August 31, 2014

The Pup And The Plastic



Anyone who has tried tearing a milk packet with their teeth will know how difficult it is, much less drinking from the irregular cut it opens in the plastic packet.

Now imagine a puppy with milk teeth trying to open a plastic packet of milk.

I spied one roadside in Kalupur on Independence Day after stepping out of a shop with a water bottle to keep the two of us company on the three hour walk through the neighbourhood adjoining Swami Narayan temple.

The discarded packet held some milk, attracting the attention of a stray puppy that made getting at the milk its early morning task. 

It wasn’t easy tearing at the thick plastic given its grip was limited by unsteady paws. Waiting for the group to emerge from the temple, I waited, and watched.

I stayed away thinking the day (Aug 15) was as apt as any for the pup to exercise its independence.


But a female sparrow did not think it that way as it hopped into the frame before …..


….. hopping around the pup’s back to see how exactly the inexperienced pup was going about it.

I wonder if it came around to lend a helping hand nee beak. I doubt it. If the sparrow was smart it’d wait until the pup had opened a gash in the plastic before stepping in.

This is one reason to not package milk in plastic packets. Bring back the bottles that can be knocked over.

The milk bottles are long gone where I come from so I suppose it’s no use crying over spilt milk now.


July 05, 2014

Of Waiting, Of Luck, Of Wanting




“The bus left just five minutes ago,” the youth in formal office wear and cradling his laptop bag said as I got into the queue behind him in the shade of an old Pipal tree that has managed to hold its ground even as tar and concrete has all but choked it where it enters the earth in a sacred pact with life.

I have no idea how water manages to seep down to its roots anymore. Only a dogged determination of not wanting to roll over and die at a place where it took root long before the earth that sustained it was tarred over to make roads, must keep it alive. I cannot think of any other reason.  

“The next bus should be here soon,” I replied.

Office goers were beginning to queue up behind me. Under an overcast sky threatening more rain after it had rained out the city the day before, the lot of us were no doubt hoping to reach our offices dry.   

The twenty-something youth in full sleeves shrugged his shoulders and managed a half smile; together they seemed to imply Well, you never know. I returned his smile, adding, “With the rains around, the buses get stuck in traffic and get delayed on their round trips to Andheri and back.”

I was looking to make small talk to while away the waiting but nature had other plans as I would soon find out.

I distinctly heard the splatter as it hit the ground a fraction of a second after I felt something brush my left sleeve and hand.

A crow had emptied its load from somewhere high up in the tree and I wasn’t about to look up just then and risk collecting a second fall on my face. Checking my shirt sleeves for stains I was relieved at having escaped with only faint trails of the familiar dark gooey as opposed to the wide splotch on the youth’s shoulder ahead.

After I pointed it out to him he turned his neck, pulled at his sleeve to get a good look and let out a wry smile before quipping, “It’s said that bird droppings landing on the left shoulder bring luck. Maybe I’ll get lucky today.”

“Are your appraisals due today?” I asked him.

“Haha,” came the reply.

Amused and heartened at the equanimity of the cheery office goer looking at the bright side of things while fielding calls from his office even as he was looking to clean up the mess on his shirt, I looked at my own left hand and sleeve. It had collected a bit of bird splatter itself or shall I say a bit of “good luck”.

I wondered if a bit of luck would come my way as well.  

Pointing to the small paan-bidi shop beside the bus shelter, I said, “He might be able to spare you some water to wash it off.”

“No, it’s okay,” he replied as he retrieved tissues from his bag and began scrubbing the bird dropping off.

Two fellow commuters behind me, a middle-aged woman and an old man, wary of being singled out for avian generosity stepped back clear off the tree. But the tree had a wide canopy. The woman would keep looking up every now and then until it was time to get onto the bus.

I opened my umbrella for ‘protection’.

Stepping sideways and looking up I saw the culprit, a male crow. Oblivious to his morning ritual having stirred up the crowd beneath, he sat still beside a nest of twigs occupied by a female. It’s likely both were on parenting duties.

