Kemmanagundi, Hebbe Falls, Belur-Halebidu

Waking up to the sound of monkeys jumping around on the rooftop, is not something I am used to on Monday mornings. But then, I was not in my rat-hole in the city, but in the VIP guest house at Kemmanagundi, a hill station near Chikamagalur. The VIP treatment was not by virtue of our importance, but because it was the only accommodation available when the four of us reached there the evening before. Fortunately this was a reasonably maintained cottage in an otherwise dirty and ill-managed place.

Without wasting much time, we started off our trek to Hebbe falls. It is a two staged waterfall about 11 kilometers from Kemmanagundi. The road to the falls is in pretty bad shape, motor-able only by four wheel drive jeeps. The route pass through some awesome locales with lush green meadows and hillocks all around. Though there are few shortcuts, the longer jeep route is worth taking for the scenic beauty. There are a few coffee estates on the way, with mulberry trees planted all along the border. How many Mondays do you get to walk amidst coffee and cardamom plants, eating mulberry fruits? There were plenty of leeches on the way, especially as we approached the waterfalls. Fortunately they seemed to be a confused lot, taking all the time in the world to figure out where to bite, giving us enough time to pluck them off the feet.

Hebbe falls looked majestic this time of the year, as it cascades down from 150 meters. There are a few rocks in the middle of the stream where you can sit, stare at the waterfall face to face, and get drenched in the shower of water droplets. The rocks were really slippery, but we managed to reach the rocks and enjoyed the real beauty of the falls. The walk towards the waterfall is mostly downhill and easy, but we took a jeep on our way back to save time. We had arranged for some food at the house of one of the coffee estate workers, where we had some tasty 'chitranna'. Chitranna means 'colored rice', and he had cooked it with home grown tomatoes and turmeric, making it all the more tasty after a long walk.

On our way back to Bangalore, we visited Belur and Halebidu, the temple towns of the Hoysala Dynasty, constructed in 1100 AD. Raised on platforms and made of soapstone, the temple walls are full of beautiful carvings. Each temple complex has multiple pavilions, each fitted with lathe turned and polished pillars and sculptures depicting puranic or durbar scenes. There are also carvings of popular figures like Buddha, Tirthankara, travelers from China and the west. There are also scenes from the Kamasutra, adorning the outer walls of the Halebidu temple, just that some 'concerned' people have destroyed most of the erotic figures.

Both the temples took more than 100 years to complete and seeing the extensive craft work involved, you will have no problems believing this. The Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu is famed for its large Nandi bull carved from soapstone. The Chennakeshava Temple at Belur was constructed by king Vishnuvardhana to commemorate his victory over the chola viceroy of Talkad in 1117 AD. The outer walls of the Belur temple has got 42 exquisitely carved sculptures of beautiful women, called 'Madanikas'. These finely proportioned and highly expressive figures of Darpanasundari, Sukhbhashini, the huntress etc. are examples of the superior craftsmanship. We were wondering why there is so much of nudity expressed around a temple. Human body was considered beautiful in those days and adorning the place of worship with scenes of beauty was probably never an issue. We started to fret about this only when we were 'educated' by modern religions and social structure of the shamefulness of showing off our body. Looks like the Hoysala kingdom was a prosperous one in every sense, as any community will invest heavily - time and money - on art and architecture only when the basic needs of people are already taken care of.

A couple of hours is too less a time to spend at historic places like these, if you really want to appreciate the beauty and effort that has gone into the making of such exquisite structures. The only striking thought was the sad state of affairs of the many gods and goddesses out there. Some of the big idols in the temple are partially destroyed and a lot of them are on the verge of breaking down.
Don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, all your money won't another minute buy

Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind

Applicable to the Gods too ...?

A friend indeed !

It is not easy to write about a friend who made a difference in your life. You acknowledge the effects of the person every moment of your existence, but still know that you don't do justice to the effort. Such is the profound and overwhelming feeling you get while talking about the people who really touched your life. I had, and still have a friend like that, one who is inseparable even by the distances, one who like the sun, shines amidst the darkness of the past.There are a lot of people who influence the way you shape up.. right from your parents and teachers to your friends, and occasionally those who just barge into life and stay for a while, as if they were ordered by some divine force to give you an important lesson in life.

For me, it was this friend who came into my life like a swift breeze and made a quick exit like a devastating hurricane. Short acquaintances like these are things I categorize under 'miracles'. Of all the people I met throughout my life, from outright morons to entertaining clowns, this person was special... special in everything that constitutes personality. I am not biased just because she could understand and appreciate the crazy thoughts and ideas I put across, but because of what she really was. A gem of a person who believed in all the niceties in life, in the virtue of people and the greater goodness of mankind. She was happy about small things and always appreciated the beauty of life. She had an enviable way of smiling at the harshness of life and taking things forward even from the darkest of pitfalls.

