :D

PS: Malayala Manorama dated 3rd Jan,2010 printed some words written by me. Online edition

PPS: If numbers matter in this world, then this is published post #200. :)

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January 14, 2010   28 Comments

Travel:Darjeeling,Gangtok and Nathula

[Warning- Very lengthy post. Read at leisure. Free to take breaks]

It was just past 8am. Siliguri was waking up. Through the chaos of the town,the intermittent stench, and the tea gardens,we started our drive up hill. The narrow roads to the foothills of Shivalik were intertwined all along by railway lines(Darjeeling Himalayan Railway). Roads on the rail or rails on the road? They seemed like a series of mating serpents.The roads were typical of any hilly area. Green on either sides, steep curves, uphills almost right,streams, rivulets, culverts, ravines and many gorges that seemed endless.

These narrow roads were punctuated by villages. Kids in their winter wear were on their way to school. Many had their books open, brushing up that last bit before that day’s exam. Presenting a clear picture of their want for a separate state,the Gorkhaland boards ushered us into Darjeeling. The message was loud and clear. Every single door had this board,be it a shop or a house. The writings on the walls spoke about allegiance to India but separation from West Bengal. Vehicles with GL registration surprised me initially, then I came to terms with a novel form of protest. The blue colored train just meandered past us joyfully spitting tonnes of smoke,oblivious of the Al Gores and Copenhagens of the world.

Darjeeling-Train

Darjeeling-Train

Darjeeling-Train

Darjeeling-Train

We were soon in Darjeeling.The quaint town discovered by two British agents, with its cobbled streets and bungalows lets you experience remnants of the Victorian past. The streets in the market take their own turns and go up hill at their whims. Selling mostly winter wear and memorabilia, this market closes way early that one could imagine. Just past 5 and it’s late and dark in Darjeeling. Don’t miss to walk in to to a bakery and have some out of the world pastries. The weather has made shop keepers nonchalant and disinterested in selling- I noticed this.
First a little chilly and soon it is gives you a frozen experience. At 6pm, you are left with no option but reach your hotel room and surf channels.

Darjeeling-Train

Darjeeling-Market

Darjeeling-Train

Early in the morning we were off to watch the sunrise at Tiger Hills. Bah! Sunrise, what’s so invigorating about a sunrise, this was my first reaction. A detour from Ghum/Ghoom railway station takes you uphill to Tiger Hills. 4:15am. It’s pitch dark. You are approached(No,leave your dirty thoughts aside) by women selling coffee/tea at this hour. They trudge all the way uphill to sell coffee /tea to tourists. Give them money for the effort,even more for the tea.

A large crowd waiting on the ground and many waiting a level above. All waiting to see a sunrise. From the enclosure(a level above),all you can hear is a crowd singing what seemed like folk songs; you are blinded by the innumerable flashes clicked. Reaching early helped us get a window for a perfect window for the sunrise. But,still I was sure of this exercise being a dull , waste of time created to fool tourists. I was wrong as usual. :)

Darjeeling-Sunrise

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling

Darjeeling-Sunrise

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling, minutes after the above pic

On your right, the sun slowly appears above the horizon. The golden rays slyly sneaking out. The darkness was giving way to many shades of orange. Though unwillingly,the blue sky was accepting the unwelcome golden rays. Within minutes, a glow appears on a mountain range on your left. The Sun beaming in glory on your right, mercilessly outshone by the sheen of the Kanchenjunga on your left. The Kanchenjunga that appeared drab in those black and white pictures in my school Geography text book,was vivid and resplendent here, enjoying every moment of the attention she got. Unfazed by the clouds’ attempts to mask her brilliance,this white beauty’s radiant smile left us in love with her.

***

That was my first visit to any Buddhist Monastery,the visit to Samten Choling. Buddha inside was showing some displeasure over his photographs being clicked. Irreverence that is,right? I used the opportunity to rotate the prayer cylinders(?) assuming that would wipe out all my sins; have seen monks doing this on Discovery Channel though I don’t know the reason.

The Batasia Loop where the Darjeeling trains take a U turn and the Gurkha Memorial are situated on a hillock that promises a panoramic view of the town. Isn’t it a sacrilege to miss the visit to a tea estate when in Darjeeling? A foggy morning.A gentle breeze.The golden rays of the sun.A whole valley covered with tea plantations.The leaves are just freshening up,trying to clear the mist on them. The intoxicating aroma of a cup of tea takes your senses to a newer high. The taste is heavenly.The whole experience is suddenly a notch above bliss.

The Tibetan Refugee camp resonates the hope of an oppressed community,living away from their homeland. An old printing press which printed their voices of angst and anger,of freedom and liberation lies as a testimony to an eventful past. Many items made by these refugees were for sale at the camp.

We easily skipped the Darjeeling zoo as we did not expect much there. Trivandrum zoo is awesome,you know! :) The famous rope-way was in disuse after an accident some years back,we were told. The St Paul’s school,North Point where Main Hoo Na was shot looked like a picture post card silhouetted against the Kanchenjunga.

