Saturday, November 16, 2013

Barefoot on the western ghats

On a recent trip to Trivandrum,  wanted to explore some new, not very touristy place.
so, thought of going to Ponmudi,
A glimpse of Ponmudi, under a heavy cloud cover

which was recommended as a good spot to trek from.
due to heavey overnight rain and a landslide, the Trivandrum central station was closed and all trains were delayed.

so, by the time we were ready to leave the hotel, it was already past 1.45 PM.

so, we thought of visiting the meenmutty falls, which has an organized trek with a guide, arranged by the forest department.

but, that was closed for some reason and we chose to take up another small trek - that we had not heard of earlier, but proved to be a good choice.

the trek was through a thickly wooded path - we also crossed a small adivasi dwelling - and the climb in places was quite steep.

with the rains, sections were also wet
That, of course, meant leeches!

though there was a semblance of a path, most of the was was more like this:
and then we got the first close look at the river [kallar]

even as we said wow!, the guide said that this is only a teaser and that we should be going further.

we saw some uniquely shaped mushrooms - that looked like diyas -

the guide wanted us to take off our footwear, to get a better grip [some of the rocks were mossy] and we crossed the river twice.

first to get to the other side where it was easier to walk along and then back to continue to walk towards the first of the two cascades.
it was getting dark - at least inside the forest and we wanted to get back.
but our guide insisted that we go further to get even better views and only after we got near the waterfall and took some pictures, was  he satisfied.

Overall, i would recommend this spot - and i suppose there are may more such spots along the way to Ponmudi, that you would enjoy if you are interested in getting a closer feel for the rich natural environment.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Now even I can skip!


I had written about being unplugged from the net, technology etc earlier.

the digital lords seem to have a comprehensive plan to surround us with technology and make it impossible to be without them.. complete submission to the devious designs of the digital dons.

time was when miniaturization was seen as cool! from valve radios to transistors. and then the radios becoming part of the music players, phones etc – making them even smaller.

similarly, I remember that during my initial visits to the US, had to get very long cords to connect the phone, so that I could walk around the apartment, while talking on the phone. though messy and potentially a pain to be stay untangled, it met the need to be mobile while talking on the phone [for hours!].

mobile phones had the ‘hands free’ accessories , that were just earpieces and mouthpieces wired to one’s ears an the phone.

then came Bluetooth. which eliminated the need to have wires, to be connected to the phone.

then it is now wireless everything, including a wi-fi connection to the internet.

One main reason for my hesitation to use the jump rope [or skipping rope], is that my movements are hardly graceful. add to that the fear that I will make a fool of myself, by being clumsy and possibly trip myself over the rope.

when I saw this ad in an airline sales catalog – which, by the way, is one of the interesting publications that I like to go through in details, particularly on the long, boring flights.. – and felt that I – like the famous French chef in the movie ratatouille said that anyone can cook – anyone can now skip.

my experience with skipping has so far been skipping my exercises, skipping my medicines etc.

but with this ad, it looked that it was the ideal solution to help me tick off one more ‘to learn’ items in my bucket list, for skipping

Cordless Skipping v2

a digital, cordless skipping rope!

what will they think of next?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Double decker train

after a long time, had an opportunity to travel between Bangalore and Chennai by train.

having some time available, decided to try out the newly introduced double decker train, for my return, though it took a little longer than shatabdi.

for some reason, the platform for the train was not announced till quite late, just a few seconds before the train pulled into the platform.

the first impression of the train

Double decker1

did not appear very tall.. was wondering how two decks would be comfortable.

a closer look

Double Decker 2

made it clearer. the lower deck was quite low! wonder how the persons would feel, watching people’s feet, as they go past on the platform.

I guess this is how kids might feel – when they are in prams or walking with elders – with everyone else towering over you!

my seat was on the upper deck – and a window seat at that.

the luggage space was limited, but, unlike shatabdi, there were not many with airline size luggage.

Interior 1

Big windows and plug points on alternate rows .

the toilets were clean and the WC and wash basin was stainless steel like older trains, but these looked better finished.

Stainless steel wash basin  Stainless steel WC

you might notice the electrical outlet near the wash basin – which would have been compatible with multiple plug types.

and the flush operation was electronic!

