Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pirates of Information

It seems that I have been suffering from writer's block (without being one!) or am simply short on time or both - hence the dismal rate of blogging. I have attempted to disregard both and made a fresh attempt below. Hopefully, I'll be more regular from now on!


For anyone who lives in today's world and has access to internet, to know what a person across the diameter on the globe is doing is no deal. The burgeoning membership of sites like facebook, twitter et. al. have clearly done more to make this world a truly global village than all the the social and political reformations combined. Even the celebrity cult which , by definition, is often considered aloof in a hallowed sort of way has been seduced by this wave of bare-it-all (on a different beat though). Every single detail of every single moment of one's life can be 'shared', 'downloaded', 'discussed' and 'tweeted about'.

This wave of open access has recently assumed a much more controversial face in geopolitical scenario under the name of 'WikiLeaks'. It started with a release of 25000 diplomatic cables, obtained illicitly by Wikileaks(wonder how?,) which threaten to 'change' the face of world politics. Julian Assange, the public face of wikileaks and an australian-born hacker, asserted in a recent interview to TIME magazine that this will lead to a major rearrangement of viewings about many different countries. But will it? Going by the content of the leaks most of the 'revelations' have been a mere confirmation of what the world, inside and outside the corridors of power brokers, already knew. (There have been some amusing additions though, like the one where a US diplomat considers the North Korean dictator Kim Jong II 'flabby'). In addition, however, this exercise threatens to endanger the fuel that is crucial to run the engine of world politics - diplomacy. The art of diplomacy usually finds no common ground with transparency even in everyday life, least in the machiavellian ways of politics which are aptly described by someone as follows:

"In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted into each others' pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third."

Even in real life if we are able to read each other's thoughts, I am not sure how may friendships will survive this open access lifestyle.

An even graver argument against such an exercise comes from an apparently unrelated incident which occurred on the Rutgers University campus (New Jersey) a few months back. A student committed suicide after his intimate encounter with another student in his room was published by his roommate on the internet via a web-camera left connected deliberately. The outrage felt at such flagrant invasions of privacy was evident in the harsh punishments requested by various parents and students.

I find the parallel between this episode and the recent release of classified information by Wikileaks disturbing. In both the cases the information was illicitly obtained without the knowledge of people involved in the scene and the release was preceded by boisterous claims. However, the ends to which the released information is used was clear in the Rutgers case (the apathetic idea of fun of a pathetic individual); in the case of Wikileaks the intent of the release is claimed (and hoped) to be more credible. Whether such a claim holds and will it lead to indeed more scrutiny and accountability for the state machineries across the world remains to be seen. For now it has shattered the flimsy comfort zones that thinly veiled the dangers within - let us hope this shakes the players on the world stage out of their complacent slumber. They will need to act fast before all hopes of a peaceful coexistence 'leak' away into oblivion.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Zara hatke music...

Check out the following youtube videos of a 19 year old who has a great voice and attitude for music. It will make you rethink about the various ad jingles we have grown up hearing and humming ... :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The New Age Reality

Why will anyone sane tolerate some`thing' (someone maybe) like this? What is wrong with all of us? To what levels of voyeurism can we stretch ourselves....

These emotions are not an outburst any more - I have got used to feeling like this whenever I read about reality shows. I can't help not reading about them - the extensive coverage our media wallahs bestow on inki-pinki-dimpy is just phenomenal in its reach and obnoxious in its sheer volume. I have honestly started missing the doordarshan days when we all used to wait for 9:00 p.m. hindi news and 9:30 p.m. English news read by suave and elegant anchors like Salma Sultan, Minu Talwar, Rini ..(I forget her last name...). The content was usually centered around news (anyone of the current generation will be surprised!!) from national and international events inevitably ending with the char mahanagron ka tapmaan....(nostalgia..sigh!!).

