Sunday, March 14, 2010

A hippie had startled me

(Image from Net)

It was 1982. I was in Panjim with our official cricket team. Most of us were visiting Goa for the first time. It was a 10-day tour and so we had lots of free time between matches (unlike now) to go around the beautiful place of which we had heard much and also studied in school about the Portuguese occupation in Goa. Since it is a renown tourist destination, we never missed visiting the beautiful beaches, unique temples, traveling in local buses, walking around in streets that were clean and calm what with a good November weather.

One evening, some of us had gone to visit a couple of beaches. We were in Anjuna. The group had itself divided into little sub groups and I found myself with Gopal and the twosome was strolling casually, sandals in hand, because it was difficult to walk with the sandals on, on the fine sand. I was looking excitedly at the surroundings and enjoying the cool breeze that was trying to cool some sweat off.

The sun was about to set and light was getting dimmer. Suddenly we saw a hippie chasing people in great hurry and searching their bags. We thought it might be something and kept walking. All of a sudden, he was heading towards us from behind. We were startled and terrified as we feared danger from this stranger. My friend did not have a bag but I had one on the shoulder. He appeared to be frantically looking at something and opened my bag too. I heaved a great sigh of relief when he left us alone and sprinted to the next person in sight as he found nothing that he had in mind, in my bag.

Soon afterward, we came to know that he was looking for someone who had a camera with which he had clandstinely shot a picture of him and his female friend on the beach. When he noticed it, he had begun chasing him for his camera, obviously to open the camera and spoil/expose the film. Those were days when not many owned film cameras.

Soon our group gathered and returned to our staying place and Gopal found much pleasure in describing the incident to others. Goa was a very calm place then and it still retains much of such charm. The hippie movement was then a bit past its peak.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Life in Mysore, back then and now

In College during the early 70s, there was a popular rhyme doing the rounds: What a pity, Mysore city. May be someone had felt that deterioration had already started! That was at a time when there was still some fresh and clean air to breathe, clear roads to drive, not much crowd on the footpath, 24x7 water supply, no power cuts, no TVs, no mobile phones but just ‘land lines’ and that too not in all houses, taxes were reasonable, less corruption in state govt. offices, no plastic menace, no garbage clearance problems, no tuition menace to students or no vulgarity in films. Life was certainly peaceful and comfortable even compared to life of the 50s, the elders feel. There was not much difference in life in the 2-3 decades prior to that also. The value of the rupee had its full 100 paise only up to 1960 and thereafter it slowly got devalued.

Not for nothing Mysore WAS a renown ‘Pensioners Paradise’. The slow easy paced life was typically Mysorean. People coming from the busy cities like Bombay and Delhi would get restless even in the early 1970s. My friend from Delhi who came to spend his summer holidays (school) in his grandmother’s home would leave sooner than schedule saying he had nothing much to do and Mysore was too slow for him.

‘Westernization’ and industrialization of Mysore has made it busy, polluted, and populated. It is no longer an old sleepy city. “Industrialize or perish” said Sir M.Visveswaraiah, the then Dewan of Mysore. Though industrialization is of benefit in many ways, peace is perishing! Citizen peace and development of a city are inimical. Transformation has happened far too quickly than one even dreamt, including the city planners. Mysore’s closeness to Bangalore, its salubrious climate, hospitable people, cheaper charges for land, housing and education, have added to the woes of the peace-loving, dwindling original Mysorean. A heavy influx of people from other places (for greener pastures) has added to the crowd everywhere. Rates have soared. Our country is good at sending prices like rockets to space!

The advent of TV has affected Mysore’s social life very badly. Friends’ families and relatives reduced social visits. Mind you, there were no appointments taken for such visits as they are done now, over telephone. People would just drop by for a chat or a coffee or even a meal. Some relatives even landed with luggage from other cities, uninformed. Of course, life was different and with joint family system in vogue, the door was never locked. Nuclear families have sprung up. Now many do not care who the neighbours are. They just lock themselves in, in their own world of the TV!

TV has killed the enthusiasm of attending public programmes also. The famous music festival esp. during Rama Navami period was of such popularity and one could notice a sudden fall in attendance as soon as the TV was made available to Mysore City in the mid 80s. After 25 years of TV’s arrival in Mysore, things have gotten worse. It is providing cheap entertainment (only a small number choose the educative channels) and wasting people’s valuable time which in olden days people (ladies) would learn crafts and culinary skills. Now they tell they are bored! As such, Mysore’s amateur artists have dwindled away.

Children were healthy as they were playing outdoors. Calling them in to homes was a big problem for elders. There was probably one “child specialist doctor” who was (is) renown. There was less sickness because people were closer to nature. Grandmothers knew home remedies and there was less need to run to doctors who were also far and few. Unless the ailment was of really serious nature they resorted to simple solutions.

Children went to schools leisurely and playfully returned home and did homeworks only under pressure, after being forcibly called in from their evening street games. There was no tuition menace. There was no need for parents to save money for tuitions, donations and education fees! There was no rush for LKG admission of kids, nor were there any competition for Engineering and Medical seats – only those who could afford the courses joined as seats were easily available. Teaching standards – the old generation teachers – real teachers – were still at large in the few schools and colleges. Education still had some meaning. Pressure from various angles has led to deteriorating standards in recent times. This is unthinkable in our city which is renown for education!

People depended on what we now call “snail mail” and the humble postman was anxiously waited for, for any communication that relatives or friends wrote. Now we use mobile phones to communicate how many times we sneezed.

We listened to the humble radio for news or waited for the morning newspaper. TV and internet now keep us abreast, live. People thronged with families to theatres with great enthusiasm because movies were good and educative – had touching stories and meaningful songs. Stage dramas held frequently at different venues had good crowds too.

