Of birds and friends, of idlis and vadas, and all things nice.

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Painted stork at Kokkrebellur

Given my spartan lifestyle, my chronically single status and my aversion to most human beings, my social options are somewhat limited. The only two outdoor activities I really enjoy are birding and nature photography. While I am happy to enjoy these activities in the scintillating company of my own self, my hobbies do bring me in touch with some really likable people, sometimes from outside India.

One such really likable person is Dr Ilana, my new friend from Israel. An avid birder and nature-lover like myself, Ilana had come down to Bangalore along with her husband, Dr Haim, for a medical conference.

She took a day off to join me and my friend, Vishnupriya Hathwar, for a field trip down Mysore road. We set off at the crack of dawn, to avoid the ghastly traffic that Bangalore has become notorious for.

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Moode idli, uddina vada, sambar. One serving will not do!

First stop. Hearty Kannadiga breakfast at Kamath Lokaruchi, my favorite eating house on this route. This place has maintained its standard since the past decade, and deserves all the positive reviews it gets. Cordial service, authentic Kannadiga food, good standards of cleanliness and hygiene (about which I am paranoid).

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Ilana and Vishnu: Is that a bee-eater?

Lantana at Tailur

Next halt: Tailur tank, near Maddur. On the way to Kokkrebellur, this place is a hot favorite with birders and photographers. We have a special tree at this place, which is home to several species of birds – notably the blue-tailed bee-eater, which is endemic to this location. Also seen in this tree will be spotted owlets, coppersmith barbets, green barbets, black-headed ibises, the occasional red-necked falcon, and several others.

small sks-06764You will also find an ancient artifact at this tank. Carved from a piece of granite, this ancient sculpture portrays seven goddesses, and dates back to the Ganga dynasty, circa 9th century CE. What a shame it is just lying there unattended.

Indian grey hornbill, Kokkrebellur

We proceed to another favorite destination, Kokkrebellur. Named after the painted storks that occupy every tree in this little village during winter, Kokkrebellur is virtually a place of pilgrimage for birders like myself. Since we went there off-season, there weren’t many painted storks around. But that gave us the chance to see several other species, notably, the golden-fronted leafbird and to my joy, several mating pairs of Indian grey hornbills. The hornbills alone were worth the journey.

After a substantial lunch at a food court off the highway, we proceed thence to Ranganathittu. Although this little bird sanctuary is fairly well maintained, I am not overly fond of this place. It is usually too crowded and they rip off foreign visitors. We did sight some interesting species, that I have described in an earlier post.

Long-billed vultures, Ramadevarabetta

The one place we were really desperate to visit was Ramadevarabetta. Until the recent past, this rocky hill was a delightful place to visit if one wanted to see rare raptors. Gross neglect and criminal encroachment has nearly destroyed this place. The government woke up a little too late and fenced off what’s left of Ramadevarabetta. This rocky place is the abode of the critically endangered Long-billed vulture.

We arrived at dusk, well past 6pm, to find that the gates were closed, and the watchman wouldn’t oblige. Thanks to Ilana’s spotting scope though, we were able to sight three long-billed vultures, to our great delight.

That to us, was a spectacular end to a great birding day. I had fun, I met a wonderful couple and made two new friends, and I learnt a great deal about Israel. And made up my mind to visit this remarkable country before I die.

“To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, was a simple miracle. And I wondered why we were so rarely able to appreciate it.”  Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Memoir

Cheers … Srini.

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We didn’t get a medal. So what? So effing what?

Yeah. We didn’t win a medal. So what? So effing what?

All of a sudden, self-appointed custodians of our country’s pride come crawling out of the woodwork, with their usual rants about how a country of 1.3 billion people can’t win a single ‘Olumpic’ medal, in spite of 70 years of independence, how our athletes lack the ‘winning attitude’, or the ‘killer instinct’, whatever the eff that means. And rant about the money spent on our ‘Olumpic’ team, and the ‘investment’ made on them, etc, etc.

As if our country’s athletes are items in a kirana store that we need a profitable return on investment.

Most of these self-appointed custodians of India’s pride and prestige are pot-bellied couch potatoes themselves. Or worse, they are cut-rate gossip columnists and peddlers of printed sleaze.