Fast forward 20 years. Now the news studios are much better equipped with a constant array of flashy pictures behind the anchors sitting petite amidst a barrage of bright reds and greens. The reporters now have a much more informal and relaxed disposition to begin with and look like celebrities themselves - and all this could have been for the good you know! Unfortunately most of the times things do not work like that - you cannot giggle and pull your face in weird angles to compensate for abject lack of journalistic intelligence and substance especially when you pretend to work for a 'responsible' news channel. Period. I guess that is why news channels are making the smart move of redefining what is news all about in the first place - something which even a moron from the road can have an opinion and get away with. You do not need to be an Einstein to predict that once again the TRP ratings are highest for some Ekta Kapoor serial, or Amitabh Bachchan has landed yet another deal with few more crore in his kitty, or Rakhi sawant is deciding to do a jhatka dance in her forthcoming movie... the list is endless. Then again things do not stop here. I still vividly remember when Aishwarya Rai got hurt during shooting one of her films - one 'sabse tez' channel did a full half an hour feature where one of their journalists was asked to permanently camp outside the hospital where she was admitted and diligently cover all her visitors. The beacon of responsible journalism did not extinguish here. We were also illuminated with the time-resolved details of the tragedy as a digital clock kept clicking dutifully in the lower right hand corner of the screen while the journalist followed and questioned various visitors. I am not being apathetic all you Aishwarya rai fans out there - maybe you all really needed to know all this about your screen diva. At least she is good looking folks! But now this has gone too far...Rahul Mahajan !!?? Okay we can be interested how he was discovered almost dead on drugs soon after his famous father Pramod Mahajan's death, maybe how he was doing when he was jailed, maybe even when he decided to enter big boss house and coo sweet nothings into ears of some wannabe .... and then his swayamwar ..really? And now how many people can be genuinely interested in the even more tamsha this tamasha wedding is throwing all over the place, or how many women has he beaten up till date or when does he reunite with his battered and bruised darling wife? COME ON... give us a break! (I am sure Late Mr. Mahajan must be tossing and turning in his grave - he could have taken a few PR lessons from his media-savvy son to improve the fortunes of his party which is becoming increasingly obsolete on the political scene).

The argument which is usually forwarded in such cases is that of demand and supply. It seems many of us can't resist the cheap thrills of having a peep into anyone's and anybody's life, especially if it comes loaded with with all the nautanki! Let us start by at least refraining from calling it 'reality' television --- the glaring light of media cameras are adept at distorting, changing and engineering illusions. Further, I am not entirely convinced of the demand-supply argument --- imagine yourself walking down a road when you encounter a madman doing some weird antics. You are bound to give it a longer look than usual and might even be interested in what he is up to. He might garner a bunch of onlookers, in fact, if his maneuvers are sufficiently entertaining and non-dangerous. But does this imply that we find this nuisance engaging enough to be forced down our throats 5 days a week through a reality show where 10 madmen compete for some big sum of money by being their eccentric best (I should patent this idea I guess ...going by the times, you never know!)?? The unfortunate truth is that channels consider even their audience eccentric enough, to not only digest this rubbish but sometimes also participate in it by furiously voting for their

So let us call upon Prannoy Roy on 'The World This Week' to announce that some 'Rajni' round the 'Nukkad' got along with 'Jasoos Karamchand' to save 'Hum log' from this 'Circus'. Hope that this will not turn out to be one of the 'Mungeri Lal ke Haseen Sapne'.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reprise of the dream

This is in continuation of the preceding piece - the dream of a pebble.

On the dark damp ocean floor
the rays of the sun shivered
The day and night
merged one into other.

It lay there dead
distant from life
Unable to look at the sun
defeated in its strife.

It remembered the days on the shores
swept by waves on the yellow sands
Thinking of the warm sun
and playing in children’s hands.

One day as it lay deep under a rock
abandoned by a tempestuous wave
A blue wind picked it up
out of the crevice and into a cave.

Banished into the darkest corner
it lay there waiting for the final breath
When a mighty wave swirled it around
and tossed it-turned it round and round.
It closed it eyes to the fury so wild
and took its last sight of the wave so white.

The day was new
the sun shone bright
And again the waters on the shore
wore the golden sunlight.

