Oct 14 2009 (Farewell)

October 15th, 2009

I’m typing these thoughts while nursing my last pint of authentic Kingfisher for a while at the appropriately named “Kingfisher Sports Bar” in the departure lounge at the very posh Bangalore International Airport. I cant get through to the internet owing to the vagaries of the local wireless network system. Apparently, the only way to get through is by sending and receiving an SMS message on one’s cellphone and my timeworn razor isn’t quite up to the task outside of the US. So I may have to post this final entry from Frankfurt where I can use T-mobile’s network, their price-gouging aside, but as usual I digress …

This is my eighth trip back home to India ever since I left for the US in 1988. I have always had a great time, visiting old friends, relatives, familiar places and reliving old experiences. But the fact that I was able to document and share them on this occasion, was special. Moreover, I discovered and cherished details that in the past I had overlooked or treated with indifference at best, or disdain at worst. I would hope that this reflects a degree of personal growth on my part, but if not, then I can only conclude that the experiences themselves were so compelling that even I was able to eventually grasp them. If the truth lies somewhere in between, I will be happy.

Bangalore and Mysore are phenomenal places to visit as I hope that my blog was able to convey. Even though I’ve only lived in India for less than a third of my life, those were formative years and I have a sense of connection to the places that is timeless in spite of all that has transpired in between and the fact that both cities have evolved in profound if not always commodious ways for all their denizens. For every frustration encountered, there are at least two moments of transcendent joy. For every rude person, there are at least a dozen whose courtesy and helpfulness are nothing short of humbling. It is a collection of experiences that is difficult to convey in words or pictures, but I hope I was in the ballpark with my blog.

No trip anywhere in the midst of civilisation is a narrowly personal endeavour. A trip wherein one goes home is even less so. I am therefore profoundly thankful to all the people who met me and made my time here an immensely enjoyable one.

I must first start by thanking my mother. She puts up with all my quirks and idiosyncrasies with a degree of patience and resignation that should eminently qualify her for sainthood. She has held the fort down entirely on her own ever since my dad died in 1996 and that is no mean feat. During my visit, she went out of her way to ensure that I was well fed, well supplied with access to all the accouterments of the modern communications era and well entertained, notwithstanding the fact that she has lost two siblings in the past couple of months.

To my cousins Indira, Poornima and Pratibha who lost their mother a few weeks ago, you are like my sisters, so my mum is yours. To Babu for his help and support and for showing me around my alma mater – you are a gentleman of the finest pedigree. To Shruti, for putting up with my endless needling, you are a model of sweetness. To Aalaap who I forgive for his taunting over Liverpool’s loss to Chelsea, keep that bright smile always! To Suresh and Shashank, it was a pleasure seeing you without bandages over half my face this time around :) To my Aunt Lalitha who has endured a couple of tragedies in the past couple of years, I am glad that you live closer to my mum now. To Anirudh, be strong and take good care of your mum. To Jaya, thank you so much for visiting us and for bringing your grandon Varun who was a delight! Who else would go Go-Karting with me?! :) To Rashmi it was a pleasure talking to you over the phone and I hope that I can meet the whole family sometime. To Girija, it was great talking to you and to know that you are planning to visit the US sometime soon. Do tell Kartik that his uncle has fond memories of Wellington. To Namitha, I look forward to getting together with you all for longer than 15 minutes someday! Do give my best to Prabhakar (who I am yet to meet!) and to Annapoorna. To Nagu, thanks so much for putting us up the night I landed in Bangalore and I wish you nothing but the best in these trying times. To Harsha, my most sincere apologies for not planning our rendezvous better. I promise to be more pro-active on my next visit. To Ananth and Bharath, many thanks for that excellent dinner at your awesome club and for introducing me to your wacky goofball of a lab! To Nandini, thanks for staying up so late and my apologies to little Sasmith for his having to wake up from his sleep just to say Hi to me. To Bharathi and Krishnamurthy, it was a pleasure seeing you after so many years. To Geetha, I’m really glad that we can stay in touch through facebook. To Ramasesh, seeing you just before we left for Bangalore was a treat. I have always enjoyed our bull-sessions and hope we can have one again when you visit the US next year. I have very fond memories of Delhi which I regard as one of the great cities of the world. To my Uncle Shankaran, it was a pleasure meeting you again and I hope your foot gets better soon. To Aunt Sheela, thank you so much for the delicious Idlis! To Poornima and Ravi, I enjoyed meeting you immensely and I think it is past time that you paid me a visit in Dallas!

