Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chariots of the Gods - Erich Von Daniken

I have known this book for the last 10 years or more. I just finished reading it.

The subject of the book is extra terrestrials. It is not science fiction but simply science. I was disappointed and annoyed to find this book in the “Occult” section of the Landmark bookshop.

One would expect this book to discuss in detail all the UFO sightings that have been reported all over the world. But surprisingly this book has much more to it than that.
The author brings to the fore the many archeological evidences that can be found all over the world to prove (or suggest) that our ancestors did receive visits from “Gods” from outer space.

The book is a result of extensive research and travel. It is replete with so many interesting facts that it is difficult to follow them all and put them together to understand the author’s perspective. It covers the entire range of the spectrum beginning from ancient maps to the Bible, the Mahabharat, the pyramids, ruins in South America, cave paintings in different parts of the world, the Mayan civilization, to reports of UFO sightings by various people in recent times.

I will mention a few arguments here to illustrate how thought provoking this book is.

The theory of probability: there are 10 to the power of 11 stars in each galaxy and 10 to the power of 11 galaxies in the universe. So there are 10 raised to 22 stars in the universe. So the probability that life exists around only one star is 1 divided by 10 raised to 22, that is 0.000000…(22 zeroes)…01 !!!! So there must be life elsewhere in the universe too….

At the beginning of the 18th century, ancient maps belonging to an officer in the Turkish navy were found in a palace. The maps (after being carefully studied) were absolutely, fantastically accurate. The maps not only produced outlines of continents but also showed the topography of the interiors! Comparison with modern photographs of our globe taken from satellites showed that the original maps must have been aerial photographs taken from a very great height. This was before 18th century when man did not know how to fly!!!
Were the maps were drawn from a high flying spaceship?

Cave drawings in Kohistan, France, North America, Southern Rhodesia, Sahara, Peru and Chile all contribute to the theory of extra terrestrials. At Tassili, in the Sahara, the paintings reveal beings in a diver’s suit. There is a drawing of a “man” 18 feet high, depicted in a space or diving suit. Note that this painting is next to the pictures of animals and humans in their life size. On his heavy powerful shoulders rests a helmet which is connected to his torso by a joint. Similar drawings have been found in many different parts of the world!!! One may argue that the paintings were born out of imagination. Even so, the imagination has to be triggered by some reality. And then why should the same imagination occur to people in so many geographically dispersed parts of the world?

The island of Elephantine: the island is called Elephantine even in the oldest texts because it was supposed to resemble an elephant. The texts were right. The island does look like an elephant. But how did the ancient Egyptians know that? This shape can be recognized only from an airplane at great height! Were the natives told about the shape of their island by flying men from other planets?

Monuments like the pyramids, monolithic gate of the Sun at Tiahuanaco (South America) were built during times when man did not have the technology or the necessary implements to construct these. Not only that, these very built scientifically on the basis of a vast amount of astronomical knowledge. The author suggests that these might have been built with the help of superior intelligence from outer space.

In Mahabharat, the Hindu epic, Kunti receives a visit from the Sun god from whom she begets a son. She also receives visits from other gods from whom she begets other sons. All old scriptures in almost all parts of the world are replete with descriptions of flying men, flying gods that visited earth. The author suggests that during ancient times, our ancestors did receive visits from men of superior intelligence from outer space who sometimes copulated with the people of earth and he also suggests that we could be the descendants of these alien astronauts!

When we come across Brahmaloka, Indraloka and other lokas, have we ever considered the possibility that these could be other galaxies or universes?

A lot of archeological evidence has been corroded owing to the onslaught of time and weather. Also some men made the situation worse. Easter island for instance; the place was a mysterious one and had several pointers but the European missionaries went to the place, burned the tablets with hieroglyphic characters; they prohibited the ancient cults of Gods and did away with every kind of tradition.

And now, it’s time to mention what eyes have seen. Reports of UFO sightings.

UFO’s have been sighted in America, Philippines, West Germany and elsewhere. We may dismiss most of the reports as cases of common people mistaking ball lightening, weather balloons, strange cloud formations, new unknown types of aircraft and even odd effects of light and shade in the sky for UFO’s. But, when a well trained airline pilot, who is familiar with mirages, weather balloons, etc, who has first class vision, who is not allowed to drink alcohol during flying reports a UFO sighting, one should listen to him.

UFO’s have been identified on radar screens flying at a speed of 4350 miles an hour.
In an incident in 1953, a pilot was given permission to chase a “thing” that he found on his radar screen while flying. After chasing for 160 miles, both objects became one and thereafter there was no trace of the aircraft or the pilot! No wreckage was found anywhere. Qualified witnesses reported having seen a gleaming red object in the sky!
It is also said that Phobos, one of the satellites of Mars is hollow and artificial, like our own artificial satellites. This could mean that there was intelligent life on Mars which probably moved to another planet for unfathomable reason.