Two dirty hands of a child
found a shell buried in the sands
Curious to see what’s inside
the urchin broke open the shell on its side.

He stared in amazement
at the pearl in his hand
It seemed whiter than the waves
and brighter than the glowing sand.

He rubbed it clean with his dirty hands
and put it in the inner pocket of his pants
And walked back to his castle on the white foam
the pebble had finally found its home.

                                              -- Archana

The dream of a pebble

The ocean of this world
has many shells on this shore
Riding on the waves
they come and go.

Some look small,
the others shine
No sheen is lost
though the water saline.

They hit the sands
the swirls of white foam
This is a transit
the ocean is their home.

One grey pebble sits
on the beach alone
Longing for the golden sun
in the evening waters that shone.

But it doesn’t belong to the sea
is not one of the shells
Can’t swim in the golden waters
yellow sands is its hell.

Though the waters come and go
in waves so white
The pebble sits there
all day and night.

It asks the shells and it asks the waves
if I can be the one too
With an abode in golden waters
riding on the white waves..

So swept by the waves
in the rosy twilight of that fateful day
Leaving the dry sands
it entered the ocean happy and gay.

With shells singing their song of pride
as they move towards their home tonight,
The pebble was alone and lost
on the golden waters which seemed so dark.

It cried out aloud,
its tears one with the saline
The waves carried it farther
in the ocean pristine.

The more it cried
the more the waves roared
No place for the dark pebble
neither in the ocean,
not now on the shore.

And there it drowned
in the waters dark and cold
With its dreams and songs
buried under the ocean floor.

                              -- Archana

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Terrorists or humanitarians...

I guess the title must be absurd to anyone who knows the meaning of the two words in question... alas such "anyone's" will qualify for the status of endangered species in today's world, as two recent incidents prove. So driven by the need for elevating my intellectual status and desire to belong to the gifted cult, I thought that maybe it is not a bad idea after all to get my facts right and straight and see if I can come to a consensus with your help...

The first incident which has clouded my mind with respect to the distinction is the Israeli commando raid on a flotilla of ships heading for Gaza, carrying humanitarian aid. The raid on flotilla bearing the Turkish flag left nine activists dead, fueling international anger at the incident. However, internet has been flooded with videos claiming that the raiding soldiers acted on self defense, with some showing an activist pushing a soldier off the vessel Mavi Marmara (see youtbe for instance). The Israeli defense forces have also been quick to release snaps of the "weapons" found on the ship. International media has lapped up the story from both sides with many condemning the incident, esp. in the wake of deteriorating conditions in Gaza due to Israeli and Egyptian embargoes which has led to a staggering 80% of the population depend on international aid. A sizable majority seems to be on the other side of the line, however, as this article in the New York Times indicates (living up to its reputation once again!). I quote a statement from it here:

What is missing so far from the flotilla clips on both sides is context: it is difficult to establish the sequence of events or, more simply, to determine who attacked first. The videos have made it all the more murky.

I don't feel capable enough to answer the 'deep' question raised above and many more that follow - Was flotilla on its way to capture Gaza with kitchen knives and metal rods (please refer to the pics of the WMD's on the link given above ) ? Were the peace-loving Israeli soldiers, out on a pleasure air-trip, caught unawares and instinctively shot down the 'armed' activists who were attacking them ?? Were these aid-carrying humanitarians actually terrorists leading charge against the state of Israel and its soldiers? ....murky indeed.

The second incident, compounding this eternal confusion, occurred back home. Author-activist Arundhati Roy recently stated that she would happily embrace imprisonment but would not give up backing the Maoist struggle. She further stressed that the Naxal movement could not have been anything but an armed struggle because other options are infeasible in the present scenario.

