A Foreign Perspective

Aside

“Suddenly turning into one of the city’s main thoroughfares we were swept along in a whirlwind of Indian traffic. Bullock carts and sacred cows meandered across lanes of pollution-belching cards. Vespas buzzed past. Drivers overtook, undertook did U-turns in the middle of moving traffic, reversed down one-way streets the wrong way, and honked their horns incessantly. Overloaded truck accelerated and then slammed on their brakes. Motor-scooters slalomed. Battered buses cut across lanes at breakneck speed. It was as if every vehicle was piloted by a circus clown.

I watched as a mother and her child tried to cross the street, the two terrified figures clinging to one another like passengers on the sinking Titanic.”

– Tarquin Hall in “To the Elephant Graveyard”

I love it when I read a foreigner’s account of Indian chaos. We being part of the chaos seem to hardly register the comedy of it all. The book however is a serious look at the loosing battle on their right to their habitat faced by the elephants of Assam – portrayed through a hunt for a man-killing Indian Elephant.

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A window with a view

Airports at night always give a warm and cosy feeling. The brightly lit up arrival lounges give me a innate feeling of home coming and a warm welcome. The runway lit up with green, blue and red lights add to the festive air. I love the window seat in the aircraft, though cramped, it gives an unobstructed view while landing and take off.

The other night we boarded the plane from Delhi to Mumbai at night and as usual i was sitting at the window. The weather was cloudy and I wasn’t expecting to get much of a view. As the flight took off, the grand lights of the capital were laid out before us – through the thin veil of clouds they appeared in a gentle haze as though viewed through a big plastic bubble. However soon the plane passed through the clouds and the artificial lights were completely over-shadowed by the luminous grace of the moon – a beautiful full moon that lighted up the wing of the plane with its lovely silvery beams. It reflected off great pools of water on land like a huge beacon of light shining into the blackness of the night.

It was not to last though – the aircraft soon entered into water saturated cumulous clouds. The show however wasn’t over yet – the blinking white lights at the wing tip of the plane lit up the water spray from the wing and it appeared to my eyes, like a glorious burst of diamonds shooting from the wingtip.

The cloudy skies made of an almost fairy tale like view from that aircraft window – a view that i’m not likely to witness again for a long time or forget ever.

Delicate

Sometime back the Weekly Photography Challenge was titled – Delicate. Coincidentally at that time I was in Trivandrum, Kerala – my in-laws place and a city I was visiting for the first time. And first time visit means a tour of the city, which began with the Napier Museum and Zoological gardens. Within the premises they also had a small hall exhibiting aquariums, which is where I saw the – made world famous by Pixar – clown fish, now mostly known as Nemo. What startled me the most was the size of the fish – it was hardly an inch in length. Somehow my relative size perspective from the movie and even photos on the internet, had me believe that the fish was atleast 7 – 8 inches long. The second thing that hit me was that this tiny fish defined the delicate balance of nature and provided the estimate of how despite the apparent infinite vastness of the oceans mankind has still managed to saturate it with pollutants, causing loss of habitat to even a creature as tiny as the clown fish. Looking at this minuscule being I was overwhelmed by gross selfishness of mankind in over-utilizing the resources of our planet and endangering the lives of even the smallest creatures that share this planet with us.

Clown Fish

Clown Fish

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Clown Fishes at the Napier Museum Aquarium

How can I leave out a picture of the "Blue Tang"

How can I leave out a picture of the “Blue Tang”

P.S. This post has been long due, however I got fresh incentive to write it after reading Dan Brown’s Inferno and his discussion of the overpopulation of Earth by humans and its catastrophic consequences.

Wilderness!!

My parents legacy to us kids is definitely the love for reading. Reading for us, at that age covered a wide range of books. It not only included the usual Famous Fives, Three Investigators etc., but also a large number of comics. There was the Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Tintin, Asterix & Obelix; the Indian genre of Chacha Choudhary, Tinkles, Amar Chitra Kathas and even the war comics that my dad loved to read. However my interest in Graphic Novels was definitely an off-take from my hubby’s enthusiasm for the same. The price of these books being prohibitively high for purchase we restrict ourselves to buying only the most well know novels – the once that my hubby just “has-to-have” like Batman, V for Vendetta etc.

