From Corbett To Keoladeo

(Note: This trip report was first published in the April 2009 edition of Bird watchers’ Society of Andhra Pradesh’s newsletter-Pitta. An edited version of this post was featured in You & I Magazine.)

Breaking Dawn

They say that you can never forget your first tiger sighting in the wild. The majestic walk, the earth shattering roar and the easy but arrogant confidence apparently imprint him in your mind forever. With such descriptions and statements in mind I set off back in late January 2009, to the Jim Corbett National Park in Ramnagar, Uttarakhand to join that relatively small club of people who have seen the magnificent beast in the wild. While two days of frantic dashes and sudden hushed stops throughout the length and breadth of the Brijrani area of the park did not yield even a small glimpse of that much praised animal (except for some fresh pugmarks), in all those wanderings I did get to see an amazing variety of bird life both in Corbett and a few days later in the Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. And in the latter I saw a sight that completely drove the tiger from my mind. It was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen in my short birding career. But more about this bird and the Bharatpur sanctuary later. Let me first guide you through the foggy grasslands, thin gurgling streams and cool woodlands of Corbett by conveniently concentrating on birding aspects of the trip and ignoring for most part our increasingly desperate attempts to spot a tiger.

Lonely Morning

We reached Ramnagar too early to enter the park so our jeep driver took us to the Kosi river to pass time. It was still dark but a thin light was breaking out in the east marginally illuminating the murky riverbed that was mostly dry except for a small flow. As we stumbled over the smooth and rounded pebbles of the river bed, a sudden clear ringing rent the perfectly still dawn air. It was the di-geri-doo call of a lapwing. Although it was still too dark to see the bird. I wanted to hang around a bit for the light to brighten to identify the lapwing and see if there were any more birds but it was time to proceed to the park.

White-capped Water Redstart

As we waited to collect our park entry permits at the Brijrani gate and be assigned a guide we saw that ubiquitous septet, the Jungle Babblers (Turdoides striatus) hopping around. After we proceeded into the park, as soon as we passed the buffer zone and were crossing a shallow stream we saw a Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) running away from us. After crossing the stream and climbing the crest of a small mound we found a rivulet below on our left in which we observed through the rapidly thinning fog a group of Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) out fishing early. We continued towards the canteen at the beginning of the park proper to quieten our grumbling stomachs. Stomach filled, I was sipping on some hot Bournvita when I spied a little bird hopping around the tables in front of the canteen with its tail raised. It was a White-Capped Water Redstart (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus), a bird I did not expect to be so used to civilization.

Red Junglefowl

No sooner had we left the canteen, our guide Mahesh pointed out a Lesser Flameback Woodpecker (Dinopium benghalense) in the distance seemingly bent on breaking its beak on the bark of a tree. As we were driving through a wooded area we heard the harsh bark of an Indian Muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) from near us and stopped by the side of the track to investigate. A flash of color in the dense bushes next to us sent our pulses racing. Alas, it was not a tiger passing through. It was only a “lowly” timid Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) giving us the once over with its bobbing head!

Towards late afternoon we made our way towards the Malani region of the park to catch a glimpse of the core forest area that no day visitors are allowed to enter even with entry permits. Mahesh, sharp as ever, pointed out a group of birds in the distance sitting high in the branches of a tree well above the average tree cover. Their bare, red colored fleshy necks gave them away instantly. It was a group of Red-Headed Vultures (Sarcogyps calvus) seemingly relaxing under the late afternoon sunshine.



Ever since the growth of the so called ‘multiplex cinema’ it has been fashionable among some quarters to keep stating at regular intervals that the Hindi film industry has finally come of age. In other words, the Hindi film industry has finally shed its insane plots and acquired a global persona that everyone from San Francisco to Sydney can relate to. For a long time I believed that to be mostly empty hype. Having seen Dev.D yesterday changed my opinion. If a crazy, beautiful, hilarious, sad, mad, ugly beast of a film like this could get made in the context of mainstream cinema and receive a wide release then indeed Hindi cinema has come of age like no other language cinema of India I know of has.