Not one of them would have stepped into a sports arena in their lives. Ask them to run a hundred meters, and they will collapse after fifty. Tell them to climb a single flight of stairs and they will get a heart attack. See if they can touch their toes without getting a hernia. Most of these rotund jackasses do not even live in India.

These are the fat-laden buffoons who rave and rant about India’s medal tally. It is true that India has won not more than 26 medals in its entire Olympic history, of which 11 are for hockey alone. The last time we won a gold in hockey was in 1980, by the way.

So? Does that mean that (a) India is a not a global force in sports and (b) we must therefore stop sending our athletes to the Olympics, or what?

This is what Ms Shobha and her ilk say we should do. Well, Shobha and her ilk have no idea about what the spirit of the Olympics really is.

That’s because, without exception, they are self-centered, pathetically narrow minded little morons.

Is the Olympics not about winning? Of course it is. Do you think athletes across the world work their backsides off for four years, with the intention of losing? Of course they want to win. That is the intention of the Olympics.

But that is not the spirit of the event.

What then is the spirit of the Olympics, you ask? Do I really need to tell you? It’s there in the motto.

Citius. Altius. Fortius. Faster, higher, stronger.

Simply put, “Be the best that you can be”.

Officially put, “to build a peaceful and better world in the Olympic Spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play – Olympic Spirit strives to inspire and motivate the youth of the world to be the best they can be through educational and entertaining interactive challenges”.

To even stand on the same platform as the world’s best athletes is honor enough. Anyone who can make it to the Olympics is already a winner, already a world-class athlete.

And hello, rotund jackass. India is a world leader in several sports, cricket being just one of them. How about tennis? Chess? Do you know how many world champions in billiards we have produced? Heard of Michael Ferreira and Geet Sethi? How about badminton? Wrestling? Boxing?

So stop whining about our Olympic medal tally. We can do better, I give you that. And certainly, sports administration in our country needs a serious kick in the pants. We do not need you, rotund jackass, to tell us that.

But why crucify our athletes, o rotund jackass?  Most of them have overcome poverty, discrimination and severe social hurdles to become world-class athletes who represent our country. And remember, they have all succeeded in qualifying for the Olympic finals, not because of our sports administration but in spite of it.

What the eff have you done with the silver spoon you were born with, and with your premier MBA degree from India’s premier institute that was heavily subsidised by tax-payers like me, you rotund jackass? You left the country, that’s what.

I feel terribly proud that an Indian girl has made it to the finals of an Olympic gymnastic event. Such an achievement is unheard of in recorded Indian history. To me, and the rest of India, she is a winner all the way. And she has the grace to apologise to the country for missing the bronze by a teeny whisker.

I do not see why we deserve an apology from her.

Dipa Karmakar. Abhinav Bhindra. Sushil Kumar. Saina Nehwal. Mary Kom. And every single member of our contingent out there in Rio. They are all Olympians, medal winners or not. They made have it there against impossible odds. Most of them know the chances of their actually winning a medal are not very bright.

Still, you know that they will give everything they have to our country. Whether they get a medal or not, is utterly immaterial. Because that is what the Olympics is all about. And that is what India is all about.

Pritish Nandy, a gentleman whom I particularly admire, once wrote, “The killer instinct is the instinct of the moron. It drives you to a posture where you cannot face failure. It is either victory or vulgar self-flagellation”.

And he also wrote, “Eff the killer instinct!”

I heartily agree.

India does not need a “killer instinct” or a “winning attitude” or a medal tally. If we win, we win gracefully.

If we lose, we lose like winners.  We don’t rave and rant. We don’t scream and shout. We don’t whine, throw tantrums and write some garbage on social media. We simply shrug our shoulders and try harder next time.

Cheers … Srini.

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Shobha, who?

I’m confused. Who is this Shobha?

There was a Shobha I knew of in my younger days, i.e., in the distant past. Who wrote below-the-belt novels and gossipy stuff for some magazine called Starshit or something. Shobha wrote stuff that adolescents of my generation could safely read only in the sandaas.

Oh sorry. Is ‘sandaas’ politically incorrect these days? Change that to, “adolescents of my generation could safely read in the gentleman’s cubicle”.

Over the years, I graduated to reading better stuff in the gentleman’s cubicle, and to using better media for reading. Nowadays, I use my smartphone. The Shobha who was so nice to me in the gentleman’s cubicle became a dim memory from my pubescent past.