There has been an ongoing debate about whether millions and billions should be spent in space research while there are causes on earth screaming for attention and for funding. Here is the most convincing answer.
More than 4000 new articles owe their existence to space research. They are virtually by products of research for a higher goal. Electronic calculating machines, mini transmitters and mini receivers, transistors in radio and television sets were discovered on the periphery of research and so were the frying pans in which food does not stick.

Precision instruments in aircrafts, fully automatic ground control systems, automatic pilots and rapidly developed computer are by products of space research and so are new welding and lubricating processes in vacuum, photoelectric cells. Out of the millions and billions poured into space research, the returns flow back to the taxpayer in a steady stream. And what more, even nations that do not participate in space research are benefiting by the technical revolution. The majority of medical life saving machines is the product of atomic research, space travel and military technology. Designs used to diminish the risk for passengers when collisions of automobiles occur are a by product of space research!!!!

The book is full of such thought provoking arguments.

With all the arguments, the book fails to make the impact that it deserves to make. The reason is the way the content is presented or in other words, the style of narration.

The book could have been more detailed and more elaborate. It is just 150 pages in volume. It should have been 350 pages at least.
The author has made a mistake of assuming that the common man already has the background information necessary and is able to keep pace with the author’s speed. He should have furnished us with more details.
When certain locations are mentioned, names of surrounding places, some details of geography and time could have been given. For instance, when he says some tabloid was found in Tiahuanaco or some strange lines found in Nazca, I don’t where these places are, what the recorded history says about these places, which civilization inhabited these places and what their current condition is. Sometimes, you are without a perspective.

The arguments are kind of incomplete. The author starts with an interesting argument using a place and its story, but even before giving all the details, he rushes to the conclusion – and the same conclusion each time - that modern technology should be employed to find the truth of our past and that people should change their perspective.
Basically when one reads the book, one gets the feeling that the author is fighting a battle with someone – those who refuse to believe in extra terrestrials, especially the scientists.

All the different kinds of proofs are discussed in all chapters. Old Maps, Nazca lines, Pyramids, monuments, cave paintings and statues, mention of flying men and flying gods in scriptures of different religions and reports of UFO sightings.…all mixed up in all chapters.
Instead, if each chapter focused on only one kind of evidence building brick by brick, then the argument would have been more clear, stronger and convincing.

He is continuously defending his position and the tone gets accusatory at many places which could actually do more bad than good to his end purpose. (He is accusing the conventional, traditional thinkers who don’t consider the possibility of extra terrestrials). The tone is too sarcastic…
The best way to convince people of something is to state it as if it were the most natural thing in the world and not get too defensive or accusatory. It is important to be calm, confident and composed while presenting … the more pushy, aggressive you get, the more skeptical your audiences will become.

One can imagine the author to be speaking almost the entire book in a single breath. He should have paused and explained more patiently. He has many things to say but he is hurrying.

One should read the book if one is to understand that delivery is as important as content.

Not a very well written book although I would recommend this book to everyone under the Sun for the knowledge and research that has gone into the making of this and for presenting before the world some facts and thoughts that are astounding.

By the way, two books were written after this one by two different people to counter the arguments in this book. “Crash Go The Chariots” and “Space Gods Revealed”. I plan to read it someday. Also, South America seems to have a lot of mysteries… got to visit this place someday and see for myself.

I will conclude this rather detailed review with the thought – “Only the fantastic has a chance of being real in the cosmos”!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Raving Rightfully Rewarded

A wild orgy. College kids. Young professionals. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Dancing all night. Some dance naked. This wild orgy is popularly known as a “rave party”.

Last week my colleagues went on a short tour to Manchinabele, somewhere on the way to Mysore, after Ramnagar. They pitched their tents by some lake. A few hundred meters away, a rave party was happening. As I said before, it was all drugs, alcohol, sex and I am told that a few girls were dancing naked too.

Late in the night a few hundred workers of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV) arrived at the spot in vans and attacked the party. They robbed the fellows of their gold, money, mobile phones, smashed their imported cars etc… beat up the people and left. My colleagues were fortunate enough to have camped in a military area that was safe. They turned off their lanterns and watched the tumult from their hiding.

People are enraged and furious about the KRV workers, who do not remotely care about the culture of the land or its preservation and whose only intention was to loot people and keep the booty.

Yes. I agree. But I am indifferent to the whole issue.
Because in this case it’s a matter of one scoundrel beating another scoundrel. Whose side can you take after all? And who cares?
Actually, this business of “one scoundrel beating another” is a rather convenient arrangement. The police, who have other important matters at hand to take care of, do not have to waste their time over a bundle of “educated, English speaking” rogues, drinking and driving, who neither have a sense of propriety nor morality.

If the cops had intervened, these “sons and daughters of rich rogues” would have escaped by bribing the cops. Now they cannot even go to the police for help or complain since they were engaged in an illegal activity themselves in the first place.
So good that somebody else did the beating.
All they can now do is cover their ass and run for life.

I am reminded of a Bollywood movie where two underworld gangs in Bombay are at war and kill each other’s men. The police commissioner, reclining in his chair says “Aapas mein lad marne do salon ko. Accha hai.” (Let the bloody fellows kill one another. Good for us!)