Anurag Kashyap always had a reputation as a talented and controversial director and through Dev.D he demonstrates why he is one of the best directors Hindi cinema is lucky to possess. Saratchandra’s Bengali novel ‘Devdas’ has been a perennial favorite among Indian film directors with as many as 9 versions already made using it as a source. Kashyap’s film is anything but faithful to the novel. Along with co-writer Vikramaditya Motwane he twists, bludgeons, and mutates the novel into a contemporary setting. He wisely avoids going the melodrama way like other directors before and instead concentrates on the core, the emotional attyachar if you will, of all the central characters and especially of Dev.

Abhay Deol is steadily building his reputation as cross over cinema favorite and with this film he demonstrates why he is so good in such ‘auteur’ films. After a stunning performance in his recent ‘Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye’ he cements his indie status with a sterling modern take on Devdas.

Newcomers Mahi Gill and Kalki Koechlin are equally stunning in their roles as Paro and Chanda aka Chandramukhi. Mahi as the headstrong Paro and Koechlin as the disarmingly seductive Chanda prop up the emotional core of the film with star making turns. The transition of Koechlin, in particular, from an unconventional school girl to a professional seductress of great charm is both stunning and shocking.

What is even more remarkable is how strong Paro and Chanda are. They are completely unlike the simpering, crying-behind-closed-doors, always-waiting-for-the-hero ‘Bharatiya naris’ that you usually find on Indian film screens. Spurned brutally by Dev Paro soon moves on to her new life without a second thought or signs of weakness. Spurned by her parents and a hypocritical society Chanda soon makes a life for herself, and even if she has to sell her body and voice for that life, she does it on her own terms. I wonder what the regressive Indian right wing organizations will think of such strong characterizations?

The cinematography by Rajeev Ravi is another aspect of the film that hits you with a solid fist in your visual guts. While the camera starts sedately, almost conventionally it steadily deteriorates into extremely ugly close-ups, insane time lapse sequences, flashy over saturated colors and kinetic character driven movements mimicking the emotional upheaval of the film’s central characters. The frenetic, adrenalin-infused editing needs special mention even if in certain segments of the film the edits should have been much tighter.

The soundtrack by Amit Trivedi, to put it simply, is mind blowing. It is music that grabs you by your auditory balls and just does not let go. Be it the raunchy Bihari twang overloaded but hilarious ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ or the world weary beauty of ‘Saali Kushi’ the music is an aural romp through ever shifting soundscapes.

Final word-get out and immediately drive to the nearest film theater and watch this mad fuck film. It will be a blinking benchmark on your filmy radar. And if you can, watch the film after sampling a few choice shots of vodka. Taken over and ruled completely by the film for 172 minutes your roughly surprised senses will thank you for it.


The guns have finally fallen silent. The staccato bursts of gunfire have died down. The intermittent explosions have stopped. The pigeons which flew away after every explosion have settled down. But something does not feel right. This was not like one of those bomb blasts we have been seeing with such regularity in India over the past few years. The blasts, even though extremely tragic, had a neat closure to them. But this siege was not neat. It was brutal, ugly, bloody and drawn out. To think that a dozen terrorists made the city, the country, nay even the world stand still speaks volumes both of their meticulous planning as well as of the utter failure of our security apparatus.

I’ve never liked Mumbai as a city. I’ve never lived there but while I was in college I visited it every year for four years. And every time I came away irritated by its insane (to me) rush to get somewhere, its ugly contrasts, mixed with a little envy too perhaps that Mumbai was so much more cosmopolitan than Hyderabad. I’ve always thought people made a lot of unnecessary fuss about Mumbai, its so called spirit, character and every other clichéd adjective you can think of. But this time, unlike the many tragic events before, my heart went out to Mumbai and its people. As I followed the breathless TV reporters fall over themselves to bring the rest of the world as many live images as possible of the ‘unfolding situation’ I was filled with a curious mixture of emotions. There was sadness at the needless and immense loss of life. There was multi-directional rage too, at the politicians who seem to mumble the same platitudes every time something like this happens but are soon back to their ways, of dividing this beautifully complex country to suit their narrow needs.