I learned from her how to stand up and fight, even when you are pushed against the wall.. even when life tries to sideline you to one of those margin notes. It is not easy to smile at everyone when you have a volcano burning inside. She was able to do that and empathize with others' problems at the same time. For her, solving others' problems was an equally good exercise to be at peace with oneself. She never neglected her responsibilities even when she had to crawl through her misfortunes in life. I learned perseverance and patience from her or never did. The most admirable of her qualities was the constant attempt to keep the dreams closer to reality, a quality I miserably lacked in my uncontrolled flights of fantasy. I realized how much of a quack I really am!

She was one of the rare people who identified me as a human being. While the whole world thought that I am a deranged and disheveled animal, she somehow hoped that I am a human spirit caught in distress. That's the closest of all the diagnoses I ever heard, about myself. There used to be a time when I believed that 'Hard work pays off tomorrow while laziness pays off today'. She made me realize the need of doing things at the right time, even though this was done at the harshest possible way, the lesson remains one of the best I have ever learned in my life. For reasons more than one, I knew that she was someone sent to my life specifically to remind me of the things I cared less about. She was the rain my desert of a mind longed for, so long.

When I walked beside her, I was a better man and when I strayed too far from life, she pulled me back again. Life has its own strange ways of dealing with things and ultimately we went our separate ways. Am I mad about it?... not at all. I still thank goodness for the times I got to spend with her. When you look back at the past from the twilight of life, all that you see are things that really mattered to you. And I am sure she will be there in the frame if I get a chance to do that ever. I never thanked her for the things she gave me, I thought that's too much of irreverence to a job well done. And all I gave her in return was indifference and pain. Darkness is preferred by some, even in presence of the blazing sun! Don't know why I always find someone to bruise and leave behind.

If love is your soul recognizing its counterpart in somebody else, I was in love with her. I would be terribly wrong if I say it was all an infatuation and her charm just lured me into this false sense of satisfaction. When you know some things, yo know them for sure. How I wished she stayed a little longer, but every thing in this small world has a purpose of its own perhaps. All our paths are probably bound to the underlying purpose, and not ours to choose. After all, parallel lines never cross each other... will they? Before I even realized, she was gone, taken away from life. Should I blame myself for it or should I get away by blaming destiny, I am not quite sure. The ones you really care are gone too soon, while the annoying ones will hang around for ever.

It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.

But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.

The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.

If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together
And you shall sing to me a deeper song.

And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.

- Khalil Gibran on friendship ('The Prophet')

Is there a 'Saint Blogo'?

Is there a patron saint of bloggers? Is there a full fledged department in heaven that deals with the problems of bloggers? I have off late started to believe that is the case. Their job is to help the bloggers keep blogging through thick and thin, by ensuring that there is no dearth of subjects to blog about. So they liaison with other departments up above, the saints in charge of Law and Order, the ones in-charge of animal behavior and so on, to create necessary situations down below, to keep the bloggers motivated and inspired.

This is no bogus claim, nor is it based on some audience I had with a voice behind the burning bush. I made this assumption based on some reasonable data, a statistically significant sample to be precise! Though I am not a compulsive blogger, I try to write something or other everyday on sheets of paper or a notepad. Most of the stuff are a line or two long and remain so without being revisited ever again. A few of them gain critical mass over a period of time and I post some of them as blogs. But one thing I noticed is that I never ran out of topics to write about. Whenever I approach a kind of roadblock, something will definitely happen around, providing me an interesting story. How else will you explain the following if there isn't a bunch of dedicated souls
working behind it all?

I started writing about the confusions in my life just because I had nothing better to write about. By the look of it now, I think I will need at least 10 blog posts to accommodate all of that. Probably I underestimated the extend of my confusions or else somebody deliberately brought all of them to memory, one after the other. When I went outside the other day for a walk, I had no idea that I will write about such a silly thing. But then the cockroach-eating rat, the marching toads and the policeman made it an interesting walk after all. And why will I write about a person whom I see and smile at everyday morning? Only because his playlist had a bunch of songs I recognized and he picked up a flower every morning from the pavement.

If that's not proof enough, why will a brown headed Barbet decide to get electrocuted and fall in front of me, spend a day at my room to recuperate, wait till the evening to say goodbye and then fly away? If people can believe that a certain someone controls the snakes, another one is in charge of disease germs and a third one decides who lives how long, then I think I have a valid argument for 'Saint Blogo'.

Should be one of those young internet savvy guys who invented the chain mail prayers, which talk about how a certain Miss Mary Jane finally got pregnant, after she forwarded it to 100 people.

Are the 'Mad' really so?

I was reading a book called 'The Lightning Cage' by Alan Wall. This is the story of two people - an obscure poet from the 18th century and a scholar who is preparing a thesis on his life and works. The fictional character of poet 'Richard Pelham', is loosely based on many real world poets who led a weird life by normal standards. Richard is a brilliant writer who prefers to write about the dark world and creatures he sees around him. After writing few highly acclaimed works, he gets admitted in an asylum, writes his magnum opus there, while the doctors experiment on him the cures they developed for madness.