The bottom line : Raving Rightfully Rewarded. Wow! That was an alliteration!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Prophet - Kahlil Gibran

First of all, thanks to Anu for presenting me this book.

The following is what Claude Bragdon had to say about this work. I couldn’t agree more.

“This power came from some great reservoir of spiritual life else it could not have been so universal and so potent, but the majesty and beauty of the language with which he clothed it were all his own.”

It’s not only a beautiful but great work of poetry by Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931), Lebanese – US Arabic novelist, essayist, poet and painter. I was reminded of Tagore’s Gitanjali.

It’s almost sacred.

The author has expressed his thoughts on various subjects like love, marriage, children, giving, good and evil, judgment etc… The narration takes the form of questions and answers exchanged between Almustafa and the people of Orphalese. The 115 pages include twelve drawings by the author.

Following are some of the lines that appealed to me most.

Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love. Stand together, yet not too near together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart. The Oak and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

They are the result of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts for they have their own thoughts.
You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

Buying and Selling
The earth yields her fruit and you shall not want if you know how to fill your hands.
When in the market place you toilers of the sea and fields and vineyards meet the weavers and potters and the gatherers of spices, - invoke then the master spirit of the earth to come into your midst and sanctify the scales and the reckoning that weighs value against value.
And before you leave the market place, see that no one has gone his way with empty hands.

Crime and Punishment
As a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree, so the wrong doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
When one of you falls down, he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
And he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.
The guilty is oftentimes the victim of the injured.

If he must know the ebb of your tide let him know its flood also.
What is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.

A must read for all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Disembarking - Part 2

August 19 2008

It’s been one year since I landed in America. I stayed there for three months.
In hindsight, those three months were “an important three months” of my life.
Of all the things that I gained, the most important was the right perspective of USA that came from a first hand experience.
I was finally able to drain all the various preconceptions that had clogged my mind for so long; preconceptions given to me by that motley mix of people I told you about in part – 1.
The trip also changed my outlook on certain aspects of life.
The first thing you notice is that, the system is so orderly and organized! Even an unheard of small town like Folsom has better roads than some of the metropolitan cities of India. Material abundance is the next thing. Food, clothes, cameras, computers, stationery, mountaineering equipment….. An entire mall dedicated to each item…and their variety... I was impressed and overwhelmed.

Prosperity, opulence, splendor, richness...wherever you see. It felt soooo good! I felt such pride when I saw the flag of USA fluttering on the many buildings of San Francisco, as if it were not the American flag but the Indian tricolour!
The experience at work, which was the purpose of my visit, was most satisfying.

First, the nature of my work was well defined. Unlike in India where you are expected to do so many things, I was expected to do just one thing – draw process diagrams. Communication and analysis were the two main skills required to do the job.

Second, the people I worked with and their attitude, their demeanour was most impressive.

Everyone respects time. (In India, if you say 5 O’ clock, it means 5:30)
People are assertive. (In India, a lot of assertive people are accused of attitude problems, yours truly being one among them)
People have a high level of self esteem. They are fully aware of their rights and they understand that they are important. I am sick and disgusted with spineless people in our own offices who take a lot of shit from their managers and lack the courage to call a spade a spade.

Lastly, everyone communicates effectively which comes as a welcome relief. The only thing I don’t like about their English is that it’s not British but American. I wonder why they even needed a separate version of English when the British version was sufficient in every way and the American version apparently serves no special purpose. Even the spellings are different. To me who is a purist, it is a sacrilege!!! (Note: I am a purist in certain matters, but radical in certain others!!! Did I tell you I am a bundle of contradictions?)

But one thing is certain. Indians in general are sharper and more knowledgeable. All they need is to be more professional and more disciplined. Of course, they need to attend accent neutralization classes to rid their English of the Mother Tongue Influence (MTI).
In just three months, I could not socialize much.
But my interaction with various people like the hotel staff, the tour guides in San Francisco, my colleagues, the sales staff in malls, waiters in restaurants, etc.. was very pleasant.

I appreciated, for the first time, the beauty of demeanour and composure.

(In our own country which is overflowing with people, there is such chaos and people are so frustrated that the slightest of provocation is enough to make people lose their composure and start yelling, screaming, fretting and fuming.)

People are polite all the time - while waiting for a bus at a stop, while standing in a queue at the billing counter, while placing an order in a restaurant, when they greet you, when they disagree with you…everyone is polite and smiling.

I did not see even one person frowning, leave alone yelling or shouting.

An impulsive, short tempered girl like me had definitely a lot to learn from this. And I did. I do call a spade a spade as always, but without losing my composure.