There was rage too at the terrorists, a helpless and hopeless sort of rage mixed with some despair. I’ve tried but I still cannot understand how someone of roughly my age can take a machine gun, walk into a hotel, into a railway station and start shooting indiscriminately. How can he look into the eyes of a woman trying to go home after visiting her relatives and shoot her in the throat? How can he separate people based on their nationality and gun them down? Try as I might I just cannot comprehend this inhumanity, this utter, deep dark hate that someone has inculcated in him. After all, he was not born with it. He was somebody’s son. He must have experienced some love. How do you go from being a human being to someone who does not blink twice before pressing the trigger and pumping bullets into fellow human beings, irrespective of whether that human being is an old man, a woman or a child? This hatred is beyond me.

And that fills me with a certain hopelessness. How do you guard against such unfathomable hatred? How do you tackle it? Will a more proactive intelligence help? Will upgrading our archaic police force into something more modern and efficient help? Perhaps those measures will help in the short term. But in the long run we have to reach out to the source of such hatred and wipe it out. Not with guns or smart bombs as so many have now begun to advocate, the ‘Israeli way’ they call it. For that will only lead to a never ending cycle of violence. But by understanding the roots of such terror and turning people away from this futile murderous orgy; through education, through alleviation of poverty, through better job prospects and through respect. For nothing blunts hatred more than happiness and peace.

The Case of the Missing Bag

(This is a true story. It really happened. Names have been changed to protect identities. Most of the conversations that form part of the narrative are based upon that most unreliable of friends-memory or from conversations after the fact so some literary license has been taken in narrating the precise sequence of events.)

A fancy red Chevrolet smoothly glided to a stop beside us as we waited for the light to turn green at the Dairy Circle cross in South Bangalore. But it was not the car that attracted our attention; it was the pulsing beat emanating from within it. An unknown song of the techno variety was playing. The bass from it throbbed intensely and seemed to overpower our heartbeats into voluntary synchronicity. It was an excellent sound system. I turned to the auto driver and said as much.

“Kya sound hai na? Mast system hai!”

“Arrey, hamare pass bhi hai boss. Main mera system lagaya tho mera auto bhi dance karne lagega!”

I smiled at the infectious enthusiasm of the driver and his obvious pride over his auto. In fact, it was a most interesting auto. Its interior was festooned with ribbons of glowing, multicolored lights so that it gave you the feeling of being in some dingy dance bar.

I did feel like dancing. What had seemed like a bleak and hopeless case initially turned around in a most dramatic fashion at the end. The many twists and turns tinged the whole week with a cinematic quality. Even now, when I look back, I marvel at the amazing adventure it became in the end.


Like most things in life, it started in an innocuous fashion and can be traced back to my insistence to get out of the city for the weekend. I was in Bangalore on a break and was staying with Pavan in his flat, my college friend who was working for a startup and shared the flat with two of his friends, Anand and Vishwas. I was getting bored staying alone in the flat so I kept pestering Anand to plan a weekend trip. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily in light of the events that transpired later, we soon learnt that a couple of our common friends were driving to Mysore for the weekend. They invited us to come along and we quickly decided to follow them there. So the three of us, Pavan, Anand and me took an auto from Pavan’s place to go to Brunton Cross Road to another friend’s place. The plan was to pick up a friend’s car from there and travel in that to Mysore. Pavan was in a hurry. He wanted to be in the car as soon as possible so that he could catch up with our common friends somewhere on the road to Mysore. We quickly packed and started in an auto for Brunton Road. The auto we had taken was one of those old, sputtering and whiny ones. It was going too slow to suit Pavan. So we got down opposite Shopper’s Stop on Bannerghatta Road and quickly took another auto. The auto driver of the first auto saw us take another auto and was not amused. He started cursing us. We were in too much of a hurry to pay much heed to his angry words.