I wasn't aware of the perverse power of democracy until the enlightenment I received from Ms. Roy's comments, esp. since the platform was a lecture organized by the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights in Mumbai. Her sympathy towards Naxal movement and 'right-to-defend -the-right-to-kill' for Naxals is especially surprising after the killing of 76 CRPF soldiers in Dantewada at the hands of Maoists in April, followed by Naxalite landmine blowing up a bus killing 44 people including several Special Police Officers (SPOs) and civilians [Ms. Roy opined that police should not have used the public bus in first place] and derailment of a Kolkata–Mumbai night train by a bomb blast initiated by Maoists killing at least 150 persons in May. Terrorists?... not if you ask Ms. Roy. Not so long ago, she had described the maoists as 'Gandhians with the guns'.

So maybe next time I feel threatened by someone, which won't be unusual for a girl in Indian society, should I be ready to join the ranks of an armed struggle and wipe off all the eve teasers from the face of the planet! Cringe as much as you may, ... I am sure Mr. Netanyahu and Ms. Roy will approve.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

When Life Smiles ...

-- Archana and Nishant

We all wait for the ultimate D-day - the day when we are on the top of the world with everyone and everything looking up to us, ... the day we truly arrive! Nonetheless, while we continue our journey to scale that peak, there are some nuggets of pleasure strewn across our paths which we come across in our daily lives. We enumerate a few of these small pleasures which we have found on our way (in no particular order)... :)

1. Having just enough from the last squeeze of the toothpaste
2. Hot ginger tea on a lazy morning
3. The other side of the pillow
4. Having exact change (down to pennies!) to pay at the shop
5. Finding an old photograph
6. Spotting a rainbow after a downpour
7. Smell of the moist earth after rains
8. Smoldering aloo pakoras on a rainy day
9. Birds perched/hopping outside the window (don't scare them if you want to have full `paisa vasool')
10. Distant ringing bells of morning prayers
11. Making it just in time to catch a bus

....... to be contd.

Additions welcome.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

To god's own country

This new year I visited Kerala for the first time with my family - given what I had heard/seen/read about it, this was shamefully overdue. We took advantage of the very convenient invention of the travel gurus - aka 'package tours' which have completely invaded the tourism landscape in the past 10 years. They get you to enjoy all that is great about traveling minus the hassles, essentially all the non-fun stuff is transferred to the tour operator for a good compensation.

We left the cold confines of delhi weather the moment we entered the portals of the brand new IGI airport and then there was no looking back, at least for the coming 5 days. The flight on the spicejet airlines was quite smooth (even the overpriced coffee served in the aircraft was reasonable) except for the boring one hour 'inside-the plane' stopover at Mumbai's chhatrapati shivaji airport. But that's the charm of traveling with ma's- and-pa's - it never ceases to amaze me how much food the deceptively little bag carried by my mother can accommodate! I employed myself gainfully by eating all that I can for a substantial part of the hour long transit. For the remaining time on my flight, I fought hard to keep up with my reputation of a 'phoren-returned desi' and cover my almost rudimentary (non-existential might be more appropriate actually!) knowledge of angrezi songs in front of my highly informed brother who oblivious to the pleasures of food and my plight, kept asking me about rock bands which I had never ever heard of in my mortal life!

The next whiff of fresh air was at the Kochi International airport. It is a really small but functional place. The first glimpse of Kerala lifestyle was just there- `keep it simple' - and this way of living made itself evident to us in varied ways in the coming days. After getting our boria-bistar (Indians can't travel light!), we had a driver waiting for us with a car. He was a shy and soft-spoken guy named Joseph. As we drove to our first stop located in the Munnar hills, we discovered that he belongs to kochi itself and drives tourists like us around in peak seasons. Our drive through the coconut-trees lined roads was a very charming one. As we went up the hills, the coconut trees made way for shorter and thicker shrubs which were finally replaced with the beautiful and dense tea gardens. They are really a site - entire slopes of these hills are covered with carpets of tea leaves which were in full bloom then. The aroma could be felt even in the air and it had a quality of freshness which a delhite like me finds difficult to describe. Our resort was the topmost one on the hills and completely enlivened its name 'Misty Mountains'. From the hotel porch, we could actually see the clouds almost touching the lush green carpet of tea gardens underneath making the horizon one continuous fabric. A plaque in the reception area announced that the resort owed its exotic location to the tastes of British officers who frequented it during torrid summer months in South India. We had a fantastic pair of rooms to ourselves which were equipped with all the good saas-bahu channels besides a string of `Sun-TV', `Vijay TV', 'Surya-TV'...all showing south Indian songs. I settled for the latter kind just out of curiosity initially and was contemplating the natural resonance frequency of the jarring pelvic thrusts of dancers before my brother opened revolt and switched to unimaginative !