Recently, I was told there’s a Shobha who writes terrific articles and books about ‘woman empowerment’, ‘a woman’s right to choose whom to sleep with’, and similar awe-inspiring stuff for women. Could it be the same Shobha, I wondered? Must be really old by now, I wondered?

Turns out it is the same Shobha. And joy of joy, I can still enjoy her stuff in the gentleman’s cubicle. At my advanced age, I need all the help I can get in the gentleman’s cubicle. And considering that her advanced age is much more than my advanced age, the stuff she now writes is especially impressive -and effective- in the gentleman’s cubicle.

Today, someone posted a blistering tirade against this Shobha on my Facebook timeline. What has this sweet old woman done now, I thought.

Apparently she tweeted something about our Olympians. I took a look at what she tweeted, and boy, that really was a nasty and uncalled-for remark from her.

But I’m confused.

Not at what she tweeted. That is not confusing. That is just what one would expect from a person whose writings can be appreciated exclusively within the confines of a gentleman’s cubicle. Oh sorry. Sandaas.

I have to admire her consistency. Four decades of continuously churning out stuff that is so flushable (to me) and yet so lucrative ( to Shobha). She’s kept up with the times. She’s doing it on social media now. Too bad my smartphone is too expensive to be flushed.

What confuses me is the national outrage. TV channels, facebook, newspapers, whatsapp, twitter. Shobha this, Shobha that, Shobha hai hai. WTF.

Why give this person so much importance? Why give her any importance? Why even read what she writes? Her writings are for elderly farts like me, who have issues in the sandaas. Not for people with common sense and taste. People like you, in other words.

Who cares? What difference does her very existence make? Will the Indian government recall our Olympic team because of this person’s flushable tweets, or what?

Come to think of it, why am I even wasting an entire blogpost on her? Well, her writings did give me some memorable moments in the sandaas. Oh sorry. Gentleman’s cubicle.

Don’t you see? You made her into what she is. You buy her books. You read her columns. You follow her twitter feed. It is you who thinks her pseudo-feministic ranting, her blatant misandry and her overt anti-nationalism are expressions of intellectualism.

How rich has she become because of you? Do you know? Even now, as you scream your impotent abuse at her on social media, she’s laughing her way to the bank. She’ll wind up with another literary award for her untiring work for ‘freedom of expression’ and a butt-load of award money, just wait and see. And you will send her congratulatory tweets. Just wait and see.

You. You made a semi-sentient porn writer into a literary star. You made a pathetic, salacious excuse for an author, into a self-appointed spokeperson for an entire nation.

You. Not she.

Stop reading her. Stop writing about her. It is just that simple. Stop. And she will fade away. Into the gentleman’s cubicle.

Oh sorry. Sandaas.

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Good old days? You’re mad!

demotivational_posters_the_good_old_days_Demotivationals-s450x548-125658Nothing annoys me more than people of my age who keep raving about the ‘good old days’, i.e., those glorious days of our childhood when we’d drink water straight out of the tap, eat all kinds of greasy stuff, wipe our hands on our pants before eating and lick them dry after, run around barefoot, treat our wounds with wet mud, play football in the dirt, use a pencil instead of a keyboard, do multiplication in our heads, and we never had all these “luxuries” like iPhones, iPads, and so on, ad nauseum.

And therefore, we are expected to believe that our childhood was much better than our children’s, and by extension, we are much better than our kids since we learned how to thrive in adversity, we learnt how to innovate, how to be entrepreneurs, etc, etc.

Bullshit.

If you’re forty or older and you really believe that your childhood days were the ‘good old days’, then … stop kidding yourself.

One afternoon in October 2005, I got a call on my cellphone. I had just brought my father home after a major cardiac procedure. Since he seemed stable, I left home to get to work. A few minutes later, without any warning, his femoral artery ruptured and gushed fountains of blood everywhere, and he lost consciousness. I got home just in time to administer emergency CPR and saved his life. We rushed him to hospital in an ambulance, and after a very complicated surgical procedure, the surgeon told me he was out of danger. On that day, my father got a seven-year extension on his life.

In the ‘good old days’, my father would have bled to death in his own bed, in a matter of minutes.