To my friends Gopal and Shiv – thank you so much for that splendid evening at Gopi’s. I promise to keep in touch this time around and I urge you to hold me to that promise. I thank Shyam and Venkatesh who tend bar at the Pelican for their kind indulgence. I thank Raghu not just for driving me all around Mysore, but for being an excellent guide as well. To Gouramma, whose excellent cooking is reason enough to return, thank you for taking good care of my mum. Prof. Ramamurthy, thank you for entertaining my many math questions and for you help with advanced topics when I was a punk of an undergrad. I can honestly say that you are the reason I did well in graduate school. I am glad that I got to shake your hand again and hope you’re enjoying your retirement. To Mr. Venkatesh Murthy, thank you for your help to my family when we’ve lost loved ones. It was nice to meet you at the concert.

To anyone else that I’ve met but forgotten to acknowledge, I offer my most sincere apologies for the oversight and hope that I remember to correct it in time, before being reminded, as I urge those reading this blog and familiar with the nature of the omission to do so. I look forward to seeing you all again … soon.

I am also very grateful to everyone that read my blog and especially to those that commented on my entries. Your indulgence of my rambling observations is what kept me going. This blog will stay alive for the foreseeable future! I hope to oversee its evolution into a discussion forum for all topics that form the rich tapestry of life.

Finally to my mother, thank you again so much for putting up with me for the past two weeks. In the meantime, I promise to learn how to spend less time on the computer the next time I come home. I doubt that there are words with which I can adequately thank you, but I hope that I can eventually evolve into something resembling the good son. I am glad that We got Raghu to take this picture of us outside the terminal at the airport. I love you mum – unconditionally just like Rruff loves me.


Oct 13 2009

October 13th, 2009

A little over 5.3 million people call the city of Bangalore (excluding the greater Bangalore metro area) home. This translates to an average population density of over 18,500 people per square mile in the city! While this is nowhere near New York City’s whopping 27,500/sq-mile, it is still a phenomenal number! Dallas and Houston in comparison both have densities of about 3800 /sq-mile.

Bangalore is a bustling chaotic city threatening to rip apart at the seams and has had to make to with crumbling infrastructure that is not being replenished at a rate sufficient to keep pace with growth. Consequently it requires a skill-set that is both fungible and adaptable to survive and to be productive in this city. As I noted yesterday, a 30 minute experience in the peak traffic hours here can be a horrendous experience for the uninitiated. The congestion and smog can be unbearable. The perpetual construction and sudden discoveries of one-way streets can be disconcerting in the extreme, not to mention the atrocious state of some roads that are yet to be repaired. As if all of this isn’t damning enough, the lack of anything remotely approaching zoning makes most areas almost unlivable owing to the haphazard co mingling of commercial and residential properties.The weather can be pleasant in the evenings, but the humidity can make the days unpleasant during certain months of the year.

And despite all of the above, it is a strong dynamic vibrant city that offers a multitude of compelling reasons to visit it again and again, as I have been doing for the past several years. I must of course confess to a fondness for the city, because my late dad was born here, grew up here and went to college at Bangalore university. It is my ancestral hometown. I am a Bangalorean.

Shielded from the chaos of the city centre, but smack dab in the middle of it, in a 300 acre wooded area known as Cubbon Park named after Mark Cubbon, the longest serving commissioner of Bangalore under the British.

The walkways of Cubbon Park are used by walkers, joggers, tourists and the occasional lazy canine that constitutes that dark path along the path! I could have stepped right over that shady mongrel and he couldn’t have cared less. It might be tempting to think of Cubbon Park as Bangalore’s “Central Park”, but that honour decidedly belongs to another of the city’s landmarks as we shall see presently.

This immense Texas-sized building of which I’ve onlay managed to capture a bit is the Karnataka State Legislature Building (Bangalore is the State Capital), called the Vidhana Soudha. It is the largest state legislature building in India.

VS_2The flag flying on the building is the Indian national flag. States do not have their own flags. Likewise the gold plated emblem at the top is the national emblem. Poor Rick Perry must be having a fit! By the way, the chief executive of the state is not the Governor, but the chief minister. He is the elected leader of the unicameral legislature. The state does have a governor, but he is appointed by the president of India as an overseer. He/She cannot suggest/promote legislature.