It was time to move on from Gorkhaland. Those flags in green,white and yellow had to be bade adieu.

The roads were much better. BRO’s Project Swastik was doing a great job. The life line of Sikkim,Teesta was spotted already. We were just entering Sikkim. The Teesta river was gushing at her full might on our side. The ravines were deep,scary to look into. Oblivious of her surroundings,unmitigated by the rocks,she was flowing as if she would get late for her date with the Brahmaputra. On our way,deep down under we saw her being joined by Rangeet. Two shades of green merging to form a different shade of green. The greens interrupted by the rocks and froth did not reduce her beauty even by a bit. On one side, the river deep in a gorge, taking it’s own course, on the other the rocks sniggering at the river in a show of dominance. Was she green in envy? at whom? the mighty Himalayas that fathered her?

Darjeeling-Train

Road to Gantok

Darjeeling-Train

Beautiful Teesta at the Sangam

Teesta

The Teesta

Villages came one after the other. The terrain was slowly changing. The breathtaking views continued. Marigolds,sunflowers and many other flowers lead me through the land of Teesta.Lush green paddy fields enjoyed the beauty and adorned her banks. We were crossing Rangpo. Indian Army presence could be spotted at irregular intervals. From the foothills,we were on our way up the Himalayas. On the banks of Teesta and even little upwards, I was surprised to find Banana plants and other vegetation seen in tropics.

On the foot hills of the Shivalik ranges, Gangtok welcomes you with it’s pleasant weather,peaceful roads and drool worthy chicken momos. Like I had tweeted, chicken momos were one of the reasons why Sikkim was annexed to the Indian union. :D  The spotless capital city wins hands down for the cleanliness. The MG Marg can easily pass off as a European street with its cobbled streets ,flowers,Victorian street lamps and those ornate benches. Most parts of this road is exclusively for pedestrians. The lights make the fountain and the Gandhiji statue look magnificent after sunset. The Lall Marg adjacent to it reminds you of the Darjeeling market, with the same ups and downs minus a little chaos. We walked into a building off MG Marg,that housed a vegetable market. The cleanliness that we saw outside was missing here. It was like any other vegetable market and the paan stains on the stairs affirmed the fact that order and chaos can exist next to each other. :| The buildings in Gantok were strikingly similar in shape,cuboidal. The easiest job here could be that of an architect,probably.

Darjeeling-Train

Gantok

Darjeeling-Train

Gangtok-MG Marg

**

Nathula(14200 FT) is 52 Km from Gangtok. The earlier roads were narrow. Roads barely existed on the JN Marg that connected Nathula to Gantok. A stretch full of stones and boulders,rubble and dust, dotted with villages and Army establishments. We were on a pathway interrupted by landslides at nature’s whims and fancies. Ravines on the right were so deep that looking into it was enough for your heart to skip not one but a dozen beats. On the left, the mountain walls displayed many textures,patterns and shapes-all signs of human intervention. Work under BRO’s Swastik project was in full swing. Army convoys and JCBs appeared to create traffic jams.

Kanchenjunga

Kanchenjunga,near Nathula

The road to Nathula

The road to Nathula

Clouds had decided to shed their beauty and be shapeless. The confused clouds cozily placed themselves next to each other. These are the times when you realize that white and blue are siblings.The sky was painted with not just one,but many hues of blue. Those coniferous trees high school geography taught me were now here,or it was now easier to realize that the vegetation was coniferous. Those long white patches on the greens were streams and rivulets mellowed down by the freezing cold.

A few km up and we were at about 12600 feet above the sea level. We took a detour from what seemed like a base camp and headed to Baba Harbhajan Sigh’s bunker. The base camp had a Baba Mandir which apparently was built for the convenience of the visitors(“duplicate” as per our driver). The original one and the bunker were about 6km away from here.

We saw her again. The same Kanchenjunga that gleamed in glory two mornings before was at her stunning best. She was trying to shoo away the clouds that tried to mask her beauty. The ravishing beauty,majestic in her demeanor was standing tall to touch the skies. What? Did I just spot snow on the rocks? I grabbed a lump of snow from the rocks. The only other place I did this was from the refrigerator’s freezer.

After visiting Baba’s bunker that had his belongings and the original Baba Mandir there, we headed back to 12600 feet base camp. This place had an ATM(yes!) and a few shops. From here, we started our journey to a place that mattered much in history, a point on the Old Silk Route. Nathula.

Through the gate that said “Nathula”,we walked up the stairs. On the right side was a photography prohibited area,a few metres from there was the Indian Army post. We were at a place that looked more like the portico of one of the two buildings. Behind me was a building with the tricolor proudly fluttering,bringing out the Indian in each one of us.

I was standing in front of a building with excess of red,golden pillars and a star on its forehead,something that took my mind straight to the AKG Bhavan in Trivandrum. I walked close to it and hey! what am I seeing? There is a fence. Err, so that is C-H-I-N-A. That was China! Within minutes,three nattily dressed young Chinese soldiers came close to the fence, one of them smoking and clicking his camera nonstop. He had decided to get pictures of every single young lady on the Indian side. None of our rules apply to him, he is on the other side. Different rules,different timezones,different language,all together a different world. How much can a small fence do.