The second auto was new, fast, relatively quiet and smooth. Since we were three people in the auto with two being considerably overweight there was not much space for us to sit comfortably. So Pavan asked me to keep his bag behind us in the luggage space of the auto. His bag contained my Macbook Pro laptop apart from his wallet, cell phone, money, clothes and some documents. I was carrying my camera bag; a constant companion while Anand was carrying his own bag. The rest of the auto ride was uneventful. We braved the horrendous Bangalore traffic and reached our friend’s place on Brunton Cross road. We got off the auto and I started taking out money to pay the fare. In the meantime, Pavan and Anand started asking the auto driver for directions to get to Mysore Road from where we were. The auto driver seemed helpful. I paid him. We then climbed to the second floor flat of our friend to pick up the car keys. We drank some water, checked out the flat, locked it and then climbed down to the garage. We got into the car we had come to pick up. I got into the back seat and Anand, who would be driving, gave me his bag to keep it in the back. Pavan, who was sitting next to him, asked me to keep his bag too in the back.

“What bag?” I asked him.

“My bag re. Don’t you have it?”

“No, I thought you were carrying it.”

Pavan turned to me with a shocked face and cursed in a loud voice.

“Shit! It’s still in the auto man.”

Our lives were not the same after that. We all took a deep breath and considered our options.

“Ok, the auto would not have gone far so let’s go looking for him,” said Pavan.

“Alright, we might have also forgotten it in the flat upstairs so let me go up and check and you two go look for the auto on the road,” I suggested.

Anand and Pavan left in the car while I went upstairs to look for the bag with a thin and already fading hope.

There was no bag in the flat. I went back downstairs and waited for my friends to come back. The laptop was a recent acquisition and as such I should not have had much attachment to it but even though I hated to admit it to myself I had fallen in love with Apple’s sleek design. It was also bought from money that I had saved by foregoing some luxuries and healthy food! And that made the loss acute.

Anand and Pavan returned soon after and one look at their faces told me the full story. We decided to search again over a larger area, as the auto shouldn’t have gone all that far. So I got into the car and we set off. We looked at every auto along the way hoping against hope to find the auto we had taken. As we searched, I asked Pavan to use my phone and call his mobile that was in the bag. There was a chance that the auto driver might hear the phone and answer it. Pavan’s phone kept ringing and ringing for about five minutes before we got the dreaded message. His phone was switched off!

Pavan apparently also had an unknown amount of dollars in the same pocket where his phone was present. We realized that once the auto driver heard the phone ringing in the bag and opened it he must have found the dollars and then the laptop and decided to keep them.

Unfortunately, honesty is in such short supply in contemporary India that whatever little hope we had entertained of the auto driver answering our call shattered in an instant once we heard the message that the phone was switched off.

Still, we searched for the auto all along M.G. Road, Brigade Road and Ashok Nagar but to no avail. We went back to our friend’s place to ask the caretaker of the building if in case the auto driver had returned. The answer was negative.

With a heavy heart we made our way to the nearby Ashok Nagar police station. There we talked to a young Sub Inspector (SI) named Mohan. Mohan listened to our sorry tale and asked us some questions.

“Do you have the auto number?”

“No sir.”

“Do you have the police serial number or DL number of the auto driver?

“No sir.”

“Do you at least have the name and address of the auto driver?”

“Not exactly sir but we remember reading the license display board of the driver and remember his name and the locality he lives in.”

“(Smiling) What is this sir? Without the auto number or police serial number there is no way to trace the auto. You can register a complaint but to be frank I suggest you stop hoping. 99% of the auto drivers in Bangalore are corrupt. It is next to impossible that you will find the bag now. For your satisfaction I’ll ask the constable to send out a wireless message just in case the auto driver has returned the bag at a police station.”

