Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Following NASA

It’s not the fever or the running nose or the itching or the Body pain, but it’s the seclusion that hurts you the most when you are down with chicken pox. The varicella zoster virus, struck me down. Stranded up in a room, quarantined from your dear and near, you wonder what you are going to do during the next two weeks of imminent boredom that awaits you.
As the feeling of being an untouchable or outcaste started seeping into my bones, I looked for options to engage myself. In today’s world, where your existence on earth is acknowledged only if you have a Facebook, Orkut or Twitter account, the thought that I am an untouchable only to the physical world but not to the cyber world, brought some relief. It was then that I remembered about my quiescent Twitter account.
Twitter, which was popularized by the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Lalit Modi & Sunanda Pushkar, doesn’t need any introduction in India. But for all those who are not much updated on Twitter - technically speaking, it’s a microblogging site, where you can publish your views on anything in just under 140 characters and figuratively speaking, it’s the biggest social revolution that has happened ever since Internet was conceived.
It was during the initial days of Tharoor controversies that I got attracted towards Twitter. I created an account and started following Tharoor. I was amazed by his knowledge, jealous about his travels and happy about the controversies that he created every other day. First the Holycow, then the Interlocutor, Sweat Equity, Sunanda Pushkar, Lalit Modi, the controversies were boiling one after the other and made my Twitter sojourn interesting.
However, the interest didn’t last for long. After the IPL scam was sorted out and Lalit modi and Shashi Tharoor was shown the door, there were not many controversial high profile guys who could make my Twitter days interesting and I slowly became inactive in Twitter. But thanks to chickenpox now, I reinvented Twitter.
On my comeback I found out that it was not just Holy Cows and Cattle class, but from Barack Obama to Sumit Kumar (he is a member of Team Voyage), everybody was in Twitter. I found many interesting profiles, Rajeev Masand – India’s most popular film critic, Lalettan – Malyalees favourite actor Mohanlal, Harsha Bhogle – Cricket Commentator, Vir Sanghvi – one of the leading Indian journalists, the list went on. I started following many of them and started receiving updates on my mobile about what they are upto at this moment, their views on important issues, etc. So one day, got a tweet from Lalettan saying that he was having shooting at Ooty for his forthcoming movie “Kandahar”, the next day he was flying to United States. I wished him a Happy Journey…Yes!!! I wished my favourite actor a Happy Journey which I never thought was possible in my Life. This is what you call a social revolution. You can put your point to any damn guy in this world, let alone Lalettan, you can even scold Obama for his Afghan misadventures.
As I ventured more into Twitter, I realised that there are more valuable profiles like NASA, ESA etc. I joined them as well, and to my astonishment found that they update every minute detail of the activities carried out by their centers. I was stunned by the social responsibility they exhibit by sharing every piece of information in the public domain.
Now I get to know more details of NASA and its activities through their updates in Twitter. Last month they faced an issue with the Cooling system in the space station. Every single detail of the issue, including the problems they faced while rectifying it was updated in real time.
The experience with ESA was also not much different. They were updating a minute by minute detail of the recent Ariane Launch which put two Arabsat satellites in orbit. They even reported a last minute hold at T-7 minutes. Thanks to Twitter, BSNL 3G and Smart Phone, I could enjoy the 198th launch of Ariane lying down in my sick bed. The transparency they follow in their launch program justifies the credibility they enjoy in the international commercial launch sector.
I searched for similar profiles of ISRO and ended up in finding a dormant profile of Bhuvan. It would be nice if ISRO also have a Twitter account; it would help lot of our people in getting more details about the activities of ISRO and thereby generating more interest in space technologies. As the new age saying goes, “If you are not in Facebook/Twitter, you don’t exist”. Even JAXA has a twitter profile, but they put updates only in Japanese. It seems they are interested to share the information with only their countrymen.
As I was winding up writing this article, there came a tweet from ESA saying “Arianespace to launch GSAT 10 for India”. Hope the day is not so far when we get a tweet from ISRO saying “gsLVM3 to launch Arabsat for ….”

Serendipity


While sharing my experience with this book ‘SERENDIPITY:ACCIDENTAL DESCOVERIES IN SCIENCE’ written by ROYSTON M. ROBERTS, I would like to say that for me reading this book was utterly unceremonious as I was oblivious to such kind of any book in the market till my recent stay at space port of India@ SDSC SHAR. The book, with a catchy title could hold my attention effortlessly at the very first time when I darted a glance over it. Instantly I read few pages on my friend’s suggestion and found it an excellent book based on the breakthroughs in science which have in some way been fuelled by chance.

The book is collection of accidental discoveries in science which is of utmost importance in our daily lives like- Teflon, Velcro, nylon, x-rays, penicillin, safety glass, sugar substitutes, polyethylene, plastics etc. Other than this the book also tells about serendipitous experiences of scientists in the discovery of many revolutionary fundamental principles in science like Newton's theory of gravitation, the Big Bang theory of Creation, and the discovery of DNA. You will find it quit amusing as well as edifying to know the fortuitous connection between cowpox and smallpox by investigating the claim of a milkmaid who avoided smallpox illness in the barnyard, observing the fall of an apple and Newton’s law of gravitation, and many more. These stories clearly revels how the inquisitive human mind turns accident into discovery.

I strongly feel it a must read book especially for my peers of the scientific community and I am pretty sure that they will enjoy reading this book .Unlike novels which calls for reading in a single stretch or in minimum breaks to maintain the continuity, this book is having collection of independent stories which goes to maximum 10 pages, one can easily mange time for reading as per his choice. The book is readily available at VSSC Library.

Rubber Seed Oil – an alternate fuel

Rubber Seed Oil – an alternate fuel

As a developing country, the fast depleting fuel resources are a cause of great concern to us. So exploring the feasibility of using any alternate fuel for automobiles can greatly contribute towards prolonging our available energy resources. The most critical threat is the scarcity of automobile fuels, which can deliver maximum efficiency and pollution free exhaust. As a result, the search for alternate fuel is guided not only by the limited resources of fossil fuels but also the pollution factor.

Research studies show that the Rubber seed oil can be used as an alternate fuel to diesel in combustion ignition engine.

Rubber seed oil

Rubber seed oil, which is highly yellow in colour, is a minor source of non-edible oil in India. The rubber seeds are passed through a standard nut mill and then filtered to make it clean enough.

Rubber seeds are harvested from rubber tree, which is sturdy quick growing and tall. Rubber is traditionally grown in the hinterlands of the south west coast of Kerala and

parts of Tamilnadu. Non-traditional areas where rubber is being cultivated includes North-eastern states, Karnataka, Goa, parts of Orissa, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra. The fruits nature and ripen during July / September months are picked up every day during this seed fall season. Seeds can also be collected by harvesting fruits at yellow brown colour stage and breaking them. Each seed weighs about 6 gm. They possess hard brown coat having characteristic mottling.

Present uses

Rubber seed oil is used for making soaps and is a substitute for linseed oil in the paint manufacturing industry. Oxidised rubber seed oil is used as anti corrosive coatings, adhesives and resins coatings. Rubber seed oil with Sulphur produces a rubber compound named as factice.