You see, there were no cellphones in the good old days, no Google maps to help me locate the nearest ambulance service, no way I could have called the hospital from inside the ambulance while on the road, and even if I had somehow got there in time, there was no way the surgeon could have saved my father … because the medical technology that he used to save him had not even been invented in the ‘good old days’.

In August 2007, I contracted a rare E.coli infection, that was resistant to all known antibiotics at the time. For four years, I tried every possible treatment, including weird mumbo-jumbo stuff like faith-healing.

Through those terrifying years when my GI system went berserk, I rarely left my home, for fear that I would embarrass myself in public. I could not work and play as I used to, could not earn my living the normal way, could not socialise, could not do anything except rush to the toilet at regular intervals, day or night. And rush to the hospital every once in a while.

It took two modern-day miracles to save my career and my life. One miracle is the Internet – because of which I was able to remain in touch with the world and earn a decent living even while confined to my home. The other miracle is a drug called Rifaximin. This new-generation antibacterial was developed specifically for highly resistant gut infections like mine, and it was launched in India only in late 2010.

In the ‘good old days’, my nostalgic friends, I would have literally crapped myself to death.

Consider these facts about the good old days:

– NO cure for any major disease. Today, even cancers are curable. And relax, the cure for AIDS is just round the corner.

– NO effective treatment for clinical depression, schizophrenia or any neurochemical disorder. In those days, the usual treatment options were either electric shock or lobotomy. Or they would lock you up. Today, such patients are treated at home and can lead useful lives.

– NO career choices for average people like me. Either you became a doctor or an engineer, or be ridiculed as a loser, as I was. Today, anyone, and that’s just about anyone, has both the opportunity and the means to be a winner, no matter what his/her mental prowess or age or physical condition is. And that’s because of that modern-day “luxury” called the Internet.

– NO social activity outside your immediate circle. You had to be nice to your lousy friends in the neighborhood, and had to join them in their exceptionally dangerous ‘traditional’ games like gilli-danda (that could blind you) or kabaddi (that could cripple you) or flying kites with illegal manja thread (that could decapitate you) or worst of all, hunting garden lizards with sharpened sticks. Either that, or you got shut out or worse, bullied and beaten for being a wimp. My childhood days in BARC quarters, Chembur, Bombay 400071, were MISERABLE.

Today, your physical location is immaterial. Your friends bully you, dump them. You don’t need to take crap just to fit into any social circle. You can create your own social circle that spans the globe. No one is alone on the Internet. In my ‘good old days’ in BARC-Chembur, I was always alone.

– NO hand-phones. No Whatsapp. No SMS. No Skype. NO direct-dial. NO telephone calls outside your own city – and usually not even that. You had to book a trunk call and wait and wait – if you had a land-phone in the first place. Or, you had to queue up outside the post office in the middle of the night. And wait for hours till they put your call through. And then shout your guts out so that everyone would hear all your personal stuff, because the bloody line was so bad.

– NO home delivery. No on-line booking. Miss the old days? Queue up in a stinking railway station in the middle of summer to book your holiday tickets – and see how nostalgic you feel.

– No choice of TV channels, except for ‘good old’ Doordarshan. You think Arnab Goswami shouts too much? Then perhaps you’d rather prefer the news of the 1970’s. Good old news from the one and only news channel available – that was entirely owned by the government. Have you forgotten the days of the Emergency, you nostalgic dickhead?

– No credit cards. No electronic transfer. No mobile banking. You think e-money is unsafe? Then next time you visit India, carry a huge wad of American dollars from New York to Bombay instead, and see how safe you are.

-Two years waiting period for a telephone, or pay Rs. 15,000/- for a tatkal phone and get it in ‘just’ one year; three years wait for a Fiat car or Bajaj scooter, one year for a ration card or gas cylinder, six months for a monochrome TV or even a pocket radio (for which you had to first get a license).

Yeah. You had to have a license to own a TV or radio. And, the government would regularly send an inspector to your home just to check on you. And of course you had to bribe him.

There’s nothing good about the good old days.

Kids drank out of rusted taps and garden hoses because they were idiots. And only some of them got away with it.  Many of those kids didn’t get away with it. Those kids, like you, who didn’t die of cholera or typhoid or gastroenteritis were just dumb lucky.