After the youth had cleaned up his shirt the best he could, he rolled up the tissue paper and looked for a place to chuck it. Spotting a makeshift plastic garbage bag stuffed with empty cigarette packs, tobacco rolls, chocolate wrappers and sachets of mouth fresheners and paan masala discarded by customers shopping at the paan-bidi shop, he asked the owner if he could chuck the used tissue in with the other garbage in the plastic bag.   

The paanwallah, a lean middle-aged man sitting with his legs dangling sideways from the platform that extended from the six open shelves painted orange, the colour associated with Lord Hanuman whose photo depicting him as Panchamukha took pride of place alongside Goddess Lakshmi in an upper shelf, nodded in the negative without taking his eyes off the betel nut chopper he was busy cracking open betel nuts into small pieces. 

Instead, the paanwallah jerked his head sideways to point to the back of his shop where the youth was free to throw his garbage. Embarrassed at being refused permission to use the shop’s garbage bag, the youth curled up the tissue into a ball and tossed it behind the shop!

~



The paan-beedi shop adjacent to a Sulabh Sauchalaya was no different from the thousands that dot Mumbai, small affairs that stand in impossibly tiny spaces roadside, often operating as what can only be termed hole-in-the-wall affairs.

Largely manned by North-Indians, more likely from Uttar Pradesh than Bihar, these paan-beedi shops are a lifeline for all and sundry addicted to tobacco based products.

Stocking cigarettes, beedi, match boxes, tobacco, lime powder, betel nuts, betel leaves, badeshep (fennel seed), elaichi (cardamom), and supari, these shops serve smokers, and those who enjoy a quick bite of khaini and paan, to get them through the day.   

Elaichi packaged in small sachets is a relatively recent offering, serving as a mouth freshener more for smokers of cigarettes and beedis than those who chew raw tobacco or prefer to mix it with lime and water for a dose of khaini. Now, khaini is also available to buy ready-made in shiny sachets.

Before gutkha got banned, gutkha sachets used to be on display prominently, hanging in long strips from hooks or strings. Here, they were replaced by strips of “Chutki” – mouth fresheners. Chutki is Hindi for ‘small’ or ‘little’ though there is nothing small or little about the face of a sultry model gracing the sachet.

Matchboxes with a top for a cover were named ‘Toy’, stating the obvious that a top is a toy. They could’ve as easily named it ‘Top’ instead of ‘Toy’ and served both needs – identify the toy as a 'top' while extolling the quality of match sticks as ‘top’.

  
   

I failed to spot the once familiar cigarette brands that were a regular at paan-bidi shops – Four Square, Chancellor, Berkeley, Blue Bird, Charminar, Scissors, Bristol, Style, Charms, A-1, Panama, and Gold Flake among others.



Many of us would be familiar with those distinctive packs and cigarette advertisements before the ads were banned. 







All I could spot in the shop were packs of Marlboro and Wills Classic.

  
  
Of the beedis less said the better. They never stood a chance once micro cigarette brands like Blue Bird entered the market at the very cheap. He had stocked some beedi packs in one of the shelves.

~

There was still no sign of the bus.

A BEST bus conductor from a recently arrived bus serving a different route stepped up to the shop for some tobacco before heading back for his return journey.

The Sulabh Sauchalaya was busy. An eunuch who works a traffic signal near the bus stop hurried to the Sauchalaya, “her” colourful bindi set off by dark complexion. “She” was smiling to herself as she skirted rickshaw drivers gathered outside after washing up at the sauchalaya.

The queue for the bus had gotten longer, backing all the way up to the road. Still no bus. Overhead, the skies were getting darker.  

Then the bus came, finally. I got in.

~

Later that afternoon the lot of us in the office where I work were handed our appraisals and new salary terms. I couldn't help thinking that the bird dropping splatter on my left land had worked its magic after all.

I looked at my letter not knowing what to make of it at first. I noticed some clever jugglery in it. But they had good words to say about my work except that words are never enough to tide over inflation.

Maybe my quantum of luck would've been greater had I taken the full load as it dropped from the sky.   Who knows what might’ve been.

The other guy did. I hope it worked out better for him.

June 30, 2014

Floating Off Daman



Daman, 2014

Where the Damanganga meets the sea. 

Fishing boats had returned from their forays in the sea off the coast of Daman. The end of the fishing season was near, not in the least because of the approaching monsoons. Catch had dwindled greatly. One boat owner told me that the last 5-6 runs into the sea had resulted in losses. It was time to wind up until after the monsoons.