Processing industry

For a long time, only small quantity of the rubber seeds produced in India were utilized for raising stock material or as seedlings for planting. Around 2000 small quantities of seeds were used for extracting oil. Later, this activity picked up gradually with Virudhunagar in Tamilnadu as the centre of effort. Originally, the collection of seeds was confined to Kanyakumari district and then it spread to Kerala also. These seeds are now collected from the rubber growing areas of the Tamilnadu, Kerala and Karnataka states.

The increase in price of non-edible oil after 1970 gave the necessary impetus to this industry. The rubber seed oil production industry is mainly concentrated in Tamilnadu and more particularly in and around Virudhunagar. The millers in Tamilnadu have been mainly processing groundnuts. These groundnut mills function after December while the rubber seed season in India is generally between July to September. As a result it is convenient for groundnut millers to process rubber seed during slack months. The climate condition of Tamilnadu is conducive for drying rubber seed prior to crushing. During July to September it rains heavily in west coast of India while it is dry in the inland districts of Tamilnadu enabling them to dry seeds in the sun.

A few units have also come up in Kerala in recent years. Some of the units processing Cashew kernel waste are located in and around Kollam. The market price of this oil at Tamilnadu is around Rs 25 per Kg.

Estimate of oil

The rubber seed contain an oily endo sperm. Generally 37% of the seed is shell and 63% kernel by weight. The oil content of air-dried kernel is about 47%. An estimated 45000 tones of rubber seed are produced during a normal year. Around 10% of the seeds are used in plantations. The oil content in the rubber seed is about 15% of the total weight of the seed. The annual production rubber seed oil is placed around 3500 tones.

Greater the percentage of carbon and hydrogen, better is the fuel in quality and calorific value since these two constituents are responsible for heat value. Nitrogen has no calorific value and hence its presence is undesirable. For a good fuel Sulphur content should be less so that formation of oxides of Sulphur is reduced leading to minimal pollution from exhaust and corrosive effects in engine parts. In case of rubber seed oil, greater percentage of carbon and hydrogen is advantageous for higher calorific value. Besides ash and moisture content is very low leaving no deposit and heat loss on account of this during combustion. Another added advantage of rubber seed oil is the oxygen content, which reduces emission of carbon monoxide and unburnt hydrocarbon from exhaust.

The inherent properties of rubber seed oil make it suitable for use in diesel engines, as an alternate fuel. Rubber seed oil can be used as a fuel in rural area for agricultural and irrigation equipments.

Development and utilization of plant based seed oils in Indian rural areas will definitely assist in extending our crude oil reserves beyond the expected period of availability.

LECTURE AT SCHOOLS PROGRAMME-AN ACCOUNT

“Beep Beep”, the alarm in my mobile was giving out its wake up call faithfully at 6 am. Grumbling about its punctuality and persistence and cursing it for meticulously carrying out its duty, I sat up, rubbing my eyes and switched it off. Vaguely, I sensed the presence of butterflies in my stomach. As the slumber- induced fog in my brain cleared away gradually, the reason sprang to my mind- the day I had to go to school and conduct classes under the aegis of World Space Week ’10 celebrations of ISRO had dawned. Suddenly, I was wide awake. I had announced my willingness to be a resource person (as we are known) on a sudden whim. But once I was briefed about the activities to be carried out, I realised that earnest effort had to be put in to pull it off successfully. A refreshing shower and a quick bite later, I commenced the final stages of my preparation for the same. By the time I concluded a swift perusal of the slides in the presentation, the vehicle arranged for our journey had arrived at our doorstep. It had been pouring cats and dogs since daybreak. The LCD operator and two of my senior colleagues from LPSC, Manoj Sir and Venugopal Sir were picked up on the way. Being experienced, they put me at ease, sharing the anecdotes of previous years and counseling me on how to tackle the students’ doubts and queries.

Our first destination was Iqbal school at Peringammala., nestled between picturesque hills and lush forests. As our van rumbled along the winding, uphill road, I noticed the students glancing curiously at the flex board displayed on the vehicle and murmuring among themselves, “Look, ISRO people have come here.“ The Headmistress and teachers there accorded a war welcome to us. The screen and projector were set up. As soon as the laptop was turned on for a last minute scanning of the slides, the power supply went off. The laptop was entirely devoid of charge. The obliging teachers provided us with the school’s laptop, but unluckily, it was low on charge too. The school authorities informed us that this was a regular occurrence and that they were compelled to rely on generators to hold practical classes for the children. About an hour would lapse by the time a generator was procured and put into operation. Notwithstanding these setbacks, we resigned ourselves and decided to go ahead with our mission.

About 100 students (of classes 9 and 10) and teachers were crammed into a library room intended to accommodate not more than 40. Having completed schooling just 5 years ago myself, it was overwhelming to behold the adulation and anticipation of the pupils and their tutors. The fact that the prestige of our organisation was at stake gave me courage. After a formal welcome by the HM and a short introduction by Manoj sir, I plunged into the presentation nervously. My senior colleagues intervened whenever I encountered difficulties , in elucidating a point or was searching for the exact Malayalam translation for technical terms. It was transformed into an active, vociferous interaction between us and the students, awakening their interest and inquisitiveness. The responses to the queries thrown at them were highly enthusiastic. Manoj sir’s quick wit elicited quite a few laughs. The resumption of power supply was greeted with rapturous applause. As we wound up, many of the children had their eyes glued to the visuals on the slides.

Subsequently, there was a barrage of intelligent, thought- provoking doubts from the listeners- how is the launch vehicle controlled and commanded remotely at the launch pad? Beyond the atmosphere, what provides the reaction force for the rocket to proceed upwards? What are the cryo fuels used in our launch vehicles? – being a few samples. There were queries on the RSR launches and the admission procedure at IIST too. We collected the feedback form and set out for our next school, the NSS Govt School, Peringammala. Emboldened by the debut attempt, I relaxed and enjoyed the panoramic view all around.

Unsure of the precise location, we went farther ahead and were ultimately guided correctly to the institution. About 200 students and teachers were seated in a large auditorium. Lady Luck smiled on us this time with the electricity authorities favouring us and the slide show was put up. Unfortunately, the microphone brought out by the authorities refused to co-operate and we had to strain our vocal chords yet again. One of the teachers delivered an excellent introduction on the observance of World Space Week. The video of C-11 (Chandrayaan) liftoff drew spontaneous appreciation from the young audience. Here too, the information imparted by us was received with immense interest and vigour. A smart girl stretched our thinking powers to the limit, probing us with numerous questions on the cosmos- regarding black holes, the theory of relativity, discovery of traces of fossil fuels on the moon Titan etc. The 15-year-old confessed to be an avid reader of Stephen Hawking, arousing our admiration with her insatiable quest for knowledge. A young man enquired,” Chechi, will you come next year also? The video was fantastic.” A few girls actually flanked us, clutching their notebooks and asking for our signatures. Almost embarrassed, I hastily scribbled ‘best wishes’, while trying to acquaint with all of them. With great pleasure and satisfaction, we bid adieu to the school and embarked on our sojourn back to the city.

Recalling this ‘lecture at schools’ programme fills my mind with elation each time. It is a glorious opportunity for us to reach out to and interact with budding scientists and engineers. Having been educated in a private school in the city, I had requested to be allotted schools in the rural suburbs of trivandrum. Although the infrastructure was found wanting in these schools, the incredible fact that the students were on par with their urban counterparts in awareness and knowledge delighted me. The intrigue expressed by the students inspires us also, to garner more knowledge on space Science, to be better- equipped to do justice to the student community during such events. All in all, it was an extremely rewarding and memorable experience.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Childhood Blues


The boy on the Goan beach had his eyes fixed on the elders of his group having fun in the sea. The belongings by his side and his partly wet clothes suggest that he was pulled out of the sea before time to keep a watchful eye on the things left at the beach.
All of us, as children would have passed through phases in life when we felt that we were denied simple things, like the one in the boy’s case, for not being a grown-up.

