Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Journey Back

I woke up at an unearthly hour of 3am because I had a flight at 6 am. Got driven down to the Chennai airport where I was greeted by lines at the check in counters that might have put those at the Ludhiana counter of the Chandigarh ISBT to shame. I always thought that air travel was slightly hassle-free. But now I have come to realise thats its only more so.
The flight took off o time, down below was a thick carpet of clouds that stretched away to eternity. Reaching Banagalore, the pilot decided to get back to Chennai because of fog!! First time I heard of fog in Bangalore when there was none in Delhi. The only good part was getting to see a most delightful sunrise over the clouds.

Some of the passengers decided to catch up on sleep.

Eventually reached Delhi at 2pm in stead of 10am. Hungry, and tired. And went away from the airport looking for old flames.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Trip down the East Coast Road-2

If Mahabalipuram was fun because of the photography, Pondicherry promised to be better because of the photography and the booze. We goy out of Mahabalipuram and drove on to Pondicherry. Pondy was a french colony before the French gave it up and went back home. However as one enters Pondy, the only thing that probably strikes one as being out of the ordinary is some sort of a tax that has to be paid for driving within Pondy. Still the booze kept me going on. I also wanted to see what the french architecture is all about.Mr Shiva kept up his taciturn demeanour as he deposited us at a huge under-construction temple where photography is prohibited.

Pilgrims had written their prayers on strips of paper, hoping to be heard. The priests inside were all out in their traditional costumes, people standing in a queue for their sight of the idol. All very fine but I went out and ate Khichdi that an old man was distributing to the poorer pilgrims around. Was delicious. We went on to where the action lay. As we entered the city I sa my first policeman in the French kepi and was most excited, much to the amusement of Mr Shiva who asked if I wanted to take a picture. Of course I do, I replied and he just drove on, eventually stopping on the Rue de la Marine in front of a couple of push carts selling pirated pornographic DVD's.
The Rue de la Marine was probably the most important street earlier. Now it has the french consulate and the Aurobindo Ashram and has a couple of important landmarks nearby. Walking down the street one reaches the sea.

An old man on the RDL Marine opposite the Aurobindo Ashram. I looked on for my policeman in the Kepi, wouldnt go back without him.

The french connection.

The french consulate, has an old door with stained glass inside. Photography here is prohibited. I took this picture sitting at a cafe opposite the consulate, the sea breeze blew the paper plate away and stained my only clean shirt. The consulate has the flags of France and the european Union that are dutifully hoisted down at sunset.

As i chanced across this street, i remembered for some unknown reason these lines that I had read as a school boy in a musty english textbook. With compliments and apologies to O'Hara, from "The Last Leaf"

In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called "places." These "places" make strange angles and curves. One Street crosses itself a time or two. An artist once discovered a valuable possibility in this street. Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself coming back, without a cent having been paid on account!

This part of town is full of old-wordly charm , saw these two ladies catch up on old times at the aurobindo institute opposite the Ashram.
Contrasted merrily with this tropue of rather giggly and definitely pretty school girls who like all good school girls had made a line to get into the Aurobindo Ashram. They gave us magnificient company until the time that we were there. My friend gaurav was ready to leave psychiatry and spend the rest of his life here.

Photography inside the Aurobindo ashram is not allowed. It was beautiful inside. I know nothing about Aurobindo, but when I got back, I did some reading and found some interesting stuff here. The samadhi was covered with flowers with all manners of people sitting besides it, with their heads bowed, touching the marble and lost in meditation. Fair number of foreigners too, and people in wheelchairs. They are supposed to be espescially benifited by his presence. Such scenes, always fail to move me. Maybe I am a bit psychopathic.

Walked out to the Manakula Vinayakar temple which is just down the street. It too was full of pilgrims and flowers. An elephant guards the entrance, and who ever gives it an offering, gets a blessing in form of an elephant trunk banging down on the head. Almost got my turban knocked off. Maybe the elephant had not seen a Sikh before. Gave it a huge laddoo and this time, the elephant looked in better humor.

The mahout catches up on gossip from his perch as the elephant looks on hungrily at a stall of coconuts across the road. By this time, the memory card was getting used up too, and so picture taking became more focussed than before. I hate that.

A future forecaster, he must have predicted it because he was ssoon surrounded by a bunch of school girls. The parrot picks up a card at random, and that is the client's future. Any takers?

