Monday, March 27, 2006

Divorce in sleep!

Sounds Strange, but true!

I'm pretty sure Islamic laws are not so foolish and it probably has been misinterpreted in this case. However, the point that intrigues me here is that the cleric had the gumption to proclaim that the lady has to " spend a night with another man and be divorced by him in turn" before they can get together. Even if any Islamic law says so, do we have to be so blinded as to follow this?

This, for me, is the main problem with Islam - it is a very stringent religion who'z laws encompasses everything - from religion to politics to judiciary to economy. And they are put to as unquestionable since they are supposed to be direct from the Lord!

People are always ready to admit a man's ability after he gets there.
- Bob Edwards

Saturday, March 25, 2006

My trip to Arunachal Pradesh

Manjula akka and Praveen bhava had alwayz asked us to visit them at Arunachal Pradesh. So, when I decided to go with friends to Kolkata to attend my engineering classmate Deborshi Dutt's marriage, I took this opprtunity to visit Arunachal Pradesh. Any mention of the north-eastern part of India sounds exotic for the simple reason it is hardly explored, hardly visited and hardly talked-about. Although some of my friends were in awe of a visit to Arunachal Pradesh, none could make it beyond Kolkata because of holiday constraints. I decided to go with the visit nevertheless.

From Kolkata, I took the Saraighat Express (considered a super-fast train, but then the criteria Indian Railways has to brand a train super-fast is that the average speed needs to be more than 55kmph!). My coach was filled with young archers from Manipur who were returning from Kolkata. It was amusing to see 5 or 6 of them in the 3-person seats of the second-class sleeping coaches. Even in the night, 2 of them were sleeping in the single sleeping berth - in what can be best described as a 69 position ;-) The flip side in the huge group was the stink of feet whenever some of them removed their shoes! Nevertheless, I enjoyed the train jounrney the way I cherish, by standing at the doors :) The train was supposed to reach Guwahati by 10am, but was a full 2 hrs late and reached just before noon.

My next destination was Tezpur, the last major town before Arunachal Pradesh. The Guwahati inter-city bus-stand is right next to the railway station - a la Bangalore. There are frequent buses to Tezpur run by both private and Assam Govt. It takes 4 hrs to reach Tezpur. The guy sitting next to me in the bus was an elctronics engineer doing his Master's at Tezpur University.

The bus reached Tezpur around 4:30pm. This was when I encountered a twist in the travel! My next destination was Dirang in Arunachal Pradesh, where Manjulakka lives. Tezpur is about 40kms from the Arunachal Pradesh border. Dirang is about 160 kms from Tezpur and the journey will take about 6 hrs by taxi, thanks to the treacherous ghat roads all along. Dirang is connected to Tezpur twice a day by private taxi service and once a day by Arunachal Pradesh Government bus service. The bus service is quite fickle and there will be lot of days when the bus may never turn up. The taxi runs at 5:30am and 2pm daily, which means I had to stay overnite at Tezpur. There was a taxi booking counter at the Tezpur bus stand. The taxi is a Tata Spacio (a variant of Tata's Sumo model) and I was told the taxi takes upto 10 passengers - that is not including the driver. It has 3 rows of seats and the seating arrangement is 3+4+4!!! I was already getting jitters of sitting in this cramped vehicle for 6 hrs! Anywayz, I was told that I can take a cycle-rickshaw to any hotel close to the bus-stand, let the rickshaw driver know my hotel room and I will be picked from my hotel room next day at 5am. Statisfied with this room-service, I thanked the guy at the Sumo-counter, and checked into a cheap hotel nearby.

