Feast for Thought

Not pontificating. Only trying to bat on the side of the environment. And ethics. And simple living. And slowing down. (And trying to learn and practise before preaching or teaching...)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When "clouds burst" at the "abode of clouds"...

Ahead of the Durga Puja, the Goddess was 'helping' sell everything from luxury lats to trendy accessories, even shampoo. (Do businesses employ symbols of other faiths too, during festival seasons as marketing agents and salespeople... Do they dare?) 

Ahead of Durga Puja, also, the Goddess bestowed one form of bounty - copious torrents of the life-giving liquid - water. This time through a cloudburst in India NE. City floods are quite common now, we know, thanks to rampant urbanization and poor solid waste management. Clueless administration demands Central aid, money changes hands from and to clueless Govts, grandiose plans and disaster relief measures get announced (with the media coverage directly proportional to the product of the estimated losses and the promised relief bounty).

Floods in rural areas are as devastating too. When vast open fields end up inundated, there are short and long term losses too. 

Here is a good account of one of the series of 'blessings' - "Palanquin belief & grisly reality - Almanac says Durga’s arrival on a palki spells doom; professor lists reasons for calamity" (Pictures taken at a place called Sonapur under "Dimoria development block of Guwahati sub-division, an area of Kamrup (Metro) district with hill and plain. It is extended between latitude 26°10' N and longitude 91° 45'E and its approximate altitude is 55m above MSL The temperature ranges from 6°-38°C, average rainfall is 1,600 mm per yr and the relative humidity is 76.6%. A tributary Digaru is flowing through the heart of town. The geographical area of Dimoria development block is 261.64 km2 of which, an area of 16.58 km2 is under forest. As per 2001 census, total population is 1,19,584".
"बाढ़ में जा !" is a common "Get lost!" expression.  Viewing and hearing reports of J&K floods, and seeing and experiencing Assam floods will prevent people from using this expression even against enemies, let alone fellow living,  loving beings.
So the India NE floods didn’t make much of a news item for mainstream media. Trending these days were foolishness at Delhi zoo, bitter and petty seat-sharing brawls in Maharashtra , and of course the brainless antics of a publicity-mad newspaper and one of its page 3, equally brainless bestsellers... 
Happy that Mangalyaan carried on, relentless in its onward journey.... the only true representation of undaunted optimism. 
So the least you can do is wish people "बाढ़ में  भी जियो !"


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Dear Mr Abraham Tharakan, RIP

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Rethink on the Indian Pledge...

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

More to the Beach than Meets the Eye...

Don't these queries make you curious at least, even if they have not created any consternation in you?

If you visit the Thengapattinam Beach between Trivandrum and Kanyakumari, you can see solid concrete octopods (core locs) - thousands of them being stacked to build seawalls and breakwaters to protect the fishing harbour. It turns out that ports and coastal structures are being built along India 5400 km long coastline without getting to know enough about the coastal dynamics.

Cdr Puthur has suggested a theory of how coasts get formed and get eroded, in clear language and with convincing logic. Travel along the coastline "long necklace ornamented with beautiful wave-lashed beaches, with sands white, brown, golden and glittering black" with Cdr Puthur and Google Earth. If you love the beach and the vast open sea, you must undertake this journey to realise that beaches are eroding, and may completely disappear in the not too distant future.

A story so well told, but certainly not fiction.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

To aspire and attain....

Truly, anyone can ....


Friday, March 21, 2014

The State & The Sea. And The State of the Sea

Crows are intelligent birds. All you need is a few minutes of your time and plenty of patience to observe the creature foraging for tidbits. I could do just that for a whole hour when I visited a popular beach in the Kovalam stretch on a mildly sunny Sunday morning in February. Several tourists reached the beach and set about such a routine - spread a beach towel or mat, leave belongings, use another towel to lightly 'hide' them, before heading seaward.
My subject crow waited in the wings, hopped down from a perch, stepped and jumped on the sand to reach one set of spread-out stuff, and  tilted the head to delicately peck at the covering towel to try and look for the right kind of stuff - if any - left by the careful tourists. Did I say I watched patiently? The crow beat me at that - he exhibited due diligence, patience and perseverance while looking for what he wanted.



But this post is not about this crow or any other. This is about a different kind of patience that both fascinated and shamed me. A family of three stepped into the water, each parent automatically taking turns at watching out for their young child, who would alternate between adding 'brick and mortar' to her sand castle, and playing in the shallow waves. 
This post is not about this child either. This post is about one of her parents.

Even as I watched the crow, the child, the tourists' (by-now familiar) routine (prepare spot on beach, wade into the water, wade out in a while, lie down to sunbathe), I could not help but notice that particular tourist - the parent - make several trips in and out of the water. 