We shelved our plans to roam around the markets in the evening and instead decided to relax for the remaining part of the day. The only other thing which rivaled for attention with the beautiful locales surrounding the hotel was the brilliant food (I love south indian food anyways,!) . The dinner comprising a cocktail of chinese, north indian and south indian cuisines was great. The following morning an even better meal awaited us - I had a mouthful of the soft idlis and amazing chutneys and dived on the crisp dosas subduing all internal protests. After the delectable breakfast, we drove to the Eravikulam national sanctuary which is the only home to Nilgiri Tahr - a kind of horned deer. We left our car with Joseph and took the shuttle ride which ferries tourists to a point on the hilly route leading up to the reserve. This ride gave some breathtaking shots for our memories. Post this, we walked up the remaining distance to reach the park, where contrary to my expectations and their endangered status, Nilgiri Tahrs were not only easily visible but seemed pretty interested in getting photographed with the tourists. (I have been to N number of national parks doing crow watching and came back believing that the rare specimen I actually wanted to see was asleep around some corner!). Our rendezvous with the Niligiri tahr was followed by a drive to Mattupetty lake and dam, located 13kms from Munnar. It is a nice touristy site with lots of small shops and a beautiful view.

Following a drive through the markets, where my father stocked the specialties of the region (spices, tea, sandalwood, banana chips etc. etc.) for himself and at least 10 links down the family bloodline we came back to our rooms after a long and exhilarating day. The following morning, we started our drive towards our next stop - the town of Thekkadi. We almost felt a sense of surreal attachment with the nature's bounty around us while driving out of Munnar. Joseph informed us that Nilgiri range or the blue mountains (of which Munnar forms a part) are called so because of `Neelakurinji' - a kind of rare blue flower which blooms on these hills every 12 years. After a drive of around 4 hours we reached Silver Crest - our abode for the next 24 hrs in Thekkadi. It was on the opposite end of spectrum with respect to our experience in Munnar . Located in the busiest place of the city, buzzing with people, and different shades of life all there - together and disparate at the same time. It was quite a remarkable contrast and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Our hotel too contributed to this flavor of life - while the misty mountain resort had the kind of elegance of a resort of an erstwhile empire, the hotel at Thekkadi with different blocks of rooms sharing a common square courtyard felt more like a large family home in suburban India.

Our last and final stop was the village of Kumarakom, located in the world-famous backwaters. The resort where we stayed was called waterscapes - located on the banks of Vembanad lake inside the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, it draws migratory birds from as far away as Siberia. We did not spot any siberian intruders, but the resort was breathtaking - yes just the resort! For a government owned and managed resort, it was surprisingly well kept. The 'rooms' were actually independent huts which stood on stilts and gave the impression of tree houses amidst the surrounding mangrove vegetation. We had two neighboring huts booked in our name with conveniences to match the most elite hotels I have ever been to. Still, it never obscured the charming simplicity intricately woven into the Kerala lifestyle. After a short and amazing north indian lunch (both men in our family are ardent admirers and begin to show withdrawal symptoms from food if kept away from their staple diets), we went for a boat ride in the backwaters. It was a lazy ride in the almost still waters lined by local villages on each side. Looking at the simple villagers going around with their usual daily tasks, untouched by the fact that their haven of existence can be a tourist attraction to millions around the world and exchanging a smile with any face that cares to look upon them was the most unique experience. It was like seeing a live panorama of life at its simplest and probably the happiest too.