Conservation of Energy


“Hey! Coming for tea?”, queried my colleagues, as the clock ticked to our usual tea time. I nodded in assent and rose after switching the PC to standby mode. An accidental, fleeting glance at my neighbour’s PC revealed that it was in full power mode. Hastily, I turned it into sleep mode and switched off the lights, on my way out. A friend, who happened to witness my actions, commented mockingly,” You are really stingy!” I retorted indignantly,”This is conservation of energy, not miserliness.”
Such is the attitude of many among usunknowingly, unintentionally, we are contributing to the colossal waste of electricity in this world. Despite the advent of nuclear power, Kerala still relies primarily on our water bodies for meeting a huge chunk of our power needs. About 2100MW of the total 2350MW electricity generated here is from the 24 hydel plants in our state. In Kerala, conventional non-renewable resources (like coal) and emerging renewable resources (wind, solar, wave energy) constitute only a tiny portion of the generated power. The steady growth of population, coupled with wanton deforestation and pollution, has caused much of our hydroresources to dry up. Conscious avoidance of power wastage is a very simple, but highly effective means by which we can contribute our mite in energy conservation. Let us always remember to switch off all the lights, fans and other electrical equipment while leaving rooms, both at home and office. Switching the PC to sleep/standby mode saves considerable power. For instance, the PC (combined with monitor) consumes about 175W when it is operated in full power mode. In the sleep mode, this is brought down to 35W. When it is known apriori that we will be absent for a few hours from a room, (while attending meetings, etc.), the PC can be shut down and the AC can be turned off. At home, the TV can be switched off while it is not being watched by anybody. Use of CFL lamps in place of incandescent bulbs, taking care to switch off unnecessary lamps, keeping the fridge turned off for 2-3 hours everyday- all can go a long way in saving power. With the entire country plagued by power drought and prolonged hours of power cuts, such practices are the need of the hour.
Whenever I go to the canteen or bathroom, I perceive mindless wastage of water- from taps
carelessly left running or not closed properly. My friends watch amused, as I go around the wash area, closing the taps. Water is a precious resource and it is our duty to conserve it. There are millions of people deprived of water even for their basic needs- drinking, bathing, cooking and washing. Water is also inevitable for irrigation. Every drop of water saved by each one of us counts. As the saying goes- tiny drops of water make the mighty ocean.
Another invaluable resource that is squandered commonly in offices is paper- as printouts, xerox copies etc. Manufacture of paper requires felling of trees. Thus, wastage of paper is equivalent to mindless destruction of trees. Let us vow to minimise the use of paper to essential purposes alone. Instead of printouts of pages for verification, correction or reading, the soft copies can be utilised. Only the final, corrected copy needs to be printed out. Similar is the case with xerox copies. Further, for rough work or calculations, unwanted one-sided sheets can be utilised. We can exhort our kith and kin to keep these simple points in mind and follow them. This will assist in safeguarding our environment.
As all of us are aware, petrol and diesel are fossil fuels, on the verge of extinction. By relying more on public transport and walking or cycling to places of close proximity, vast quantities of fuel can be saved. Walking and cycling have positive implications on our health also. Instead of four or five individuals travelling alone in separate cars, pooling of vehicles can be practised in offices. Such measures can decelerate the pace of depletion of the reserves of fossil fuels.
Let us also lend our hands in alleviating the problem of plastic menace. The plastic wrappings of toffees and snacks are often carelessly flung onto the pavement by many of us. Throwing such non-biodegradable waste in garbage bins is the first step in solving this pressing issue.
This earth was a beautiful, clean place when we arrived. It is our responsibility to ensure that the future generations inherit atleast as much and not a deteriorated planet.

Touching Lives


Three people play an important role in shaping the life of a child; his family, friends and his primary school teacher
-A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
“Guru” or teacher is placed before the Almighty in Indian culture. What if we get to play the role of a teacher? What if we get a chance to shape the lives of the future generation? Lectures @ School Programme organized as part of the World Space Week (WSW) Celebration provides just that opportunity; or should I call it- a privilege.
As a resource person for the programme, I had covered 12 educational institutions in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. The experience was enlightening and I consider it one of the best services that I have rendered in my life. The greatest contribution that an individual can make to the society is to impart knowledge to children and thus train the young minds helping them to grow as responsible citizens.
ISRO has always been a technical organization with a humane face. Its’ roots are embedded in changing the lives of the common man by the use of space science and technology. But in spite of working in ISRO, we seldom get the chance to mingle with the “aam aadmi”. This programme presents us an opportunity to interact with ordinary people; especially the teachers and students, and to experience the amount of respect they have for our organization.
The programme is primarily aimed at instilling scientific temper in children and to make them aware of the applications of the various physical principles that they study in their text books. When children realizes the fact that the fundamentals of rocket science are based on the very principles that they learn in school, it inculcates interest in them to study science and mathematics with much more vigour and appreciation.
The programme starts with the identification of the resource persons by the organizing committee. They provide the volunteers with the presentation material and WSW kits, which is to be distributed to the schools. They also arrange for projector and screen that is to be taken by the resource persons to deliver the power point presentation to the children.
The volunteers get the details of the schools in the respective districts from the Directorate of Public Instruction website. Usually, a set of schools in the same area are selected for ease of travel and most importantly to ensure punctuality. The school authorities are contacted and a convenient schedule is fixed. A maximum of 4 or a minimum of three institutions are covered per day.
A sum of Rs.5000/- per resource person team (usually a team of two) is also given towards travel expenses. This is utilized for hiring a vehicle, usually a Qualis/Scorpio for travelling across the schools carrying the peripherals required for presentation. The agency supplying the projector sends a person with a foldable screen, laptop and LCD projector to our planned location.
I will briefly describe some interesting experiences that I had during this programme in 2009 and 2010.
One thing that amazed me during my visits to these educational institutions was the awareness
that students have about the developments in space science and technology.
During the question and answer session in the first school I visited last year at Kozhenchery, one clever boy asked “Did Chandryaan-1 find any evidence of Helium-3? What will be its state of existence on Moon and how are we planning to bring it back? Surprised by his pertinent question and awareness of one of the mission goals of our moon probe, I could only reply that the spacecraft is yet to find any evidence of the element and thus its state of existence is unknown.
I mainly dwell on three things in my presentation: to explain what is a rocket, satellite and payload. While describing the increasing number of satellites that are launched all over the world, one smart girl (should be from the upper primary) was curious to know whether satellites ever collide. I explained her that they are all far apart, but in 2009, one Russian defunct satellite collided with a working Iridium satellite and destroyed it. So clearly, all the nuggets of knowledge that we gather always comes in handy during this programme.
Another question that caught me off guard was from a college professor, about the failure of the Apollo probes to detect water on the moon. I could convince him by saying that all Apollo probes mainly landed near the lunar equator and that, water is found in large quantities at the lunar poles due to the prevalence of low temperature there.
During one of the visits to a school in Aranmula, the lecture was conducted on a Youth Festival
Stage. The school authorities were kind enough to stop their ongoing competitions and gave us a slot in between, on the stage itself. My colleague Deepa, made the presentation and the response we obtained from the students was unforgettable. The students watched with awe the 10 minute video of PSLV C-11 launch and Chandryaan-1 mission. Many of them were biting their nails watching the various stages of separation of the rocket and broke into applause at the sight of separation of the spacecraft.
During the second day in Kozhenchery, we accidently went to a school that was not on our list. To our astonishment the authorities still agreed to give us a slot to conduct the programme. But I had to politely deny as I had already scheduled it in another school. This made me realize the demand for the Lectures @ School Programme.
During one of the afternoon sessions, one primary school teacher, wanted to know whether, the Rs.400 crore that was spent in Chandryaan-1 mission, was to cater to the whims and fancies of the bourgeois. Being already briefed by the organizing committee not to reply to political statements and questions related to policy decisions of the organization, I politely refused to answer the question. I requested him to limit his doubts to technical aspects of the mission. But he started insisting. I somehow wound up the programme and escaped.
This year I could go only for a day but it was full of action. After finishing my first session which was marred with power interruptions, we were moving to the nearby school in our hired white Scorpio. One of the important personalities I always remember apart from Vikram Sarabhai and Madhavan Nair during the course of these presentations is Murphy and his famous Laws. I especially “experienced” one of his famous law throughout the programme- “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”
While I was paying my respect to Murphy, by explaining my experiences to my colleague Femina, a KSRTC bus scratched past our brand new Scorpio. The driver got tensed (as he was not the owner) and he accidentally drove the vehicle into a nearby drain. We somehow pulled the vehicle out and moved forward. But the driver stopped the vehicle and informed that he cannot take the vehicle further without registering the case with police. With very less time to reach the next school; three of us me, Femina and Shibu (the person who was carrying the projector) decided to move. We could not find an auto and was thus were forced to enter a crowded local bus. Hail Murphy!!! The bus caught up in a traffic jam due to a demonstration staged in the town during that time. We abandoned the bus, walked for some distance and picked up an auto and reached the school 35 minutes past the scheduled time. While KSRTC has already ‘blessed” us on the way, at the school the “boon” was from KSEB: no power. Coming out of all the confusion, shock and tension, my colleague Femina handled the class without a microphone. I could hear her voice breaking at the end of the session. But we pulled it off successfully.
The greatest gift one can get from the programme is to experience the respect people have for the ISRO. We have seen that the entire nation celebrated with us during the successful launch of Chandryaan-1. More importantly, the support prevailed even when we reported the premature demise of the mission. The support was also evident during the failure of GSLV-D3. A slice of that support and appreciation can always be seen in all the educational institutions that I visited during the course of the programme. This makes one more responsible and highly motivated to do ones duty. As one person in the organizing committee said succinctly “… this is an annual recharge programme.”
Hail Murphy!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Soorya Festival