My luck soon changed as I saw this policeman in a Kepi as he drove down on his motorcycle. I stood in the middle of the street to stop him from getting by and when he stopped, i started my "Can I take your picture" routine in sign language, there was soon an interested and curious crowd around.

The beach at Pondy is rocky unlike Chennai and mahabalipuram, but is a favorite haunt of a lot of people.
A cotton candy seller at the beach. I was rather pleased at the result.

As we drove back, passed by the church of immaculate conception, beautiful. Wish I had an SLR at this place, the church itself has lost all definition, the highlights have blown out. Needed to take 3 bracketed exposures and then combine in ps.

Thereafter, we got to a shopping area where we all brought some cheap and non-pornographic pirated DVD's. Haggled and bargained in sign language and got one for Rs 20/- only.
Soon we reached an alcohol shop, as is common in the south, people drink standing at the counter of the shop. the helpful shopkeepers provide the glasses. We brought more than adequate quantities of beer and a bottle of brandy for Mr Shiva and drove back. Mr shiva helped out by being fantastic and producing out of the boot of the car some MP3's with punjabi songs. And we all sang along.
As the diuretic and the intoxicating action of the beer kicked in, we all raised our little fingers and asked Mr Shiva to stop where we could leave a mark in the Bay of Bengal. Mr Shiva thought for a long moment and said, "saar, there is Rs 50 fine for doing that". We took his warning and irrigated the coconuts instead.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Trip down the East Coast Road-1

A small church on the ECR

The penultimate day of ANCIPS-2007 was devoted to improving the hedonistic tone in my limbic system. The one thing that consistently does that is being able to use my camera in a meaningful way and to be able to finish a bottle of beer in quick time. A drive down the East Coast Road (ECR) to Pondicherry via Mahabalipuram seemed to be just what the shrink analysed (pun). Anyways, Pondicherry because its one place in India where booze is about as cheap as water and also because the road is supposed to be scenic and promised to deliver a lot of photo-ops. Therefore, our stern and Hindi challenged driver, Mr Shiva was sought out. And off we went.
There is precious little of the east coast visible from most part of the road. Instead, there is a surfeit of cutouts of Stalin, and more Stalin. Of course, Karunanidhi is around too. Also are the mushrooming resorts, hotels, houses and villages. This is all Tsunami country and here and there, are planatations of trees, ostensibly to break the force of the next tsunami. The sea is immense, and streches on for eternity, i saw a helicopter come in from over the sea and felt a twinge of anxiety thinking of being all alone and in so vast a bare playground of nature. It must have been devestating.
There are some salt pans along the way too, and I was pretty surprised to see people standing nonchalantly nose-deep in sea water seemingly doing nothing. That was until I asked Mr Shiva what they were upto. They were making the trenches in which sea water is evaporated to get the salt. There were a few photo-ops, true. But by the time, I could convert my "BC, Gaddi roko" into english, Mr Shiva (who I am sure, understood only when it suited him) was too far down the road and I too lazy to walk back to the photo-op place.
I had this terrible craving for coconut water and longigly looked at all those coconut trees. And remember thinking to myself that I would be really unfortunate if I conked off just now and went to hell unrequited. Said so to my Bengali friend who was suitably horrified at such morbid thought processes.
Eventually, we got to Mahabalipuram about noon. The entrance to Mahabalipuram is guarded by a man with a rope and a slip of entry that costs Rs 20/- and says Mahabalipuram panchayat. Opposite the man is a stone platform that was left unfinished in antiquity. The air is filled with stone dust from the many workshops that make statues and curios for toursits and the like. The subject mostly being mythological. Its big busts, broad hips, thick lips and no or a few clothes everywhere, unfortunately all in stone. Even in ancient times, South Indians liked plump women. Getting to the first temple complex, fulfilled my vow of having coconut water before I conk off at the ridiculous price of Rs 20/-. Only two problems, I got fleeced and now I have many more things i want to do before I slip away. Humankind is so very mean.
I only read about Mahabalipuram after getting back home. This makes for fantastic reading. There is so much to explore, this place alone is worth a week. Just make sure you do your homework.
The first temple complex we went to is the Ratha complex and later we went to the shore temple. The shore temple is pure heaven. The surf and the sand, the temple and so many beautiful people around. I wanted to stay there and rest for a while.

Now even though, its tough as nails to upload all of these pics, but then I cant resist a captive audience and since Tatastha is getting so many accolades ;-) on my blog, I hope there will be some wise comments from her for this post too.

