Bangalore fights back … the story of Puttenahalli lake.

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Puttenahalli lake today.

Twenty five years in Bangalore have made me a hardened cynic and a prophet of doom. I’ve seen this city deteriorate from a beautiful, innocent little hamlet into one of the filthiest, overcrowded, screwed up cities in the world.

I remember when this was a nice little town for pedestrians and pensioners. Now it’s a shithole filled with stray dogs and thugs. There were trees and parks lining every avenue here once. Now there are malls and brothels.

There were lakes and ponds filled with clear water once. Now there are open-air toilets and slums. Once there were flowers and birds everywhere. Now there are dogs, dogs, dogs, everywhere. Roads with more potholes in them than tar. People defecating in public view. Hooligans driving two-wheelers on pavements. And hawkers squatting on what’s left of those pavements.

Bangalore’s demise is inevitable. Investing in this urban nightmare would be a remarkably foolish business decision. But still, there are determined citizens who have chosen to fight back. And there are some victories.

Puttenahalli lake is one such. Once a delightful waterbody tucked away inside Puttenahalli villlage, on the southern outskirts of the city, the lake suffered the same fate as all other lakes across Bangalore. Encroached, surrounded by concrete condos, filled with garbage and human waste, infested with mosquitoes, vermin and local goons.

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The lake was written off, waiting to be swallowed by land-sharks and politicians. A small group of locals decided to do something about it. The Puttenahalli neighborhood improvement trust came into being about seven years ago, with the single-minded objective of reviving the dead lake.

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It took them a great deal of hard work, and a considerable amount of their own money. But today, Puttenahalli lake is a thriving waterbody, filled with clean water, a home to fifty species of birds and all kinds of flora and fauna. It’s not out of the woods yet, there is still a slum to be removed, but I’d say the worst is over.

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To a large extent, the battle is won, and Puttenahalli is now officially known as a “saved” lake. Considering what it used to be, this is a major achievement by any means. And across the city, other citizen groups have taken up the fight to save their local waterbodies.

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For a city that has been destroyed by political greed and corporate thuggery, and is in imminent danger of death, Puttenahalli lake is a small beacon of inspiration and hope.

As long as there is hope, I think Bangalore city still has a chance to survive, however slim that chance may be.

Take a look at my Puttenahalli collection.

Cheers … Srini.

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Where were you when your mother died?

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Our scriptures talk of ‘putradharma’ … the duty of a son.

Elaborate guidelines are given in our ancient books of wisdom, about the multiple responsibilities of a son. In modern India, the law is crystal-clear about putradharma.  Not just that, a son who is prevented from caring for his parents by his wife, has a legal ground to seek divorce.

No matter which religion it is, no matter which country it is, no matter which century it is. A real man takes care of his parents. Period.

An elderly couple visited me today, seeking my advice. Three sons. All three are abroad. All three are filthy rich. All three have abandoned their parents. Just abandoned them. They don’t give a shit if their parents are alive or dead. I was deeply moved by their plight.

It’s the same story with the parents of my NRI friends and relatives. It’s the same story with millions of elderly parents across India. Abandoned by their rich, expat children. Alone. Victims of abuse. Soft targets for criminals. Easy marks for con-men. And frequently found with their throats slashed in their own homes.

Some have formed support groups, some have sought refuge in retirement homes, some have wound up in ashrams. They are brutally exploited everywhere they go.

“This is not my India”, whines a popular music director, when some random crime that is totally unrelated to him, happens somewhere in the country. The “rationalists” and “secularists” rave and rant and organise rallies about “intolerance” in our country. A debate rages in our TV news channels, about a bunch of refugees from another country.

But no one talks about the millions of our own elders, who are abandoned refugees in their own country, left to die by their own children. It’s bad for TRP ratings, you see.

This is indeed not my India. In my India, elders are deified, they are respected, they are worshipped. In my India, parents are cared for. Not left to rot in a bloody “retirement” home.  In my India, a mother gets to die in the arms of her son.

I had a wife and daughter once upon a time. That wife and that daughter told me to abandon my parents, and migrate to the West. I told both of them to get lost. And they did. But not before they raped me in court though.

The ex-wife got herself an extremely rich, extremely old NRI husband. The ex-daughter got herself an extremely rich, extremely old step-father, took his name as her own, and now enjoys the “luxury” of the West along with her live-in boyfriend.

“Wish her well and be happy for her”, I was advised by an “enlightened” relative of mine. Why the eff should I wish her well?

A full decade of being single, and I am content. Content to lead my mediocre life. Content to be a dutiful son.

Will God give me a nice pat on the back? Will I get a nice berth in heaven? Will I get my just rewards in the next life?

Of course not.