Dasara festival saw public participation in genuine enthusiasm because everyone revered the Maharaja. It was really a great time with guests from other places visiting and pitching tent in relatives’ houses to take part in Dasara festivities ending with the grand “Dasara Meravanige”.

Life was cheap. Charges for filling of air to cycle tyres were three paise for two tyres and two paise, if we wanted only for one. Two peppermints were available for one paisa! The police constable was a thorn to bicyclists because he would catch for ‘wrong side riding’ or ‘light less riding’ and check for licenses which was an embossed aluminum token fixed to the cycle (on payment or a small annual sum to the municipality!). At night, to avoid being caught by these constables who hid behind trees and dark places to catch victims, bicyclists used either a candle kept burning in a paper cone half filled with sand to hold the candle and show the light holding the cone in one hand while riding or special kerosene lamps fixed to the handlebar or an electric dynamo which was costly. My bicycle headlamp has a ‘dip and dim’ switch to avoid glare to oncoming people or other cyclists! Now even car headlamps glare dangerously in high beam and no one cares, so un-Mysorish!

We had book circulating libraries having a crowd of members. Printing presses and book publishers were a busy lot. TV and computer have put the reading habit in jeopardy. E-books are no substitutes for the printed book.

Grandmothers prepared traditional savouries in myriad varieties in those days when hotels were few and street-side eateries, ‘chat centres’ were unthinkable. People’s taste buds were satisfied with just Masala Dosa and coffee! Churumuri, Pani Puri and Masala Puri made their impact around the 70s when people got out of shackles that ‘eating out’ was not that much a sin! Ice creams? No one screamed for ice creams. There was no ‘Joy’ to enjoy! Perhaps only one or two parlours like Phalamruta in Lansdowne Building prepared ice creams that attracted children.

Children played all variety of games right on the streets or in wide footpaths. My grandmother used to warn “be careful of the cyclists!” When a rare scooter came by, leave alone cars, the activity paused to make way for it.

Before dawn, we could hear the lion’s roar from the zoo even 2-3 miles away. Now buildings and other noise absorb those sounds what with the zoo itself is getting thinner in animal population. The zoo was a magnificent place to visit and the Primates section was a great source of entertainment from the chimpanzees that smoked cigarette butts thrown at them and ate peanuts like humans!

Development of the city is towards the wrong direction. Under the pretext of developing the city, something else is happening. Technological development is more a bane than a boon because people are disusing it more than using for positive and constructive things. Kitchen conveniences have made women lazy and unhealthy in general. They suffer from ‘modern day ailments’ like knee pain, depression, BP, diabetes, etc. All are resultants of mainly lack of social contacts, less of physical and mental activity. No wonder the ‘medicare business’ is thriving now. Surely, not good a good sign for the health of a city like Mysore. Earlier, there was only the Krishnarajendra Hospital and a nursing home here and there to take care of health revival.

A slow development of the city as it did before the 60s was not felt at all and that was a desirable speed. My grandfather’s time typically did not have a tomorrow. They lived on the day. The wants were only basic and never exceeded limits as there was no need for extra and hoarding was unknown. Any extras were either accepted and shared or refused! Virtues of a person were held in high value which is the other way round now. Nobody cares to respect the other. People never raced against time some decades back and we seemed to have lots of time on our hands. Hurry was not a Mysore thing before!

Rapid improvement in communication network, technological development and transportation facilities are contributing to most ‘modern day problems’. It is the speed that is worrisome and the administration is ill-equipped to keep pace with them. If Mysore does not learn the lessons from Bangalore, it will soon become a second Bangalore. The city planners have a very responsible role to play in Mysore’s future. Let’s hope our Heritage City of Mysore wont be an eye sore.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Some birds in Chandigarh

It was the middle of February and I found myself up north in the capital of both Punjab and Haryana, the 'City Beautiful', Chandigarh.

The game of cricket had taken me there. But here, let me show some common birds that I spotted during the spare time off the field and caught them with my camera. I could identify some of the birds from limited knowledge and had to refer to Salim Ali's "Book of Indian Birds" for the others on my return home. A bird has been described in that book as a 'Feathered Biped'.

Here are some pictures for you. (All images are copyright)

Need I name this? Quite shy of humans in its habitat. Ran and hid in the bush.

This is the Black Drongo.

Brown headed Barbet (we have the white-cheeked Barbets in abundance in Mysore). It's calls were similar to its Mysore counterpart.

If someone can identify this pair for me, I'd be happy.

The Rose-ringed Parakeet (the male has the band around its neck and the female does not have)

Collared Dove

Red-vented Bulbul. (In Mysore, the Red-whiskered Bulbuls are aplenty)

Slightly different from the Common Myna we have in Mysore, this is the Jungle Myna.

No idea what this bird is. I assume it is a migrant to Chandigarh.

Is this a Greater Coucal?

(Same as the above picture)

I wonder if this is actually a Black Redstart.

The Spotted Owlet

Perhaps the most common of them all and found in huge batches making their typical screeches in chorus, this is the Jungle Babbler.

Found some Tailor birds and Sunbirds also that we find here, but could not photograph them.


I must add that the City Administration has done well in giving these useful creatures of Nature a lovely habitat - trees, shrubs and little jungles. The pleasant climate in Chandigarh at this time makes bird-watching a pleasant experience. They have seen to it that despite the development of the city, the birds also find their undisturbed place for their nesting and breeding. The vegetation feeds them well too. Other cities have to emulate Chandigarh in many respects also. Birds form an important element in Nature.