Next day I woke up at 4:30am, got ready by 5am and was waiting for the taxi to pick me up. Even at 6am, there was no sign of the taxi! I got anxious and hired a cycle-rickshaw and made my way to the Sumo-counter. The guy at the counter tells me that the Sumo driver has not turned up since morning, and even the taxi owner does not know his whereabouts! I was now wondering what other means I have to reach Dirang. I was told that there'z another taxi service till Bomdila at 10am. Now, Bomdila is about 100kms from Tezpur and I was told there would be no bus/shared-taxi service from Bomdila to Dirang, a distance of 50kms. The only option I would have would be to hire a private taxi, which would cost me about Rs.500! The other option was to wait till 2pm for the next Sumo service to Dirang. As I was evaluating my options, another twist to the story was in store.

Bhalukpong is the first town you get once you cross into Arunachal Pradesh from Assam. Balipara is the last town on the Assam side and it is about 20kms from Tezpur. However, about 5kms after Balipara, there'z a military campus at a place called Char Dwara. Between Char Dwara and Bhalukpong is a forest area inhabited by Bodo tribes. The Bodo people, I'm told, are quite prone to calling a bandh at a drop of a leaf. As it turned out, that day the Bodo folks decided to call for a flash bandh - for reasons I could not figure out. The news from people who came back from the Bodo area was that the bandh will last 24hrs, although I was told their bandhs typically get over by evening. However, even that evening scenario would mean I could only get the Sumo taxi the next morning, and that would tear-up the plans made by Manjulakka for us all to go to Tawang early next day morning.

I decided to try the option of taking a private taxi. I went to the private taxi area and after some hard bargaining I hired a Indica for Rs.2300 to drop me at Dirang - a distance of 160kms. After we crossed Balipara, the road was completely deserted. Near Char Dwara, our taxi driver met a friend who was coming in another taxi from the Bodo area. He warned him that the Bodo people have blocked the road and are catching hold of people who travel by the way and making them kneel down holding ears! This scared the hell out of our driver and he got more skeptical of going ahead. At Char Dwara, we decided to wait some time to see if we get some company to move ahead.

Meanwhile a car belonging to NEEPCO - who were executing some power project in a different part of Arunachal Pradesh - was passing by and it stopped on seeing us. I talked to the chief engineer in the car. He turned out to be a native of Karnataka and hence we hit off immediately. Since our driver was appehensive of going ahead, Mr.Suhash Lodge - the chief engineer - offered to drop me across the Arunachal Pradesh border, from where I would be safe to go on my own. I had to pay the driver Rs.500 for briging me for these 30-dd kms!

Mr.Lodge initially said we will move a further and see the situation. However after we moved about a kilometer and not seeing any other vehicle in either direction, we decided to stay out for some more time. Just then we saw another car coming in our direction. The car did not stop for us, but the sight of the car going in that direction was enough for us to venture ahead. We could then see stones pelted on the roads, which told the story that happened earlier.

Finally we crossed the Assam border and entered Arunachal Pradesh. We decided to stop at Bhalukpong for lunch. There was a Rajasthani restaurant which was the only exclusive vegetarian place there. Although I'm not finicky about veg-only restaurants, I decided to go to that place. Mr.Lodge urged the owner of the restaurant to help me reach Dirang. The taxi that left Tezpur at 2pm reached Bhalukpong around 2:45pm, but that was fully occupied. Now my options were limited, and the best way was to take a private taxi from Bhalukpong. Unfortunately, all the taxis available at Bhalukpong were petrol-run vehicles and hence would work out quite costly. Finally, I got a Maruti Omni hired for Rs.2100!

The advantage of hiring a private taxi is that you can stop wherever you feel like and better enjoy the scenic drive. So was this case. The route reminded me of western ghats - maginified 10 times! My taxi driver turned out to be a teenaged tribal belonging to Bomdila, married to a 13 year old lady (girl?) for the last 2 years and having a 1 year old kid!