As it is, I get insults and jeers from the general public, and pointless advice from elderly relatives. And I still get outright abuse and slander from my ex-wife’s fan-club in Bangalore. I ignore all of them.  A man does what he has to do.

Many years ago, I was in a train to Hyderabad. A hijra (eunuch) got in and asked me to make room for her. During the journey, we had a nice chat about various topics. Just before she got off, she told me something that has stayed with me through my life. She told me that in her community, they take care of their old folk, till death.

A man who does not take care of his parents is not even fit to be known as a hijra, she said in parting. I couldn’t agree more.

The elderly parents who wept on my shoulder today, made me realise how much better I am than all my NRI friends who sneer at me for choosing to stay back in India. I may be an impoverished, underachieving divorcee with a bald head and two stents in my heart, but I’ve got more balls than all of them combined.

Next time one of your NRI friends brags about his mansion, his Mercedes, his heated swimming pool, his wife’s boob-job, ask him just one question.

“Where were you when your mother died?”

Cheers … Srini.

The thrill of photography.

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Omkar temple, Bangalore, India. One of my favorite images.

Today, Aug 19th, is World Photography Day.  Why Aug 19th, you ask?

On Monday, August 19th, 1839, the Daguerreotype photographic process was released to the public as an open-source technology. Read about it in Wikipedia, if you want.

Thanks to this great gesture by the French, you and I can enjoy photography without paying hefty royalties to anyone. Vive la France!

Photography is my primary stress-buster. Keeps me sane, makes me really happy. Almost as good as sex. Almost. (I have been an involuntary celibate since many years, fyi).

In the days of celluloid film, photography was a demanding hobby. Composing a good photo required considerable skill, a great deal of patience, a lot of good luck and a competent studio that could develop film correctly. A professional photographer or a serious hobbyist who wanted to develop his own photos had to have skills in chemistry as well, and a dark room, and plenty of money for film and chemicals.

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Scarlet darter at dusk.

Film photography was a time-consuming and expensive hobby, but it was fun nevertheless.

Things changed with the birth of the digital camera. Nikon introduced the first commercial digital SLR camera in 1986. And Canon, Minolta, Sony et al quickly followed. Those early digital cameras cost a fortune. Most of us photographers in India could merely dream of buying one.

Today, we have cameraphones, point-and-click digcams, gopro’s, webcams, god-knows-what-else, for any budget, any skill level.

Some questions about photography:

Is photography very expensive?

Of course not. If you have a decent smartphone, that’s enough to get started. Some of my best images have been made with my phone. If you have about Rs.20K to spare, you can get yourself a very good bridge camera that’s almost as good as a DSLR camera.

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Made with my cellphone.

If you don’t have Rs 20K to spare, there are hundreds of affordable point-and-click digital cameras out there.  As your skills improve, you can spend as much as you want, depending on how far you want to go. For most people, a bridge camera will be all they need.

Should I buy Photoshop or something?

Not necessarily. Most camera manufacturers offer free imaging software with their cameras. And there are many photo apps on the net, all free. Gimp, Snapseed, VSCO, the list is endless.

Do I need a computer?

Perhaps. For cameraphone photography, you don’t need a PC. Just click, process, share. For a bridge or DSLR camera, you do. Any unbranded PC is enough.

Where do I save my photos?

As you take more pictures, you will find yourself running out of space on your PC or phone. Not to worry. There are many cloud-based sites like Google Drive, Flickr and 500px that allow you to store and share hundreds of images. If you have the money, buy an external or internal hard disk.

What is the best time for photography?

In principle, any time is good. For outdoor photography, daytime is best. I do most of my photography in the hours between 3pm and 6pm, depending on the season. Dawn is also a good time. Avoid afternoons, in general.

What kind of photography do I get into?

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Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata).

Anything you like. Nature, wildlife, food, people, travel, street, candids – anything at all. There are on-line resources for every taste, every skill level, every person.

Does photography pay?  No.

Don’t even think of quitting your job. At the professional level, photography is really expensive and very risky. Save your money and time. Enjoy photography as a hobby, take great photos that you can share with your friends and family, spend as much as you can afford, and not a penny more.

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Butterflies are difficult to shoot!

Which camera do I buy?

Buy only the camera you can comfortably afford, without the need to pay in instalments. Buying a camera ( or any other electronic device costing less than Rs. 20K) on instalments is just foolish. Cameras have negligible resale value. Remember that.

As I said, all you need is a good smartphone and a free app. Nowadays, you get all kinds of affordable lenses and accessories for smartphone photography, if you think your phone is not good enough on its own.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive and immensely satisfying hobby, that will last for a lifetime, and that may or may not get you laid, I’d say modern photography is one of the best options you have. I’ve yet to get laid, but one lives in hope.

Go ahead. Put your hand into your pants. Take out your cellphone. Make your day.

Cheers … Srini.