Recently on our trip to the mall, the book store was off loading non-selling graphic novels in a sale and we picked up a couple for a few hundred bucks. One of the books was Mike Grell’s “The Complete Jon Sable, Freelance: Vol 7”. The protagonist is a professional hunter (in an age when hunting was supposed to be a great adventure) and most of the book is set in Africa – which brought back memories of the Phantom comics read in the long past. What amazed me most about the book was the illustrations. The illustrated story-line was not confined to rectangular boxes like in the comics of yester-years, at the same time it didn’t have the exotic look of digitally created images. All the images were hand sketches, with deceptively simple looking lines creating a plethora of human emotions and animal interactions. The simplicity of the animal illustrations made me just want to pick up a paper and pencil and try it out for myself.

My Sketches from Mike Grell’s “The Complete Jon Sable, Freelance: Vol 7”

Hunting cats, lazing cats, growling cats, stampeding elephants, flying cranes – all drawn with the ease of years of practice and keen observation – beautifully brought to life the wilderness of Africa. The only other author who has been able entice his readers to fall in love with Africa according to me is Wilbur Smith. His books so strongly reflect his love for the continent that one just can’t help but become captivated by the land so skilfully portrayed by his mesmerising words.

“The rains opened their annual offensive with a midnight broadside of thunder. [ ]. It [the wind] came of the east and it frightened the trees so they thrashed their branches in panic; it drummed on the wagon canvas and filled the air with dust and dry leaves. Then came the rain: stinging like hail, drowning the wind and turning the air into water. It swamped the sloping ground that could not drain it fast enough, it blinded and it deafened.” – When the Lion Feeds

“It was a photograph of an elephant, an old bull. [ ] Somehow he portrayed the whole vastness and timelessness of a continent, and yet he was at bay, and one sensed that all his great strength was unavailing, that he was confused by things that were beyond his experience and the trace memories of his ancestors, that he was about to be overwhelmed by change – like Africa itself.

With him in the photograph was shown the land, the rich red earth riven by wind, baked by sun, ruined by drought. [ ] Then, over it all the limitless sky, containing the promise of succour, the silver cumulo-nimbus piled like a snow-clad mountain range, bruised with purple and royal blue, pierced by a single beam of light from a hidden sun that fell on the old bull like a benediction.” – The Leopard Hunts in Darkness

Light & Sound Show

Recently we planned a trip to a remote place called Tapola nestled in the heart of the Western Ghats, 5 hours from Mumbai. The plan was to stay in a camp next to the lake, which catered to water sports even during the monsoons.
Having spend longer than we intended to at Mahabaleshwar, it was around 7 pm by the time we were on the road to Tapola, a drive of around 25 kms from Mahabaleshwar. The light dispersion from the typical cloud filled sky of the monsoon season had made even 7 pm seem like 5 pm until then, but as soon as we were on the lonesome road to Tapola it darkened and a heavy mist started rolling on to the road. With comments about how it was Friday the Thirteenth and how we are all going to get killed one by by one and rather pathetic DJ mixes loudly playing on the stereo (due to the lack of foresight of carrying good music with us)  we made our way along the road.

The first lights that we saw were the red reflectors, neatly bordering the road. The vehicle headlights would bounce off the reflectors making them glow with a fiery red light, acting as the guiding beacon for the path forward in the heavy fog that we were blanketed in. As we cautiously made our way through the foggy but deserted road we went past walls with evenly spaced lights, warmly glowing in the fog and making visible to the eye cosy houses and clubs which made me conjure up images from James Herriot’s books of fire places, with merrily crackling fires, deep arm chairs and good company over port. Driving through the curvaceous route in the fog was tough and the driver switched on the blinking back lights of the vehicle for safety. As we descended lower into the valley the fog started to clear and these blinking lights made for an amazing visual display. In rhythm with the DJ beats and like the flashing disco lights, they lit up the passing scenery highlighting the swaying trees as though they were energetic figures dancing in the rain.
The pitter-pattering of the rain made for the opening notes of the nocturnal concert that we were going to hear. As we settled down for the night at our camp, the rain petered out and the sounds of the night engulfed us with their symphony. The frogs were rendering their score in full baritone. Owls joined in synchronously with their hoots and the crickets and other micro world creatures, never the ones to be left out, provided the chorus. Background music was provided by the gushing water as it cascaded from the hills into the lake.

Come dawn, the stage was taken up by a new crew. The nocturnal band shut shop and we were presented with the soprano notes of the peacocks. Chirruping of the other birds filled the morning with an energetic brightness and welcomed us into the lovely wilderness of the camp.

The way to Tapola and the lake in the morning light