The Soorya Festival, which holds the record forthe longest arts and music festival, is going on in Trivandrum. This year, the festival will last111 days. More than 1,500 artistes from across the country are expected to perform during this festival. Film buffs and lovers of the artswould be treated to a potpourri of films, videos,painting, dance and music, plays, religious discourses, chamber concerts, elocution and poetry and story telling over the course of thefestival.The dance and music festival will take off with a concert by K.J. Yesudas on October 1. The 10-day event will feature Odissi, Bharathanatyam,Carnatic music, Kathak, fusion and danceballet by Padma Subramaniam, RajendraGangani, Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, Neyveli Santhanagopalam and Sanjay Subramaniam.Besides being the longest festival, Soorya willalso set a new record of sorts this year. It willbe for the 33rd consecutive year that vocalistYesudas and danseuse Padma Subramaniam will be participating in the Soorya festival.The festival will end on January 10, 2011, witha stage show titled ‘Dwayam’.The festival is organized by ‘Soorya Stage and FilmSociety’ founded by Soorya Krishnamoorthy.Mr Krishnamoorthy was a scientist, workingwith VSSC. He resigned his job to pursue hisinterests in Arts and went on to create historyin the field of arts.It is really amazing to know that whileconducting the world’s longest arts and musicfestival for the past 35 years, Soorya is still a non profit making, non commercial, voluntary organisation with no office building or paidstaff anywhere in the world

MY VISIT TO A DARGAH


It was a bright Sunday morning in Sriharikota & I found myself twisting and turning in my bed, shielding my eyes from the morning sun. It was only ten past eight, but my stomach was already growling . As I toddled off to the canteen, I found my friends excitedly talking about a Dargah nearby at place called Venad, about A. R. Rahman & his sojourns to this place.
It was my turn to get excited. My plan for the day was perspicuous in an instant. Visit to the Dargah became top priority. I learned from our seasoned SHAR drivers that Venad is a one hour drive from Sriharikota. We, a team of three set off to discover the place with a faith and anxiety never experienced before.
It was our maiden visit to a Dargah. Many people are unaware that a Dargah is the grave of a revered Sufi Saint. Sufism, the religion the saint preached & practiced is interesting. Sufism on contrary to Islam, emphasizes on mysticism wherein people believe that it is possible to achieve the highest state of enlightenment in this life itself.
This Dargah is frequented by A. R. Rahman once a year during the ‘Urs’ festival. The Dargah is patronized by the music maestro, who funds for the infrastructure as well as the festivals held there. Interestingly, these Dargah’s are considered the breeding grounds for music genres such as the ‘Qawwali’ & ‘Kafi’, widely believed to be the inspiration behind songs like ‘Khwaja mere Khwaja’ in the movie ‘Jodhaa Akbar’.
On reaching the Dargah, we were welcomed by a Sufi priest, a man with a green turban, an overflowing beard & a long golden stick adorned with peacock feathers. After the reception the priest soon set off to perform his regular rituals where in he blesses the devotees in return for local produce of grains & corn. As the devotees sat in for the prayer, we went around to have a look at a rather long Dargah. It was decorated with precious clothes in green and yellow with a tree at one end and a fence thereafter. A large array of padlocks across the fence caught our attention. Later, the priest explained that these padlocks are put up by devotees as protection against ‘jinnats’ and would be removed soon after they found solution for their adversities.
This Dargah has an interesting legend. It is said that the Sufi saint visited this place in 1414 A.D. with his sister, to preach Sufism across the shores of Andhra. The Sufi saint was lovingly called Baba by the villagers. The legend has that one day, the Baba told a group of children playing nearby to bury him in a pit that he had dug by himself. The children after doing so, were extremely worried and informed the elders. The elders immediately started digging for the Baba, only to find him moving deeper and deeper into the pit. As the elders dug up to the tree still situated in the Dargah, they heard a voice from above instructing them to leave the Baba alone. It is still believed that the Baba is alive and answers prayers of his devotees.
The Dargah seemed so calm and quiet, far from the din of the city that it brought an immediate tranquility to our mind. Even today the Dargah stands as an aide-mem’oire preaching oneness to all who visit here. It was noon by the time we bid adieu to this place.

close to the heavens

This fleeeting moment revealing the Kanchenjunga in its full glory was captured in the early morning through the hotel window from Darjeeling.
The clouds obscure the mountains, the mountains stop the wind and the wind move the clouds. Eternal and relentless, there seemed to be a complex interplay of forces of nature, unfolding before the photographer’s eyes.