Anywayz, on my way I got a taste of Arunachal Pradesh's telecom infrastrucure. My cell connection of course never caught signal. (I suppose BSNL is the only service provider in the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, and they too provide service in highly limited areas.) All my attempts to reach Manulakka from a telephone booth went in futile, even after I was close enough for it to be a local call. Finally, when I was able to reach her, Manjulakka was not just relieved to know that I have escaped the wrath of the Bodos and on my way, she also said that Praveen Bhava had already left to Bomdila by bike to lookout for me, since he did not hear from me since morning. At Bomdila, I did meet bhava. By then it was about 7:30pm, and temperature hovered around 3-4 degrees celsius. Bhava had to come back to Dirang by bike in that biting cold :-(

The highway is maintained by Border Roads Organization (BRO), which is a wing of the army. The sensitive nature of the area means that army needs to maintain the roads in motorable condition throughout the year. Although BRO is doing a decent job in maintaining the roads, I was told that the roads on the other side of the border are better! The road till Bomdila was pretty good. After Bomdila, the roads are quite bad, hence restricting your speed.

I finally reached Dirang around 9pm. Met some of Manjulakka's neighbours, had bath, dinner and then retired for the day. Their house is in the teacher's quarters of Dirang. The quarters is located in a valley area, with hills on both sides and a river flowing along the valley. You cannot ask for a more scenic location for a house, although living in cold and remote areas has itz own challenges and frustrations.

The next day we started quite early in the morning for Tawang. Tawang is about 150kms from Dirang and is the last major town before China and Bhutan border. The highway passes through Se La Pass, which - at 4200 meters above sea level - I was told is the second highest roadway in India. Next you get JaswantGarh, a memorial dedicated to Param Vir Chakra awardee Jaswanth Singh in memory of his preventing the Chinese intrusion at that place during the 1962 war. At JaswantGarh, there is a military canteen manned by some south Indians where you get fresh hot Masala Dosas, coffee/tea, etc. It is an experience eating steaming hot Masala Dosa on the road-side at a temperature of about minus 8 degrees celsius!

We reached Tawang around 2pm. Tawang is the district head-quarters and quite a popular tourist place. You will be hard-pressed to find a couple of meters of flat land in Tawang. The whole town is made along a hill and once you reach a high altitude area, you can get a wonderful view of the whole town.

That evening we visited the Tawang Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery in India. Buddhist monasteries are very colorful places, with painted walls and roofs. There is a museum inside the monastery, but me not a big fan of visiting museums that house boring memoirs.

That nite we stayed at the Inspection Bunglow at Tawang. Next day was Republic Day. In Bangalore, people would have probably woken up late enjoying the holiday and some kids would be all decked up for a parade at the school. However, at Tawang, it was an abolute festive atmosphere, and if you stood at the bazaar, it felt as if the whole town was moving in one direction - towards the ground where the Republic Day programs were organized. I reasoned to myself that probably occassions like these are the only times when people here feel part of mainland India. After breakfast, we made a visit to what is now called the "Madhuri Lake", a lake where the shooting of the Hindi movie Koyla took place, and hence the name since! The lake is about 40kms from Tawang towards the China border, and the road gets more treacherous. Since my visit was in peak of winter, we were greeted all over by frozen water falls, frozen rivers and finally even the "Madhuri Lake" was frozen. I guess this just enhanced the beauty of the place.

The same day we returned back to Dirang. The next day, I visited two manasteries at Dirang, spent some time with the neighbors of Manjulakka and that evening, I would depart to Tezpur, leaving behind a very different kind of vacation - at a place as different from mainland India as chalk and cheese.