The light was simply not in my favour while I was attempting to take a picture of the famous red brick building that houses the Karnataka High Court directly opposite to the Vidhana Soudha. There are much better pictures in the wiki link.

KittelThis statue is that of the Rev. Ferdinand Kittel, a missionary with the Basel Mission in South India in the mid to late 19th century. You could be forgiven for asking why there would be the statue of an obscure German priest in a land some four thousand miles away. Well, Rev. Kittel compiled and published the world’s first Kannada to English dictionary of about 70,000 words in 1894. A consummate scholar of the language, his definitive book on Kannada grammar and his structured approach to reconciling phraseology from several dialects is in no small measure why people speak Kannada the way they do today. For his dictionary, he was awarded a doctorate by the University of Tubingen in Germany. Bangalore’s “Austin-Town” neighbourhood was recently renamed F. Kittel Nagar in his honour. While the flag that he is holding does eerily resemble the German flag (you might think that the black is tucked away) it is not! That is the so called Kannada ethnic flag. My mum pointed that out to me! I had no idea that such a flag existed. I hope it dosen’t become de rigueur. I am not a flag person.

Sadly not one person I asked knew where the statue was. I had read that it was on MG road, but couldn’t locate it. So I called my dear sister (I refuse to call her a cousin) Indira back in Mysore who googled it and told me exactly where to find it. This pic’s for you Indira.

This is Bangalore’s “Central Park”. Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens. This breathtakingly beautiful park is reminiscent of Paris’s Luxembourg Gardens in its layout and houses several thousand varieties of trees and plants from all around the world.

The famous “Glass House” at Lal Bagh is one of its prime attractions. Its more of a structure with a glass ceiling, so you could probably throw a stone from inside without any of the serious ramifications implied by the cliche, but I did not feel compelled to test my theory!

The gardens were commissioned by Hyder Ali and completed by his son Tipu Sultan. Fortunately however following the ouster of Tipu and the subsequent Rendition of Mysore, (remember, Mysore was the capital then), the Wodeyars proved to be no less than exemplary guardians of Lal Bagh. Modern administrations to their credit, have despite their myriad flaws in other areas, all seen to it that the gardens are well maintained.

I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that only in Bangalore will you find a Hard Rock Cafe next to a book soceity! This is just off of Bangalore’s famous M. G. Road. If you call it Mahatma Gandhi Road, you are announcing to every Bangalorean that you are from out of town!

The Bangalore Palace is a smaller replica of Windsor Castle and was bought by Chamaraja Wodeyar from the British in 1884. The palace has undergone some renovations and is definitely worth a visit.

Unlike the Mysore Palace and the stuffy bureaucrats in charge of it, the Bangalore Palace is delighted to let you snap away to your heart’s content for a fee of Rs. 500 (approximately $13). This is the “Durbar Hall” or Royal Court where the King would receive visitors. If I were the King, I would not receive people potentially hitting me up for money in the midst of such opulence. I’d have them come and visit me in a completely unprepossessing cubicle. But hey, its his palace. I was just trying to offer some much belated and much unsolicited advice!

BP_ElephThe guide informed me that this was a “rogue elephant” i.e. one that went completely out of control and had to be shot. I cannot personally vouch for the veracity of this, but I have heard it said that the kings of Mysore did not allow wild animals to be shot without cause and that the king personally would do the killing of the “man-eating tiger” or “rogue elephant”, if he felt it necessary, as was supposedly the case with this elephant.

BP_BelgThese are Belgian chandeliers.

PubI wouldn’t say that I guzzled, but I did nurse two pints of Kingfisher (or KF as Bangaloreans call it) while watching the highlights of yesterday’s cricket match between the Bangalore Royal Challengers (a team owned by the man that makes Kingfisher!) and the Otago Volts of New Zealand. This is a fairly posh pub but manages to retain a friendly neighbourhood atmosphere. Bangalore, by the way, is still known as the “Pub Capital” of India.