While the calm and cool give a polish to your personality and control those impulses that have the dangerous potential to manifest as facial expressions that can make you look ugly, on the flip side, the same qualities of calm demeanour and composure make all people alike in a certain way, making it difficult to tell from the true nature of one person to that of another. Uniformity, in general has certain inherent problems.
On of the most important things about a continent is its landscapes and geography that distinguish it from the others.
In three months, I managed to absorb as much as I could. Miles and miles of granite hills that define the Yosemite valley, Red wood trees that are hundreds of feet tall and hundreds of years old, the cold, blue, vast pacific ocean, the aromatic grooves of pine trees around Seattle, the beautiful blend of green pastures at the foot hills and the snow covered top of Mount Pilchuck and the crystal clear pristine blue waters of Lake Tahoe.
For the first time I realized that autumn could stand not just for despair and gloom but for beauty and splendour as I saw the maple embellished with magical yellow, orange and crimson colours of the fall.

India is very rich in natural beauty and diversity. We have the tallest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas in our country. We have vegetation that is much more diverse than that in USA. We have more sunshine and more rainfall that are conducive to more of life.
But I admire the western countries for respecting what they have been bestowed upon. From the small ones like gardens and waterfalls to vast expanses of nature like the Yosemite Valley that sprawls over hundreds of miles, every natural resource has been protected and cared for. Everything is either a national park or a national monument.

We have not only natural resources but thousands of temples, edifices and heritage sites that have endured time as kingdoms rose and fell in the last five thousand years. But what a pity! Everywhere you go, you receive an ugly welcome from urine, plastic, spittle, paper, garbage and pests thriving on them.

In all my life, I have heard praises of nature. Songs, poems, essays and treatises have been dedicated to nature. But nothing special has been devoted to man or his creations. There is no dearth of criticism, however.
Even if they spare a word for an invention or a discovery, it’s half hearted and almost immediately followed by comparison with nature’s creations that can never be surpassed. “Man made jungles are ugly”, “Concrete jungles”, they sneer.

When a flood or an earthquake befalls a place and erases years of mans toil, they laugh derisively “Man can never conquer nature! Nature is all powerful”. Such cynicism! Such a sinister disregard by man for his own fraternity!

As I beheld the skyline of San Francisco from the 11th floor of Grosvenor Suites, the beauty and greatness of man made creations appealed to me as never before.
For the first time in my life, I spared a moment to praise mankind for his creations. I saluted the perfection that each building stood for. I paid a silent tribute to the symmetry, the perfect finish, the flawless design, the engineering marvel behind every brick that was laid, to the strength of those foundations that support their weight, to those men who envisioned these colossal structures..……every building has pride and dignity….standing tall, defying gravity….. Against the winds and in spite of the rains……their glitter and shimmer redefining beauty………..long live mankind that created the impossible! Long live its tenacity!!

I saluted man’s perseverance that saw him rising like the phoenix from the ashes left by many a flood, earthquake, famine, fire, atom bomb and war.

I could not stop staring at some of them as they struggled to balance themselves! No. I am not talking about toddlers who are learning how to walk. I am talking about young men and women who have forgotten how to walk, who need a car to get from their drawing room to their toilet, and who in the process have grown such huge bellies that they stagger from one side to another when they walk – within office space, from their cubicle to the cafeteria etc. where they are not permitted to drive!
And what health consciousness! They have a diet coke… but of course after having burger with extra cheese!!!

This would be the dreamland of any caricature artist! There are so many models all around to choose from.

Wasn’t it George Bush who commented that Indians were responsible for the food crisis in the world because there are too many people here and they eat more? Well, the dimwit guy should do his homework before blurting out nonsense such as that. Does he not know or does he pretend not to know about the glaring problem of obesity in his country? If the word gluttony ever became personified, that person would be American for sure!
Grandmother was right. The use of paper instead of water in toilets is absolutely disgusting! I wonder how in a system where everything else is so prim and proper, such a sickening, appalling practice found room!
So do I want to live there? Certainly, but only for a few years. I would finally want to settle down in the Indian soil. There are many reasons but one of them is that, the USA is perfect. There is perfection; at least, at the superficial level. Life is easier. Good roads, law abiding citizens, unparalleled facilities, a lot of personal space, no social causes and no communal violence.
While all this is very convenient for living, there is no food for thought.
This I realized after returning to India.

During my stay there, there was a passive calm about my being.
Not the calm that one feels after meditation but the kind one experiences when the mind is idle, when there is perpetual mental inactivity.

There was everything that I ever wanted and nothing to complain about and nothing that I wanted to change. When I was there, I hardly wrote except for some travelogue for there was nothing to write about.

The day I landed in India, I could feel so many ideas like the seventh orbit electrons buzzing about in my mind colliding with each other and with the ends of my mind. It was such a familiar feeling!
The moment you step out of your house, and give a sweeping 180 degree glance, a hundred things will grab your attention all at once. There is so much to do!!!

I felt no mixed emotions as I said goodbye.
I felt only sorrow as the plane took off. I must be a true world citizen. I have lived in a lot of places other than my native town; and no matter what the duration of my stay, every time I departed, I felt heavy at heart as if I really belonged to that place.