Soon,the Chinese soldiers shed their initial indifference and started posing for photos with the Indian tourists. Camaraderie was evident in the air in the way the Indian and Chinese soldiers interacted. How different was it was for them than working in two different teams? The soldiers on either side of the fence were ready to pose for photos, but refused to shake hands. A trip to Nathula was never complete without breaking a piece of rock from the memorabilia stone. And boy!, that hammer was HEAVY.

In the midst of all these photographs, I managed to sneak my hand to the other side of the fence. ;-) Yes, I did that. That was touching Chinese soil. What else can give you a high when you are on the border? :)

Outside Baba's bunker

Outside Baba's bunker

Nathula

At Nathula

Nathula

At Nathula

Nathula

At Nathula

We left the BRO slogans, the Army’s Hum Hi Jitenge | Mera Bharat Mahaan lines and started our drive down hill to Gangtok. Passing many snow capped buildings behind us,we were coming down from a high point in our lives. We passed the Sherathang market, about 5 km from Nathula. I spotted Dongfeng trucks in the market;may be they came in with goods from across the border. The Tsongmo Lake (also called Changu Lake or Tsomgo Lake) was calm and beautiful. The Yak owners were shouting to strike a deal to take us for a ride on those animals. Yaks, to my surprise seemed so harmless.

Visibility was almost zilch. Sun suffered from a bout of inferiority complex and hid himself. Our driver seemed undaunted with the zero visibility. The headlights pierced through the darkness. The nonstop horn seemed to show him the road. We were soon in Gangtok for our next round of Chicken momos. It would be unfair not to mention those hundreds of smiles I got back for every eye contact that I made, irrespective of gender or age; immensely friendly and pleasant locals bring in a smile on our faces. :-)

My tweets during this trip

Photo credits- Nikhil Narayanan, Bharat Narayanan

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December 13, 2009   24 Comments

Travelogue:Srirangam and Malai Kottai temples

[Photography was not allowed in many parts of Srirangam Temple and the Thayumunaswamy temple in the MalaiKottai complex,Trichy]

Part-1 can be read here

I was not done with praising the Cholas. The Big Temple hangover lingered somewhere inside my head. After sleeping over the Shaivite era, I headed to Srirangam, the temple town situated about 7km from Trichy. Enough of Shaivite thoughts,over to Vaishnavites.
I knew I was moving towards the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, spanning over 156 acres;yes! you read those digits right.
I stood in front of the first Gopura.A sense of deja vu; that sight took me to Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Trivandrum.
I was slowly being ushered in by huge wooden gates not just in to a temple, but to a different era, a different civilization. A civilization where everything revolves around one person,  the Lord Sri Ranganathaswamy himself.

Srirangam_Temple
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam

When inside the temple, it takes time to hit you that you are inside one and you are there to pray. You are inside a complex with a multitude of granite structures and enough space for a town to assemble in. You get a feel of what innumerable is when you attempt counting the myriad of gods and goddesses inside the complex.

7 rectangular enclosures/Prakarams(courtyards),the towering Gopurams for each of these Prakarams,those streets with shops and houses,many Mandapams and many many gods. That’s Srirangam Temple for you. Slowly the fact sunk in ; it is not easy for me to cover every nook and corner in a day. I walked inside the complex with my eyes popping out in surprise, mouth agape in astonishment, mind traveling to another era, body trudging from one structure to another.

The temple looked ancient and majestic. The finest examples of South Indian stone sculptures could be seen in the 1000 pillar Mandapam,the Shesharaya Mandapam and the Thirumamani Mandapam. It was here that I saw war/hunting scenes sculpted on pillars with the King,elephants,tiger warriors along. I did notice some Chinese figures in some of the scenes; not sure if they were enemies or they worked for any of the kings’ armies.
The giant enclosure housing the Garuda(inside the 4th parakram) was one of the many structures that would leave your eyes riveted on.

One should appreciate the effort that has gone in maintaining these structures. The scars of time make them look old; they are mute spectators: of the vagaries of nature, of a tumultuous past, of conquerors and wars. This structure witnessed the vicissitudes of time and enjoyed the munificence of the Pallavas,Cholas,Pandyas,Nayaks,Vijayanagara,Hoysala and Marathas. That makes these buildings easily over 1100 years old,at least.

Can you spot the Chinese?

Ruins of a wall-Srirangam Temple

Every pillar,every stone, every sculpture effused so much energy. So much that they had a tale to narrate, not that I could understand what they spoke. After about two hours of waiting in a queue that meandered, I had my 4 seconds of darshan. Unlike the 3 door-ed Ananthashayanam at Trivandrum, here a single door was all that was needed to have a glimpse of the lord, in entirety.