Madness or craziness is something we associate with the so called 'geniuses' as frequently as we associate it with the lesser mortals. A lot of our bright men have one time or other walked along the hazy borderline of genius and madness. Is it a reasonable assumption that madness is an extreme case of brightness? If a person does something 'awesome' by our standards and then move into the 'crazy' space, we still acknowledge him and call him 'hyper-intellectual'. But if a person is born 'hyper-intellectual', we have an issue in respecting and accepting him. Why can't we think that they crossed the realms of 'genius' quite early?

Most of the so called 'mad' people we see around are least bothered about the things happening around them. They don't care about their social status or the society's perception about them... they just move on blissfully in life without complaints or concerns. Though it is difficult for us to accept, we all strive hard to attain this state of blissfulness only, just that the path we choose is a little different. We want to make some money and then retire to this peaceful, happy and contented life. Don't you think the 'mad' men are already there? Reminds me of the story of the Mexican fisherman. Seeing him sitting idle on the beach, a consultant advices him to work more, catch more fish, make more money, expand his business and eventually retire to a fine property and enjoy life. The fisherman replies that 'enjoyment' is precisely what he was doing then, relaxing by the sea. Seems like we have a twisted idea of everything and a complex game plan to achieve them.

Studies by neuro-scientists have off late provided lot of insights into the working of our brain. We now know that lot of things we call anomalies, are results of cross wiring of various parts of our brain. People like Dr. V Ramachandran from the Center for Brain and Cognition, San Diego, have done extensive research towards explaining creativity and intelligence as function of brain cells. (His book 'Phantoms in the Brain' is a great read) He says that creative people like poets, writers and artists are able to come up with surprising metaphors and interesting world views, by virtue of cross wiring between the areas responsible for various sensory perceptions in the brain. So if a poet can visualize and use cross-sensory metaphors like 'her hair smells like a sunday morning', this can be due to cross wiring between the areas of smell and vision inside his brain. I think madness is also a result of such excessive linkages between otherwise unrelated areas of the brain.

Perhaps, the thing that needs most explanation is not why some people are mad, but why most of us are not!

Its a Barbet !

I had a special guest at home yesterday. It was an injured bird, one I picked up from the road while returning from my morning walk. She was lying near a transformer, by the pavement as if she had an electric shock. Her heart was beating pretty fast and the body was undergoing convulsions like an epilepsy patient. I searched the body for injuries and could not find any. She looked like a survivor and I decided to bring her home.

I put her inside my jacket pocket as she was shivering. By the time I walked back home, her heartbeat had slowed down to perhaps a 100-120 per minute. Still she wasn't able to keep her eyes open for long or stand up on her legs. I wrapped her in a T-shirt and kept on the kitchen slab. She was quiet, never protested and seemed to be liking the warmth. It was then that I noticed how beautiful a creature she is.

She was about 30cm from head to tail with shiny green and brown feathers. She had a stout, pink colored beak with whiskers all around it. I later found out that she is a 'Brown-headed Barbet' (Megalaima zeylanica), a very common bird in South India. I have seen them a lot around my home in Kerala. They were co-culprits with the bats in eating away all the guavas and mangoes. The green and brown feathers provide excellent camouflage and these guys are pretty difficult to locate once they are up on the trees, though they have a long and interesting call.

So I left the barbet girl to her comforts and left for office. I had kept some water and food nearby, in case she felt like eating. I also kept the windows open, did not want to keep her inside once she could fly. I knew her world is not made of walls and windows, she had fine blue skies and cool green trees in hers. When I returned from office in the evening, I thought she would have flown away, but to my surprise I found her sitting on the window pane. The T-Shirt which I used to wrap her was there on the floor, with two green feathers on top.

The windows were open, but she was inside. She flew across the room as if to show me that she is back in action. I couldn't understand why she did not fly away when she could.. did she want to say goodbye or something? I was amazed at the thought.. a bird having the decency to stay back and say thank you? ...unlike many others who walk out of life without warning, grabbing a 'better opportunity'. Truth is that she could see another wall outside the open windows and not the open skies. She would have thought that the world outside the window is just another cage. As she sat on the side shelf, I picked her up once again, opened the door and released her.

She made a shrieking sound in delight and flew away to the nearby tree. I noticed that the wails of ecstasy sounds so much like the screams of torture!

What if you die tomorrow?

What if you are going to die tomorrow? Will you still sulk in front of the television and watch AMERICAN IDOL? Will you still walk around as if all that happens around doesn't concern you at all? Or will you call up that friend from school whom you never talked to after the fight, and try one last time to convince how 'undertaker' is so much more awesome than 'Hulk Hogan'? Will you go meet your college sweetheart who is happily married to a millionaire, with two kids, and tell her for the first time, how much you loved her? For each his own... but it is a topic that can rattle quite a hornet's nest. That is probably why the old and wise tell us often, not to think of death and live our life.