Each trip back from the water saw the parent hold a short stick, with something hanging at one end, reach the adjacent rocky ledge (the ledge serves as the access to the Kovalam tourism police post) deposit the item, walk back into the waves, and repeat this sequence. 
In between trips, the parent forgot neither to help out with the child, nor to have the pleasure of wading and swimming in the waves. After all, that is the purpose for which many tourists make a beeline to tropical shores - to escape extreme winter elsewhere in our country and in the world. 

Back to the parent. I counted 21 trips. Then I gave up. Convinced that this parent cared for the child, and cared equally well if not more for the kind of world in which that child was growing. 
If one tourist can try to fish out rubbish from the sea trip after patient trip - all in the course of a brief morning sojourn to the beach - in the hope of trying to 'clean up' a portion of the beach to be used by the child, imagine the enormity of our individual and collective responsibility. 
We - each of us - have to stop dumping waste as we please
We also have to start cleaning the mess to which we have collectively contributed.

“Many of the fishermen here have been telling that recently, more than fish, it’s plastic that gets caught in their nets,” he said, pointing out that with more efforts on from various quarters to pump the city’s waste into the sea, shoreline fishing was being made a sitting duck for the ill-effects of all kinds of pollution, and not just plastic." [Quoting from  "A turtle’s tryst with waste" (local newspaper report dated 8 Feb 2014)]

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stop the Cloning of Cities!

Indian cities have been trying hard at developing into clones of big cities across the world, and succeeding. (Aside: In the matter of solid waste management they are just clones of each other). Bangalore was a laid back garden city till about a couple of decades ago, even though it was the aerospace-cum-electronics hub of India. If we put together all the pros and cons of living comfort, standards of living, and quality of life, we will find that the present Bengaluru has unfortunately lost its overall charm.

We have let globalisation and technological revolutions invade our urban spaces and our mind spaces so much, and at too fast a pace, that entire sections of urban residents have forgotten to pause, look around, smell the earth, and think of whole lots of other people to whom globalisation has meant deprivation, more financial burden and regress.

An area of the city, 8 Jan 2003 imagery

Same area 27 Jan 2013 imagery
Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) is a uniquely endowed, endearing, overgrown village. But it is increasingly obvious that this city is also hurtling down the ‘progress and development’ path blindly, with foolhardy zeal and no imagination whatsoever. Think of the city 20 to 30 years from now: only more glass facades, more high-rise match boxes marring the green skyline, and humongous concrete masses looking down on snarling traffic, tempers adding heat to treeless avenues...

Mahatma Gandhi is said to have termed the city of Trivandrum as “Evergreen city of India”, blessed as it is with plenty of tree cover, and nestled on small hills between the Western Ghats and the coast.

It is evident that with globalisation, newer technologies and industries invade and take over / overtake the very thought processes of a city and end up thrusting a narrow concept of development. Prosperity and well-being of a city starts to be measured against such yardsticks as ‘world-class’ infrastructure and the upward mobility of city residents. The public have also been manipulated and steadily moulded to believe in advertised images and perceptions of what is desirable. The unnatural creation and projection of images of perfection and desirability by the media, advertising, marketing firms, and authorities who tout ‘global standards’ delude the masses into believing that their locality and the city will attain that kind of picture-perfection - if they have wider roads, bigger buildings, more indoor comfort and malls in which to ‘chill out’. (Parks and gardens aren’t ‘cool’ enough, you see).

If you stand on a stretch of MG Road, you can easily forget that it is MG Road, Thiruvananthapuram; it could be MG Road, any other city. Do we need that kind of development that swallows a city’s original character? Nearly all of India’s metropolitan areas and urban spaces have gone that way. Cities have expanded to encompass suburban areas and have become nightmares to residents and the already (mostly) clueless administrators. Delhi’s tentacles extend to several sub-cities, Mumbai grows into the sea leaving its heart far behind, Chennai pincodes have grown to 600117 and Bangalore’s now joyless veins clutch outer villages. Why is Ananthapuri being compelled to follow those models?

  • Heritage structures and rich, green spaces on Government-owned land should be left intact, preserved for posterity while possibly serving some public purpose.
  • All the remaining green and open spaces within city limits – precious few of them – should serve as well-maintained oxygen pockets.
  • We need to reclaim, revamp and take care of public places that had had grandiose plans bestowed on them by successive Governments.
  • Why can’t we - concerned city residents – play a role in defining our vision for the city, guided by the principles of aesthetics, abundant local wisdom, heritage preservation and Nature conservation?
In this context, it is good to note the introduction of programmes like the new Urban Design Master’s course offered at the CET, Trivandrum. Let us hope that such courses inculcate a holistic, long-term vision for cities. The budding future town planners should realize that there is much more at stake than the fortunes of the brick and mortar industry.