I did not like the fact that some parts of the complex were painted; equally loathed the idea of having a white gopuram, that looks white washed. Why would someone clad a beautiful gopuram with white paint?
I could find parts of the temple wall in ruins in one of the corners. Some parts were repaired many more times than I could imagine. I should not be complaining. When it was built, no one would have thought about a structure to stay for eternity.

I am not writing much about the architecture, since there is way too much to cover.Though the earliest inscriptions talk of Parantaka Chola’s grant to buy camphor for the temple,the antiquity could be much dated; to the Pallavas, and much much beyond that.

The Namam symbol was left indelible in my mind for many days. Happens, if you see hundreds of them in a few hours’ span. :)

Did I say I had heavenly curd rice inside the temple complex? Don’t miss that counter. :)

***
Our next stop was the Uchi Pillayar(Ganesha) temple or the Rock Fort(Malai Kottai), Trichy. An inconspicuous entrance from a busy street takes you through a lane buzzing with street vendors to ManickaVinayagar temple. From here begins the climb up; 420 steps. After a few minutes of brisk climbing, we reached a landing. On the left was the Thayumanaswamy temple and on the right the way to the Uchi Pillayar temple.

Thayumunaswamy temple is inside a hillock, 83 m high and 3800 Million years old. What? That makes it older than Himalayas! (Oh, ya Himalayas are relatively new. Tethys Ocean , remember school geography?). The dark alleys of the Thayumunaswamy temple refreshes you and gives an out of the world experience. The inscriptions here seemed to be written in a strange convoluted melange of the South Indian languages. The oldest of these inscriptions date back to 3rd C BC; some of them are from the relatively recent 7th C AD Pallava era. The minimal lighting brings in a surreal feeling but does not much help in enjoying the impressive painting of Parvathy on the ceiling. The massive Linga and the wondrous rock architecture is enough to leave you awestruck.

Malai Kottai-Rock Fort Temple

Uchai Pillayar-Rock Fort Temple

Inscriptions at Kudaivarai Koil, Rock Fort (Malai Kottai)

Climbing towards the Uchai Pillayar temple, a nondescript Mandapa like structure on your left, the Kudaivarai Koil has Siva,Parvathi and river Kaveri personified. For a moment I wished I could decipher the inscriptions from the Pallava era (9th C AD). Further up, a panoramic view of Trichy beckons you. The gushing wind caressing your face, swaying your hair. The town lighting up to welcome the twilight. The beautiful Kaveri flowing with her full might. A few steps uphill from here is the Uchai Pillayar temple.

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November 15, 2009   14 Comments

Travelogue:Thanjavur and Brihadishwara temple

[Part 1 of the Tanjore/Thanjavur-Srirangam-Trichy travelogue] Part 2 can be read here

Having overloaded myself with information on Tanjore/Thanjavur, I reached the Tanjore Palace in search of all the glory of the old Chola capital.

The 16th century palace complex was built by the Nayaks and later renovated by the Marathas. With very unimpressive looks, the ill maintained complex has parts that unfortunately look more like ruins. The grandeur that the Cholas, Pallavas  and Tanjore were synonymous with, was missing here (at least from outside).

Situated close to the Old Bus Stand, the first of the museums I visited here was the Royal Museum. Is this the might and valor of the Cholas I heard of? What am I seeing here, I wondered? A scantily lit room with drums, urns, perfume bottles, wooden boxes, manuscripts, gifts, jewelry, weapons and other belongings of the Marathas. At least once, I felt pity for the exhibits with years of accumulated dirt, that tried to utter words from a glorious past. A 17th century printed Ramayana was one of the exhibits I found worth mentioning.

Exiting and moving on, a painting of a Maratha King welcomes you to the Durbar Hall. The area in front has a canon and a bull. The smell of pigeon excreta near the portrait makes you run into the interiors of the palace, only to take you into empty dark rooms with even worse stench. On the other side of the painting, an array of of Pallava and Chola statues throws light into the craftsmanship of the Pallava and Chola era. Immense amount of solace here. :)
The Art Gallery has an impressive line up of granite (7th to 17th centuries| Pallava, Chola ,Pandya) and bronze statues(10-18th centuries, Chola, Nayaks,also 7-8th century Natarajas).With details of excavation and century of origin clearly displayed, the Gods, Goddesses and other statues take you to a different era. The magnificent monolithic statues evince energy and life; the aura in their eyes beamed a story of fine craftsmanship and effort. Vishnu, Ganesha or a Nataraja look exactly the same as they look in today’s images and statues. Gods haven’t changed much. I also did notice a Buddha statue from the Pallava era here.

Climbing up the Bell Tower was an interesting exercise, but the multitude of I Love you graffiti throughout the narrow stairs and the storeys were very depressing. A lot can be improved in this palace complex.
After existing the main entrance, further down the road towards the bus stand, stands a the pink colored building on your left. Sharajah Madi, a six storied building built in the Sarcenic style by Raja Serfoji houses the belongings of the Maratha kings. With its spacious halls and grandeur, this palace will remind you nose of the Durbar Hall. The paintings and the embellishments on the roof are sparingly visible in the dark interiors. You may wonder if you mistakenly entered the Maratha kings’ dungeon. :)

With due respect to the rulers, one could easily conclude that Marathas’ and Nayaks’ efforts here seems very anachronistic in front of the Pallava and Chola splendor.