Death being the only certain reality, I think it is better to get in terms with it than pushing it aside like that trip to the dentist. A good first step would be to get comfortable with the concept itself. Why are we afraid of death even though we all know that it is inevitable? If we board a bus, it has to reach the destination and it will. It is the uncertainty of death that is the worrying factor I feel.. it arrives like a thief, as the scriptures put it. But none of us lose our sleep expecting a robber every other night... do we? Here is Epicurus' take on death - 'When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the false belief that in death there is awareness.' The Epicurians used to write on their tomb stones "I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind."

I think there are two worrying aspects about death. One is your concern about the effect of your death on the people around you. It might sound so genuine in fact, but I doubt. Obviously people will be affected if you are leaving behind a bunch of debtors or a pack of retarded kids. Otherwise I have a feeling that people would be fine and alright, the next Friday onwards. It is just vanity to think that the world is going to mourn you at least till the first anniversary. Your absence is not going to create a BIG gap in the society unless you were the local milkman... the earth used to rotate precisely the same number of times even before your birth! Obviously you can ease the transition by leaving details of your insurance and bank accounts on the table itself, where it is readily visible, saving people the pain of searching through your dirty laundry. But if your grand plan is to hide it inside the journal, precisely in the page where you have detailed your escapades with that mystery lady, that's fine too for the shock value. Just don't expect that they are going to make a movie out of it.. haven't you already seen 'The Bridges of Madison County'?

The second concern goes something like this - "If I had more time, I could have, should have, would have....". Have you noticed that people generally start this sentence, but never complete it. It might me emotionally overwhelming for some to complete it, but trust me, in most cases they just don't know what they would have, should have or could have done. Nevertheless, it is a good point; given 200 years even I might invent a thing or two - at least something better than Viagra to stop pissing on my feet after 70. Irrespective of the time of death, there will always be some unfinished business, nobody plans things precisely for 78 years. And the best part is, nobody really cares whether you had some fantabulous plans which you could not execute because you kicked the bucket. Don't worry that the world will miss all the benefits your innovation could have brought in, dozens of Einsteins and Darwins have died prematurely from time immemorial.

So in short, death is something you aren't conscious about and the rest of the world doesn't really care about. So why all the fuss? Instead, we should do something interesting like... eh... trying to lick our elbow! (I bet you can never do it!)

Life is pleasant, death is peaceful, It's the transition that's troublesome - Unknown

What is the hurry mate?

Everybody is in a hurry these days. I don't really understand what it is all about or what is the point in rushing things. I cannot get used to this fast pace of life. I am a total loser in that sense, not able to keep up with the speed at which the world around is operating, expanding and exploding.

All of us want everything in life and want it all right now. Looks like speed is the new parameter to measure success in life. How fast you climb the corporate ladder, how soon you get hold of that car or house and so on. Life has been converted to one mad rush to acquire things, the ones that make you look good in the eyes of others. Concepts like 'lazy afternoon' and 'day dreaming' have long been flushed out of the vocabulary. We instead talk about 'optimal utilization of time' and 'maximizing productivity'.

We approach life as if its a 100 meters race. All the plans and dreams have been converted to these short term goals with milestones defined for every week. Our world view and vision is now reduced to short term gains, what we gain in the immediate future. A lot of money can keep a relationship going for a while, but it takes much more than money to keep it afloat in the long term. But who wants to wait for years, who has the time? It is the age of instant gratification.

There is this notion of getting married and settling down early, an extension of our constant desire to get ahead faster. While in school, all we want to do is to get into some college and enjoy life. Once in college, all we need is a good job and a hefty pay packet. Once we have the job, we want to go back to school. Even after realizing that we go through these irreversible stages in life, we are not ready to slow down. We are busy cruising along the freeway of life, forgetting to look around and admire the beautiful landscapes we pass.

I always try to ignore the commotion around and pretend like I am from a different planet. I have been accused of complacency and lethargy and a callous attitude towards life. I plead guilty to all those charges, speed is definitely not a turn on for me. I also don't fancy owning the world. I'd rather have my coffee, a book, some music and lot of time to dream.

All of us want to become the early bird who gets the worm, forgetting that the second mouse gets the cheese.

Anybody worth their salt understands how an overly ambitious community raises shortsighted goals to incredible heights, only to have them all come crashing down on the heads of their children, for having overlooked the obvious warning signs along the way. - Ogmern I. Wulfsail

A walk in the middle of the night..