May 27, 2014

Reaching Ramnagar, Onward To Mohan

In 2012 my friend, Philip, and I left for Uttaranchal to see tigers and more, making Mohan our base from which to explore the Corbett National Park. It turned out to be an unforgettable trip, not least because of the tigers. Some memories remained, some did not. Yet others refused to leave us even after we did.

In a series of posts loosely connecting events, experiences and observations posted in no particular order, I hope to record our journey through Corbett Country and beyond from what I remember or noted from that year travelling through Uttaranchal on a whim and a fancy.

~



The milestone read: Mohan 0.

The road from Ramnagar had wound along hills keeping us company from the time we had hefted our bags into the sturdy Mahindra that Govind had eventually managed to wrestle to the Ramnagar railway station, two hours after the train had deposited us one early May morning in the state of Uttaranchal or Uttarakhand as it's also known.

~

The overnight journey from New Delhi was uneventful except for the anticipation that had gripped us both, Philip and I, on what was my maiden journey, and Philip’s second, to erstwhile Corbett country.

I had lain awake in the night unable to sleep, recalling episodes from Jim Corbett’s Man-Eaters of Kumaon, fuelling my fevered imagination further when we passed Moradabad at half past three in the morning. Then Aliganj, and Kashipur followed. Ramnagar was next.

The night before, I had arranged with Manoj, the manager of a hotel in Mohan, or resort as they’re commonly advertised, to have a vehicle meet us at the station to bring us to Mohan, confirming our departure from New Delhi, and messaging him as we approached Ramnagar.

“I’d have to find somebody that early to send to the railway station,” Manoj had said in a tone that vacillated to say the least, sowing doubts if he could muster someone at four in the morning to have him present at Ramnagar by five when the Ranikhet Express was expected to arrive.

“It’s fine if you can send someone out a little later, we can wait on the platform for some time,” I had assured him, “But not later than 5:45 am, surely not beyond 6:00 am.”

Manoj had sounded far away over the crackling line, querulous in snatches as if buffeted by storms wreaking havoc in a remote valley in the middle of nowhere. 

It was enough to nudge me into imagining his outfit to be encircled by hills with ridges crested by tall Sal trees the sun had to fight to break through, ridges the tigers roamed in the night except I didn’t know just then how popular the Corbett National Park had become with visitors out of Delhi, and how populated the stretches ringing the Tiger Reserve.


Adding to disturbance on the line was the unrelenting noise on the platform at Old Delhi railway station as we awaited the Ranikhet Express the night before. Toshi had left us both at a back entrance to the station before disappearing into the Delhi night.

In the faint light of mercury lamps we had negotiated the crowds on the platform before taking the stairs up and descending into the cauldron of platform 12. We might just as well have descended into a sea of refugees awaiting the last train home and not known the difference, such was the mass of humanity and clamour that greeted us on the platform. Shipments of goods awaiting delivery at stations along the way crowded it further.

“Yes, he will be there at the Ramnagar station to bring you back to Mohan,” Manoj had confirmed.

At first Philip and I had debated our options for our stay, most notably Dhikuli, before settling on Mohan, both located along the boundary of the Corbett National Park and separated by 14 kms.

“Dhikuli is no good,” Philip had opined in the days before the trip as we weighed options, debating locations in the vicinity of the Corbett Tiger Reserve that’d give us the best shot at covering the terrain in and around the Tiger Reserve at short notice.

“Dhikuli’s too crowded with hotels for long stretches. Mohan is better,” Philip insisted with an eye on birdwatching in the vicinity of our stay. So Mohan it was.

I only hoped Mohan was not so far away that we’d find it difficult to travel to entry points to the Corbett National Park, most notably the Amdanda Gate near Ramnagar that opened access to the Bijrani zone.

Bijrani is where the tiger is, everyone who knew anything about Corbett had said online in the days before we left on our journey.

~


Ranikhet Express rolled into Ramnagar a few minutes past five in the morning. We barely felt the 239-odd kms it had covered through the night from Delhi.

Moufossil stations had passed by quietly in the night, no more than insignificant shadows in a crowd of strangers strung along north India.