“You know you should change your T-shirt,”
said the SI pointing at Pavan’s t-shirt, which mocked the iPod frenzy at that time with a drawing of a toilet and iPooed printed above it. “These things will happen to you if you wear such sarcastic T-shirts.”

We thanked the SI for his reality check, for stating the obvious and for his gratuitous advice and went and registered our complaint. The constable who registered our complaint was properly shocked upon hearing that we had forgotten our bag in an auto but he also repeated whatever the SI had said and asked us in future to note down the police serial number of any auto we got into or at least take a photo with a cell phone of the license display board. All good advice but which came a little late in the day to help us.

With our hopes slipping by the minute we decided to follow the advice given by a traffic inspector we had met in front of Garuda Mall before coming to the police station to register our complaint. There is a database of all Bangalore auto drivers at the DCP (traffic) East office, Shivaji Nagar Bus Stop. The inspector had suggested that we try our luck there with the limited information we remembered of the auto driver.

So we made our way across town to the DCP office. But by the time we battled through the traffic and made our way there it was already 6 pm, well past closing time. The person who managed the database was long gone. Another person offered to help and with his assistance we managed to narrow our search and get a few addresses based on the auto driver’s name and locality. We were asked to return the next day to seek formal permission from the DCP to resume our search for a needle in a haystack.

I had been harboring some hope still until I saw the sheer size of the auto driver database. There were over one lakh auto drivers in Bangalore at that time! Finding just one in that huge database based on our limited information seemed a Herculean task, an almost impossible exercise in sheer futility. The faces of my friends also bore the same signs of despair as if they were thinking along the same lines.

Hyderabad Blues

Five years is a long time. The city has changed so much. In fact, it would only be a slight exaggeration on my part to say that Hyderabad has changed more in the past five years than it ever did in the first twenty-three years of my life that I spent growing up here. That fuzzy feeling of familiarity it had as the place I always called home has vanished with all the old buildings that were like loyal friends to me.

Perhaps it is because of the glitzy malls that have sprung up like a litter of rabbits seemingly out of nowhere? Perhaps it is because of all the new money that has transformed Hyderabad from a sleepy, laid back provincial capital into a pulsing cosmopolitan melting pot? Or perhaps it is because of the insanely dense traffic that has turned driving into a most unwelcome chore? Strangely (on second thought ‘surprisingly’ might be a better word) I don’t think it is because of the above reasons. Instead, I think it is because of a new found hurry everyone seems to be in. That typically Hyderabadi unhurriedness has been replaced by a rude rush to get somewhere. And that has made this place, these roads, this city seem unfamiliar. Now, the city seems like a friend I’m meeting for the first time after leaving school a decade back. There are parts that are comforting in their familiarity but for the most part things have changed. So there is this awkwardness. The awkwardness of a long absence. There is distance too. A distance born out of that very same awkwardness.

In the first month, after I came back, I roamed around some places that I used to frequent in the hopes of finding that old familiarity again. That long stretch of twisting and turning road between Taj Banjara and Nagarjuna Circle over which I raced on empty nights against the adrenaline churning through my veins. That beautifully scenic but lonely road that starts after Tolichowki and continues till the second gate of HCU.  That upstart addition to the spine of Hussain Sagar, which dared to call herself a Necklace. That hole in the wall bar beyond Bahar restaurant where you get the best Chicken 81 in the world. Finally, HCU campus itself, which was so wonderfully wild, more jungle and shrub than university. Beyond subtle traces of the old they all seemed to have turned into pale shadows of their former dusky glory. Perhaps their souls are spent under the weight of all the hurry that seems to have invaded Hyderabad. Why the sudden rush? Or is everyone actually running away from something? The old genteel culture, the nawabi laziness, the slow passing of the day over multiple cups of Irani chai; all replaced now by the gloomy glamor of globalization.