Last week I had a strange dream. I boarded a plane from Delhi to go to Bangalore and I landed in Seattle! I saw the space needle in my dreams. I woke up with a strong feeling of Nostalgia.
Even as I write this, I am longing to go back to the US, just to see the Grand Canyon once, to the Tulip festival in Seattle, to the Niagara falls, to the Golden gate bridge and the skyline of San Francisco!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Disembarking - Part 1

Among all foreign countries known to Indians, the US of A is unarguably the most popular. When an Indian uses the word “abroad”, it is the USA that is being referred to unless explicitly specified otherwise. And let me tell you, Indians use this word almost all the time. Someone’s sister’s son is going to the US for higher studies. Someone’s brother is working there. Someone’s daughter is settled in the US. Or someone’s neighbour is really lucky because she found a match for her daughter and the boy lives in the US.

So in all these years, I had heard more than my share of stories about the US of A. Different people hold different opinions, “feelings” and sentiments about this country. I was impressed at one point, intrigued at another, disappointed, angry, curious, disgusted, delighted, offended and awestruck upon hearing about this country from various people.
When someone asked me how I felt about the US of A, I said “Confusion”!

If I tell you about the motley mix of colours that were used to paint the picture of America in my mind by a motley mix of people, you will be confused too…

This motley mix of people can be classified into certain major categories. Again, this is a broad classification.

The proverbial foxes to whom the grapes are always sour.
The cynics who have negative things to say about everything and every subject and every issue in life.
The evangelists who know all with or without experience
The orthodox and conservative who cannot see anything above and beyond their beliefs and conventions and are scandalized by the very existence of the rest of the world that is different from them.
The patriots. Their only display of patriotism is by way of their living in this country.
Those who have been there and done it all.
Those whose mission in life is to go to America, mostly students and young professionals.

The following is a typical after lunch conversation especially when someone has just returned from America or someone is about to leave to America. There are representatives from all the categories mentioned above, each one trying their best to sound like an authority on the subject.

“These fellows have no love for their motherland I say. The country is in bad shape; instead of staying here and serving the nation they run away to America, lead a life of luxury and forget their motherland. What is the use of the government spending so much on their education?” says uncle who owns a coconut farm and who does not need to leave the village except when he needs to buy manure for his crop.

“It is not money. It is job satisfaction that is most rewarding.” Says the young man defensively, who has returned from USA after 2 years for a short visit.

“What is the use? No matter how rich these Indians become or how hard they work, they are still second rate citizens; they can never become first rate citizens. I have heard there is racial discrimination to quite an extent” retorts uncle, dismissing the young man’s argument.

“The roads are perfect; the air is pure and quality of life is better.” The young man will not give up.

The womenfolk who have no world outside the kitchen and who have been quiet all this while surprise everybody with their knowledge of the USA.

“What a society! They get married and divorced so many times and so easily as if it were like drinking water! Cheee (a sound made to express disgust). They celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary with pomp. You know why? Because it’s a rarity. There are a very few people who stay together that long” remarks an aunt as she grates coconut. Everyone laughs.

“The clothes they wear... my God… everything is to be seen…They kiss in public… have they any sense of shame?” so saying, aunt’s sister in law almost jumps from her chair.

“People mind their own business. It is a society that does not gossip all the time”, the young man gives a final try.

But unfortunately his sarcasm is lost on the gathering as a shrill cry follows soon after he has finished.
“You have to take an appointment before visiting your neighbour. How cold and distant people there must be! No one cares for anyone.”
That observation is from our neighbour whose visits to our house had never been predictable. She drops in at any time as she pleases even when she has no particular business at hand, just to make casual enquiries you know; like what is on the menu for dinner, why the 23 year old college girl is not married yet, how her married sister is getting along with her in laws etc etc…

“Children are sent away from parents when they turn 14. The kids have to then earn their own living by working in a store or waiting on customers at a restaurant. What detachment! Here in India, we cry even when our 45 year old grown up sons leave to a neighbouring town for a new job” adds her husband.

“But we will have to admit one thing. There is law and order. The government cares for its people. All people have access to all basic amenities. It’s really an advanced nation”, says the young man’s father who has visited the son while he was in the US.

“Yes. We agree. It would be nice to go there for a short visit. May be 3 months. Or 6 months at the maximum. Travel, see Niagra falls, statue of liberty, all the tall buildings and then return to our country. One should not settle there.” Finally when a consensus appears to have been reached, something happens.

The grandmother who we thought was almost deaf speaks from her bed without getting up.
“I believe there is no water in the toilets. Chee! I would not go there even if you gave me ten crore rupees!” she says.
The all time greatest idiosyncrasy of USA and the all time cause of disgust to all Indians is the use of paper in toilets. The orthodox Hindus who use buckets of water are most scandalized by this one thing.

By this time, the young man has had enough of the comprehensive analysis. He gets up quietly, walks to the bedroom and closes the door tight for an afternoon nap, while the conversation in the hall continues as more and more people join to make their zestful contributions.

Having grown up listening to many such conversations, my mind was in a state of confusion. I was caught up in a mental dichotomy.