Jacques Kallis of the Bangalore RC cover drives for four. His 73 not out and a couple of wickets earned him the “Man of the Match” award as Bangalore demolished the hapless Otago Volts in a Champions League Match. Cricket, like soccer, has adopted a “Champions League” series picking the best clubs from half a dozen countries. Bangalore is now through to the next round. Its been a week of great sports news for me. First the New York Giants go 5-0 and now this!

Oct 12 2009

October 13th, 2009

Greetings from Bangalore. My apologies for the late short update today. The blog site was facing technical problems and I wasn’t able to load images. WIn any case we’ve been in transit and traffic in Bangalore can drive one up the wall. To declare it insane beyond belief is to be insanely charitable. I have nothing but respect for people that can handle this on a daily basis and still lead a cheerful, completely functional life. We’re in a very nice hotel in the central part of town. All of our relatives are far from the spots that I want to hit tomorrow AM and I want to hit them walking. I’d like to spend as little time inside an automobile as practically possible. Hence the choice of accommodation which has left some of my relatives a tad discombobulated, but I think my rationale was compelling.

I stumbled upon this very interesting book in my dad’s old library this morning. After he died, my mother donated a lot of his books to a private library, but this one slipped through the cracks. In case the resolution of the picture isn’t clear enough, I should point out that it is the third volume of the History of Mysore between 1766 and 1799 and spans a few thousand pages! I took a gander inside. The print is about 12 point times roman single spaced!

We passed this rather interesting hill (name unknown) about 40 kms outside Bangalore. Raghu was driving as if we were in the Indy 500, as you’ll probably notice from the blurred folliage in the foreground.

I took this picture from inside the car in the midst of a thicket of traffic, so I only got a portion of the building which happens to be an art gallery. Since its only a few blocks from our hotel, I’ll report on it in some more detail tomorrow.

The classic and the uber-modern are all part of the architectural potpourri in the centre of the city. This office plaza is two blocks down the street from the aforementioned (but not named) art gallery.

Since the traffic was just about making me “have a cow” anyway, I did not feel the need to pay a visit! And in any case, I doubt that any sort of “cow” would’ve been on the menu.

My nephews (about my age) Ananth and Bharath (left) took us all out for dinner at their ultra-swanky private club, complete with a climate-controlled pool, luxury suites, spas and more. They manage a collision/paint business and must be doing really well! The gentleman in the middle is my cousin Harsha (A & B’s uncle) and at the right is my mum. Harsha is a source of tremendous entertainment when he’s primed and he was in form tonight! Harsha and his sister Geetha who lives in Delhi were both Table Tennis (Ping Pong) champions in their late teens. We had a great dinner at the “Melting Pot” cafe in the club over a few Kingfishers. Ananth’s wife Nandini had had a very long day and wasn’t up to joining us, which was a pity, but they’ve promised to let me play host in Dallas sometime next year and I plan to hold them to it.

Its been a very long draining day, so I’ll call it a night. Cheers.

Oct 11 2009

October 11th, 2009

This is my last day in Mysore. We leave for Bangalore tomorrow, where I’ll spend 2 nights before leaving for Dallas on the night of the 14th. So I made a list of places to visit and with the trusty Raghu as my driver/occasional guide, I left after an absolutely delicious breakfast of a particular type of dosa called an Adai wherein the batter is a mix of 5 different kinds of lentils with finely chopped onions and cilantro thrown into the mix. I wolfed five of of them down and made my mum write down the recipe for me. I have to give it at the very least the Hail Mary try, which makes for a neat segue to our first stop …

St Joseph’s Cathedral/St Philomena’s Church. This imposing Neo-Gothic cathedral was built in 1936 inspired by the much older Cologne Cathedral. For decades, it was known only as St. Philomena’s church. But owing to issues relating to the proper canonisation/lack thereof of Philomena, it is now cross-listed as St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The controversy aside, it is a masterpiece of architecture and part of Mysore’s rich and diverse heritage. I must also confess to a particular fondness for St. Philo’s (I will always call it that, since its the name I grew up with) for personal reasons that I will explain in a bit. The cathedral is so immense that I had to literally go the the farthest corner of the courtyard to get almost all of it in a single frame.

The cathedral was designed by a Frenchman named Fr. Daly inspired by the Cologne Cathedral as noted above. A relic of St. Philomena was acquired by the Maharaja of Mysore in the 1920s who presented it to a Fr. Cochet who then requested the King for help in building a church over an existing church in the same spot, built in fact by the Maharaja of Mysore in 1843. The (Hindu) Maharajas of Mysore appear over the last couple of centuries appear to have been singularly broad-minded.