The road was looking beautiful under the moon light. It is probably the first time I used the words 'road' and 'beautiful' in the same sentence, while talking of Bangalore. Probably they were always beautiful, I just didn't have the eyes to see it, disassociating it from the crowd and the litter. Off late I am a little worried about the eyes. I have a feeling that our eyes show us what we want to see -a 'preferred' version of reality- instead of the actual truth. I don't yet know whether I can get a pair of glasses which correct 'twisted vision'.

It was 1:30 AM and I was walking along the New BEL road at Bangalore. I always liked long walks in the middle of the night, especially if there is a mild drizzle. The raindrops which look colorless and wasted in the day, suddenly looks all jazzed up under the incandescent light. Without all the noise and crowd, you can actually listen to the rhythm of the rain as you walk around. This was one of my preferred ways of unwinding; a habit developed during the Hyderabad days, when I used to work in the graveyard shift. During the break, I used to get out of the campus and take a long walk with a friend. It is always good to have company, not a crowd. Something which started as a time-pass activity soon became a habit, one of those nasty ones which simply refuses to let go.

A couple of drinks can in fact give a whole new level to this experience. It makes you hypersensitive to the sights and sounds around. The dogs and rats were busy reclaiming their territories, now that the humans have retreated. A few familiar dogs - friends from my morning jog- acknowledged my presence with a quick wag of their tail and returned to more important daily chores. The smartest of the group was already busy, wooing a bitch in the shades, a little away from all the commotion. I stopped on the track to let a cockroach cross the way, only to see a huge rat pouncing on it. Never knew the rats fancied cockroaches, probably not the affluent and spoiled house mice. We had some good rains in the evening and it was foggy. For the first time, I heard the cicada symphony in action in the city. I never knew they were there in the city at all, probably as Richard Feynman said 'we all carry our ears so high above the ground' and never notice many things.

The flowers of the 'flame of the forest', fallen all along the road and the pavement looked like large droplets of blood under the sodium vapor lamp light. Most of them were in fact waiting their hour of death under a foot or a tyre.. the carnage won't begin at least till the morning. As I walked on, a police jeep stopped next to me. The officer asked me what I am doing at that time of the night. It took a while for me to convince him about my habit of taking a walk after dinner, and how dinner got delayed due to 'work' at office and so on! With the cropped hair, half sleeve T-shirt and bathroom slippers perhaps I looked like a junkie to him. Reluctantly he bought my argument and drove away, asking me to get back home at once. As a law abiding citizen of the country, I walked back home.

A couple of frogs jumped across the pavement to the puddles formed by the rain ,for a late night swim. I remember seeing an army of small frogs crossing the road after the rain, during my night walks at Hyderabad. This used to happen for a few days, more or less at the same spot. I loved to scoop them up in my hands, much to the dislike of my friend.

Sometimes frogs have all the fun!

Travel-log : The Dragon Lady

'She had eyes of the bluest skies as if they thought of rain.... Her hair reminded me of a warm safe place, Where as a child I'd hide, and pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by...'

She was busy playing with her iPod dial. I knew she would soon choose her song and shut out the rest of world with those earplugs. Quickly browsing through the archives of 'best introductions' I have heard or read about, I said "Hi".

She turned around, drowned me in a smile, and said "Oh...Hi"

Unable to bear the sparkle in her eyes, I had a gulp of water and asked "Are you going to Cochin?"

She said "Yes.. and you?". This time she did not take her eyes off the iPod.

I said "Me too"

'Now what'... I thought. 'I need to quickly start something to keep the conversation alive.. but what?'

Before my primitive 8086 processor could figure out a way, her dual core Pentium fired up and asked me "You mind switching seats, can I take the side seat?"

I said "Of course", as if that is the sole purpose of my otherwise pointless life on this planet.

She did not believe much in words, and showed her gratitude by putting on her headphones. All I saw for the rest of the journey was the hair clip on the back of her head.

It was black, with a dragon's picture carved in red. The dragon had a sarcastic smile!

Alcohol Appreciation !

Taking a tour of Scotland, sipping a glass of 40 year old, blended, malt whiskey was not my kind of dream. Not that I wouldn't have loved this, but just that it was too much of a fairy tale for me to even dream. But what if Johnnie insists..? It is not easy for anybody to say "No" to Johnnie .. and neither did I. And that is how I ended up at Taj Westend that evening for the 'Scotch Appreciation Session' organized by Johnnie Walker.

It was great to see six glasses of different kinds of fine scotch whiskey on the table in front of me, smiling at me (I guess). The whole idea of the session was to educate the 'potential scotch lovers' on the various aspects of preparation and consumption of scotch. It involved a tour of the distilleries of Scotland (obviously on the screen), scotch tasting sessions and sharing of some interesting scotch trivia. Our mentor for the day, Mark, made sure that the session is interesting and intoxicating at the same time..!! It was truly an amazing journey to the world of whiskeys and the country of Scotland, the only place in earth where Scotch whiskey is manufactured... and they have a legal right to the name too. It simply means that you cannot call your stuff "Scotch" whiskey unless you manufacture AND bottle it in Scotland.