After pulling ourselves back up to the hotel (unwillingly), we enjoyed a very nice musical program organized by the local artists. They played some very famous old bollywood tunes on different kinds of flutes and mridangam which made them sound as melodious or more than the original. It is amazing how talent sprouts in most unassuming and unexpected places.

I had a very good sleep that night but was a bit grumpy to leave the next morning. Alas, time to say a goodbye to god's own country. I know I am definitely coming back though!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thoda music ho jaaye...

Indian politics is second only to aka bollywood in providing masala for otherwise monotonous lives of ordinary indians. Just in this league, the latest comes from Nitin Gadkari, the newly elected president of BJP. He sang to a surprised audience at the party's conclave in Indore with the yesteryear song Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye... waah waah! In general, he sang to a different tune otherwise too with comments like we will help muslims build a mosque in return of generosity of sentiments... more waah waahs! Good to hear a singing voice from the asphyxiated BJP ...

But that led me thinking how entertaining it would be if all our election campaigns, parliamentary proceedings and thousands of politburo meetings of hundreds of indian political parties make this a routine affair. Being a responsible citizen, I have a few musical suggestions for our netas:

Manmohan Singh - Ye honsla kaise jhuke, ye aarzoo kaise ruke...

Sonia Gandhi - Saare deewane mane Na dekhi koi aisi girl
Dekhi lakh lakh pardesi girl, Ain’t nobody like my desi girl

P. Chidambram - Suno, kaho - kaha suna,
kucch hua kya - Abhi to nahi, kucch bhi nahi..???
(in wake of yet another terror attack catching us unawares, in spite of the warnings !)

L. K. Advani - Chhod aaye hum woh galiyan, ...

Rajnath Singh (the outgoing BJP chief) - Chingari koi bhadke, to saawan use bhujaye
saawan jo aag lagaye use kaun bhujaye
(so much for BJP infighting...alas!)

Rest of India to Raj Thackeray et. al. - 'pardesiya', pardesiya ye sach hai piya,
ki mumbai is still a part of india ....

and the good old ............

Laloo Prasad Yadav - Main aisa kyun hoon, main aisa kyun hoon
Main jaisa bhi hoon waisa kyun hoon

How about passing a bill in the parliament on this?... Aye Aye Mr. Speaker Sir.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New Year Trip to Haridwar

Alright, I am back. I did not blog for over three months (my god!) and little did I hear from people that they missed me writing. So I felt that it's time to pack my books, take charge of the keyboard and knock my words down your throats once again ... hence here am I whizzing my cursor across the screen.

The past months have been quite eventful and it will need me to open anther account to pen all the reminiscences. I got busier with research - learned some scanning electron microscopy which is used to write structures as small as my patience with yet another 'bharatvasi' referring to avatar as ewat-(-as-in-tomato)-aar, cryogenics to keep the dilution refrigerators as cold as the feelings of Raj Thackeray towards the rest of India outside Mumbai, and some pulse engineering used to engineer microwave pulses as sharp and precise as shahrukh's comments regarding the current feud about non-inclusion of Pakistani players in IPL teams. What a list!

Amidst all this business I did something heavenly - traveled back home and visited Kerala for the first time besides revisiting our favorite family vacation spot Haridwar. I thought a good way to start my blog in this new year is to share these experiences with you.

So let's talk about haridwar first (Kerala trip deserves to be a separate blog). Our short but memorable trip began on a foggy Friday morning, with clouds racing against our car and emerging clear winners. On the pretext of waiting for the struggling sun to emerge, and in reality propelled by the mouth-watering billboards of roadside dhabas we stopped at a small little hotel for a break and breakfast. The walls scrawled with an assortment of ads about 'pepsi cola' in bright red blue and orange colors greeted us in the modest setting. We ordered a generous serving of various kind of stuffed paranthas with tea and coffee (didn't know that starbucks has arrived in the indian dhaba culture too). The results were exotic and everyone overate without exception. We topped our overstuffed bodies with black-forest cake which we were carrying as it was one of our friend's birthday.