If I ever quit my profession, I will become a maker of stained glass works. There is a beauty and elegance to them that transcends cultural and geographic boundaries. Philomena’s cathedral is located in the heart of Mysore’s Muslim Quarter and one of the peeves of some churchgoers is that they can hear the call of the Muzzein from the mosque down the street, inside the church. They have my sympathies, but this is the sort of battle, I prefer to sit out.

This picture brings back memories from 25 years ago! I used to play the violin at St. Philomena’s Cathedral during their Christmas Eve Midnight Masses and our rehersal area was somewhere around the middle stained-glass window. My violin instructor’s brother Felix Joseph who became a good friend used to be in charge of the music and for one Midnight Mass, he composed the “Mass of St. Anne” to woo a girl named Anne who eventually gave in and married him, but the couple sadly divorced a few years later. It was an honour beyond words when Felix asked me to join the string section of the Midnight Mass ensemble. Everybody there knew that I was a non-believer, but nobody confronted me on the issue and there were absolutely no attempts at proselytism during the 3 years that I rehearsed and played there. The first two years I played there, we ended the mass with Rossini’s “Tancredi” overture and the last year, it was Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” overture. Felix was a musical genius and could play at least 8 instruments. Even though he was actually a cellist by training, you could be forgiven for thinking that he was a concert pianist. His brother, Felician who taught me how to play the violin dided of liver complications shortly after I moved to the U.S. in 1988. Sadly my attempts to contact Felix over the past couple of days have been unsuccessful. According to google, he was/is in charge of the Police Western Band, but I can’t get through to them. I’m going to give it one more try this evening.

The “Masjid-E-Azam” mosque down the street from St. Philomena’s Cathedral. Apart from the call of the Muzzein, a much larger peeve of the populace at large is that the mosque (unlike St. Philomena’s) does not fly the Indian national flag in addition to the traditional Islamic green flag. I personally find this sentiment a tad disturbing because its a slippery slope to full-blown flag-draped jingoism, something the United States has unfortunately been no stranger to either. I don’t see how not displaying a flag necessarily qualifies one as unpatriotic. Fortunately, in spite of the odd point of contention such as this, Mysore’s Muslim and Christian communities have gotten along very well with the Hindu community at large and often, while religious tensions are high in many parts of the country, Mysoreans of all faiths remain largely amicable, which is ample reason for the city to hold its head high. Sorry! I promise that this is the last of my soapbox excursions.

A close-up of one of the minarets of the mosque.

Clock Tower A
The Doda Gadiyara “Big Clock” or “Clock Tower” as its simply called in front of Town Hall. Like the one at the railway station, it did indicate the correct time!

Clock Tower B
There is also a Chikka Gadiyara (Small Clock) located outside the entrance to the main fruit and vegetable market, that I regretfully did not get to visit this time.

Town Hall A
The Rangacharlu Memorial Town Hall was constructed in 1884 in memory of C. Rangacharlu, who served as the first Dewan (Principal advisor to the King) of Mysore State. No, I did not know this before I googled it up! I did not even know that it was named after someone. But now, I do and so do you! Please take copious notes. There’s going to be a quiz on such arcana when I return to Dallas.

Town Hall B
I believe these are Corinthian columns.

There was a public forum in progress inside the Town Hall. The speaker is the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Mysore Dr. D Javare Gowda (or DeJa Gowda as he is referred to in a uniquely Mysorean style of abbreviations based on the Kannada phonetic alphabet). The person that furnished me with this information outside the auditorium seemed really puzzled that someone wearing jeans, sneakers and a “Dark Side of the Moon” T-shirt would be remotely interested in what was going on inside. I told him it was for an online blog and that information appeared to explain everything for him, as he articulated with a confident “Oh!” and a wave of the hand. I took a seat at the very back of the auditorium and attempted to follow the proceedings, with very limited success.

Dr. DeJa Gowda is a renowned Kannada poet and scholar and the topic of the forum according to my mother who is quite adept at reading Kannada, had to do with the literary contributions to Kannada by rural folk. He spoke very pure Kannada which made it particularly hard for me to understand much if at all, but he did mention Tolstoy and Emerson. Rather than wait for him to drop any more recognisable names from literature, I decided to exploit the daylight hours for some outdoor photography.