Tips for people travelling to this part (north-western part) of Arunachal Pradesh:
1. The most important one! If you are an Indian citizen, you need an inner-line permit to enter Arunachal Pradesh! Get it at Guwahati....I dont know where, since for me Majulakka had arranged for one :)
2. Fly as much as possible! Although frequent train service is available till Guwahati, it is still a single-track, and hence susceptible to frequent delays. The nearest airport to Arunachal Pradesh is Tezpur, although I'm told only Indian Airlines (or Indian as it is called now) flies there. However, Guwahati is well connected by most of the airlines.
3. While scheduling your travel, keep in mind that Tezpur-Dirang service (or for that matter Tezpur-Tawang) service is only available twice a day - at 5am and 2pm.
4. If you need to stay at Tezpur, I'm told Hotel Luit is the best place. I forget the name of the place where I stayed, but is was pretty bad. However, Tezpur has a lot of hotels and you have a wide range of choices.
5. The Sumo-counter at the Tezpur bus stand is a big cheat! Even Majulakka told me this later. There is one more Sumo-counter about 5 mins from Tezpur bus-stand near Hotel Durba. This is supposed to be a better place.
6. If you are in a bigger group or if you want to travel fast or if you dont mind spending a bit more, take a private taxi from Tezpur. It may cost you upwards of Rs.12 per km depending on the car you hire. You get all kinds of car models - from Indicas to Sumos to Qualises. Also, you can then stop enroute whenever you feel like, and you can take lot more snaps of the amazingly picturesque routes of Arunachal Pradesh.

Friday, March 24, 2006

We, and our leaders

Yesterday'z uncivilized behaviour by Karnataka MLAs just shows the nadir politics has reached today :-( To get the real depth of the scenes in the assembly, you need to read the report in today'z Vijaya Karnataka. One of the hounourable MLAs, one Mr.Puttaraju representing Pandavapura even called another MLA Vatal Nagarj suLe maga and boLi maga (bastard, for those who dont know Kannada).

Another MLA Mr.Renukacharya representing Honnali shouted expletives at an IAS officer because he did not do his bidding when calling for a tender. Itz a different matter that this hounarable MLA is from BJP, the natiolaist party that prides in promoting Indian culture.

What is most alarming is the lack of condemnation of yesterday'z happenings, unlike when the Uttar Pradesh assembly was put into turmoil by MLAs throwing mikes, chairs, etc. Are we getting reconciled to a degrading culture?

Here'z wishing you good luck Mr.Uncivilized MLAs.

Go on bravely. Do not expect success in a day or a year.
-Swami Vivekananda

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ananthamurthy: Will he or wont he get elected?

An interesting situation has arised in Karnataka with Jnanapith award winner UR Ananthamurthy entering the race for the Rajya Sabha elections contesting against Rajeev Chandrashekhar, ex-CEO of the BPL group. While Ananthamurthy is trying to play the Kannada flag, and backmailing people who vote against him that they will be branded anti-Kannada, his innumerable enemies in the Kannada literary circles are pinching him hard.

I'm not too knowledgeable of Kannada literature. However, from whatever news I have read, I had some respect for Ananthamurthy - irrespective of the fact that he is an active propagator of reservation in private sector. The main reason for the respect was the kind of enemies he had - the likes of DeJaGau and ChamPa - two publicity and power hungry Kannada litterateurs. Also, Ananthamurthy's condemnation of the act of manhandling the Mayor of Belgaum increased my respect towards him, simply because it takes some courage to go against the populist sentiments, especially on such sensitive issues.

However, all the respect waned today when I read news reports of Ananthmurthy meeting Deve Gowda to ask for support for his candidature. What repels me was the that among those who accompanied Ananthamurthy was Agni Sridhar, one of the ex-underworld criminal in Mumbai, now masquerading as a Kannada activist. Read a typical journalist's interview of Sridhar here. Of course, dont take all the words written in the article at the face value - I know for sure that this Sridhar's brother, who is so romantically put as a police officer in this report - is another big crook and one of the most corrupt and criminal police officers in Bangalore.

The same Anathamurthy once had to sit in dharna in front of this Sridhar's silly tabloid office protesting against some article that Sridhar had written against him. I guess the reason Anathamurthy and Agni Sridhar are cosying up to each other is that both of them are now part of the "secular" camp - I know that this Sridhar is part of Teesta Setalvad's coterie, and this Asha web page tells me he is also close to this secular chariry organization. Agni Sridhar was also prominent in the Babubudangiri protests. Looks like it was in one of these secular protests that Ananthamurthy and Agni Sridhar got close to each other. (Itz a different issue that the Ganesha festivities mayhem that this web page tries to protray hardly happened!)

