My Independence Day…Military Memorial Park.

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How does one define patriotism? Chanting an anthem once a year? Wearing a paper flag purchased on the roadside? Singing patriotic songs at a variety entertainment show?

Or how about a donation to an orphanage? You don’t even have to leave your home. A few clicks on your mouse, an on-line donation made, and your patriotic duty is done. And you get a tax exemption too, from a grateful nation.

Now you can hop into your Honda City, join your friends in that Independence Day theme-party, toss down a few pegs of Glenfiddich, gorge on malai kabab, and have deep meaningful arguments about the pathetic state of our country. And spend more on a single evening’s booze, than most of my countrymen earn in an entire year.

indday2014-1-13Have you ever wondered how fortunate you really are? And how undeserved that good fortune actually is?

Independence is not a free gift. Someone fought for it. Someone died for it. And that someone was certainly not me. Nor you. It is a fact I never forget.

This year therefore, I put in a long-pending visit to the National Military Memorial Park. Located at Chowdiah Road, opposite the Planetarium, the park is a unique tribute to our armed forces.

The center of attraction is India’s largest flag. It measures a huge 48×72 feet, weighs 32 kg and flutters atop a massive flagpole at a height of 65 meters. This enormous tricolor is indday2014-1-36referred to as a ‘monumental flag’, that is, it is not lowered at dusk unlike normal flags. This flag remains hoisted 24×7 and is illuminated at night.

Even on Independence Day, the park was almost empty. What a pity. That did give me the opportunity though, to shoot pictures at leisure. Here is a selection.

indday2014-1-35This is Akash. India’s surface-to-air missile. Developed by Defence Research andDevelopment Organisation (DRDO), this supersonic SAM is as good as any of its imported counterparts, but costs less than half.

Nag is DRDO’s anti-tank missile. Regarded asindday2014-1-6 one of the most advanced in its class, Nag is a guided missile system designed for the Indian airforce and army.

Brahmos is India’s flagship missile. Developed in collaboration with Russia’s NPO, Brahmos is the world’s fastest cruise missile.

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You will see many other commemorative specimens, like this well preserved tank.

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And this MiG fighter jet from the 1970’s.

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National Military Memorial Park is right at the center of the city and well connected. All the Volvo buses bound for the airport pass through here, and there is no dearth of indday2014-1-26autorickshaws. Of late, the BMTC has launched Bangalore Rounds, a circular luxury bus route covering major tourist locations in the city, including the park. These buses pass by the park every half-hour.

Make it a point to visit this place, and pay your dues to those who gave up their lives, so that you could enjoy yours.

Cheers … Srini.

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Namma Bengaluru – Krishna Rau Park.

krishnaraopark-1-35Once upon a time, there was a Garden City. And what a beautiful city she was. Filled with trees and birds, gardens and lakes, fresh air and sunshine, it was the happiest place in the land.

And then, the Garden City was ‘developed’. Her gardens are now replaced by garbage heaps, her trees butchered and buried under tar, her lakes are now open toilets, and in stead of fresh air, her citizens inhale smog.

But hey, take joy. The Garden City, we are told, is now the Silicon City of India, and renowned across the globe. We ought to be proud of our city and thankful to those who ‘developed’ it.

Ah well, one still yearns for a nice stroll in a garden, and one sets off in search of one. Thankfully, at least one such garden still survives in my part of town, or part of it does.

Established in 1940 by the Dewan of the erstwhile Mysore State and named krishnaraopark-1-5after him, MN Krishna Rau Park in Basavanagudi is still a place in which one can enjoy an evening stroll.

Armed with a high-end camera equipped with an 85mm prime lens, I ventured out one evening for a photo-walk in Krishna Rau Park.

It was a cloudy August evening and the light was dull, but that did not prevent me from taking some real good pictures. That’s the advantage of investing in a prime lens for low-light photography.

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The woods are lovely, dark and deep ….

The pictures speak for themselves, although I did attract several stares and chuckles as I sprawled on the ground for some low angle shots. If you don’t like getting down and dirty, then serious photography is not for you!

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A flexible gentleman in the senior citizens’ corner.