COMMON WEALTH GAMES



History
Common Wealth Games (CWG), formerly known as British Empire Games, were first held in 1930
in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Since 1978 they are known as Commonwealth Games. The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has 71 member nations and territories called Commonwealth Games Associations (CGAs) which include India. The three core values of CWG movement are Humanity, Equality and Destiny.

Relay
Queen’s Baton Relay is a very important tradition of CWG. It started in 1958 in Cardiff, Wales. The relay starts with a ceremony at Buckingham Palace where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II hands over the baton with her message to the players to the first relay runner and relay ends at the opening ceremony of the games. This time competitions will be held in seventeen sports.
Logo
The logo of the Delhi CWG is inspired by the chakra symbol of freedom, unity and power. The upward spiral depicts India’s growth into proud and vibrant nation powered by the coming together of her over a billion people. The tagline “Come out and Play” as an invitation to all to let go of themselves and participate in the Games to the best of their abilities, in the true spirit of the Games.

Mascot
Shera, the Games mascot represents the modern Indian. He as an achiever with a positive attitude, a global citizen but justifiably proud of nation’s ancient heritage, a fierce competitor but with integrity and honesty. Shera as also a ‘large-hearted gentlemen’ who loves making friends.

New in 2010
  • Wrestling is returning to the games after a gap of eight years with 64 medals.
  • Archery will be held only 2nd time in the history of CWG where India can hope much because of her last performances at different events. 24 medals will be at stake.
  • Tennis is making its debut in the CWG. There are 5 golds at stake in this competition.
India’s Chances
In Badminton World No 2 Saina Nehwal has raised a lot of hopes with Chetan Anand and P.Kashyap are medal prospects in men’s section. In squash India has good chance of bagging a medal or two with S.Ghospal in good form and young Deepika doing well in the women’s section. Table tennis was a big surprise in Melbourne where Sharat A Kamal emerged as champion.

Indirect Benefits
It is always a matter of debates “Whether a developing country can afford the expenditure for such mega event”. The truth is that it usually only when a mega event comes around that any city gets its sporting and civic infrastructure upgraded. It has been the case in many other cities, ranging from Barcelona to Atlanta to Sydney and Athens and latest being Beijing. Melbourne (2006) and before that Manchester (2002) and Kuala Lumpur benefited a great deal from Commonwealth Games, as did Asian Games host Doha(2006), Busan, Korea (2002), Bangkok (1998).
There is no denying that mega events cause great deal of discomfort when facilities are built, and cost overruns can have an impact on local economy. But we also have to see other side of coin. 1982 Asian Games brought about four new flyovers, three new five star hotels besides the Siri Fort Sports Complex and Asian Games Village, and above all, Colour TV, we can hope similarly 2010 Commonwealth Games will bring with it many positives. It is all about how we are seeing the things.
Take this as an opportunity to show the world that we are on the right track of Vision 2020. Let’s come together and cheer all our sports persons participating in this mega event and make them fill that we are with them.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Prayer for you


I said a prayer for you today...

I know God must have heard

I could feel the answer in my heart,

Even though he didn’t speak any word...

I didn’t ask for wealth or fame,

I know it will not last...

What I asked Him was to send,

Treasures of a far more lasting kind...

I asked that he’d be with you always,

to grant you Health and Blessings...

I asked Him to show you the Right path always...

I asked Him for good friends to share your way...

I asked Him to help you to spread Peace and Happiness...

I asked Him to protect you from all Evils...

I asked for Happiness for you in,

all the Great and Small things you do...

I asked Him to keep you Safe,

also your Dear ones...

But, it was for His Love and Care

I prayed for you most of all...

Journey to the valley of silence


It was a trip planned at very short notice (as always) when we decided to go to silent valley. Though the name “Silent Valley” was quite familiar to me, courtesy media hype regarding the proposed controversial hydro electric project, all my efforts to visit the place in the past went in vain due to some reason or the other. It took a call from my cousin, asking me about my plans for the weekend, to arouse my silent valley spirits again and I told him to be ready for a trip next day to the valley and even poked two of my uncles for the trip. We could arrange a reservation at the Forest Inspection Bungalow (IB) at Mukkali as we got relevant information from the internet.
After lunch from my home at Cochin, we four (my two uncles, cousin and I) set off to Silent Valley. Along the much improved NH43 (than when I traveled last) we reached Palakkad by 4 PM and after refreshments continued our journey through NH 213 to Mannarkkad. From Mannarkkad Junction we took the road towards right leading to Mukkali. We reached Mukkali at 6 PM, checked into our room reserved in the Mukkali Forest IB. It was quite
surprising to meet a large group from ISAC, Astro Physics Group with their family at IB who were taking rest after a visit to the core area of the forest for the day. All of us had a quite refreshing bath in the river Bhavani flowing near
the IB and had dinner from the local tea shop. The night at Mukkali IB was filled with music of the river flowing near the bungalow and occasional songs of birds and cicada!!
Next day morning we were ready to explore the core forest area of Silent Valley. Our ISAC friends had chosen a soft trek in the buffer area of the forest for the day. Since we couldn’t afford to miss the core area of renowned valley we preferred to hire a jeep and proceeded to the forest by 8.00 a.m. Our tour guide Nasser was quite talkative and kept pouring information about the valley and its history.The “Silent Valley” was referred so by the British,appropriate to the absence of cicada in the forest during early years when they explored the valley. The rain forest of the valley said to be dated back to 50 million years and is home for large number of endangered species including the Lion tailed Macaque and Nilgiri Tahr. The valley got the media attention when Pathrakadavu hydro electric project was sanctioned in the core area of the valley exploiting the water resources from Kunthi river. The project raised protests from the naturalists who finally succeeded forcing the government to set aside the project and declare the area as national park.
The 45 minutes long jeep journey from IB ended near the watch tower at the proposed dam site of the Pathrakadavu project. The watch tower offered a breath taking view of the Kunthi river also called the Sairandri. River at the proposed dam site is accessible by walk along a 2km long muddy path. An antique hanging bridge was in view at the dam site though entry to the bridge was prohibited. The river was muddy and a little wild since it was raining heavily for last 2 days.
After spending some time near river side wecame back to the watch tower. The museum operated by the forest department, provided essential information about the flora and fauna of valley and also about the geography of the
national park. By 2 p.m. we returned back to the IB with watchful eyes on the forest, eager to spot wild life. We were lucky enough to spot a troop of lion tailed macaques, monkeys, wild squirrels and birds.
With ever green memories and a handful of wonderful snaps in my camera, we bid adieu to the valley by 3pm after a late lunch from a local hotel with hope of revisiting the valley.
Rooms can be reserved at the Forest Inspection Bungalow of the Silent Valley by contacting the Wild life warden, Silent valley division in the address given below. A fax to the office of Wild life warden and a few phone calls for confirming the availability of the rooms to the Assistant wild life warden will be sufficient. Forest department also arranges a number of soft and hard core treks through the forests for those who are interested in walking through the forest.
The tribal colony of Attapady is nearby and those interested can have a visit to the colonies too. A number of private resorts also are functioning in the area for those who prefer it over the local shops and minimal stay at IB

Assistant Wildlife Warden,
Silent Valley National Park Range
Mukkali, Palakkad, Kerala, India
PIN: 678582
Tel: 04924 - 253225

Wildlife Warden,
Silent Valley Division
Mannarkkad, Palakkad, Kerala,
India
PIN: 678582
Tel: 04924 - 222056

Common wealth games … Glory or Shame?