Raghu strongly recommended visiting Karanji Kere (Karanji Lake). Kere (pronounced Kay-Ray – both short syllables) means Lake in Kannada, although it is not clear if the term would apply to a much bigger body of water than the reservoir sized one that karanji is. Anyway that is where we’re bound.

Chamaraja Circle
Chamaraja circle named after my my favourite Wodeyar king who’s statue is at the centre with the palace that he never got to see in his lifetime.

A canopy of palm trees lines the entrance to Karanji Kere.

Karanji B
The area is beautifully maintained and is also a favourite hangout for romantically inclined couples, who were there in force, this being a Sunday.

Karanji A
Boating is also a very common activity. I wonder if an amorous couple has ever toppled a boat while attempting the hibbidy-dibbidy over water! I’ve heard of wet kisses, but this would be ridiculous!

Jungle Fowl
I am inside what is billed as “India’s Largest Walk-Through Aviary”. I imagine that this bird is some kind of jungle fowl, but I can’t be too sure. I did notice any documentation, which would be difficult, given that birds are free to move about as they please.

This peacock tried for several minutes to get the attention of the peahen in front of him, but she sadly showed not the slightest interest in the poor chap. Women that have rejected me in the past have shown a degree of enthusiasm that would perhaps have thrilled the hapless peacock. I wonder if she was genuinely disinterested in him or merely not into PDAs!

Kala Mandira
On the way home for lunch, at Raghu’s insistence, I stopped at the Kala Mandira (Art House). He spoke very highly of the sculpture garden in the courtyard and I am glad that I took him up on it. Here’s the facade of the building. I remember when this building was constructed rather hastily in the mid 80s to accommodate the World Kannada Conference. Its since been used for a variety of Art and cultural exhibits.

Sculpt A
One of the most interesting sculptures outside the building. The implements you see are actually part of the monolith stone carving!

Sculpt B
There don’t seem to be too many pages in those books, but it still looks like heavy reading to me!

Fortunately that not his middle digit! If he’s claiming to be #1, I wouldn’t challenge him. With ears like that, I’m sure he has perfect pitch!

My mum made her signature spinach-curry chicken for lunch and I polished my plate clean! Its been raining since 4 PM and that might have pretty much put the damper (ha!) on my capturing the illuminated palace tonight. I’m going to the Mysore Sports Club for dinner tonight with the extended family.

Oct 10 2009

October 10th, 2009

I beat the alarm and at 6 AM, the staff came by with tea and coffee. There is nothing quite like a well made cup of tea (or coffee, for that matter) at the crack of dawn. Since the elephant ride has been nixed owing to the recent rainfall (an excuse that I don’t summarily dismiss, but about which I have some nagging doubts), we’re going on a motorboat ride along the Kabini. Its more of a bird-watching tour. It really doesn’t make sense for someone from Mysore to come to the Kabini River Lodge to watch birds, because the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctary just outside Mysore is quite the avian enthusiast’s paradise. Oh well …

A thick layer of fog over the Kabini has delayed our departure. I would estimate visibility at much less than a quarter-mile.

The fog is starting to dissipate. That’s our boat. We’ve been asked to hop on board.

A visual artifact of fog makes that thick forest on the opposite bank of the Kabini resemble a city scape. If the movie Idiocracy has the remotest ring of truth to it, it might very well be one in the year 2525, if not sooner!

4-Grey Heron
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

5-Purple  HeronPurple Heron (Ardea purpurea)

6-FolliageThe foliage around the Kabini is remarkable in its own right and is primarily responsible for the rich fauna in the Nagarhole and Bandipur national forests.

What do you know .. even more tiger food – errr … deer! In the summer months, the boat captain said that they quite often spot tigers along the river banks. But with ample water deep in the jungle thanks to the rains they’ve had recently, there’s no chance of seeing one today.

8-Smaller EgretLittle Egret, (Egretta garzetta)

9-Greater EgretGreat Egret (Ardea alba)

10-StumpsRoll Audio 4: Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings“.

11-Snake BirdDarter or Snake Bird (Anhinga anhinga)

12-Osprey PerchOsprey (Pandion haliaetus). For some reason I thought that the Osprey was a uniquely North American bird and was pleasantly surprised to find it here.