After a quick sip of chai at a stall selling chips and biscuits among other packaged snacks, passengers had filed out of Ramnagar Station to waiting rickshaws or transport arranged by hotels they had booked for their stay.


As far as I could tell, the only reason why tourists came to Ramnagar was Corbett National Park.  Once Corbett National Park was ticked, some would continue to Ranikhet or Nainital or both. There were other places but none as compelling as the lure of tigers. 

By quarter past five the dawn had broken and the quiet unique to very early mornings had settled on the platform as I stepped off the train, wide eyed.

5:45 am turned to 6, still no sign of the jeep Manoj had promised.


Auto-rickshaws crowding the station entrance in time for the arrival of Ranikhet Express had competed vigorously for tourists and locals alike before departing with their passengers to the Ramnagar bus stand and beyond, to hotels in Dhikuli. 



For ten rupees one could hitch a ride to the bus stand that connected Ramnagar to other destinations in Nainital district.

A lone SBI ATM expressly provided for the convenience of tourists to the Corbett National Park stood at the exit, empty. Mosquitoes droned about the machine.

“The driver is coming,” Manoj reassured me when I rung him up again to check on the promised transport; I doubted if the tiger would prove as elusive. “Wait at the station,” Manoj repeated. “He is on the way.”

“We’re waiting at the station only,” I replied, barely disguising my disappointment at the delay. We’d hoped to use the early morning for a foray in the forests about Mohan. It would’ve to be scrapped.


The station was empty save one rickshaw who hoped to convince us yet to ditch the hotel transport and hop behind for a ride.


“If everyone waits for the hotel transport what’s to become of us,” the rickshawallah entreated. “They (the hotels) take away our business,” he added.


Dogs eyed our bags as we stood outside for signs of Govind. We eyed the dogs in turn.


Equilibrium established, I turned my attention to morning activity outside the station. Milkmen and roosters were up and about. And so were children starting their school day. 


Consignments (labelled RMR, code for Ramnagar) offloaded from arriving trains had been carried out and loaded onto Goods Carriers improvised from Vijeta scooters for dispatch to destinations around the small town.


I had seen similar improvisations (Jugaad) carried out with Enfield Bullet 350 cc in Rajasthan to ferry people but none using Vijeta scooters until now.


Actually I couldn’t quite remember the last time I saw a Vijeta on the road let alone one modified into a transport carrier.

Bas paanch minute mein pahoochta hoon, Saar,” Govind, the driver dispatched by Manoj, said each time I checked on his progress after each “paanch minute” had turned fifteen.

Govind eventually turned up at quarter past seven, a full two hours after alighting from Ranikhet Express at Ramnagar. I heard him before he made the turn in the road that straightened on its approach to the railway station, and in the days ahead I would grow accustomed to the roar of the Mahindra, enough to alert the wildlife we hoped to see stealthily.


Thin to the point of being skeletal, Govind was built small and sported a ready smile, his pearly white teeth set off by dark skin. 

In time we would warm up to his effusive personality, entertained by his stories about Corbett tigers and their hoary exploits from the moment he turned the jeep in the direction of Mohan. Throwing the gear forward was an effort to his wiry hands and he would bring his shoulder to bear in affecting the change of gear.

Mohan, or Mohaan as locals pronounce the name (Govind certainly favoured Mohaan) lay 21 kms. north of Ramnagar, the drive along the eastern boundary of the Corbett National Park barely deviating from the course Kosi etched in the mountainous terrain.


Soon we would leave Ramnagar behind as we made for Mohan along the Kosi.

~


Ramnagar.

I rolled it off my tongue slowly, seeking in its sound the beginnings of a story from the 1930s.

It was in Ramnagar in the month of May over eighty years ago that Jim Corbett alighted from the 1 p.m. train before setting off on a twenty-four-mile foot journey to Kartkanoula, halting at Gargia for the night before making for Mohan village on foot the next morning.


Mohan Bazaar

After a brief halt at the Mohan forest rest house, soon after meeting with locals from Mohan bazaar who, as he notes in his celebrated book, The Man-Eaters of Kumaon, filled him in on stories of the man-eater terrorising Mohan, Jim Corbett left Mohan for Kartkanoula, a ‘four-thousand-foot’ climb with his entourage of two servants and six Garhwalis, where the man-eater that came to be known as The Mohan Man-eater, had killed three villagers in the week before Corbett’s arrival.