From the Palace,I headed to Brihadiswara Temple (Built in 1010 AD, 25 years and 275 days after Rajaraja Chola’s ascension to the throne in AD985).Whenever I saw this temple on Discovery and such, I always believed it is the firang’s knee jerk WOWs that created the hype around this place. Alas, I was wrong, terribly wrong. This structure looks majestic and looks way better that how it looks on TV.

Gopura-I, Brihadishwara Temple,Thanjavur

Gopura-I, Brihadishwara Temple,Thanjavur

Inside a walled fortress, this temple will take your breath away. I stood in awe, astonishment and reverence. A standing testimony of the Chola’s opulence and vision, their architectural excellence can be seen in this structure built during the 11th century by Rajaraja Chola-I. The scale and the enormity of the deities reflect the staunch reverence of the king to lord Shiva.

The Gopuras,Brihadishwara Temple,Thanjavur

The two Gopuras , Brihadishwara Temple,Thanjavur

Rajaraja, his sister Kundavai and queens donated their gold and silver to this temple. The gold Rajaraja donated came from his treasury and the booty from his Chera(Kerala) and Karnataka campaigns.
The intricate carvings on the pillars and walls, and the inscriptions on the walls make the temple a delight for a historian’s senses. The script used in the inscriptions resemble Tamil, Thai or some of the South East Asian languages. The huge(8.7m height) Shiva Linga in the sanctum sanctorum and Nandi statue reflect the magnificent munificence of the Cholas. The shrines of the goddess and Subrahmanya date back to 13th (Pandyas) and 15th century respectively. A legend says that the Nandi statue was growing and the growth was curbed after a nail was drove inside its back. So now, this monolithic Nandi is 3.7m high, 6m wide and 2.5 m broad. Get an idea how big that is?

Vimana -Inside Brihadishwara Temple, Thanjavur

Vimana -Inside Brihadishwara Temple, Thanjavur

The inside walls, Brihadishwara Temple

The inside walls, Brihadishwara Temple

The pillared cloisters beside the main structure has a series of deities and Shiva Lingas which includes a few of them excavated in recent past; which makes one think when does an statue excavated end up as a god and when as a Art Gallery piece. The murals narrate the story of Shiva’s might. Among the things visible were the interlocks of the granite stones. The rocks so perfectly fitted into one another at a height of tens of metres seemed to share a harmonious bonding , unnerved by the rains, winds and heat. Very well maintained, this structure will leave you with thoughts like, was it actually built in the 11th century. :)

Interestingly, I could spot that only the doors were made of wood and not surprisingly, even they were intact. Not sure if they were replaced during the course of time, once or even more.

Elephant Hair being sold outside Brihadishwara Temple, Thanjavur

Elephant Hair being sold outside Brihadishwara Temple, Thanjavur

Unlike in most other temples, here the towering Vimana(roof of the sanctum sanctorum) (58m tall) makes the Gopura( Pyramidal tower at the entrance of the temple) look diminutive. The inscriptions of the Vimana talk about the Rajaraja Chola’s gifts to the temple. The 13 storied Vimana is ornate with several stucco figures. Water for the temple would have(still) come(s) from the Kaveri river(should be a distributory of the river Kaveri as Thanjavur falls in the river’s delta region) flowing adjacent to the fortified walls of the temple complex.

Brihadishwara Temple at night

Indide Brihadishwara Temple at twilight

It would be the greatest show of disrespect to the Cholas, if I even think of comparing them to the Marathas. Frankly, even a Taj Mahal is nothing in front of this temple. You would not argue with me, if you have been to both the places.

The magnanimous idea, the grandiose vision, the Herculean effort, the glorious past of the Chola regime, their patronage for arts and culture, this temple stands testimony for all of these.

Some questions remain unanswered to me. Where did Raja Raja Chola rule from? Where was his palace? Since the Lord was more or less like the ruler, was the temple a center of governance too? But, where did the king and his family stay? How were the rocks brought into the site? How were they erected to such heights? Elephants, humans, inclined planes? I am yet to find some answers. The copious admiration lives on.
PS: I won’t rant about the school history text books that irreverently cut short the Chola kings. Cholas were just worthy of 5 or 10 marks while history was all about the series of kings who ruled Delhi, the Mughals included.

Cholas ruled not just South India and Ceylon. They had almost the whole of SE Asia under their control.Their system of governance and administration was so advanced and systematic that it can match the best of such systems that ever existed around the world. He was indeed king of kings, Rajaraja Chola.I am not getting into that, this post will go on for pages if I do. Read this by Charukesi if you still don’t believe the Chola might.
Suggested reading:

  • [For more on the architecture] Temples of South India, Ambujam Anantharaman
  • The Illustrated History of South India,K A Nilakantha Sastri

Photo credits Bharat Narayanan

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October 25, 2009   15 Comments

SUPW

For years, none of us knew why we had the bench vice on that table; not that we knew it was called a vice.