I know change is inevitable. In this world nothing stays the same for long. Heartbreaks get transformed by nostalgia into experience. Experience gently develops into wisdom. So a city is no different. It is only a sentimental fool who looks at the past through blinkered glasses colored by false nostalgia. The heart yearns for the familiar but the mind knows better. This duality of reason and emotion drives me into this curious state of lethargy where I seem to be waiting for something to give. Five years can wreak havoc on expectations built across the divide of continents.

However, five years is also a weird length of time. It is not as significant as a decade nor is it as quick as a couple of years. It is somewhat like that indeterminate time between dusk and night when familiar things take on a melancholic aspect that cloaks their true character. So I may be jumping the gun as usual. After all, it has only been a couple of months. Time can heal the awkwardness. Renewed friendship can bridge the distance. Is it possible? Only the city can tell.

Trier Troubles

We needed alcohol. Due to the lack of time and poor planning we had not picked up any before we started traveling. So we hit the streets of sleepy Trier in search of a shop that sold alcohol. But try as we might we could not find one. We drove through deserted neighborhoods and leafy suburbs but there no sign of alcohol on the horizon. We crossed the Mösel many times in our quest. It was as if we were living in a time of prohibition. All our impromptu plans of playing poker with a cold beer in hand at the camping ground were at risk of going waste. So we wandered some more. There were comparisons between the ease of finding alcohol after midnight in India and in the beer capital of the world, Germany. I found it strange that it was taking us so much time to find an open kiosk. Back in Cologne I only had to walk a few hundred yards from my house to find two. It seemed as if the people of Trier had no craving for alcohol after midnight. And so we found ourselves across the Mösel yet again. Cars passed us and their inhabitants seemed strangely content. Had they been more successful than us? Would we ever find what we were searching for? Or would we have to return empty handed and crawl into a tent without the cool balm of alcohol in our stomachs to ease the cold passage of night?

After crossing the Mösel another time we took a random turn to the left and found ourselves at an intersection. And standing right there to the right of the intersection like a lighthouse for floundering ships was an open döner shop. My friend ventured out full of desperate hope. I joined him. But our hopes did not last long. The shop did not sell any alcohol. Perhaps he saw our faces droop or felt our hopes slipping away, whatever the reason, as we were leaving the shop owner threw us a bone in the form of a suggestion. He pointed to a bar opposite his shop, tucked away on the corner and suggested to us to try our luck there. Hopes renewed we thanked him, crossed the road and approached the bar. From the outside it was unremarkable. I forgot its name as soon as I saw it. We passed through the open doors and strangely it felt like as if I had crossed some kind of special portal into another world. We walked into a land not often encountered.

The bar was a large room interspersed with wooden benches and tables. Along the walls at regular intervals were garishly bright game machines with blinking lights. At the far end, opposite the door was the bar counter. On the right side of the room were two doors. One presumably led to the toilets while the other opened into a room filled with a pale yellow light. I could not see clearly what the room contained or ascertain its function. It seemed rather odd and out of place as if it was added as an afterthought by a bored builder.

There was an air of impending decay about the place. The bar was not in disrepair but perhaps due to the sickly yellow light or the garish lights of the game machines the bar had an air of approaching apocalypse.

There were six people in the bar. Two young men were sitting in an alcove right next to the door. They were talking among themselves in the harsh guttural German that is characteristic of first generation Turkish immigrants. I was struck by their presence in that bar. It did not seem like a place for young people. What were they doing there? Had they also set out on a similar quest as us, wandered into that place and could not go back across the portal into the normal world outside? What was the strange attraction that the place held for them? I suddenly realized that sometimes when you spend too much time amidst mediocrity and routine and encounter anything out of the ordinary it exerts a force on you that is not easy to shake off. I could almost believe that the young men there were caught in the same force.