This October, India is poised to hold the biggest sporting extravaganza so far to be held in the country. This 19th Common wealth game involving about 70 countries with 6000 sportspersons is arguably the third largest sports meet after Olympics and World cup football. It is the first time that the games are coming to India and second time in Asia (after 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia). Though critics may claim that our country have more grave issues to attend than games, one must not forget that this is an ideal opportunity for us to show case the modern and developed India.
More often than not, the games have always been in the news for bad reasons, especially during last month or so. Financial irregularities have been the point of contention along with acute tardiness in the preparation of venues for
the games. Unfortunately our media, especially the visual style, is celebrating the issues and thus giving it a much
wider publicity than required.
Outside India nobody is bothered if it’s the Kalmadis’ or someone else. Rather the
whole world is eagerly watching whether India can pull this off. To give an idea about how the media reports are received abroad, according to my friend residing in Australia, public there are passing judgments that Indians
aren’t capable of holding games of this stature and are more interested in making money than games itself.
It’s vital that corruption of any form should be brought to the public. But too much hype about it, that too at this crucial juncture with only days to go for the games, is uncalled for. The people who are alleged to be corrupt, if found guilty, should be dealt seriously. But this could wait till the games are over. Instead our focus should be more on how best we can help our nation to gear up for the games. Main concern should be that most of the stadiums are still under construction. It’s high time that all of us in our own way do a bit and get the nation ready for the games. Here the media has a huge role to play; rather than playing out the corruption issue again and again it should shift the focus on the issues of under preparation – be it about venues, games village, roads, hospitals or anything related. This will keep the authorities as well as public informed about the pending issues. It may even inspire some of us to come forward and contribute in some way.
The problem of under preparedness was raised even back in 2009. If adequate actions were taken at that time things wouldn’t have been in such bad shape. Now that government have taken steps to tackle this issue by appointing 10 officers of the rank of Joint and Additional Secretaries to oversee the progress, hopefully, we will be ready in time for the event. Each of these officers is allocated a stadium and given the responsibility to ensure that the work completes in time for the games.
It’s already late, but better late than never. Let’s hope coming October 3 to 14, the world will witness the best ever commonwealth games till date and India rise in glory on the world stage.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Onam @ VSSC


Tomorrow, there is ONAM celebration at VSSC. 'Athapookalam' competition, onam feast, people coming to office in traditional Kerala attire - a day for enjoyment amidst our regular schedule of work.

"Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. "

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Raidurg - The Unpublished Travelogue


Every trip to shar has been adventurous, starting from standing in queue from 4'o clock in the morning for booking tatkal, boarding the train with a waitinglist ticket which never got confirmed, traveling in general compartment, trips in state transport buses, catching late night trains, eating out in the unhygenic environment in dhabas, ..the list never ends. ...but nothing was never so adventurous than this particular trip of ours..and so memorable too...

The idea of the trip to Raidurg came when someone lamented about the tastlessness of food at SHAR. Our 'always ready to help' driver Muniraju suggested that he will bring food cooked at his house. That was an offer we couldn't resist. He mentioned about a fishing village on the border of SHAR's northern territory where we could get fresh fish. There was no second thoughts, the illtreatment metted out to our tastebuds by the canteen cooks was crossing all limits. We started our journey towards Raidurg in search of fresh fish which ultimately would satiate our desire for good food.

After traversing a few kilometers, we felt as if we were having a jungle saffari. The road had electric fensing on either

sides. Beside the fencing was thick forest. The forest, at times give way for beautiful lakes and backwaters. The road ahead of us looked as if it never ends and its not going to take us anywhere. There were no buildings in sight, for that matter there were not even a sign of human existence.
As milestones passed by, we even started doubting the intentions of our driver. As these ominous thoughts were engrossing our minds, the vehicle stopped in front of a giant stone gate. That was the entrance to an old temple. As we tried to enter the beautiful old dilapidated building, scores of bats came out. The sight resembled something like that of a ghost house. We roamed around the premises, appreciating the scale of stone work in the building and wondering why no one tried to preserve this, something like the church building in VSSC. Our driver asked us to speed up warning us of the difficulty in driving during late hours. We got into the car, partly heeding to his warning & mainly to meet our culinary requirements.

The pucca road gave way to kachha roads. After a few minutes of drive, we reached the last watchtower of CISF. Our driver stopped the car, we got down and walked a few steps to reach the river front. There in front of us unveiled the most beautiful place in SHAR.
The sight of "Raidurg" was so captivating that we forgot the whole purpose of our trip. In front of us was a vast river, and on the other end a beaitiful island. There was a boatman on the other side with his small boat which was the only way to reach that island. We communicated our intention to awail his services by using the only way of communication available there - 'whistling'. He responded in the positive and in a few minutes we were onboard the boat, propelled by the most fuel efficient method, by pulling a rope tied to a tree on the island.

As we ventured more into Raidurg's territories, our astonishment saw no bounds. We felt as if we were travelling back in time. There were no roads in the village, no motor vehicle, no schools, no hospitals, there were just walkways. On either side of the walkways were beautiful huts, walls of which were made of mud and the roofs thatched with palm leaves. The houses were too short that we wondered how people can stand inside them. The houses had beautiful fences made of tree barks, the likes of which is very difficult to find in our world.
The whole village was like a big family.As we walked across the village we could see eyes popping out of the huts, watching us as if we came from some other planet. Women were seen busy doing their household chores. Men were sitting in groups, engaged in some discussions. After a few steps we came across a small shop. There was nothing much for sale at the shop, except for a few packets of biscuits, two cigarette packets, bundles of beedis and half a dozen small snacks packets. A few men where sitting near the shop and were busy chitchatting. As they saw us, they enquired Who we are? Where we are from? Why we have come tere? and What they can do for us? Ofcourse all questions were posted in a polite manner.
Before we could say anything, our driver replied. "we are scientists from Kerala & we came there in search of toddy"of all the other reasons toddy. We stood there stumped at the answer which was never our primary intention. We thought we are screwed - comming to a village in groups and asking for liquor. Oh god!!! Who is going to save us from their fury?
Before we could react, one man from the group asked as to follow him. He took us to a small hut. In front of the hut was a lady who was sitting in front of a big pot. The man conversed to her in Telugu, the meaning of which we could not decipher. She took a mug and using a measuring glass, she took a mug full of toddy from the pot and offered to us. Oh! we just realised that we are in a village where toddy is a small scale industry & women work from home by selling toddy. We proceeded to take more mugs of toddy but was not impressed by the taste. The man who guided
us to the lady, understood our displeasure and told us that he will take us to a place where we will get better toddy.

After paying 5 rs per mug of toddy, we moved on to our next destination, wondering at the cheap rates at which toddy is offered and cursing all the liquor barons in civilised India for exploiting poor drunkards. At the next hut, the toddy was tastier. Number of mugs went up exponentially and before we could reach astronomical figures came the next warning from our driver in the form of a gentle reminder.

We winded up our trip and proceeded to go back. While waiting for the boat in the serene beach, we collected some beautiful shells from the shore. With hands full of exotic shells and mind full of sweet memories, we bid good bye to Raidurg.

We postponed our plan to buy fish as it was too late and went back to hostel canteen. The notorious dosa and sambar, the worst any cook can make, was waiting for us.