Bench Vice(Not from my SUPW class)

John sir’s nails would dig deep into our skin if we ever tried to mess with the vice,even if to stay awake in his boring class. I am not kidding.  The sessions were super duper long and boring. A series test lamp that was tested for ages, all we figured was that when the circuit was complete,the bulb would light up.Don’t know how many hours were spent explaining that.

Iron boxes were opened.Repaired.Wiring diagrams that would resemble unsolvable mazes were drawn.House wiring it seems.We learnt that bulb holders of various types have names like angle bulb holder,baton bulb holder etc.A ceiling rose was called a ceiling rose,that was some learning.Phase was always (in the) right,what was left was neutral,he kept talking about some archaic Indian Electricity rules(I haven’t been able to dig this specific mention in the said rule).So,a tester glows on the right side of the plug,okay?. It was in these classes that we were taught the BBROYGBVGW of coding resistors even before we learnt that in Physics.Chokes and starters-why are they used in a florescent tube etc were taught to us there.We chuckled over the explanations of Fleming’s left and right hand rules ;-)

Then there was torch repair,but that was much much earlier.

The school’s public address system was the SUPW sir‘s/students’ responsibility.Setting up the PA system,adjusting the mic during the morning assembly etc. Fiddling with the Bass/Treble/Volume and the innumerable controls on those Ahuja PA systems could easily create screeches to deafen the whole school.I have done the mic-testing-adjusting job once,that is it.  :|

The girls were spared from the vice and such.They did some embroidery during the time, aah..I don’t know what they did.

SUPW was not just about these wires and lights.Before the holders and lights came in,we made candles, the ones colored red,green,yellow and likes.So much fun it was.We bought them ourselves.Not just that.Chalks were made in SUPW classes,for internal consumption of the school.And how can I forget those dusters made in SUPW classes? :-)

This is years after I learnt hem stitch and button stitches.Yes, I did learn them in school.Graduating from making flowers out of crepe paper and skirt for dolls using plastic straws,stitching was a giant leap.

Then,much hated SUPW was; now I realize it was not as bad as we thought it to be. :)

[Image source: ehow.com]

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October 6, 2009   28 Comments

Nehru Trophy Boat Race,Alleppey,Kerala

For a day, she had shed her serene attire. The tranquility she usually showed was missing today. The blue blanket she adorned looked unusually gorgeous on her. The blanket stretched to either side, beyond what my eyes could figure. The coconut trees that dotted her banks were swinging in a state of ecstasy.Even the ripples were high and danced in tandem. The tiny waves soothed the stone walls that formed the banks. The clouds smiled at her as if they shared a secret chemistry. Punnamada, was at her best.

Here was the celebration of Kuttanad. A celebration, that erased all the differences created by caste and religion. The boats came from various parts of Kuttanad and around. It was a clash of prestige. It was a show of strength. Only one thing mattered, winning the trophy for one’s village. The 57th Nehru Trophy Boat Race was just hours away. Unlike other days, the quaint inlets and creeks that connect the villages of Alleppey, were not buzzing with activity. The banks of Punnamada were encroached upon by the villagers.

The 4 tracks were laid. Practice sessions were in full swing moving in all possible directions. Speed boats and others carrying tourists, police and organizers zoomed across Punnamada. The high energy was evident in the air. The people from across villages were arriving to see their boat winning the show of speed.

We realized the pavilions were not the place to watch the race. Being one in the crowd could tell us how charged the environs were, nothing else would. Almost everyone was high spirited. Folk songs and aarpoo irroos could be heard non-stop from all directions. Snake Boats (Chundan Vallom) were long, some long enough to shy away from being captured in a single frame. The boats were Hindu and Christian, but the oarsmen had no religion. They sang in unison praising Hindu or Christian gods.

When the race was on, my ears could capture the sounds of the boat names, and their history from someone or other in the euphoric crowd. It was more like a running commentary. Karichal, Kumarakom, Kainakari, Karuvatta,Chambakulam….. Vepp A Grade, Iruttukuthy A Grade,Churulan and so on. I could get so many of these names around me.The crowd was now thrown into a frenzy.Many moved from the banks to water.The cops were in action shooing them off the race tracks,not that they could do much.

The effort of every village that has gone into arranging a boat for them is worth commending. Think about shoe string budgets and small time sponsors like some Gulf Malayalee or a mobile operator. The invasion of brands was evident, but as long as they bring in money to the race, who cares! Not only were they on the participating boats, but also on boats parked to act as stationary hoardings (on water).

This show of camaraderie, competition, enthusiasm is more than a vignette of Kuttanad’s village life. The rhythm of the oarsmen, the oars propelling the boat in unison, the songs sung to pump up their spirits, everything has conquered Punnamada yet again. They will continue to do it, for years to come.