Krishna Rau Park is well connected by several bus routes, and is easy to reach. If you live nearby, do yourself a huge favor and leave your car at home. Avoid getting ripped off by the autorickshaws, and simply take a bus. Or walk down, if you can.

Old buddies, chilling out.

Old buddies, chilling out.

Kiddie’s corner.

 

A game of cricket, with Banyan trees as spectators!

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It looks like a rocky outcrop with a raging waterfall behind it. It’s the gnarled bark of an ancient Banyan tree that caught my eye. I took this image at a really low angle, lying flat on the soil, with several curious strollers wondering exactly what I was doing!

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Enjoy Krishna Rau Park – while it lasts. Sooner or later, this beautiful reminder of Bangalore’s past will also get ‘developed’, and perhaps get replaced by a mall. But for now, Krishna Rau Park still survives. For now.

Cheers … Srini.

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The mad genius from Khandwa.

When a reporter visited him for an interview, he took her to his garden and introduced her to each of his friends, Janardhan, Raghunandan, Gangadhar, Jagannath, Budhuram and Jhatpatjhatpat-jhatpat. Problem was, all these ‘friends’ were trees in his garden.

And then he took her to his bedroom, to meet some more of his ‘friends’ –  a collection of human skulls.

He called a famous architect to design his interiors and told him that he wanted a moat in his living room instead of a sofa, crows hanging on the walls instead of paintings, and finally told him that instead of an air-conditioner, he wanted ‘monkeys farting from the ceiling‘. The architect ran for his life.

He hung a huge notice board outside his house that read, “This is a lunatic asylum.”

When a producer paid him only half his promised fee, he turned up for shooting with half his head and moustache shaved off, and told him,”Aadha paisa, tho aadha make-up.”

He would turn up for song recordings in an old lungi, and refuse to start singing until his secretary called him up to confirm that he had received his payment from the producer. Once, when he did not receive that call, he called up his secretary, and asked him if his payment for the movie had been received. “But Sir, it is your own movie, and you are the producer.”,  the secretary told him. “So what?”, was the retort.

A film director got a court order against him, for refusing to listen to him on the sets. The next day, the director forgot to say ‘Cut’ after a car chase scene, and so he continued driving for 100 kilometers more, right upto Khandala!

Only one man could get away with behaviour like that, and still be one of the highest paid stars in Bollywood.

Wild, wacky, unpredictable and uniquely gifted, Abhas Kumar Kanjilal Ganguly, or Kishore Kumar Khandwewallah as he called himself, was quite simply one of a kind. There never was another like him, and never will be.

Kishore Kumar started out to be a hero, like his elder brother Ashok Kumar. He had no intention of being a playback singer. He was a huge fan of KL Saigal. One day, he was loudly singing a Saigal song in his bathroom, and was overheard by SD Burman. Burman had come to visit Ashok Kumar and he was impressed by Kishore Kumar’s singing. He took Kishore under his wing and trained him in the art of playback singing.

Kishore Kumar was the only leading playback singer of his time who never had formal classical training. That didn’t come in the way of his becoming an all-time great in Indian cinema.

From his film debut in 1948 till his sudden death in October 1987, Kishore Kumar excelled in every sphere – he was a hero, comedian, singer, music director, composer, lyricist, film maker and producer. His versatility as a film maker was amazing. On one hand, he made badtki naamzany movies like Chalti Naam Gaadi and Badti ka Naam Daadi, that had audiences rolling on the floors. On the other, he made serious and thought-provoking movies like Door gagan ki chaaon mein and Door ka rahi, that were acclaimed by film critics. The last movie he made, Door wadiyon mein kahin, did not have a single song in it.

As controversial as he was in his public life, he was equally unconventional in his personal life. He was unabashed about the fact that he married four times. His first wife, Ruma Ghosh, was a famous playback singer and leading actress of her time. So was his second wife, the beautiful Madhubala, who died due to a hole in her heart. Yogita Bali, his third wife, was a well-known actress too. She left him after a brief 19kishore-kumar-half-ticket5marriage, since she could not stand his habit of sitting awake each night and counting his money! Leena Chandavarkar, another beautiful actress of the nineteen-sixties and seventies was his fourth wife, and remained his wife until his death.