There are primarily four major types of scotches it seems.. depending on the taste/smell you get out of it - the ones that remind you of Smoke, Ice Cream, Dry fruits or Freshly cut fruit. And if you think that these flavors are result of some artificial processing, you got it all wrong like me. The typical color and flavor/smell of the scotch is a factor of the location of the distillery and the storage containers. For example, the scotch gets a darker color if it is stored in Oak wood containers from Spain, which were used to store wine before. The light colored whiskeys are the ones stored in containers from United States, made of light wood. As the whiskey gets old, the wood will suck up some color from the alcohol, making it a lighter shade.

The smell of the whiskey is again a characteristic of the location of the manufacturing unit.. the ones made in islands like Syke, will smell smoky as Pete is used as fuel in most of these places. The fruity flavor of the whiskeys made in the highlands is blamed on the fruit bearing trees found in abundance there. When the whiskey is stored in wooden containers for years, they slowly suck in all these fruity smells from the air around. Difficult to believe.. right..? And what about the ice cream flavor..? Nope, it is not because the distillery also manufactures ice cream or because its near to an ice cream factory. The ice cream /vanilla smell is due to the chemical "Vinillin" naturally found in all pulses in small amounts, which comes out when boiled.

We had our sessions on tasting and smelling different types of whiskeys to understand the difference in tastes and flavors. There were whiskeys as old as 43 years! Every time, before we sipped, we went through this process of smelling, tilting the glass to observe the legs and adding little water to release the smell. The legs are indicators of how strong/mild the alcohol is, according to Mark. I thought that is something I always knew... look at the legs of the person and you know exactly how strong the alcohol was! But the real funny part was when I asked Mark about his favorite drink. He said "Khodays Rum"!

After a few hours with Johnnie you will start to believe that reality is in fact an illusion caused by the deficiency of alcohol!!

Music as we don't know it..

What if "The Eagles" or "Fleetwood Mac" were not a small group but a crowd of 50.. and if "Desperado" and "Rhiannon" were recorded in a school auditorium and not in a recording studio...? if you can take this and never mind all the imperfections and lack of sound quality resulting from the above arrangement, but care only for the raw energy a group performance can deliver, this is for you..

The first time I heard a song from "Innocence & Despair" by "The Langley Schools Music Project" was about an year ago, while I was experimenting with the then newly discovered "Pandora". The song was too different to ignore... a group of school children performing "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. There was something about the song that was so captivating. It also brought to mind memories of school days, when we used to sing songs together during the Music hour.. the fun and pleasure of singing at the top of your voice. The outcome always used to be great, with all the odd sounds nullifying each other (perhaps) resulting in a perfect rendering. I always liked the feeling of listening to a chorus with so many overtones, quite distinct from one another and this one song suddenly brought all that back to the present. You can hear 'Sweet Caroline' here.

"Innocence & Despair" is the result of some experimental work done by a music teacher, Hans Fenger, who taught music in the Langley school in British Columbia. Occasionally he would record his students in the school gymnasium...elaborate affairs involving more than 60 kids per session...performing their favorite 60s and 70s hits as if they never heard the originals..!! These recordings were never done for commercial purpose and you can feel the elementary school kids singing their heart out, in each of the songs. You can here some of the tracks here:

There is something eerie about these renderings that can make you uneasy at times.. probably because music at its purest form, devoid of any studio gimmicks can be quite touching. Inspite of the poor sound quality, you will notice the sweetness of "Sweet Caroline" and the melancholy of "Desperado".

If you beleive that there is music beyond six track recording and electronic loops, if you want to experience the overpowering energy of a chorus, this is one record worth trying..!! Evenif the songs are out of key at places, and the beats go out of synch occassionaly, who cares.. its music and its bliss..!!

Money matters. Really ?

I have heard a lot on how money changes people, the excess or lack of it always result in interesting twists. But this is not true always... there are people who does not change a bit, even with truckloads of money with them(literally..!!) and the reason at times is not knowing what to do with the money. Having money and not knowing what to do with it? Difficult for you and me to believe.. but listen to this story!

Real estate price movements are so unpredictable these days and it can make people rich or poor in a matter of days. Something like this is the key theme in our story too. A Lambada family living about 40 kilometers outside the city limits, had about 5 acres of land with them, where they cultivated potatoes and some pulses. Nobody ever cared about them or their land, till an upcoming international airport and few software parks in the vicinity raised the land prices to new heights. The family was not very interested in selling off their only source of living... but as the story goes, one businessman who was so interested in having some property there, hiked up the prices to a level where the family couldn't deny.