Ratha Complex

The view from the entrance, walking on the sandy soil. These monolithic temples made me imagine all those times that we will never know.

Nandi the bull is a patient playmate for this young kid who found thisplace ideal for a quick game of hide-n-seek. It always surprises me, the way such places are so much in-your-daily-routine type of places for locals. Tourists like us can only gape and look soppy.

The stone lion guards the entrance. It is also nice as a shady place.

My friend kaustav got stuck climbing up this rock face, we got a picture of both his ends. :-))

Making up in ancient places, this girl was pretty pissed with her elder brother about something. they soon made up.

Two artists, two media, two perspectives, one object of desire. I always find this interesting.

Two kids, they were happy to see a huge, overweight sardar taking their picture. I thought they made a nice subject too.

I was walking back when I saw this old lady and taking my best south Indian accent I asked, "Amma, fotto". She looked at me in shock and managed to shake her head in acquiscence. took her picture before she could say no.

The Shore temple Complex

We took a wrong turn while walking to the shore temple complex. Saw a lot of people, men in these turbans and women in red saris, anyone know it's significance?
Lots of shacks selling delicious looking seafood, was sorely tempted to give up vegetarianism. Held steadfast. (pats own back). Had to jump over a few fences to get to the temple and then would have had to walk back a few hundred yards to get a ticket, but a kindly and chinese looking security guard let us through. Maybe it was kinship of being obvious foreigners in a strange place, but I was greatful to him because by now my back was killing me and I could not have walked back and forth.Thanks man.

I quite liked this view, later found that most people do not take this view. i am sure I could make a poster or something out of this.

Next to the temple is the coast, a long and deserted beach. The most beautiful Ihave seen in a long time. Trust the angrej's to get it right. Saw this guy surfing and was seized with a longing to go and have a dip myself.

This lady tried hard to get a sale, but I took her picture instead. She sells sea shells on the sea shore. This time I got it right.

A guide at the temple, employed by the ASI. I took his picture as he saw a squirrel run down the temple steps.
These rows of sculptures reminded me of the egyptian temples I have seen on discovery channel.

My new D200

Just went crazy and got a Nikon D200.
What am I ever going to do now????

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Some Views of Chennai-My Lens-3-people and the Marina Beach

The floozies are back.
My experience of Chennai was mostly through the tinted windows of a taxi and from within the airconditioned environs of the hotel Marina. Went to another Hotel Ambica Empire too and had breakfast at the Le Meridien. Hotels all over the world are same, built and operated similarly, have similar loos and ounce packets of soap and shower caps. Even the uniforms are the same even though the people arent. Some of the bellhops however were pretty impressive.

This one at Ambica Empire had a moustache I would give half of my greying beard for.
The one at Le meridien was a liitle more contemporary and even said thank you when I took his picture.

On the choked roads are a variety of people, I liked the 1000 yeard stare on this guy. This was during a particularly virulent traffic jam.

A woman who asked me for some money, somethings never change. I had none either. So we drove on leaving her to look for other more generous souls.

Women from Chennai are most beautiful though, Anuradha Sriram performed at the banquet in MGM beach resorts. And isnt she absolutley beautiful. I was quite heartbroken to know that she is married. She was however happy to pose for me. And i took this picture. Must say the steadiness of my hands imroves with booze in my system.

Another example of steadiness of hands, 15 seconds exposure hand-held on the shore of the bay of Bengal, racked with pain from a couple of compressed nerve roots in the back, I took this picture as the sound of the waves crashing to the shore and the light of the moon shining on the sea combined with the alcohol to anesthetize my back first and my brain later. Luckily there was a policeman with a very ample baton who took particularly good and effective care that no one reach the water itself. Otherwise ANCIPS 2007 may have reached a more tragic and eventful end than it eventually did.

The Marina Beach is the main landmark?? of the city of Chennai. We went there early in the morning to catch the sunrise. Not surprsingly the car failed to show up to take us there, and after a lot of sham anger outbursts, we finally got one and reached there. It was just as well that we missed the sunrise because there was a huge bank of clouds that made visibility poor. Walking from the road to the beach is an effort, its a huge distance and the sand is soft and very sticky. The beach front was littered with lots of wooden structures. But there was no one around at that moment, it was evidently a lot more crowded in the evenings.