For all his weird behaviour and eccentricity, Kishore Kumar was a political activist in his own right. He stood up against the government during the Emergency, by refusing to sing at a political function. As a result, he was banned from All India Radio and TV for two years, but Kishore Kumar didn’t bother. After the Emergency was lifted in 1977, he promptly bounced back.

His sudden death on October 13, 1987 due to a massive cardiac arrest came as a total shock to everyone. Kishore Kumar was cremated in Khandwa, his native village.

For die-hard fans like me, Kishore Kumar will never die. Along with Mohammad Rafi, he is one of the immortals of Indian cinema.

Here is a rare song from Half-Ticket (1961), a freaked-out comedy that was typical of Kishore Kumar. I think this is the only song of its kind in Indian cinema. This is a male-female duet in which both parts are sung by the same singer! Who else but a mad genius like Kishore Kumar could perform a duet like this?

Yoodleyoo, Kishoreda!

Cheers … Srini.

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Acharya Devo Bhava … Salutations to the Guru.

Image source: mustseeindia.com

The scriptures tell us that if you see your Guru and God together, then fall at your Guru’s feet first. This is because your Guru shows you the way to God. And this is why the word ‘guru’ means ‘remover of darkness’.

The 15th day of the month of Ashada is celebrated as Guru Purnima, and this year, that day falls upon Saturday, July 12. In Buddhist tradition, this was the day on which Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon at Saranath, after he attained enlightenment. Since Gautama set the wheel of Buddhism in motion with this discourse, it is known as the Dharmachakra pravarthana sutra.

This day marks the birth of Veda Vyasa, revered in our mythology as the Guru of all Gurus. Vyasa was born to the sage Parashar and a fisherman’s daughter, Satyavati, the same Satyavati who later wed King Shantanu, father of Bhishma.

Veda Vyasa is one of the most important personalities in Indian mythology. Vyasa is the author of the Mahabharata, and is also the progenitor of the Kuru race. For it was he who fathered Dhritharashtra and Pandu, the sons of Vichitravirya. Vyasa played a central role in the key events of the Mahabharata.

Vyasa systematically organised the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas into various sections, that made it much easier for ordinary people to appreciate our ancient scriptures. After splitting the Vedas into four sub-Vedas, Vyasa first imparted that knowledge to four of his disciples, thus creating the guru-shishya tradition. This system of teaching is unique to India.

Nowhere else in the world is the relationship between a guru and his disciple worshipped as it is in India. The relationship between a Guru and his disciple is considered sacred. It is above and beyond material considerations. It is purely spiritual and totally selfless. The Guru gives to his disciple all that he knows, and he expects nothing in return. The student accepts his Guru’s teachings with humility and reverence. The Gurukula is not a school. It is regarded as a sacred abode, in which the Guru and his disciples live together as one extended family. The term ‘Gurukula’ itself means ‘Guru and his family’. For years, the Guru and his disciples live as one, until the Guru deems it fit for the student to take his place in the world.

The student, before taking his Guru’s leave, offers him Gurudakshina, in acknowledgement of his gratitude for his Guru. No Guru asks for money or for objects of desire, and no student is expected to insult his Guru’s teachings by offering him money as recompense. The Guru usually asks his student to perform a task for him, as did Dronacharya when he asked Arjuna to capture King Drupada, as his Gurudakshina. Arjuna promptly set forth, defeated Drupada after a mighty battle and presented him before his Guru. Drona generously gave Drupada back his freedom but retained half his kingdom, not for personal gain, but to prove to Drupada that he was his equal in all ways.

More often than not, Gurus in ancient India took nothing at all from their students. They would consider their students’ success in the world as their Gurudakshina.

Even in modern times, our reverence for our teachers remains. Even in the age of the Internet and even with all the on-line educational courses available today, there is no substitute for the guiding presence, the motivation, the inspiration, the dedication and the selfless love that a student gets only from a real teacher.

So this Guru Purnima, do not forget to seek your teachers’ blessings – and to show them your gratitude.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”   William Arthur Ward, 1921-1994.

Cheers … Srini.