The remaining people in the place consisted of two women and a man with a white beard sitting at the bar and drinking. The fourth person was the bartender. He seemed ancient and had the same air of slow decay about him as the bar. His cheeks were sunken in gloom and he spoke in deep ponderous tones with long pauses between his words. It was as if he was measuring the passage of time in the spaces between his words. In this he reminded me strongly of Vajpayee, the former prime minister of India, whose speeches were also filled with such thoughtful pauses between words.

The Shame of the Indian Male

It is as if India is losing her humanity part by part. Coming close on the heels of the recent spate of reports on women molested in various parts of India is this horrific and tragic report from Surat about a brave man named Keshav Vishwakarma who tried to prevent a woman from being heckled. For being a good Samaritan, four hours later, he was doused with kerosene and put on fire. Incredibly, with 75% burn injuries he walked two kilometers to a police station to report the incident. Unfortunately, he later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.

It is nothing new that women in India have a torrid time in public spaces. Even as a child I could not help but notice how careful my mother would be when she had to go out alone or with me to any public space, be it to the market or to the cinema or to drop me off at school. She would carefully wrap her pallu around herself completely so that no bare skin was visible anywhere between her face and feet. In the bus she always made sure that she sat as much in the front as possible, away from the men’s seats and on the road she would ask me to walk on the outer side so that I’d be shielding her from passing traffic (meaning the sundry Indian male who would not think twice about grabbing or groping a woman in public).

Later, when I was older, I’d listen in horror as my female friends recounted incident after incident about how disgusting and desperate the average Indian male is in public. I was ashamed and embarrassed that the freedom I took for granted came with so many reservations for them. To think that every time they were out in public they had to deal with innumerable snide comments which would range from ‘kya potti hai re’ to men in cars slowing down to ask ‘ati kya?’ showed me how different a world it is for an Indian woman compared to her male counterpart. They had to be on constant guard to not let men get too close in public spaces. For if men got too close more often than not their body parts would be groped, grabbed or pawed in the most obscene way. My friends often would not take it lying down if they were in a group and always tried to fight back. But they also knew that it was safer to keep quiet especially if they were alone. They knew from practical experience how unsafe it is for an Indian woman to walk on the street alone even in a big city like Hyderabad. And these were the so called elite upper middle class women who were confident, educated and unapologetic about what they wore or how they behaved and who therefore, according to some, are asking for such abuse by dressing or behaving unlike a ‘traditional Indian woman’. A male friend, upon listening to such incidents from my female friends, even had the gall to say that if they stopped wearing dresses befitting a whore they would be given more respect! If only the truth is so simple. Even women who wear ‘traditional’ Indian dresses are not spared such abuse. I recall a nonsensical dress code directive by Anna University along the very lines of such an argument about which I had blogged here.

So why do we Indian men behave like this? Many men would object perhaps saying that men are the same everywhere in the world. To a certain extent that is true. But I’ve observed how big a difference there is between the average European male and his Indian counterpart when it comes to women. Men defer to women here in public spaces. Although men do eye good looking women here it is limited to just that. There are no snide or obscene comments passed and in my four years here I’ve never ever seen a man behave obscenely towards a woman in public. Yes, there are occasionally teenagers who seem to tease women but they are more the exception than the rule.

The Museum


How much of history do we remember? As a philosopher once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. But we keep forgetting and thereby keep repeating the same mistakes. Our collective history is littered with examples of the vilest of deeds that have repeated themselves through the ages. From Germany to Gujarat and from Rwanda to Cambodia millions have been murdered and massacred just because they were the ‘other’. A group of ‘others’ who could conveniently be blamed for whatever imaginary wrongs those in power could propagate about them. And people would believe them for it is easier to blame someone else rather than confront a problem.


Therefore, it is important to create symbols and to build special places where memories of the past are kept alive and remembered. For it is necessary to remember even if memories seem futile. For in remembering we make a promise even if we do not always keep it. A promise to do whatever it takes to prevent what we are seeing of the past from repeating itself in the present or in the future.