Anywayz, Mr.Anathamurthy, I would not mind a non-Kannadiga in the Upper House (Itz a different matter that Rajeev Chandrashekhar is not a non-Kannadiga) instead of having a rowdy-supported Kannadiga. I would not mind a lobbying indutrialist instead of a litterateur-gone-bonks. Here'z wishing that you loose the election. Amen!

Let all your nerves vibrate through the backbone of your religion.
-Swami Vivekananda

Sunday, March 19, 2006

My trip to Kerala

Kerala is known as God's Own Country. Itz become India's most prefered and visited tourist destination (ok, probably after the Taj Mahal), and although the place is without doubt gifted with some astounding natural beauty, the Keralites have also made a conscious attempt to boost tourism, something not often seen in India.

So, when my project-mate Renju was getting married in Kerala, we (me, Jayant, Adithya, Sundeep, Suyog and Saritha) jumped on this opportunity to visit Kerala. We left Bangalore by Karnataka State Road Transport's Airavata Volvo bus. I must add here that the service provided by KSRTC was refreshing - quite literally. They provide you with a bottle of mineral water, a plastic bag that you can use in case you are prone to vomitting while travelling by road, and a refreshing tissue! We reached Alleppey early in the morning after a 13 hour journey. Renju's father had booked us at Hotel Royal Park at Alleppey. After getting fresh, we had breakfast at the hotel itself (pretty good, I must say).

Then we had our first encounter with Kerala hospitality. We had to gift wrap the gift we intended to give at the marriage. Fortunately for us, there was a gift shop right next to the hotel. The shop-keeper wrapped the gift with such care as if he was dedicating it to his girl-friend :)

We attended the marriage at Changanacherry and spent the rest of the day at Allepey, in the beach. Allepey beach, in spite of itz fame and crowd, still boasts of clean water and shores. It was a pleasure being in in the water at the Alleppey beach.

After getting back to the hotel and getting ourselves rid of the tons of sand that we had accumulated all over, we decided to take a walk along Alleppy streets. Jayant got the brilliant idea of purchasing playing cards so that we can play cards after dinner. We asked a shop opposite the hotel if he has playing cards. The rustic shop owner said that sale of playing cards is prohibited in Kerala (although I dont think thatz the case!). He however offered to get us playing cards in another 15 mins at no extra cost. We thanked him and next went to the shop where we had gone earlier in the morning for gift wrapping. The shop-keeper not just guided us to the shop where we could get playing cards (apparently, no prohibition at that shop!) but also asked us how the marriage was, where the marriage was held, et cetera!

We played cards till past midnight. Next day we woke up at 3am and left for Munnar by 4am. We went via Ernakulam and then took NH-49 to Munnar. We reached Munnar at about 11am and there Abhiskek - the guide for our Munnar trek - was ready waiting for us. We had arranged for a 2-day trek thru Kalypso Adventures. On our way, we were joined by Mr.Johnson, a Kerala forest department official who would arrange for our base camp in the Munnar forest reserve. We started the trek from Silent Valley. On our way we stopped at a forest department guest house for lunch. We reached our base camp by about 4:30pm. Surprisingly, even after a 4-5 hr trek, none of us felt even a hint of tiredness. The weather was great, cloudy most of the time, but the main reason to wipe out our tiredness was the continuos stream of water that we encountered all along the trek. The power of chill water to remove tiredness must be experienced to be believed! Each time we encountered water, we spalshed some on our face, took a few sips at times, and this kept us at high spirits all the time.

At the base camp, we were greeted by the support staff who had already reached there by a jeep. Not just had they had put up the camps, they had also made a temporary bathroom for us with a western-style commode! After taking rest at the base camp for about 30 mins during which we were served coffee/tea along with biscuits and bananas, we decided to venture out on a trek on our own, leaving Mr.Johnson and Abhishek back.