A city’s growth lies not in numbers of Big Retail, multiple ‘brandnamas’, outsize cars, cooler and swankier malls, but in the numbers of residents who feel proud and happy about the right things – health, clean air, welcoming public places, mind-invigorating outlook of fellow-citizens. We must preserve what is left of the city’s character. Even if it means calling a stop to mindless real-estate expansion and ridiculous numbers of car dealerships.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014


Profiles of 4 faces up for grabs.... 

See the picture that shows Charadupinnikkali or Urikkali (cord-plaiting dance). This is a life-size exhibit at the Koyikkal Palace near Nedumangad. Picasa Google rather likes the complexions, and asks who they are. If you fancy any of the four profiles, claim it, and I'll let Picasa know. 

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Flaminco? Flamingo? Flamenco!... Flamenkarnatic

Flaminco? Flamingo? Flamenco!
"Spanish Flaminco Kalaripayattu Fusion" and "Spanish Flaminco Carnatic Fusion", reads the grand Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi announcement about an event that was scheduled to take place at the Co-bank Auditorium in Thiruvananthapuram, during the recently concluded IFFK 2013.

Having heard of the Spanish Flamencoand with suitable expectations, we seated ourselves; among other 'expectant' audience. On stage was just the traditional lamp. 

Item Number 1: The singer has a mike, but he stands close to the dancer and, cheek-to-cheek, he chants a few mantras. There are no props on stage, but the 5-ft traditional brass lamp that both artistes light together. The dancer’s costume is a simple 2 piece garment, and her style is a mix of Bharathanatyam and Kathakali. 

Item Number 2: The dancer has changed into a flowing gown; a Spanish guitarist and drummer join them on stage. The singer croons Tulasi-daLa mula in a format nowhere near the classic rendition of that popular Tygaraja kriti. The dancer’s routine includes several mudras, footsteps, and yoga postures. The anupallavi is followed by a Spanish song, and the kriti resumes. The dancer has now adjusted her gown length, and performs more steps with a new prop: a cape-like shawl.

Item Number 3: The next piece is a Hindi bhajan. The slim dancer is now attired in an off-white skirt and half-blouse, and she performs more steps that reveal well-rehearsed combinations of classic hand gestures and dance steps.

About the performance:
The Voice of the Body is a performance by the Spanish dancer Mónica de la Fuente and Ravi Prasad, a musician and artistic director from Kerala, in which an invisible thread intertwines two bodies on stage that vibrate in unison. Breath becomes sound, voice and song, movement, gesture and mudra. The show explores the seed that evokes each emotion, weaving voice into body in search of the connections between voice and body. The invention of new vocal codes shapes new contemporary languages, sounds that illustrate each tension or action created by the movement of different forms of expression. Movement flows among classical codes of the performing arts of India and the spontaneous creation of others.
In this space for exploring the various languages of both sound and movement, connections and unexpected encounters take place which allow the richness of each expression to be savoured and reveal the paths of cultural encounters. Flamenkarnatic stems from the encounter and exchange between artists from India (Ravi Prasad) and Spain (Mónica de la Fuente as dancer, José Salinas as singer and Carlos Blanco on the guitar) who, rather than create a ‘collage’ of virtuosity, seek to delve into the deepest roots and find these expressions which are the ‘mothers of the dance and music of all ages’, as García Lorca stated. This concert is an intercultural journey undertaken by the gypsy tradition of Flamenco in Spain into its Indian roots along a path that returns to the south of India in an emotional encounter between Flamenco music, voices, Carnatic and Hindustani compositions and Flamenco dancing techniques.
(Apparently, the show premiered in 2012 in India. See “Twain in tune”. There is no post-performance review though. Why?)

So now you know. That we witnessed neither flamingos in flight nor the Spanish Flamenco. But why did the KSNA, not pay attention to this by-no-means-small detail in their announcements? 

For the other fusion - between a Spanish art form and an Indian martial art form, see "First theater performance of "Atma Malabar" at IFFK 2013

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Some 'Bemusings' on Cameras and Photography

Unobtrusiveness ought to be the first lesson in photography etiquette for amateurs and professionals alike, before they pick up their instrument, lest it becomes a weapon that has the potential to disturb others in unexpected, unpleasant ways. I am proud to have photographer-friends who respect this etiquette.