Electronic flush button

the overall ride was comfortable, though the food that came on board was not very appetizing.

seemed to be limited in terms of choice and also appropriateness of timing. I could not have had a filling meal.. so decided to get home and have lunch!

the space between the seat [rows] was limited and felt constraining. the bottle holders that were attached to the front seat made the space feel more cramped. it was not very spacious to stretch one’s legs.

Cramped legroom

another point for improvement could be the entry door.

it was a sliding door, and quite heavy. for persons with luggage and also elders / children, it was difficult to push and move across.

Sliding door entrance

in spite of these limitations, I felt that the journey was comfortable.

also, being mid-week, there was not much rush and the timing at the station was also fine, with not much of a crowd.


in this trip, I also went to and from the station in Bangalore by bus. of that, maybe some other time.. as it brought some nostalgic memories..

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Mahjong, the modern rats?


I did not realize the effect a game could have on me.

when there is not even an opponent.

I have always been very impatient when it comes to puzzles. I like solving them, but mostly if I can get it in the first attempt. or there is someone else who would also join – so solving the clues becomes more fun.

that is one of the reasons I rarely play crossword. when I get stuck with more than 3 words, I give up.

I remember in the mid 80’s we used to play a game of ‘rats’ on Burroughs B20 computers. it was a game in which a factory produced rats and we need to eliminate them faster than they were produced.

I remember some of my colleagues were experts at that game, whereas, I would just give up pretty quickly..

so, when I was creating my bucket list – things to do, places to see, people to meet etc. – to keep myself productively occupied, I rediscovered mahjong..

not the traditional mahjong, but the solitaire variety – made by Microsoft, on the Xbox system.

the idea is to remove the tiles that were piled up in some pattern, one by one.

only tiles that are not touching other tiles may be removed..


once you sign in, you have the option if playing games at different difficulty levels or choose the daily challenges. three challenges per day!


as you play and reach some milestones or achieve some targets – such as some # points within a given time, you earn badges!


I guess, the badges the cumulative scores / leaderboards, provide the gratification to play more!


in the last couple of months, I used to play, like I used to play other puzzles.. give up when I could not solve it in the first attempt.

but, somehow, one month, I ‘earned’ a bronze medal!

and last month was bad, in that I could not get even that.

July, has been different so far as you will see below, I have been on a winning streak for five [six, as I write this piece] days in a row!

which means, that I also got the bonus points for solving all three puzzles in a day! and am now well beyond by bronze medal already!


this note is just to warn you that this game can be addictive! and it grows on you..

Monday, July 1, 2013

Unplugged anniversary


It has been now just over a year since our trip to kailash – mansarovar

I have been reading recently of persons who unplug briefly from the internet [and other communication channels].

I guess it is a question of an overdose of anything – in this case, social media, that one gets tired from time to time and would like some time and space for oneself.

last year, by this time, we were back from a two week unplugged experience for most of the time.

out there in the mountains, it is just space and one has pretty much all the time – except for the schedule to be adhered to for the travel.

and not really much else to do except look around us and enjoy the vastness and rarity of the air!

while, initially, there were some anxieties about how things were ‘back home’ and not having even mobile connectivity being a concern in cases of emergencies or just getting updates, as we got close to the main section, time just went by and only fleeting thoughts occasionally of the happenings in the rest of the world.

I did not miss the daily dose of depression – I mean, the news channels on TV and to a lesser extent, some of the newspapers.

the entire trip was very relaxing.

with an out of message warning that mails backlogged may not be responded to at all – and directing the senders to contact other persons officiating during that period, it was a great pleasure to just move all the backlogged mails to an archive folder, only to be looked at, when someone follows and and a reference to an earlier mail was needed.

earlier, vacations would end with a sense of dread of the inbox, when returning to work.

people practicing vipassana do this regularly.

of late, with my personal calendar becoming more packed with many things to be done and also the transition to a ‘retired’ life from work filling up the work calendar, my online presence and activities had come down.

though I did not have any withdrawal symptoms during this period [which was not the case a few years ago, even when I went on a vacation without connectivity!], I am happy to be able to spend more time online, catching up..

but for those of you looking for a digital-detox exercise, this reference might be of interest.

Friday, June 21, 2013

being civil

I recently attended a week long residential institute on internet and society.

I was the only participant among the 20 selected to attend, with a corporate background.

there were persons working on the field with NGOs from different parts of the country.

there were a couple of persons with journalism background.

some law teachers and law students.

and some from academics.

when I saw the announcement about the institute, I had to write a statement of purpose as to why I wanted to attend this institute.