The deal was struck at the rate of rupees one crore per acre, for 3 acres. The agreement for the land transfer was signed by the head of the family (lets call him 'Bingo'). The businessman (lets call him 'Chomu') promptly handed over 50 lakhs in advance... all in thousand rupee notes. But Bingo had other plans.. he insisted that he should be paid in hundred rupee notes.. he had never used anything bigger than hundred rupees, and was not quite sure how to deal with the five-hundreds and thousands. In addition, he mentioned that the rest of the 2.5 crores should also be paid in Rs.100 notes. Chomu had to run around to multiple banks and places to arrange the 2.5 crores in hundreds. Finally the day of the final transaction came and he brought the money to the land registration office, packed inside a 'Toyota Qualis'. All the documentation and formalities were completed and it was time to hand over the money.

Bingo was alarmed to see the huge amount of money stacked inside the vehicle... and was perplexed on how to carry the money home. So he asked Chomu .."How much does that vehicle of yours cost..? Why don't you discount that money from the bundle and give me the vehicle with the money..?". Chomu had no option but to nod his head in agreement. Bingo was happy, but a problem persisted - Bingo did not know how to drive..!! He asked Chomu again "Why don't you drive the vehicle to my home, leave it there and go..?". Another nod and few sighs later, Chomu and his friends drove the vehicle to Bingo's house, which was nothing but an old shack towards the corner of his land. Everybody was surprised to see where and how this man who just collected 2.5 crores hard cash in hand, lived. But this shock was not good enough to prepare them for the bigger one they were about to receive..!!

As soon as all of them got out of the vehicle and shook hands, Bingo called out for some of his friends from the neighboring houses. Four young men came out and had a quick chat with Bingo. They walked into the field towards a hay stack and what happened next was unimaginable. They took the hay out of the haystack and started covering the 'Toyota Qualis', and in a matter of few minutes the whole hay stack was transferred from the field to the open space in front of Bingo's house... the only difference was that it had a Toyota Qualis under it.. with Rs. 2.5 Crores inside!!

I don't want to write anything more on this... enough is enough...!!

What to do in life?

What is it that I want to do in life? A perplexing but inevitable question that crops up every now and then in mind. This happens especially when one set of plans which looked good so far, crumbles down for one reason or other. The resulting vacuum is disturbing and unsettling. Its always better to have some kind of plans, however stupid they are. I myself don't know how many times I have scrapped and redrawn the plans.

When I was a kid, this question used to be asked a little differently..'Who do you want to be, when you grow up?'. It was one of the simplest questions to answer then - a bus driver or a policeman. Those were two of the role models at that time.. the only two profiles that seemed to command respect from others. An additional option came a little later with the so called 'spiritual awakening' - a priest. He was also a well respected guy who was welcome everywhere.. till I found out that the closest he ever gets to women is in the confession box. Now that was unacceptable... even at that point in life. The white rob also was pretty repulsive.. lacked the charm of a police uniform.

Then came television which showed me 'rest of the world'. Those 20 inches started framing the world and events for me, and all I ever wanted to become was a rock star. The fact that I could play a few tunes on Dad's harmonica was proof that I could make it. But seeing my attempt to grow long hair, the headmistress told me that I am in a 'school' and not in some 'circus'. Later when 'career aspirations' took over, every ambition got converted into some kind of money making ventures. If you like insects and bugs, you should become a biologist... if you like staring at the night sky, you should become an Astrophysicist and so on.

Life moved on and I somehow managed to avoid becoming an Engineer or Doctor, the standard prescriptions for sensible kids those days. That brought back the question once again.. 'now what?'. I decided to do nothing for a while, as I was not really sure what to do in life. But sitting idle is taboo and is always considered as a sign of weakness, stupidity and lack of ambitions. People can't breathe alright till they find you enslaved to some kind of a system and control. Anyway, I was too lazy to explain and managed to do exactly the same under the guise of 'MBA Exam preparations'.

Life suddenly seemed to regain some purpose and direction once I enrolled in the B-School. Though the concepts of Management were interesting and exciting, all I used to do was apply once a quarter to the "National Geographic', for the post of 'somebody' in their expeditions into the wild. When I realized that even the light boy who accompanied the camera crew had a double PhD in Animal Behavior, I called it quits. Eventually as time passed, I developed into this 'something', part of a system, working, earning and it all looked good. I even managed to convince a girl that I am actually human and not some uncultured uncouth animal!!

Then like in the movies, I also heard this voice from nowhere.. 'Are you happy?'. I said 'of course!'. The voice continued 'Are you happy when everyone else has gone home?'. That kind of caught me. By this time I had also read 'The Transition Handbook'(Rob Hopkins), 'The One Straw Revolution'(Fukuoka), 'The Selfish Gene'(Richard Dawkins) and 'Breaking the Spell'(Dan Dennett)... a pretty unsettling cocktail I say. I sat down thinking about what the voice said, and the question once again came back to haunt - What do I want to do in life! After a lot of deliberations, I came up with an answer of sorts.. and this is how it looks now: "I want to lead a self sustained life, closer to nature, with the least possible impact on the environment, giving back more to the society than I consume, raising a few kids who view the world without blinkers"

Recently, I had some compelling reasons to re-evaluate the goal, but I am kind of sticking with it. But doesn't it look stupid?... I rather not comment on that. A rolling stone gathers no moss and a closed mouth gathers no foot..!!