I was live tweeting the #ntbr09

Some scenes from the boat race: [CLICK on the images for bigger view]  {Scroll down for some videos}

Some videos from the race. (If you are a Malayalee, do not miss the first two)

[How to reach: Alleppey(also known as Alappuzha) by Air(nearest Airport is Cochin), by Train(nearest station is Alleppey/Alappuzha) or by road(well connected by road) More info

NTBR(Nehru Trophy Boat Race) is held on the second Saturday of August. This year it was held on 8th August.The venue is 5-6 km from the town.Tickets are available at the venue and through agents.Contact Kerala Tourism for more info.]

Suggested Reads: The history of Nehru Trophy Boat Race

[Photos by Shreyash Pai,Bharat Narayanan and the author.Governed by this license ]

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August 12, 2009   27 Comments

To each,its own space

[This is a post full of links. You need not click on all of them as you read,as there exists a great level of uniformity in their tone]

Update: (I am a supporter of India’s space programme and this has been written in a way to show the British media’s concern for India) :-)

Why should a country where millions still lack basic services run a successful space programme? Why are they trying to reach the stars? Shouldn’t they be waiting for every problem to be solved and then start thinking about space and nuclear submarines? Why are they biting more than they can chew?

Once a colony,always a colony. Don’t you agree?

Here, we are still debating if we should get into space research on our own and there comes a colony that tries to launch itself into a different league. No, we do not suffer from any inferiority complex. We are plain jealous.We still believe in running an agency and paying annual membership fee to the ESA; getting out of the partnerships and stop being a pile on and do nothing much,yes, we do even that at times. UK probably believes in wiping out poverty which is just over 22% of the population unlike India with over 42% of the population below the global poverty line(or a bit less [33%] than that).Critics speak only to the Western media, you know they are genuinely concerned at the waste of resources in such over ambitious plans. Even the cynical ill-informed locals talk to them.

We believe in repeating our canned statements to help a developing nation focus more on infrastructure development and eradicating poverty. You read it right, repeat. We said this in Oct 2008 and again in July 2009

But the Indian government’s space efforts have not been welcomed by all.

Some critics regard the space programme as a waste of resources in a country where millions still lack basic services.

At times, we try to balance our opinions. In the name of balancing, we show our concern by taking a dig in the end like this or like this. We would want every Indian to first learn to read and write and then think about rockets. We are waiting for Global warming and pollution to be tamed, racism to be curbed and then get into the space war.If India uses its own satellites and launch vehicles,what will happen to the developed world? Who will lease ESA’s transponders? Poverty is widespread,go tackle that. No,our concern is genuine irrespective of the media house we come from. We do not believe in doing things simultaneously,even if the tasks are unrelated. First tackle,child malnutrition and chronic poverty, then build satellites. If we don’t ask,who will. Thank us for being this responsible.

Space technologies can be used for the common man’s good,right? No, no one told us this. We can never miss out on including some numbers to polish our articles. Poverty,mention of IT industry are must ingredients in these concoctions. [another example]

Frankly, like NY Times we also fear if India would use these technologies for military goals.

[Disclosure: My father works for the Indian Space Research Organization]

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August 4, 2009   16 Comments

Asato Ma Sat Gamaya

11 years is a long time, but the memories of school are still fresh. Every day started with the assembly. It was part obligatory, part duty, to attend. Through the years, the liking for it grew down exponentially. Whatever, it had a fun element which I miss now; the discipline, the order, saavdhaan and veeshraam, the pledge, the prayer…I miss them all.

Half the time during a year, assembly would be washed away by the rains. Then, the PA systems took control and brought order in chaos to the classrooms where the sounds of Asato Ma Sat Ga Maya wafted through the rooms filled with wet umbrellas.

I never realized the purpose of singing these songs, the prayer, the patriotic songs, the National Anthem etc. Leave the purpose, most of us did not understand the meanings of these songs.(The national anthem’s English translation was there in the school diary, but who would read that. :D)

Why was taking the pledge or singing the National Anthem mandatory, that too daily? Come to think of it, most of the school assembly was aimed at building one’s love for the nation. Why else was I taught patriotic songs in many languages? No, I am not complaining. I still can sing the Assamese song Ye Matire,moro mote… :-) It doesn’t end here.

The melodious Tamil song Odi Vilayaad Paapa, Pillallara Paappallara, the Telugu song with extended hums in between lines….the Kannada song Cheluvina Muddina Makkale, with mmmmm Cheluvina, ooooo Muddinna after every line…aah! writing this I am taken to a different era. No day was complete without the daily dose of news that was read out in the assembly; those days where every morning a new thought for the day was fed into our brains…book reviews and what not!

The Marathi song Aata Udhao Saare Rann, with its conspicuous na sound in Rann… I must have memorized the Sindhi song Muhijo Vatan years before I knew where Sindh was (Okay,I knew about Sindhu Nadi Sabhyata).The Gujarati song, Aakasha Ganga Surya Chandra Taara Sandhya Ushaaa koi na Nathee had to be sung in a tune that could be replicated easily by a tape moving at 0.5X, while the Sanskrit song was Om, Sanghajatwan Samwadatwam…..was very prayer like.