I heard many words and phrases that I have only heard on TV debates or some in-depth newspaper articles – such as

digital divide, the underserved constituency, activism, access, privacy etc etc etc

I was not sure how one can spend a whole week on topics related to the internet, that we all pretty much take for granted.

at the end of the week, I had a feeling that the program should be even longer – as there are so many aspects of the internet in the context of society and to do justice would have required deeper treatment of some of the topics.

the topics covered technology, history, privacy, IP issues etc as well.

in the interactions with other participants, I learnt many new things – such as the lives of some of the tribals or how nomadic shepherds’ lives are influenced by Information and Communication Technologies [ICT] or some of the work / research with usability of Government sites in the age of e-governance, which excludes some pockets of society from getting the full benefits etc.

and a lot more .. to cover in this post. maybe I will write about some of those stories later..

but, the one moment I felt very proud of myself was when I could, as part of a question to one of the speakers, say something like ‘as a concerned member of the civil society…’

wow, a member of the civil society! – something that I heard and read a lot during the recent nationwide actions against corruption..

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Life of Li


Her name is pronouced Lee.

It was a saturday morning when I first saw her.

I was on the garden balcony talking on the phone. I don’t know why, but with a cordless phone, it seems to be natural to walk while one is talking..

then I noticed that she was very shyly trying to rise over the water, between the leaves.

I had almost given up hope.. thinking that the bulb we had would not flower..


Yes, Li was my pet name to the Lilly.

then the hide and seek began.

Saturday afternoon:


I could see the bud slowly opening.. based on the changes since morning, I expected full bloom by Sunday morning.


but Li did not seem to be in a hurry.

sunday late afternoon:


I was confused. it aappeared that the bud was withdrawing into the water..

monday morning, quickly checked before leaving for the office and it was almost like the day before.

and then, I got a call from home – around 9 AM.

that Li was in full bloom!

day 1 HomeLilly Bloom

and a picture taken with a phone..

I came home that evening, onky to see Li back into the water!


left instructions at home to keep a watch on Li and capture her activities at regular intervals.

then, I would know what she is upto, while I was away..

morning around 8.30, she was up again, sloly opening up..

day 2 Lilly 001

by 9.30, opened up some more

day 2 Lilly 002

by 10, open fully..

day 2 Lilly 003

but, notice, the tips of the petals are already seeming to get dry..

by evening, she was back to her comfort zone, all wrapped up and ready to retire for the day!

day 2 Lilly 004

I was very happy to have figured out Li’s routine.

and, I would be better prepared for Day 3!

a more frequent watch was planned.

but the best shot we could get was:

day 3 Lilly 001

she would not even come up.

So long, Li. R.I.P.

a couple of days later,

Lilly2 001

Li’s sister was out!

with the previous experience, my prediction was that she would bloom over the weekend – and I would not miss the opportunity to capture the secret life of Li 2.

Lilly2 005Lilly2 006Lilly2 007Lilly2 008 

Lilly2 014Lilly2 015Lilly2 016Lilly2 017

and day 2 was similar.

so was day 3..

now, I know that these lillies stay in bloom for 2 days, for just a couple of hours every day.

and then, they go back into the water..

even after day 1. they seem to prefer to sleep underwater at night..

Lilly2 030Lilly2 031

Li, now that everyone knows

how your life flows,

come back soon

and stay even beyond noon..

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Running at 30,000 feet

I am a walker.

I like to walk, I do not mind walking long distances or for long periods.. sometimes, my weekends have been walkends.

I have read about the runners’ high. but have not fancied running. maybe because it is much more work than walking.

as I saw many of my friends into serious running, I used to wonder, what keeps them running. they asre all very passionate about running and have developed their own techniques to stay fit, ,better their own records and plan nwell ahead to aprticipate in running events.

with the marathon being a significant aspiration.

with training clubs like runners for life, I see many new converts to running. this is not limited to bangalore. in chennai or chicago as well.

from the selection of the right shoes, to the proper methods of rehydration – and techniques to run a half marathon without any fluid intake – it is all a question of mind/body training, I heard from one of the runners.. – each person develops unique techniqies to run and challenge themselves each time.