We continued our journey with aching stomachs and smiling faces interspersed with a few leg stretching breaks for the welfare of 6 feet talls cribbing constantly on being crammed in a place half their length (dont give too much attention in case you encounter similar phenomena while traveling- in fact it is a useful tactic to keep people awake and hence keep the boredom away till you get hoarse singing antakshari songs/ threatened to be dropped off from the car by others with aching heads). Our next stop was for lunch in a much seedier shop where we feasted on dal roti and an assortment of indian vegetables.

It took us another two hours to reach the Jairam ashram in Haridwar which was our abode for the next two days. It is one of the oldest and the best in its league. I would strongly recommend staying at one of the beautiful ashrams lining the banks of ganga near har ki paudi as a must-have experience. And given the facilities they cost just as much as a hearty meal at McDonald's for a day, making them quite a deal! We booked four rooms for our contingent - each of which had an austere but functional furnishing with cold beds (dat made us request them for 8 extra blankets which were arranged promptly). After relaxing for a few hours we went down the ghats and strolled in the market with my mother buying a beautiful shawl for herself and wrapping herself right away to beat the cold - the chill there had taken us by surprise but the energy and the warmth typical of any indian religious destination remained undiluted. We had a reasonable dinner at the famous chotiwala's - there are so many of them these days each proclaiming themselves as the 'pracheen aur mashhoor' (meaning ancient and popular) chotiwala that it is impossible to tell one from the other. While coming back I saw many sweet shops with piles of laddoos, rabri and all those sinful indian delicacies one can never get enough of, and made a solemn promise to myself of coming back the next day.

I started my day early the next day, listening to the temple bells of morning prayers and the fantastic tea made by the chaiwala at the ashram. This was followed by a walk around the ashram which was spent appreciating the artistic murals adorning its various corners and depicting some or the other story from indian scriptures. Post this we energized (I did not want to use the word stuff for the third time) ourselves with more paranthas, makkhan and even more cups of chai accompanying them (on the last count I had at least 5 cups of that amazing tea that morning) at the ashram bhojnalaya and set off for our next destination - Rajaji National Park, famous for wild asian elephants. It is spread over an area of 820.42 sq. km and is a home to 23 species of mammals, along with 315 species of birds, like the Asian elephants, tigers, king Cobra, panther, bear, chital, sambar, wild boar, kakar, python, monitor Lizard etc. etc. So much from the website - we did spot a few of the above in the nondangerous variety and some sweet little birds but the jeep safari itself is too much fun even if you are like me and start scanning the ground when someone yells 'hey look at that bird!'. And if you do not spot an elephant which really depends on their mood (which I am sure will be tricky to guess), there is provision for elephant rides just outside the park where you can pretend that you really are sitting on a wild elephant just tamed into submission by your infinite bravery. I resisted the temptation as I was not entirely sure of the mood of even that tamed huge fellow.

After lunch we had a welcome card-playing break in which I was introduced to a new card game - I managed to make a respectable comeback after a torturous start. In the evening we went to the world-famous har ki pauri well ahead of time for ganga arti and hence were able to get vantage seats unlike the last evening. We stationed ourselves on the opposite bank from where the artiis are performed every evening. It is a breathtaking view really - if there is one thing you should not miss on traveling to India, this is it. The infinite number of colorful heads which dot the banks of ganges amidst the chants of 'har har gange' and the big flames which are swung rhythmically in a synchronous fashion by the priests is a rare spectacle. After this ethereal experience, we went ahead for fulfilling more mundane concerns like hunger and gulped down samosas and rabri in the adjoining bazaar. I also gave in to my poorly-concealed temptation and ended up buying a set of red and green bangles from one of the numerous glittering shops.

After shoving the elders in rickshaws the rest of us had a lazy walk back to the ashram, where we spent our last night of this amazing trip in the now-warm beds.

Wish some things never change...

P.S.: Promised: I am not sure if blogspot allows pics to be uploaded - if it does, I have some beautiful shots which will find their way in this article in not so distant future ! .. Delivered :)