Search for Ursula Dyers

It was about fulfilling a promise. It was about having belief in people and the basic goodness of everyone. It was also about optimism, that defies logic most of the times. That is why I went to Cooks Town last Sunday, trying to locate Ursula Dyers.

In a previous post I had briefly mentioned about Ivan, the person we met at Connaught place, Delhi. He looked like any other beggar, with dirty clothes, a bandaged arm and eyes that looked like two deep pits, with the eyeballs planted deep inside the socket. Only when he started talking in English that we realized there is something different about this guy. So we asked him his story and he gave us one - a guy from Bangalore stuck in Delhi fighting some court case, too egoistic to inform his well settled kids about his plight, walking the streets, begging passerbys for food. Prolonged starvation and alcohol (not sure about that though) had some serious impact on his mental state. After much prodding and philosophy sessions, he gave us contact details of his sister living in Bangalore. We promised that we will try to get in touch with her and inform about his situation.

Ursula Dyers living in House # B9, Hutchins Road, Cooks Town, Bangalore. This was all the information we had about Ivan's sister. He had also mentioned an ITC factory in the vicinity. I thought that's enough data to locate a person in the city, and decided to give it a shot. So I reached Hutchins road by afternoon, only to find out that there are 10 different crosses along the road, each having about 10 houses on either sides. To add to the misery there were no house numbers starting with letters. I decided to ask people around, but most of them were suspicious about me and my intentions. That's not surprising as I didn't know the cross number, I didn't have a phone number to call the person I am searching for and worst of all I didn't even know the person I am looking for!! Later I found out that the place is famous for drugs and they might have thought that I was trying to buy or deliver "Stuff'.

Ivan's landmarks were right though.. there was an ITC factory nearby and the place had a considerable Anglo Indian population as well. I saw beautiful houses that belonged to the Decostas, the Mendezes, the Correas, the Demellos, the Perrieras... but no Dyers. I covered the crosses one by one and finally found out that the 10th cross has got three sections - A,B and C. I walked along the B section and located house number 9. For a moment I thought I made it, and knocked at the door. A middle aged lady opened the door and I was sure that she is Ursula Dyers... but she wasn't. She didn't know any Dyers and said that they've been living in that house for more than 30 years now. I didn't know what else to do, I had looked at the name plates of about 100 houses on either side of Hutchins road.

Then I saw a priest walking along the road and thought what better person to ask about the sheep than the shepherd himself. So I inquired about Ursula Dyers. Though he was the parish priest, he didn't know any Ursula or Dyers. Looks like the shepherds are not that close to the flock these days. As I moved on, I saw another elderly gentleman sitting by the street and feeding a stray dog. He had tattoos all over his forearms and wore a trendy T-shirt and shorts.. must have been quite a punk in his younger years!! We struck up a conversation and he said that the Dyers family are from Cochin, but could not guide me on where to locate them. I didn't have other options but go back home. As I was walking out of the layout, I came across the convent of the 'Ursulian Sisters', but it was also closed.

I had a good time walking around Cooks Town, enjoying the nice old houses with beautiful gardens and the Victorian architecture. There was a small chapel where the choir was practicing for the evening service. I don't know whether Ivan gave us the wrong address or it was my inability to locate the house, but somehow it didn't matter.


Onam is always very special for me. I never enjoy a festival more than I does Onam. There is so much of energy in everything associated with this festival and that has created so many beautiful moments in my life, which I would hang in the front room of my memory like a painting...for ever. There is so much of color in it.. a little bit of everything.. a little bit for everybody...!!

I do miss Onam this year. I am away from home, not doing anything special this day..except from probably wearing a kurta which was lying folded in the cupboard for looong. That is not how I wanted it.. but at times you get bogged down by responsibilities and forced to do things which you won't otherwise. That's life... that's what makes life so hard to follow and predict...!!

I miss all the running around in the morning to collect flowers.. I miss sitting down on the ground and arranging those flowers into great looking floral decorations.. I miss the company of all the kids in the neighbourhood.. I miss the energy in the air.. I miss the awesome lunch... I miss the games that we used to play... I miss the fun we all had together... I miss everything about it.

I will be home next year to experience all this.. get back to Onam mood again and enjoy those beautiful moments. Till then I have to be happy reading all the SMSes and mails, and saying "Happy Onam" over phone to people whom I don't even care! The only consolation is all those beautiful girls who are walking around in their special Onam attire. There is some simplicity about the white sari that has always captivated me... elegant and gorgeous!! Yep, something is always better than nothing... though nothing is at times better than nonsense!!
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