I have also found that it is easy to get a runner to talk! and they make good conversationalists or inteersting bloggers such as this one.

recently, my flight from delhi to bangalore was more like old-time train journeys.

contrary to the silent, boring next seat neighbors who are not keen on any conversations, the two co-passengers seated next to me were articulate and we discussed various topics and shared our views.

it turnedout that one of them was a runner. who narrowly missed registering for the auroville marathon that was held recently.

talking about running experiences, a couple of stories he narrated were interesting to share:

a couple of years ago, some of the participants had suggested to the delhi marathon organizers that keepping a supply of oranges along the route will help the runners in the hot weather.

the organizers had taken this suggestion seriously and the following year, they had some stalls with oranges that the runners could pick up as they ran past.

except that these were whole, unpeeled oranges!

based on feedback again, they seem to have improved this by keeping peeled oranges now, that the runners could consume much more easily!

at the mumbai marathon, the runs was to be flagged off by actor Bipasha Basu. everyone was waiting at the start line and when the event started and the clocks were started, nobody ran! everyone was watching Bipasha, expecting her to start the run..

by the time they realized that the clock was already ticking and started, they had lost a couple of minutes – with the result that the timings for everyone that year were slower than the previous.

I have never analyzed why I like to walk. maybe some subliminal influence of one of my favourite heros – Phantom, the ghost who walks!.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A matter of Time

the other evening, as i was walking back home, a small boy on a bicycle asked ‘uncle, time eshtu?
it was 6.50 in the evening, but i yelled out ‘6.45’ and kept walking.
assuming, that the boy just wanted to get an approximate time!
while most of our lives these days seem to be governed or controlled by time, having periods in our lives unconcerned about the exact time – is very relaxing.
maybe that is why many vacations are so refreshing.
Time was – pun intended – when, as school kids who love to be out playing on the streets till we really must get back home – we used to track time by predictable events..
when we hear ‘Balaji, time for your homework’ – it would be 6.30.
if we hear ‘Ranga, Thyagu, Cheenu… time for your sandhyavandanam’, it will be 7 PM
or, it is really time to get home when we hear ‘Sundar anna, help me with my homework. have to finish this assignment and go to sleep’ because it would be 7.30..
When we were in Mumbai, it was initially strange to see that even distances are measured in time.
How far is Borivali? – about 42 minutes by fast local!
i see that used in Bangalore also. we need to plan not based on distances, but on time it might take to get past the bottlenecks.
and one of the popular topics of conversation at parties is how long it took someone – i had to wait for 7 minutes at the xxx junction; or how happy someone was, to have made it in just 45 minutes.
getting back to the main trigger for this post – as i walked further, i noticed that there were about 40% of the people without wrist watches.
But probably less than 10% without cell phones. and among those that had one, more than half of them talking – while standing, walking, driving etc..
and all cell phones have a clock.
why are wrist watches still popular?
back home, i did a spot inventory of the wrist watches lying around.
clocks 001clocks 002
i could not find my first watch – that i got as a gift for my upanayanam - to also help me with my SSLC exam, a SEIKO.
but i found the newest addition to the collection
clocks 015
a cheap watch that came free with a cereal box!
at that time, automatic watches that get wound by the normal arm movements was a major advancement in technology.
that was till the debut of quartz watches.
watches were associated with significant events, rites of passage etc. anniversaries..
i still wear a moon phase watch that i got as a company gift for completing 10 years of service.. for the last 22 years!
clocks 006
this clock was presented by my father to his, from his first salary.
clocks 012
when i had taken this to the horologist, he was very impressed that i still had this hand wound beauty. vintage circa 1930..
when i asked him if he could change the dial face or get some paint on the body, he was scandalized.. advising that i  could even think of such an action.
retirement is another milestone.
my father got this clock in 1973. and it still works. though has its own mind to stop from time to time, and will function again, after a little cajoling.
clocks 014
watches are also considered jewellery. there are special supplements in the  papers on luxury – that would not be complete without a section on watches.
with the era of digital watches, i cannot forget two images:
the first from a Dennis the menace cartoon – where Dennis complains when Mr Wilson gets a Digital clock – that he had to get it after Dennis learnt how to tell the time on an analog clock!
and the second  from one of my all time favourite books – the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy –  ‘planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea’
and this morning, i understood why it still makes sense to have old-style watches..
my smartphone had run out of battery overnight and did not go off at the set time.
it was a Sunday morning and so, no dependent damage done..