At one point, when I was a student I had been eager to go to the USA.
Later I was not too sure. I thought maybe I would visit for a few months and return but not settle there…

Life moved on… my job, my friends, the malls in Bangalore that were an abundance of materials and that never let you feel, even for a moment, a scarcity of the good in life.

When the subject of USA was finally out of my mind, there arrived news from my manager of my impending visit to a client location for project requirements gathering.

In less than a week, I was on a plane, flying to the US of A!!!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Despair And Hope...

My hundredth post.
What better than some poetry from Gitanjali by Tagore to mark this occasion!
.....some verses that somewhat reflect my mood in this moment of contemplation, as I stand on the threshold that separates Despair and Hope.

Pluck this little flower and take it, delay not!
I fear lest it droop and drop into the dust.
I may not find a place in thy garland, but honour it with a touch of
pain from thy hand and pluck it.
I fear lest the day end before I am aware, and the time of offering go by.
Though its colour be not deep and its smell be faint, use this flower
in thy service and pluck it while there is time.

If thou speakest not I will fill my heart with thy silence and endure it.
I will keep still and wait like the night with starry vigil
and its head bent low with patience.
The morning will surely come, the darkness will vanish,
and thy voice pour down in golden streams breaking through the sky.
Then thy words will take wing in songs from every one of my birds' nests,
and thy melodies will break forth in flowers in all my forest groves.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ganga At Gaumukh

She is the creator
She is the sustainer

She renders our soil fertile
We drink from her waters

She is the perennial Ganges
An endless supply of life since eternity

On her banks a civilisation flourished
Empires rose and fell

I undertook an odyssey
To prostrate before that mother who gave us all life

Four thousand meters above the sea
Away from men and away from material

As I stood before the glacier of Gaumukh
I found myself witnessing the birth of that mother

Ah! What greater spectacle in this world
Than to watch the birth of your own mother!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bhojbasa and Gaumukh

The time had come to undertake what we thought would be the most challenging and the most rewarding part of our expedition; the trek to Gaumukh glacier where the most revered river of the civilization began her eternal journey.

The 19 kilometer trek began in Gangotri.
On day 1 we completed 14 kms and reached Bhojbasa, a village that gets its name from the Himalayan Silver Birch known as Bhojpatra that is commonly found vegetation there. The tree is on the verge of extinction due to unchecked felling.
Having reached Bhojbasa we chose to spend the night in Lal Baba’a Ashram. The village itself is not much. 3 to 4 pukka buildings and a few tents pitched here and there. The Bhagirathi who is none other than the Ganges but before her confluence with her tributaries, flows close by. The place is made very scenic by the Bhagirath peaks that loom before you. We sat by the river for some time. The scent of sage or ganga tulasi as it is known here wafted in the air. It was heavenly! I still have some leaves between the pages of my notebook.

We met many Sadhus and Babas who had interesting stories to tell us about their lives. What amazed me most about these Babas was their really plain attire of cotton and their footwear that did not seem to offer any protection from the brutal cold. I don’t know if I should simply attribute this to the adaptability of human body or admire the extreme limits to which certain people can stretch their endurance.

One such Baba whose name I have unfortunately been unable to retain in my otherwise “elephant’s memory” lived in a tent close by the river. He has been living there for the last 18 years or so (except in the cold season). To all of us (me, Ranjana, a Spanish couple, Jim, Marc and a follower of Sri Sri Ravishankar), baba’s invitation to his humble tent was so refreshing. After we made ourselves comfortable inside, he gave us food to eat that he himself cooked. The Ravishankar disciple never stopped talking about his guru and never gave up on his efforts to convert the Spanish couple to the “Art of Living” religion. It was late in the evening and time for Bhajan. We all moved into the tent further. It was so warm inside! A single lamp was burning before a picture of Lord Shiva. The Baba sang in his melodious voice and we repeated after him.

We spent the night in a dormitory which we shared with ten others. It was the coldest night of the month long tour. I hardly slept. The quilts that were as thick and heavy as beds did not help much.

The next morning we started (rather late) towards Gaumukh that was 5 kms from us. The terrain was arid except for the Bhagirathi and a few fresh water streams. It was cold but very sunny. On our way, we saw the magnificent Shivling peak.

By noon I reached Gaumukh and had my first glimpse of the glacier. It appeared small in size. I was to find out soon that I had been looking at it from faaar away. The Bhagirath peaks too were no closer than they were five kms ago. That’s how it is in the mountains. The hills are so huge and the spaces so vast that you become devoid of perspective!

I walked and walked towards it. Instead of trailing the riverside, I climbed a hillock of rocks that were my size, on all fours and descended in a slide. After a lot of “mehnat”, I reached the glacier. Of the several intersecting surfaces that formed the fa├žade of the glacier, a few were blue green in colour. The roof of the glacier was so high and the span of it so wide! It was a sight I had never seen before and had not known to exist.

At the base of the glacier is a small opening like the mouth of a cave from which emerges the Ganga or the Bhagirathi. Chunks of ice of varying in size break from the glacier and fall below; some into the river, some on the banks flanking it and some, on the intrepid traveler who forgets caution in his excitement to get closer and closer.