By circumstance or by coincidence, our choice of stay, Mohan, while in no way influenced by the fact that it figured as the setting of The Mohan Man-Eater back in the 1930s, had risen in notoriety as recently as a little over a year ago after a tiger from the Corbett National Park turned man-eater and preyed on villagers in the forest hamlets adjoining Mohan, namely Gargia and Sunderkhal, the latter an illegal encroachment of settlers and a determining factor in the rise of man-animal conflict in this part of the country, and the former, home to a temple dedicated to Gargia Devi as Goddess Parvati is known here. 

Located a little over 14 kms. from Ramnagar, the Gargia Devi temple is perched on a massive rock rising from the Kosi. Over the duration of our stay we could pass by it along the road connecting Ramnagar with Mohan.

“On Karthik Poornima, the temple fair is worth coming to see. People come from far and wide offer prayers at the temple,” Govind interjected the silence. We had pulled over to the side of the road up an incline while I photographed the Kosi river and the temple in the distance.

The river ran dry in some parts along this stretch save a few areas where water had collected in inviting pools, projecting an appearance of studied calm while contrasting starkly with dry areas strewn with stones bleached white.


Standing on the edge of the hill where it dropped away sharply to the Kosi below, I sought breaks in canopies of trees growing on the slopes and photographed devotees enjoying a dip in spots where the river had pooled its scarce resources for the summer.

It was a happy bunch, white teeth and all. The calm was a far cry from the swollen beast of 2010 that had swept away all it could reach, trees, animals, people, homes, hopes, everything.    

The Kosi floods of 2010, whose then water level can be seen marked prominently on the retaining wall of the Kosi Barrage upstream of the river at Ramnagar where visitors cross over to the Ramnagar Forest Division enroute to Sitavani to the forests extending from the western banks of the mighty river, has entered the local lexicon as a permanent reference.


Talking to Kundan in Mohan Bazaar one evening after we had settled in our new temporary ‘home’ in Mohan I didn’t at first catch on to his reference to 2010 in “Dus mein tho sangatan waley bahut dey gaye”, “Dus mein tho aisey aisey cheezey di gayi ki … logon ney … kapda-shapda, kambal-shambal, duniya bhar ke cheezey … par hissaa nahi diya kissi nay.

Dus mein” (Do Hazar Dus – 2010) has come to attain a significance formerly restricted to events such as births and deaths in a human lifetime. At least that was the sense I got from talking to people there.  

Along the Kosi past Ramnagar, the Kosi floods of 2010 divide the timeline of life into a before and an after, strengthened no doubt by the resentment among the displaced who view their plight as unresolved to this day, atleast according to Kundan.

The story is no different along the stretch on either side of Gargia, a stretch on the faultlines of human-animal conflict since the days of Jim Corbett, considerably worsening ever since.

Like always there was more that meets the eye than what our own expectation had led us to believe.

This was promising to be more than just about tigers, just how I would've wanted it.

Note: The series will continue in fits and starts, and in no particular order of occurrence.

April 24, 2014

Today, Ten Years Ago …


Windy Skies  came to be.

I was looking for my machine that afternoon, and felt the need to write about it, here. 

I’m not sure what I’m looking for now or if I’m looking for anything at all.

There’re fewer bends in the road now, and more dead ends.

When this place started out I could not see the end of the road.

Now, I think I can see it in the distance.

Atleast I think I do.

For those of you who still find your way here, by design or accident, thank you for choosing to ride with me.

April 23, 2014

Polling Day: Persona, Perception And Politics




Mumbai goes to the polls tomorrow in the next phase of India's General Elections to cast its vote on who should govern India.

Stepping out early morning today it was impossible to miss the front page advertisement by the Shiv Sena in Hamara Mahanagar (Our City) featuring the late Bal Thackeray, the Sena's founder, and in whose absence for the first time in the party’s history, Shiv Sena will contest the Lok Sabha elections.

प्रगति में हो गति इसलिए महायुति

For Speed in Progress, Hence Mahayuti.