13-Osprey WingThe osprey fluttered its wings, but decided not to bolt as we approached the tree with the engine cut off. It did eventually fly away though.

14-SambarWell at least its a different kind of deer this time. The Sambar (Cervus unicolor) shares its name with a rather spicy South Indian stew. I’m quite sure a tiger would not mistake one for the other!

15-Malabar-HornbillMalabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus)

After a sumptuous breakfast, we checked out and drove back to Mysore. I slept for a decent portion of the trip home, but I can safely assure you that I missed nothing of aesthetic value. I may of course have missed out on the occasional interesting street scene as we passed several tiny villages, for which I apologise, and I’ll try to atone for that, as I potter around Mysore tomorrow, my last day here.

PuppyI ran into this pathetic little huckster while walking down the street from our flat. We got to talking. His name is Robinson Thirugnanasambandham (a likely story. Who the hell is he trying to con?!). He is wanted on 4 counts of fraud, embezzlement, larceny and Grand Theft Biscuit in the neighbouring states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. He followed me home. The security guard on duty at our complex said that he belonged to someone down the street and that he was just doing his “rounds”, hitting up people for scraps and a pat on the head! Shady Mongrel! (*scratches chin* Hmmmm now who does he remind me of?!). I ran up to get him a bit of cheese, but he was gone by the time I returned. The guard said that his owner came by and picked him up. I honestly hope so.

HSIt looks as if my old high school could use a paint job! Hopefully that’s not the least of its problems! Gosh its coming up on 30 years since I was in one of those classrooms! I’m sure the median age of the teachers is less than mine! Hey Get off-a my lawn, ya punk kids ….

HSSI do not recall that lawn in front of the open-air tage on which I once played a member of Robin Hood’s posse! I don’t think I had any lines in that play. I did play a crooked Navy commander in another play in the main auditorium (partially visible) in the background. Go ahead – call it type-casting! I’m really not sure what they use the open-air stage for nowadays. There was no one around to answer that question for me.

Oct 9 2009

October 10th, 2009

The drive to the Kabini Jungle Lodge was uneventful save for a wrong turn that set us back a bit. The signage was barely adequate and very easy to miss.

The scenery en route was mostly nothing to write home about, except for the odd feature such as this collection of rocks.

We did get a nice view of the backwaters of the Kabini River thanks to the wrong turn!

The road gets progressively worse as you approach the lodge. However, once you get there, it is worth each and every pothole and bump. This place is a deep tissue massage for the mind!

The “Viceroy’s Bungalow” just past the entrance to the lodge. Since the last Viceroy was Lord Mountbatten, there is no actual risk of trespassing should one chose to visit as I found out. Its just a common area for people to hang out and socialise.

Located on the northern bank of the Kabini River in the forest of Nagarhole, the Jungle Lodges blend in beautifully with the surroundings, with the notable exception of that hideous tarp-like sheet on the roof. The cottage (left) that my mother and I rented was clean and comfortable. I think I know why the tarp is up there, as you’ll find out in a bit!

Following a lunch buffet at the “Golghar” (Mess hall, left), they’ve given us a couple of hours to unwind. We have to show up in a bit for a Safari briefing at the Golghar, after which we’re off on a Jeep Safari into Nagarhole National Park.

Something tells me that this information will prove very handy later in the evening! I can detect the presence of a bar even in the jungle! Does that make me Mowgli?!

A lookout post. Remember, its a safety net, not a trampoline!

Woodactress?! I wonder if they’re suggesting that her performance in “Bird on a Wire” was wooden?!

No Feed Ape
Damn! I would have starved to death if my mum had followed this advice when I was growing up :)

Well, Chief-Inspecteur Dreyfuss, speaking of ze minkey! On the little side patio of our cottage, This bugger actually threatened me verbally on my return from a little stroll as if I were invading his place. And then it occurred to me that I actually was! His peeps, and not mine, were the original denizens of the forest. Since he seemed a tad cantankerous, I decided that it would be futile to attempt an explanation as to how he and I were related via the Darwinian evolutionary paradigm. On account of the patio door being open, he had swiped a Sprite bottle from inside the cottage unbeknownst to my mum who was taking her afternoon siesta at the time. I have been advised that trying to get him to split the expense for the Sprite is a non-starter. Oh! And I bet you he and his friends who I saw lurking around did a number on some of the roof tiles necessitating that hideous tarp sheet!