The concert was about to begin. A piano-cello ensemble. The announcer introduced the artistes, and requested the audience to turn off the mobiles or “keep them silent”. As he walked off-stage, a popular ring-tone went off, so back he came, and reiterated his request. This time he included an extra-cautionary note: “Please note that there are no extra amplifiers, so audience cooperation is truly needed to keep the acoustic experience pleasant.”

Photo courtesy - goethe-zentrum.org
The concert commenced. The cello player faced the audience, but with head always bowed down, eyes running over the music notes, even as his hand ran over the strings. The piano artiste sat facing stage left, and presented a demure side view to the gallery. The end of each brief piece was topped up by a bow or two from the artistes.

If you have ever had the pleasure of attending an Indian classical music concert, you will be able to recall the lively expressions on the main musician’s face, his eye contact and occasional hand gestures (well-timed with the beats) to his accompanying artistes, and the overall life throughout the 2+ hour session. A still picture accompanied by a knowledgeable write-up of the concert can even compensate for a full video recording of the concert. (I have noticed that print media photographers leave the venue after clicking a few shots).

So for the life of me I could not understand what the camera wielders were trying to capture. They were obviously not the video-recording kind, they were too restlessly active in the execution of their task.
Now remember there were no amplifiers? Towards the rear of the hall these photographers were having a field day – literally, so much so that the clicks of the innumerable huge DSLR’s were by themselves producing beats, albeit discordant ones. Sitting among the audience, I was getting more ‘music’ than i bargained for - the frantic clicks of several shutter-release buttons! I wondered too what they were trying to capture. One artiste’s bowed head, another’s side silhouette, and the 'wooden countenances' of the instruments?

It turns out that not all camera wielders are professionals. Most are merely proud / flashy possessors of those long-nosed contraptions that are capable of prying uncomfortably close and deep. The extendable lens is like a relentless proboscis that tries to penetrate into another’s peace and privacy, thankfully without physical contact. An education officer with the world Wildlife Fund reveals that such fancy-camera wielders were making nuisances of themselves in forested areas intruding on wildlife territory without so much as a by your leave. Imagine the scene – a bemused elephant is staring at a trunk-like protrusion with a biped attached to the other end...

Another event, same venue. (called "The Voice of the Body" - Eka-dvayam) The show was a fusion of ‘Spanish Flaminco’ [sic], carnatic music and Indian classical dance forms, presented during the International Film Festival of Kerala. This time the irritant was flash photography. The stage was intentionally dark, but one amateur had to capture that darkness, after all! I think it is understood that you don’t use flash when taking pictures at shows that involve extra light effects.
(A word about international fusion experiments in music and dance. Who can carry out such experiments? Experts in their own field, who can understand, appreciate and respect other's music, not someone who exploits one form assuming that the viewer is an ignoramus. Having said that, I feel that critical reviews of fusion experiments are extremely rare! In this show, there was a Spanish guitarist, a Spanish drummer - who drummed on a box he was seated on, and the Eka-dvayam couple. The dancer changed and adjusted costumes - that could have been designed with more subtlety - right on stage, the singer's music was an unimpressive mix of chants and classical kriti/bhajan lyrics).

Unobtrusiveness ought to be the first lesson in photography etiquette for amateurs and professionals alike, before they pick up their instrument, lest it becomes a weapon that has the potential to disturb others in unexpected, unpleasant ways. 

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Downsides of Tourism, Progress and Development-2 - Holy and unholy truths

Are our temples too benevolent and too sacred to be maintained physically clean?

Why do pilgrims travel far and wide, in an effort to cleanse their souls while caring a hoot for the surroundings they visit? Be it Sabarimala, or Rameswaram, or any other holy abode of the Lord, pilgrims leave too many tell-tale (tell-truth actually) signs of their visit: used food packages, used clothes, used water bottles, and the worst habit of all: human expectorated spittle all over the place.

Rama theertham (most holy, but nearly dead)
There are well over 50 theerthams in the holy town of Rameswaram. 22 of them are located within the main temple and several more are scattered  over a few km distance in multiple directions.

Most of the ones frequented by tourists show plenty of signs of poor maintenance and care, by both authorities and tourists. At the Rama Theertham, no fish survives in the pond, you can see a few live ones struggling in a bucketful of water for the purpose of being fed by the pilgrims.

Lakshmana Theertham (maintained)
So what I mean to say is that there is no dearth of wells and water. Sea water, holy pond water, well water. All offering different tastes, and some possessing curing and purifying properties.

Jada Theertham (clean and clear)
One view of beach at Dhanushkodi

Villondi Theertham, on a pier jutting out to the sea

Rameswaram island has been invaded and taken over by packaged drinking water and immense amounts of plastic. So if you believe in 'Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu' seek solace within yourself!

a vessel merchant's ware is only packaged water

collections of used water bottles

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