We came back to the base camp once it started getting dark. Thatz when I realised the goof-up I had made in not getting warm clothing! Temperature was dropping steeply (it reached approx. 4 degrees celsius later in the night) and I had nothing but 2 T-shirts. The camp fire was the saving grace and any movement more than a couple of meters away from the camp fire reminded me how chilly a hill-station down south can get even in February! We assembled near the camp-fire and got going again with playing cards.

The most pleasant surprise of our trip was to come next. In the middle of the forest, the Kalypso folks had arranged for us a meal fit for more celebrated surroundings. We were served with tomato soup for starters, poori, rice and seven different dishes for main course, and two sweets and sliced pine-apples for dessert! With their highly limited apetite, Sundeep and Saritha could not do complete justice to the meal, although me, Jayant and Adithya relished every bit of it!

Post-dinner session was reserved for playing dumb-charades. Me, Sundeep and Saritha were in one team and Adithya and Jayant formed the other team. What began as time-pass, became pretty competitive as the game went on. When Jayant enacted 'Heera Aur Panna', Adithya got the diamond and the pages part, but could not get itz Hindi equivalent. When I enacted 'Serendipity', Sundeep and Saritha got the Serena and Pity part, but could not put them together. When Sundeep enacted 'Anubhav', me and Saritha got 'aane' (as in elephant in Kannada) and 'bow' (as in the barking sound of the dog), but could not put those two together! The highlight of the game was Adithya's sting act when he was enacting 'Madhumati', something that has to be seen to be appreciated and best left not described. In the middle we had Jayant wondering the connect between paan and banner, when Adithya wanted to indicate 'Banarsi Babu'. We came back from been 2-4 down to level the scores at 4-each. It was already 2am and Mr.Johnson was tired of waiting for us to go to sleep and had gone to sleep already. We decided that we will have just one more round and whoever looses will have to dance to the tunes of the winners.

I gave 'Wajood' for Jayant to enact, and in 4 mins Adithya got the 'Wajoo-' part of it. With 60 seconds remaining, we were sure that he will not get the exact name, but with 10 secs remaining, Adithya somehow stumbled upon the correct word. Now it was my turn to enact, and the movie I got was 'K 19 - The Widow Maker'!!! Quite unbelievably, I was able to enact this and when we got to it in less than 3 mins, I was as wild as winning a world cup!

Next day morning, after the morning ablutions, we had breakfast. In true Kalypso style, the breakfast comprised of corn-flakes, aloo-parathas, bread-butter-jam, oranges, bananas and apples! After the breakfast, we started on our trek back to Silent Valley through the Meesapulimala hills and the shola forests around it. It was about 8:30am when we started trekking and the sun was shining with full vigour. The sunny weather took toll of us, and the trek back to Silent Valley was quite exhausting. With several pit-stops for munching on oranges, dry grapes, dates and banana-sandwich (diligently packed by the Kalypso folks for us), we reached Silent Valley at about 1:30pm.

The trek on day 2 was the tiring part. We had pooris that the Kalypso folks had packed for us for lunch and started on our way to Ernakulam from where was our bus back to Bangalore.

For me the most endearing part of the trip were:
1. The friendly nature of the each and every people we met - right from the person who gift-wrapped for us, our guides during the trek, our can driver, the shop-keeper in the Ernakulam bus-stand from where I bought banana chips - all of them were friendly with us, which was quite a refreshing experience.
2. Things were quite cheap in Kerala - from the hotel we stayed in Alleppey, the rate for the Innova we hired (it was just Rs.7/km), to the cost of the trek - everything were quite cheap!

Overall, it was an exhilarating experience, and the best trek I had till now!

Do not talk much, but feel the spirit within you.
-Swami Vivekananda

Coming soon....!!!

My trip to Arunachal Pradesh
My trek at Munnar
My visit to Prabodhini Vidyalaya

If you want to be spiritual, you must renounce.
-Swami Vivekananda

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