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Where Aves rules – Ranganathittu.

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Spot-billed Pelican. Resident species at Ranganathittu.

What I love about namma Bangalore, and the sole reason why I continue to live in this garbage-laden, dog-infested, over-congested and rapidly decaying city, is the proximity of so many prime birding locations.

Ranganathittu is one such. Spread over just 700 square meters, this sanctuary is one of India’s smallest. Yet, it is home to well over one hundred avian species and several other flora and fauna.

During the winter months, the star attraction at Ranganathittu is the Eurasian Spoonbill. So named because of its characteristic flat bill, the Spoonbill is a long-distance migrant that comes down to India all the way from Europe.

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Eurasian Spoonbills.

Come October and hundreds of Spoonbills arrive at Ranganathittu to breed. Spoonbills prefer shallow waterbodies and feed on small aquatic animals, like snails, frogs, crabs, aquatic insects and young fish. Spoonbills have a typical feeding style. They walk around in shallow water with their open bills dipped in, constantly sweeping for prey. The bill snaps shut instantly when it touches its prey.

While the Eurasian Spoonbill is a winter visitor, there are many other resident avians at Ranganthittu that are just as spectacular. The gorgeous Painted Stork is one of them.

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Painted Storks at Ranganathittu.

So is the Asian Openbill Stork. And the Oriental Darter (alias the Snakebird), and the Woolly-necked Stork, and the Spot-billed Pelican, and the River Tern, and the Great Thick-knee, and the Indian Shag, and many more.

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And look out for the Marsh Crocodile (or Magarmach, if you prefer). Ranganathittu is one of the few places where you can see the endangered Marsh Crocodile in its natural habitat. You can usually spot a couple of these magnificent monsters sunning themselves on the rocks.
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There is a large colony of Flying Foxes at Ranganathittu. Flying Foxes, FYI, are bats. In fact, they are the world’s largest bats.

If you take a boat across the lake, the boatman will take you very close to these crocs and foxes – for a small financial incentive, of course!

The entry fee is Rs.50/ per head (per Indian head, that is). For foreigners, the entry fee alone is Rs.300/-. And that, to my mind, is not fair. Why do we always assume that visitors to our country are all stinking rich and are all very happy to pay ten times the normal fee?

The fee for a common boat is Rs.50/- per head. Or, if you have money to spare, you can shell out Rs.1000/- for a four-person boat and a prolonged half-hour ride across the lake. Shell out another Rs.100/- to the boatman, and that half-hour can become one hour!

The gardens around the lake are equally rich in avian life.

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Green Bee-eater, Ranganathittu gardens.

 

Look for the Green bee-eater, Grey wagtail, Oriental magpie robin, Black-rumped Woodpecker and India’s smallest bird, Tickell’s Flowerpecker. About the size of an adult thumb, this elusive little fellow prefers to feed on the fruits of the Singapore Cherry tree, which is where I snapped this Flowerpecker trying to gulp down a meal.

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Tickell’s Flowerpecker, Ranganathittu gardens.

 

Distance from Bangalore is about 120 km, an easy two-hour drive from the city. Ranganathittu is close to Mysore. If you prefer, you can stay at Mysore for a couple of days, and visit several birding spots around the town.

Ranganathittu is good for a visit through the year. If you want to see the Spoonbill, visit during October-March. If you’re serious about birds and photography, then strictly avoid weekends. Mid-week is strongly advised. Visit the place as early as you can. Ranganathittu opens at 8.30 am, at which time you will probably have the place to yourself.

Please avoid loud clothes. Dull greens and browns are the correct attire. We don’t want your ultra-tight jeans and bright-yellow tank-top to scare those poor birds, do we?

Do avoid exposing large amounts of your skin – and not for moralistic reasons. There is no shortage of mosquitoes and other stinging insects at Ranganathittu. Odomos is well advised.

If you have no car, no worry. There are many buses from Bangalore and Mysore. Or gather a few friends and hire a taxi. The nearest rail station is Srirangapatnam, but I think a road journey is far better.

Just grab your binocs, hit the road one fine morning, head for Ranganathittu, and leave your worries to the birds!

Cheers … Srini.

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