I drank from the river and filled my little blue can up to its full capacity. Some small stones of ice fell into the water and on the banks around me and that’s when I realized the precariousness of my situation. I immediately got up and started walking back to safety, when a chunk of ice that was probably the size of my big toe fell on my back. I shrieked. I forgot about it soon but during the following three days, whenever I slept in supine position, my back ached. It wasn’t until a week that I noticed a reddish brown circle on my woolen inner wear. Lucky me! The following week’s papers contained news of two foreigners who had been killed by an avalanche at Gaumukh!

After spending an hour at the glacier, we retuned to Bhojbasa and then to Gangotri thus covering 24 kms in a day!

The pictures will say the rest…

Scenary on our way...

The landscape is very colourful at certain places...

By the riverside in Gaumukh... Can you see the forest deers or antelopes or whatever they are called? 

Thats me... tired... Bhagirath peaks in the background...

Panoramic view (almost) from Bhojbasa... Bhagirath peaks in the centre...

Bhagirath peaks the next morning... it amazing how drastically different the scene looks in different weather...

Shivling peak you trek from Bhojbasa towards Gaumukh... It looks more grandiose from Tapovan I have heard...

First view of Gaumukh glacier... very deceptive...

As you get closer...

And closer...

Can you see blue green ice?

Now I am too close...dangerously close...

Now you should be able to see the blue green colour of ice...

As we trekked back, it rained for a while and then suddenly it was sunny...

Can you see our trail on the right? it is very narrow and slippery...

That was the second rainbow I was lucky to see as I turned around...

As I turned around for the last time...

For more pictures do visit Bhojbasa via Gaumukh

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Comedy of Tragedy

Not many people have heard of masochism. Most of us are masochistic but not many know there is a word in English language to actually describe this medical disorder.

Well. Masochism is the opposite of sadism. Or reciprocal of sadism … be more appropriate.

A sadist derives pleasure from other peoples’ suffering.
A masochist derives pleasure out of one’s own suffering. You may ask how?
Just look at the many many people around who never tire of recounting all the pain, agony, sorrow, suffering, misery, wretchedness, distress and grief they have gone through in their life.

Pick a bunch of them and put them together in a room for some camaraderie. They will, with their exaggerated narrations and astonishing details, create vivid imagery of their misery in your mind. Each one claims “Nothing like my suffering!”, “Your story is nothing compared to mine!” To an onlooker, it would seem that a competition is going on. But even after four or five hours, no consensus has been reached as to who the most miserable is! They are not only proud of their grief but seem to immensely treasure the memories of unhappy days.

I have an aunt like that. She does not care who she is with, where she is or what the occasion. She has to only find a person who has shown the slightest interest in her and that’s it. She starts her story. Wedding hall, birthday party, dinner gathering, someone’s death… none of the occasions have been spared. She will not stop until she has brought one or two tears in the eyes of her victim. And then as if motivated by the listener’s reaction she goes on to bring more and more tears by unfolding the climax. She has also kept a count of how many people till date have wept upon listening to her story. They are the feathers in her cap. She thinks it’s cool to be a tragedy queen. Meena Kumari! Are you listening? You have competition! (Meena Kumari was a Bollywood actress of yesteryears. All she did in all her movies was cry, cry and cry.)

By now most of us in the first circle know of her only hobby. Whenever we bump into her, we say our quick greetings and disappear, not committing the mistake of sitting or standing next to her for longer than ten seconds. But there are always people from the second circle. And then there are people who have just been introduced to her. These are the unsuspecting victims. When we see them anywhere within twenty feet of radius of her for longer than twenty minutes, we know they have been trapped. Beyond escape.

If you collate all the tragic incidents in her life and apply simple mathematics to calculate her age, you would be shocked. 156 years! This is impossible unless she is the “Ba” in Kyon Ki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. I don’t know how many of those experiences are her own and how many, borrowed or stolen from others. Plagiarism is everywhere. You should copyright your tragedies. You don’t know who is out to steal them.

Does she finally stop after making you all wet? No. She goes on to becoming philosophical too. Now, tragedy combined with philosophy can be a deadly combination. Again, simple arithmetic can explain this. Tragedy + Philosophy = Irreversible Cynicism.
She will try to convince you that the world is a very sad place. Even if you tell her that you are very happy and content in life, she will coax you into believing that your happiness is only an illusion. If you tell her that you are in the pink of health, she will remind you of all the ailments one has to go through during old age. She tries to convert you into a cynic.
She uses various lines to substantiate “Everybody has to die someday”, “Nothing is permanent in this world”, “Man proposes, God disposes”… and so on. God! This is worse than someone trying to convert your religion.

Sorrows shared, sorrows halved. Yes. True. But the guy who wrote this was obviously oblivious to the disastrous misinterpretations that could be made. He should have added a clause. Please share only with one person or two. Not the entire population!
No where else has specificity seemed more necessary than here.