If modern technology baffles you, if your kids are embarrassed because you cannot answer their questions about the world around them, if instead your own kids teach you how to use a simple device like an iPhone, then squarely blame yourself for not reading the right books as a kid, and instead wasting your time playing ‘good old’ games like gilli-danda and lagori. 

No wonder your kids ask Google and Wikipedia for advice. Not you.

I could go on and on. But you get the point don’t you? ‘Good old days’ is nothing but a myth.

But don’t take my word for it. If you’re so much in love with the good old days, it’s really quite easy to return to those days.

Burn your TV, flush your cellphone down the loo, throw out your PC and iPad and every electronic device that you bought in the past decade. Destroy all credit cards. Drink only water from the tap, drive only a rusty bicycle that you made yourself,  run around barefoot, eat raw cucumbers and deep-fried pakodas on the roadside with muddy hands, play gilli-danda with street kids, and chew on wooden toys painted bright red with lead paint. Just like the good old days.

Sure. Go right ahead. I dare you.

Within one month, you will (a) get fired from your job or (b) become a social outcast or (c) infected with a terminal disease or (d) arrested or (e) insane or (f) all of the above.

But don’t worry. If you’re in Bangalore, I know some good doctors at Nimhans. They’ll take good care of you. I’ll tell them to use ‘good old’ shock treatment.

“Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson … You find the present tense, and the past perfect.” Owens Lee Pomeroy, 1929-2008, Engraver and radio buff, Maryland, USA.

Cheers … Srini.

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Meri Dosti, mera pyaar … Musings on Friendship Day.

dostiIndian cinema has no shortage of movies glorifying friendship, specifically male friendship. The concept of male bonding, or bromance (to use the modern term) has always been vigorously promoted by Bollywood. The hero giving up his life, his worldly wealth, even his lady-love for the sake of his friend, and similar tear-jerking stories are the bread-and-butter of Bollywood.

Of the hundreds of bro-movies (if I may coin a term) that Bollywood has given us, one movie stands head and shoulders above the rest. 

Dosti, released in 1964, is for my money the best friendship movie made in Bollywood. This was only the second movie to come out of Rajshri Productions, the movie house that specialises in family movies like Chitchor and Hum Apke Hain Kaun. (Well, they did make Agent Vinod too).

The lead pair, Sudhir Kumar and Sushil Kumar, was seen on the screen for the first time. So was Sanjay Khan, who played a secondary role in the film. Dosti was perhaps the first movie that did not have a female lead. There was no heroine as such, and even the two young men who made the lead pair were not conventional hero material either. One was blind, the other was a cripple, and they were both in dire poverty. 

Dosti is a simple, heart-warming story about the honest friendship between these two challenged young men, as they struggle to make their way in a tough city.  

In addition to Dosti’s story and the acting performance of its lead pair, what makes Dosti an Indian classic is its truly exceptional music – and the voice of Mohammad Rafi. 

Penned by Majhrooh Sultanpuri, and composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal, each song is a precious gem. And no one else could do justice to those songs, but Mohammad Rafi.

Dosti was Rafi, all the way. Just one song was rendered by Lata Mangeshkar, and hardly made an impact. 

Did you know – Dosti’s signature harmonica tune that Sushil Kumar plays in the movie was actually performed by RD Burman? Although he was a rival music director, RD gladly helped out L-P by playing the harmonica for them. It was a movie about friendship after all, and RD was a good friend. 

Mohammad Rafi once said that Dosti was one of his toughest assignments. Rafi had the unique ability to modulate his voice and could subtly change his singing style to suit any actor he sang for. But he found it hard to modulate his voice for the teenage Sudhir Kumar. That is perhaps why he sang at a slightly higher pitch than he normally did. 

Rafi did a remarkable job and won his fourth Filmfare award for Dosti. The movie swept every major Filmfare award for 1965 and became a huge commercial hit. 

When Dosti was first released, I was hardly two years old. I saw the movie for the first time when it was re-run in 1980, during my under-graduate days. Since I never had good friends in those days, I saw the movie all alone in Rupam Talkies at Sion. And I found myself yearning for such a friend as Sudhir Kumar in Dosti. 

Fifty years after Dosti, I still find myself yearning for such a friend. 

Ah well, here is Mohammad Rafi’s award winning song from Dosti. If it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, then there’s something wrong with you. 

Cheers … Srini.

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