Old KV Logo

Old KV Logo

The set of Hindi songs from the classic Saare Jahan Se Acha to Hum Honge Kaamyaab(and it’s English version, We shall overcome) and Yeh Waqt Ki awaaz hai milke chalo to the very very slow Hind Desh Ke Niwasi Sabhi Jan ek hai…were not as interesting as the non-Hindi songs, to me at least.

The school anthem, Bharat ka swarnim gaurav Kendriya Vidyalaya layega was another song that crawled through the assembly,once a week.

The main prayer song was Daya Kar daan Vidya, which I realized was in Hindi much later. No wonder I created newer words and unwanted pauses in the already badly tuned song. You won’t believe, Paramatma, word in the song was always Para…maa..tmaa for me.

There was the Malayalam song Janmakarini Bharatam which was sung rarely. What about Kashmiri, Bengali and Punjabi?…I don’t even remember if we were taught them in our Music classes.
I can go on and on, I can even start singing.No, I spare you :D

Update: Pages from a KV school diary(with these songs) can be found at [ZIP FILE containing the images] http://bit.ly/kvsongs

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July 1, 2009   101 Comments

Shashi Tharoor’s win in Trivandrum:Analysis

The dust has settled down.Now over to some number crunching.My 2 cents. :-)

Shashi Tharoor got 44.3% of the total votes in the Thiruvananthapuram parliamentary constituency.More than half of Vattiyoorkavu and Thiruvananthapuram Assembly Constituency voters voted for him(Fig-2).

Neelan and the much discussed Nadar factor(they form 18% of the PC) did not work much against Tharoor.Was it because of Neelan’s image?Or did the Nadars not believe that Neelan would get a cabinet berth in the Mayawati lead govt.Bah! Remember, Mayawati started her election campaign in Thiruvananthapuram, whatay colossal loss.

Trivandrum LS Polls 2009-Assembly Constituency wise

Fig-1:Thiruvananthapuram LS Polls 2009-Assembly Constituency wise-1

Just around 5% of Vattiyoorkavu and Kazhakootam voted for Neelan. Nemom’s 7% voted for him.On expected lines Neyyatinkara,Kovalam and Parasala had a lot of Neelan votes,but he still was behind CPI’s Ramachandran Nair in these assembly constituencies.Ramachandran Nair got about 31% of the total votes.

The order of the top two candidates was consistent across ACs.
PK Krishnadas (BJP) was at #3 in Nemom,Thiruvananthapuram,Vattiyoorkavu and Kazhakoottam assembly Constituencies;Neelan at #3 in Neyyatinkara,Kovalam and Parasala.Majority of Muslim votes across ACs should have gone to INC,while the major chunk of Muslim votes left in these ACs went to Neelan.(Eg.Kovalam)

So what worked for Tharoor?The neutral voters,the CPI-CPI(M) rift and the whole anti Left sentiment be it due to lack of development in the city, anti incumbency.The Christian votes would have predictably gone in favour of Shashi Tharoor.He has successfully tapped the Nair+Ezhava vote bank,I would conclude.All these together ended up in favor of Dr.Tharoor.Guess what I heard from someone before the elections,”orithiri vivaram ulla ellarum Tharoorine kodukku” turned out to be true.

Trivandrum LS Polls 2009-Assembly Constituency wise

Fig-2: Thiruvananthapuram LS Polls 2009-Assembly Constituency wise-2

Tharoor’s and Ramachandran Nair’s votes were more or less equally distributed across ACs.A slightly higher contribution to Tharoor’s kitty came from Thiruvananthapuram and Vattiyoorkavu ACs.With Parassala,Nemom and Kazhakkutam contributing over 15% to Ramachandran Nair’s votes,even here you could see a uniformity in the vote distribution across ACs.We should be proud of the voters of Vattiyoorkavu,Thiruvananthapuram AC,Kazhakoottam and Nemom for spoiling Neelan’s party.The Nadar+Dalit factor did play a part in getting most of Neelan’s votes;79% of his votes came from Neyyatinkara,Kovalam and Parassala.

Trivandrum LS Polls 2009-Candidate

Fig-3:Trivandrum LS Polls 2009-Candidate wise

Now, a look at how Thiruvanthapuram has been voting through the years(BSP not included as its only share worth mentioning was in 2009)

Vote Share Trend-Trivandrum(CPI,INC,BJP)

Fig:4-Vote Share Trend-Thiruvananthapuram(CPI,INC,BJP)

LokSabha Poll 2009-Votes

Fig:5- LokSabha Poll 2009-Votes

Here is a link to the spreadsheet I made just to get a hang of the numbers.

Download the whole data sheet which includes a pivot table(3 of 4 sheets password protected,mail me if you need the password).Happy analyzing.

Right click,Save as to Download

Right click,"Save as" to download


PS: On a lighter note, the candidate who is an MP even after losing,ya no points for guessing that, fared miserably.MP Gangadharan(NCP) whose clock was all over the place,got 2972 votes.Talk about pipe dreams ;-) or bad times.

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May 18, 2009   17 Comments