Mahayuti is a pre-electoral alliance between Shiv Sena, BJP, RPI (Athawale), Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana (SSS) and the Rashtra Samaj Paksha.

Sitting sideways, his legs extended, the rickshaw driver was busy reading the newspaper when I hailed him for a ride.

“That newspaper front page ad is the only sign I’ve seen in many days to remind me that a Lok Sabha election is upon us,” I said to him as we got in. He smiled before folding the newspaper and turning the key in the ignition.

The rickshaw chugged along through morning traffic.

I continued, “It doesn’t look like the election is upon us, unlike in the years before when large hoardings, corner meetings, road-side pandals with loudspeakers blaring, processions of party-flag waving youth astride revving motorcycles and foot marches were a common sight during Lok Sabha elections. It seems so quiet now.”

“There has been noise but it is less now,” he replied before commenting, “It’s good in a way that poll expenditure is being watched. It’s such a waste when so many are poor and struggling and here we had parties spending crores and being a general nuisance.”

While I agreed with him in part, I didn’t make the effort to explain the other aspect of poll-related expenditure – affording earning opportunities for poorer sections of societies. Crores are still being spent but less noisily than before.

Office-goers like your truly, bound all day in offices, are more likely to miss out on roadside campaigning as opposed to rickshaw drivers criss-crossing the city. Even then I’ve found election campaigning to be relatively quiet this time.

Soon talk turned to parties and predictions.

“Which party do you want to see in power?” I pressed him.

At first he laughed before answering.

“I’m an AAP (Aam Admi Party) member but I want to see Modi Sarkar in power.”

Strange as his reply seemed, it made sense once he clarified.

“AAP cannot come to power (at the centre) so it’s better that BJP gets the vote to improve its chances at forming the Government. So I will vote for BJP,” he said.

Implicit in his dilemma and his eventual choice of the party which would get his vote was the rejection of the Congress “at all costs”, and the desire to ensure that his vote would not be “wasted” on his own party (AAP) that had little or no chance of winning the mandate to govern India. AAP, the upstart has a long way to go still.

BJP it seems has won the perception (that it will win) vote to an extent that party members of other political parties, clear in their mind on who should not come to power (read Congress), will switch their votes to BJP to make their votes count.

It’s anybody guess how much this reason alone will affect parties like AAP (written off) and how strong a factor will it be in pushing the BJP-led alliance ahead of the Congress-led one.

~

"Arvind Kejriwal ekdum perfect aadmi hai, ekdum perfect," the UP-wallah rickshaw driver said before continuing, "par jhoot ka sahara leta hai satta mein aane ke liye (but he takes recourse to lies to come to power). He says he won't do a thing, and then reverses his decision and goes ahead and does that very thing."

While this in itself cannot be construed to be a lie in the context of lies used to escape responsibility for actions, cover up frauds, evade punishment and the like, the Indian street however sees what constitutes a lie, a tad differently.

Here, it's about the honour of your word. If you say you won't form a Government with the help of the Congress, you will be held accountable for your word by people who cannot stand the Congress and voted for you to make a clean break with the seemingly much despised national party largely seen to be corrupt and inefficient on the back of successive scams uncovered in its latest term in office under the helm of Manmohan Singh.

That Arvind Kejriwal went back on his word of not taking the help of the Congress to form the Govt. in Delhi after the assembly elections there has not been forgotten by many.

The perception (of going back on your word) looks likely to cost Arvind Kejriwal (and AAP) many votes. How much is anybody's guess.

It's benefiting the BJP. By how much is again, anybody's guess.


March 05, 2014

Anything For You

There’s THIS …….




 Horn  Please

~

THEN there’s THIS ....

  
Horn  Piles

And what’s more, it comes with an assurance

तुमच्यासाठी काय पण..
(Tumchya Sathi Kai Pan)

(Marathi for “Anything For You”)



To whoever who wrote that,

I’m sure ……..


For the laughs, only.

February 27, 2014

Shiv, Shiv, Shiv



Murudeshwar, 2013

तस्मात्कालवशे विश्वं न स विश्ववशे स्थितः |
शिवस्य तु वशे कालो न कालस्य वशे शिवः || 9 ||