There were a few scattered souls around like this old salt who had a tough time getting p. Compassion isnt one of my strong points, I took his picture instead of helping him up. Shame on me.
Two seashell sellers on the Marina beach. What would it be then, he sells sea shells on the sea shore??? Hardly a tongue twister.
And finally, an intersting shack that sells sea food at better times and to more receptive customers. Is this why the Titanic sank??

The walk back left my already ventilated shoes with a pound of clarified sand that I left behind in the Hotel room. I hope their vacuum cleaners still work.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Some Views of Chennai-My Lens-2-Temple

Temples in Chennai are numerous, dotted with very many sculptures, beautiful, and are pronounced as Dembled's. And all this in a state that has an atheist as a Chief Minister and a very strong rationalist movement. Tamil Nadu is truly fascinating in that way, the whole business of paradoxes. The extreme contrasts in sizes, from the immensity of the hoarding to the smallness of the dwellings. The way caste plays a role as demonstarted at all public functions, and the lengths mighty and learned people will go to appease their politicians, the seeming strangeness to us North Indians as to how movie stars and politicians can arouse such passions.
Next to the venue was a small temple, and it seemingly encapsulated this contrast in it's domain.
I needed a human element to complete this picture and saw this little girl nearby, and asked her through a sign to come and stand there. She was quite shy and reluctant but was eventually persuaded by this man. The simplicity of her dress was quite a contrast to the bright, in-your-face colors in the temple. Quite opposite to what would be the case in say, rajasthan where its the clothes that are colorful rather than the other way round. I found the cross tattooed on the chest of the guy who persuaded my little model quite interesting, and before I could ask him to let me photograph him, he asked me to take his picture and insisted that I write his address twice just to make sure thatI dont lose it anyplace.

He looked at me through his one eye, obviously pleased to be the centre of attraction. For the next few minutes that i was in the temple, he never once left my side. And kept on saying some stuff to the security staff nearby. I have to post his picture to him one of these days.

I liked the grain of the wood and the way the brass set off the woodwork. The sanctum itself was locked.

But there were various niches in the walls, each with a small idol. The idols covered with clothes (to cover the body?), and decorated with flowers.

This looks like hanuman, the monkey god. At least the structures in the front are typically North Indian though the main idol in the background is much more dignified and reserved in appearance.

Another view of the same.

Dalrymple Fan Club

I have recently become a fan of William Dalrymple. It all started when I went crazy enough to buy a book as expensive as the Last Mughal is. Well, to keep a long story short, I loved it. Subsequently, I kept on getting deeper and deeper into his writing. My second Dalrymple book was In Xanadu, and I think this has to be seriously one of the funniest, most moving and unputdownable travelogues ever. Unfortunately, since this travelogue did not include India, I went on to the City of Djinns that I am reading right now. And except for the fact that he describes Chandigarh (My hometown), in less than glowing terms, I agree in most part with what he says.
Come to think of it, this name Dalrymple, something like a Dal-Rymp-Pel. Almost like a variant of acne vulgaris or something but better. Mr Dalrymple, I wish I had a turn of phrase half as good as yours. I was googling about him, and found this article, do have a read.


Some more views from the Conf:

ANCIPS-2007 was a lot of heat and dust, some powercuts, an award, and some papers presented to an audience of 7 people in total. At other times I enjoyed myself watching friends eat prawns for breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, and dinner. For entertainment, there were cricket matches on TV and beer (which is devilishly expensive in Chennai). An abiding memory will be that of someone reading out a paper from the printout because a powercut prevented the projectors from working.

The president of "kill the fishes" society surveys the remains of the day.

Life is like smoke, it goes up and splits into a million particles. And you cant even catch one, so why not let it go in peace?

The food was wonderful, but only for non-vegetarians. Poor grass eaters like me had a tough time. There is also a south Indian problem with provision of chairs. All those already burdened with a variety of loads were left with no option but to make themselves comfortable with whatever they could muster.

Soon enough the food stall was a happy, bustling, bawling and a really fine place to be in. Beating a hasty retreat was out of question but lingering on was an even unlikelier option. So the next best thing was to be out into the scientific sessions.

The inauguration of the CME, where everyone was falling over fawning. What followed was much better.

I loved this slide, and hats off to the doctor who thought this up.

Some of the more interesting members of the audience, actually he was the resident entertainer at a stall outside, he probably came in to take in some AC.

OKOKOKOK. I dont mean what you see at all, but I couldnt resist this one. :))
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