Wayanad


Starting our journey from Trivandrum on Thursday night, we reached in time at Kozhikode the next day morning , courtesy Malabar express. We checked in at a hotel near railway station and got freshed up. After having breakfast we left to the town bus stand to board a bus to Sultan Batheri, a major town in Wayanad district. The 2.5 hr drive from Kozhikode to Sulthan Batheri along the picturesque ghat road known as Thamarassery choram was breathtaking. As our bus wound its way up the Ghat, we craned our neck through the windows to have a peek at the nature’s wonder. We reached Batheri by noon and had our lunch at near by restaurant.
After lunch we hired 2 jeeps & set off to visit sultan fort ,the fort which Tipu sultan built during his regime. It is said that the sultan built this fort mainly to store his ammunition with an ambition to expand his empire to far south of kerala.After visiting the fort we left to the near by Kanthanpara Falls. The route to waterfall took us past sprawling tea plantations.
After having a lavish bath at the waterfall , we headed off to the nearby forest area were tribal people lived. Here one could notice their high raised dwellings built as precaution from the menace of wild life. They mainly earned living from farming and selling products which the forest offers them. It was late by that time and we had to leave for our ‘home stay’, where we had arranged a campfire and a sumptuous dinner.
Next day early in the morning we headed off to muthangya wild life park as it was the apt time to spot the wild life. Accompanied by a guide, we drove our jeep into the park with the excitement of encountering wild life in close quarters. First a heard of spotted deers caught our attention and in no time they disappeared in to the thick jungle sensing our presence. Finally we could spot a heard of wild elephants .Two among the heard were engaged in a war
while the others were busy grazing. It was amazing to watch them ,we quickly took some snaps and left the place. We continued our venture in to forest.
After 3 hours ,our adventurous tryst came to an end. We left the place with mixed feelings as we couldn’t site any beast in the wild . Soon we left to visit Tirunelli temple. It was a pleasant surprise to see a place of worship in middle of dense forest. From there we set off for the primordial Edakkal Caves ensconced atop the Ambukuthi hills near Ambalavayal.
The Edakkal Caves are basically two rock formations. They’re believed to have been formed by a large split in a huge rock. Legend has it that they were caused by the arrows fired by Luv and Kush, the sons of Rama. Like the world-renowned Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, the Edakkal Caves too were stumbled upon by British (in 1890) while on shikar. After getting versed with these historical facts we started our ascent to the pinnacle of the magnificent Edakkal caves. Soon we came across some engravings over the walls of the caves. It is said that these engravings shed light on the existence of a Stone Age civilization in Wayanad. After taking some snaps before those engravings we resumed our journey upwards .We were kissed by the mist and the sky was threatening to open up as we crawled on our 4 limbs during the last stretch of our trekking. Finally we reached the pinnacle even though it was pouring down.It was a breath taking view atop .But unfortunately we couldn’t spend much time as the guards asked
us to evacuate as it was getting darker.Then we got down and left for our home stay.
Next day we started early for the awe-inspiring Chembra Peak (towering 2,100 meters above sea level, Chembra happens to be the highest peak in Wayanad).The whole trekking exercise was a thrilling experience in itself .For people who love nature it’s a must visit. Though the trekking took a toll on us, we kept on marching as the picturesque chembra was so inspiring for us to move ahead. During the four hour long expedition along the peak, we came across several lakes with peculiar shapes, the one with a heart shape is worth mentioning.
Finally we drove back to sultan bathery. After bidding adieu to our driver chetans, we took a bus to Kozhikode for catching our train back to trivandrum.
Other places to see around in wayanad are pakshi patalam ,kuruva island,tolpatti forest. However, the monsoon season didn’t allow us to visit those places.
If Kerala is God’s Own Country, then Wayanad undoubtedly is its capital and hence a must visit for nature lovers around the world.

LAKE OF TRANQUILITY


Perched on top of Neelagiri hills and surrounded by evergreen conifer,“PYKARA LAKE” (situated about 21 km from Ooty, on Ooty-Mysore road) has not earned its rightful place as a tourist destination.The Placid water and enchanting smell and sound of the woods has slowly started attracting tourists, especially couples.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reflections


This frame was captured during early morning at Kappukad near Neyyar. This scenic place wouldn’t be missed by any keen eyes while travelling from Neyyar to Kappukadu by foot.
The transient moments in the unsettled early morning sky opens a box of surprises for the one wielding a cam.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

RAIDURG – THE LOST WORLD


How will you feel if you got a chance to step out of your daily life? Say, someone casts a spell upon you and you got transported to a different world – a different place, a different era. Where all identities of the present world are conspicuous by their absence so much so that you feel time itself has stopped moving. It would be a surreal experience. That’s how we (a bunch of 8 adventure-seekers) felt when we recently went to “Raidurg” – a place close to SHAR.

Now, SHAR is not exactly a ‘tourist’s paradise’. But, even in this forsaken place, there is a small pristine paradise. Situated on the northern fringe of SHAR, surrounded on all sides by the PULICAT and totally cut-off from the mainland is Raidurg. One of our friends who had visited this place recommended it to us as a place to get good fish. So we decided to give it a try and all 8 of us bundled ourselves into a hired taxi (the faithful ambassador) and landed at the place.

Raidurg is a small village and the only means to reach it is by a boat. We saw a fisherman on reaching there and we hitched a ride in his yacht.

As we entered the village, we felt as if we had gone back in time by at least 50 years. There were no roads, only man-made trails. The huts in the village were very short. One can enter only by crawling on all fours, and then inside, there isn’t any place to stand upright. Bushes and shrubs around the huts served as fences. As we entered the village, we could see people sitting in front of their courtyards and passing away their time in idle chit-chat. Children roamed about on the streets playing their merry games and women were busy in their homes doing their daily chores. It was like a ‘50s black-and-white movie playing.

We started wandering around. Wherever we went, people stopped whatever they were doing and stared at us. It was as if they couldn’t believe people from outside could come into their small hamlet.

We were roaming around when our de-facto guide (the taxi driver) took us to a house where a lady was busy preparing something – and the next minute, we all had a glass of toddy in our hands. It seems toddy making is a cottage industry here. We had a drink but didn’t like the taste. Sensing this, our guide took us to another house where the toddy tasted much better. So, while we entered the village looking for good fish, we ended up having toddy instead. Great !!!

The place drew us towards itself and we were happy to oblige. We wanted to spend as much time as possible, but couldn’t as evening was approaching fast and we had a long way to go back. Besides, we had to go to work the next day. So, spending the night there under the open skies was out of question though it would have been great. We felt sad to leave the place. But, on the bright side, we can always come back here. This place is not very far from SHAR centre and if one has any spare time, he can always plan a trip here. Atleast, it will make our wretched stay in SHAR feel better. It’s with such happy thoughts that we finally bid adieu to the place and came back to our hostel rooms.

TRIVIA:

  1. There is an old temple on the way to Raidurg. This temple is now in ruins. Anyone interested in historical adventures can check it out as it looks to be a great place for exploration.
  2. Don’t forget your swimming trunks while going to Raidurg, else, you may miss out on a great swim.
  3. This place has a wide variety of sea shells. Anyone with a keen eye can get a nice shell without much effort as we got this time.
  4. Though the village is not connected to the mainland, it still has some modern amenities like DTH, telephone, schools etc. yet it retains its old world charm inspite of that.
  5. On the way to Raidurg, there are lots of small lakes, each offering itself as a potential spot for picnic.