Another saying - Lend a listening ear. I like this one for being more specific. Lend a listening ear. I can. But since they did not ask me to lend both my ears, I will lend only one. Give a shoulder to cry on. I will. But what do I do when someone is not satisfied with the shoulder alone and wants to drench my whole body with Tsunami?
Excuse me please!

When I was a child I wasted a lot of time becoming deeply involved in the stories of these aunts and getting my eyes all wet. Now, after many years of repetitions of the same exaggerated stories and endless enactment of the same melodrama, I have grown up to understand that it is not at all cruel to enjoy what I now call “The comedy of tragedy”.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Lost Treasure

My next Sanskrit exam is on the 24th of this month. I have been studying for the same. The text books provide, in addition to the chapters that cover the syllabus, valuable information, unknown to most of us.

The following is an extract, straight from the textbook. I am sure you will not find this information in regular history textbooks for obvious reasons! (Don’t even get me started on it…)
Read on…

If you are one of those to whom Sanskrit has never been a subject of interest, I would recommend reading this all the more earnestly...

Vedic texts and other treaties are steadily being lost.

The great sage Patanjali has written in his Mahabhasya that Rigveda has 21 branches, Yajurveda 101, Samaveda 1000 and Atharvanaveda 9 branches, thus totaling to 1131 branches. Other authors too have classified Vedas into other branches.

According to Sarvanukramanika, the branches of Vedas were 1137. According o Kurmapurana, it is 1130.

The existing branches, that are available today are as follows.
2 branches of Rigveda(actually one), 5 of Yajurveda, 3 of Samaveda and 2 of Athrvanaveda.
Thus only eleven branches of Veda are available now.

Vyadi had composed Sangraha, a treatise on grammar comprising one lakh shlokas. There were many Nirukta works like Yaska’s Nirukta. There were 10 other grammar books apart from Astadhyayi, which have been lost. All the books which were in Nalanda, Vikramashila an Takshashila, were also destroyed along with those universities.

It is known that in the year 1195, Bhaktiar Khilji, a Muslim ruler, invaded Nalanda and burnt three huge libraries. The fire was raging for seven days say historical records. It is difficult to estimate the countless books thus lost.

In the recent past, many rare books have been taken away to foreign lands. It is impossible to even guess their numbers. The loss of invaluable works is continuing and we remain oblivious to it.


I was extremely saddened by this revelation.
Like they say, “There are things we know and things that we don’t know. And then there are things we don’t even know that we don’t know”.

I feel terribly bad about the loss of something that I did not even know existed!

Friday, August 01, 2008


From Rudraprayag, we left to Uttarkashi from where we would go to Gangotri. Vegetation was again, unlike anything we had seen before. It was mostly pine trees.

From Uttarkashi, we took a jeep to go to Gangotri. The three and a half hour drive was simply beautiful.

The valley was unlike the valleys I had seen before… I must say it was a deep, well cut, V shaped valley. No! Not all valleys are V shaped… the earlier ones were U shaped and other shapes…
It was river Bhagirathi in the valley that was coming from Gangotri.

The vegetation consisted mostly of Pine in the vicinity of Uttarkashi; but as we approached Gangotri, the vegetation changed to Devdar. The road was flanked on bth sides by forests of Devdar

I am not sure if coconut tree is the most photogenic of all after seeing the Devdar…
There were forests and forests of Devdar…
What a view…
The tree emanates a divine aroma. The air was filled with the scent of Devdar.
Bhagirathi flowed in the valley below and we had a view of it throughout the drive. Bhagirathi is none other than Ganga but before her confluence with any of her tributaries.
At one point, when the jeep halted for tea, I escaped to a side alley where a narrow trail led to the river. Only when I stood on its banks I saw how fast the currents were and how deep it was.

All throughout the drive, as looked down into the valley, I thought one could ford he river on foot!
You really become devoid of perspective when you are in the mountains.

As we reached Gangotri, our vehicle seemed to take forever to actually reach the stand. Look! The bus and the Omni are scraping each other. I fear the bus will tumble into the valley!

I must admit that Gangotri was far more beautiful than other places I had seen so far. The most important reason being the devdar that you see in every direction you look. And then there are a few interesting places in the vicinity for sightseeing.

This is surya kund. The colour of rock which varies from milk white to peach to orange is most interesting.

I was walking towards Pandu Gufa. One of the bet walks of my life. Such breathtaking views all around! The music of the roaring river!

This is Pandu gufa. Some Baba lives there which is why you see the smoke coming from the cave. I entered from this side and came out of the other side :-)

On my way back…

This is gauri kund.

The river is flowing through such a narrow gorge. Can’t believe it becomes a sea in the plains!

The Gangotri temple.

We had to go back to Uttarkashi to obtain the permit to go to Gaumukh. The permit was being issued in Uttarkashi although the trek to Gaumukh began in Gangotri. This extra one day had a cascading effect on our schedule but we got to stay in Gangotri for some more time and savour the aroma of Devdar.

For more pictures do visit Gangotri