One such place is the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Among the museums I’ve seen it alone makes brilliant use of light and space to evoke a feeling of great loss and sadness. Each facet of the architecture and arrangement is meant to mean something and that meaning is conveyed using the simplest of means: stark unadorned walls, huge empty rooms, select photos and belongings, uneven ground, all meant to reproduce at least in part the unbelievable horrors experienced by the victims of the holocaust.


Pourquoi Paris?


Steve McCurry’s photographs were a like a balm to my tired and bored eyes. The intense and saturated portraits of mainly South Asian faces formed a wonderful contrast to the grey and gloomy Parisian streets outside the gallery. He has this amazing ability to capture the wondrous beauty of the eyes of the people in his portraits. Bright blue eyes big enough to fit the world, intense green eyes that arrest you in mid stride and deep dark eyes that you can disappear into on a journey into their souls. There were perhaps twenty portraits there but ah what a pleasure it was to stare at each one of them to my heart’s content! From the very famous ‘Afghan Girl’ to the lesser known but equally captivating photo of a flower seller on the way to the market in a boat on the weed covered waters of Dal Lake, I stared transfixed at slices of human emotion hung up in front of my eyes.

I was therefore grateful that I saw the price list before I embarrassed myself by going ahead with my original intention to enquire about buying one of the prints. The ‘cheapest’ price for a print on sale was 4000 Euros! With a sigh and a last wistful glance around I wandered back out into the now raining streets of the art gallery neighborhood of Paris.


I was lost among graves of people unknown to me. The cemetery was divided into divisions but without a map I was hopelessly lost. I could have asked someone. But even those with maps seemed lost. More than that though, I wanted to find his grave on my own. Call it my own little musical pilgrimage if you are being generous or a foolishly romantic notion if you are just being charitable. So I walked on past grand graves over which angels in stone kept watch, past graves neglected and now conquered by kingdoms of moss, past newer graves that were adorned with small photographs of the dead, past graves that were enclosed within small Gothic chambers that seemed to be designed to keep the dead away from the reach of the living.

The Great Connection


Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up


It was Smack My Bitch Up that was playing as I read a particular section towards the beginning of Bank’s Excession where a drone, if I remember correctly, has to escape from a spaceship that is being taken over. And in one of those inexplicable coincidences the music and the action in the book fit each other perfectly. I could imagine a scene of the same on film with the music on the background and the drone running to escape out of the ship. There was a thrill of adrenaline as the music pumped the page into a 6 minute scene of pulse pounding action. And when the song entered the slow meditative section in the middle the action also entered a seemingly slow motion stage on the page where the drone glides through the air. Spielberg couldn’t have done it better on film. Incredible!


Greece was sunny and bright, the very opposite of Auster’s grey and moody New York in City of Glass. As I ran from one end of Greece to another I seemed to mirror Quinn’s random wanderings through the dark side of New York. It was a wonderful contrast to look out of the window of the ferry and lose myself in the endless blue of the Aegean and a moment later lose myself in a world of a different sort between those pages, a world where wrong numbers led to postmodern detective adventures. And on the plane back as Quinn descended into a spiral of pointless obsession I felt the darkness outside the thick window reach in and for a second grip my heart.


The wild rain and wind made me stay indoors in a bunk bed in a hostel near the Princess Street Gardens in the heart of old Edinburgh. There, Safran-Foer held my interest with his young protagonist dealing with post 9/11 trauma and his mute grandfather, witness to the Dresden firebombing. Reliving the firebombing lying on a hostel bed does not seem, at first glance, the most profound or sensitive thing to do. But what did surroundings matter when body and soul you are beside the narrator experiencing the endless horror. The shriek of the wind outside the window became the cries of people burnt and mutilated. As he ran through the smoking ruins of a glorious city, crazed and horrified, the rain outside seemed to fall in tandem to his running footsteps. The strength and precocity of the young boy instilled hope in a dark world taken over by low grey clouds and muted light.