FROM CHENNAI TO SULLURPET

"Train number 2436 to Sullurpet will leave shortly from platform number 13”, announced the familiar voice at Chennai central’s suburban railway station, prompting me to hoist my bag and rush to platform number 13. Finding the ladies’ compartment, I scrambled into it, placed my bag on the luggage rack and dropped into the only vacant seat, resigning myself to two and a half hours of imminent boredom. The whistle blew, the train pulled out of the station and I marvelled yet again at the furious pace at which electric trains accelerated.
The lady sitting next to me (munching ground nuts and phone plugged to her ears) was regarding me with a bored expression and soon turned away, evidently dismissing me as uninteresting. Two toddlers, one enthusiastically looking out of the window, and the younger, reclining on his mother’s lap, set up a loud howl of demand, when a vendor with snacks walked past, shouting out his wares. Sadly, their mother had other ideas. A kindly lady, seated adjacent to the family, resolved the crisis, by proffering her own purchase (some crisp snack) to the kids.
I looked around the compartment, vaguely taking in the social, economic and age diversity among my co-passengers- aged mothers, their twenty-something daughters beaming proudly at their young offspring, college students chatting and laughing with their friends, school children, attired in uniforms of various colours, carrying bags that would put seasoned weight lifters to shame...most of them had the orange kanakaambaram flowers decorating their plaited hair and the yellow of turmeric paste was clearly visible on their faces and hands..
The train slowed down as quickly as it had picked up speed and came to a screeching halt at a station. A mass of humanity moved into and out of the train, jostling each other in the process. All the seats being filled up, the new entrants of all ages immediately dropped to the floor and settled there. Atleast 4 people were settled on seats with spaces intended for 2 and I thanked God for creating humans with such sisterly love. A 4-year-old young man was voicing his protest loudly against the humiliating treatment handed out to him by his callous mother, making him sit in a ladies’ coach. His mother was busy conversing with a neighbour, a just- acquired acquaintance.
As I watched fascinated, the steady stream of vendors continued- oranges, guavas, murukku, samosas, mixture, pakoda, nuts, biscuits and what not. Everyone appeared to be prepared to buy everything on offer. The unceasing consumption of eatables of wide variety and rapid socialising were carried on with vigour by the newcomers who replaced those who disembarked at the stations that came and went. The tradesmen, men with admirable athleticism and acrobatic skills, balanced their baskets on their heads, while expertly weaving their ways among their customers (crowded on the seats and squatting on the floors ) and their voluminous shopping bags. The tiny, juicy oranges (sold incredibly cheap) and the hot, yummy samosas found many takers, as did the ever popular ground nuts and popcorn. People were very courteous, willingly sharing their purchases with their new-found friends. Indeed, the brisk trade going on before my astonished eyes would have aroused envy in the owners and salesmen of even the most-profitably run eateries and restaurants.
An elderly lady, seated facing me grinned, revealing her toothless gum, and enquired,” Time evvalavu ma?” As I glanced at my watch and replied, she ventured, “nee enga pore?” Then she proceeded to narrate to me, all about how she was going to visit her son for the day and how she will be returning by the evening train.
Before I knew, the clock had wound forward by two hours, the crowd had thinned out considerably and I beheld the name board of Sullurpet station. As I extracted my luggage and alighted from the train, my mind was filled with remembrances of the eventful, if not entertaining train journey I had just experienced. I’m still astounded by the ease with which the simple folk fraternised with each other and became comrades, virtually exchanging their life stories and also, the hugely successful trade carried out by the numerous tradesmen. To this day, this intriguing train journey remains etched in my memory.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vada is Never Free


Vada is never free!!” You always have to pay for it. The price might vary from 2.5 rupees a piece to 5 or 10.(maximum I have ever had was of Rs. 5/-) depending you eat it on the roadside or in a hotel(source of data: Hotel Vasantham Menu card ).

This post is written to help all those north Indians who come to Kerala for the first time , maybe for honeymoons and for them who are coming because their company TCS has given them a joining(....finally.....) and the training is in Trivandrum (not Trivendram) aka Thiru Anantha Puram. This article will help you to live and survive and also enjoy Kerala. It is because these are experience of a normal North Indian Guy(whose hometown is at U.P,Uttaranchal, Haryana border…so this makes him quite a north Indian and so is a perfect test matter for experimenting in Kerala.). but this first post, this first Very important post will save you from the sorrow you could have, when you order your first tea in kerala.

But you might be wondering why did I suddenly had this idea, this innovative thought to write about such a important topic that has been left out by many eminent cultural writers, tour guides, people from Discovery and NG channels. This enlightenment din’t came like this only. Like Lord Buddha saw 7 scenes before he decided to renunciate the world, I also had this motivation to write this after that memorable incident of my life.

Well it all happened when I first sat down on a creaky old stool near Trivandrum Central Railway station after a 5 hours journey from Cochin to Trivandrum, to have tea(aka chaya and not chai ), for the first time, in god’s own country, aka Kerala. So I ordered tea and few idlis(I think it was 2 idlis). The waiter, who was a very generous and kind hearted fellow (atleast I thought he was so at that time )brought along with the order a VADA. Btw for all those who don’t know what a vada is, maybe some foreign nationals or NRI’s or american born confused desis ,(+dubai born ones too) let me give some preliminary details.

A VADA is an Indian dish, I don’t say it’s a south indian dish. This is because I have had vadas when I was in north india too. Only difference was that they were called DAHi-VADAs because they came with DAHi or curd while the ones I get here in south, are with chatni …and obviously it is with coconut chatni. So a Vada is made by first grinding Urad daal (donno what is it called in English ;?), making a paste of it and then frying it in oil. The shape and size is subject to market conditions and taste of people, maybe also on latitude and longitude of the place. The ones you get in kerela are like the enlarged version of polo poppins, hope you remember the ” mints with the hole” from your childhood. It is brown and may contain black chilli and curry leafs(again this may vary according to various factors as mentioned above).

So on getting that Vada I was very happy and feeling lucky too. Since it was 24 September and as far as I knew, it was not a festive season too.” Maybe it’s an offer for all the customers!” , I thought in my mind.”maybe in Kerala with 2 idlis you always get a Vada free..” , I was pretty delighted and started dreaming about all the free vadas that I was going to have for free, for rest of my life in Trivandrum. Being indian, its always good to get things for free. This is an established fact now.

So after enjoying the most delicious vada, I have ever had I till that day, I went to pay the bill. It should have been 15 INR according to my calculations(5+5 for idli and 5 for the chaya)so I took out a Rs 10 note and a brand new shining Rs 5 coin and presented it before the lady at the counter(in kerala you see ladies working everywhere, no wonders its f/m ratio is above 1000..more about this later), but she said ……..something.... something she said.....

“No malyalam!!” I replied making signs.

She waved her open palm and said “5 Rupees”.

“What for??” I asked astonished, because being from a engineering college I was sure that my math was fine.

“The VADA….!!”

“But its free!!..”

Opening her eyes wide and staring at me as if I had just called a bad omen, (and breaking all my dreams, my lovely lovely dreams about all those nourishing elements, those precious moments of glory I was going to experience with all those free VADAS)….she replied..

“VADA…VADA IS NEVER FREE!!!”