The “briefing” consisted of nothing but the disclaimer that we should not get our hopes up too high – this was not the best of seasons and wild animals are not exactly drawn to the internal combustion engine like moths to a flame (my analogy).

They served us coffee and tea before we left. While sipping my tea I photographed the creature shown to the left. Its the South Asian Brown-Eared … Dog (Canis Familiaris), perhaps hoping for someone to offer him the odd tea-biscuit. So far, its been the dog-and-monkey show. But we haven’t left the lodge yet, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Elephant A
One of the females of a trio of Mum, Kiddo and lets say, Aunt. Mrs Jumbo (left) kept an eye on us every second she wasnt attending to Dumbo.

Elephant B
Dumbo never got out of the shade, which is perhaps just where him mum preferred he stay.

Elephant C
Aunt Jumbo seemed more interested in the folliage than anything else. We know they’re females because they dont have tusks, these being Indian Elephants Elephas maximus indicus, unlike the African Elephant Loxodonta africana in which both male and female have tusks

A male deer keeps an eye on us. Probably aware of the proclivities of certain members of our species with respect to barnyard animals, he’s understandably protective of the senoritas in his herd.

Deer A
Here’s the rest of the herd. They’re called Spotted Deer

Deer B
More deer …

Deer C
and yet more deer. After you’ve seen your 10th herd of deer, you want to yell “Just shoot me now”. I realise that “shoot” is an unfortunate term to use while talking about deer, but I hope my point is made. You’ll probably have to endure 10,000 deer sightings before getting even a fleeting glimpse of a tiger, which we of course, didn’t.

This bird is called the Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Nisaetus cirrhatus. The qualifier “Changeable” is due to an explanation that I don’t quite grasp. In any case, if I were a rodent, I’d take cover! This is a mean looking bird!

This domesticated elephant (as you can tell by the shackles) is probably used on Elephant Safaris. Owing to the very heavy rainfall this area has received recently, these rides have been put on hold.

This monkey is called a Gray Langur. The light was starting to fade and this is the best shot I would get.

Wild Boar
A wild boar grazes along with yet another infernal herd of deer. Unlike me, I doubt that he’s tired of seeing deer all his life and would give anything to spot a tiger. So all he ever does is hang out with them. What a bore (da-dum-Dish!)

The sun sets over the Kabini. We’re off to see a film on the wild dogs of Nagarhole (we didn’t see any). Now, if, you’ll excuse me, I think there’s a cold bottle of Kingfisher waiting for me at the Viceroy’s.

The movie was actually excellent! I thought I’d be bored as I usually am by promotional videos masquerading as documentaries, but this one was superb and comparable to the best of nature footage I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel. Dinner was good. Since we have to be up by 6 AM for the motorboat ride across the Kabini, I think I’ll pass on another KF (Mysoreans’ penchant for abbreviations is rubbing off on me!).

Oct 8 2009

October 8th, 2009

I got up early and after a cup of my mum’s very good tea, I thought I’d capture some examples of Mysore’s splendid architecture. To that end, I hailed an auto rickshaw to take me to Crawford Hall, the office of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Mysore. Since architecture was not merely utilitarian in those days, it almost resembles artwork in the buildings in that part of the city, as I hope you’ll observe from the pictures that I present below.

A quick sidebar about traveling in an auto rickshaw (simply called an “auto”). Its arguably the most convenient way of getting around without the hassles of parking (a huge problem city-wide) and without the vagaries of the public transport system and its indifferently documented schedules. To become an auto driver requires a certain willing suspension of fear and the sense of supreme confidence that the path in front of you will always remain clear if you proceed without hesitation. For the uninitiated, there is nothing quite like the first several times one is in an auto and the driver makes a right turn less than 100 yards in front of a bus bearing down in the opposite direction! But after a while, you realise that that’s the system. The bus will slow down just enough to let the little auto bugger get by and the auto driver will for his part, expedite the turn allowing the bus to speed up a bit as the auto completes the turn. Its a wonderful if decidedly insane example of reciprocity at work.

Crawford Hall is the Admissions and Records office of University opf Mysore. It also houses the office of the Vice Chancellor, who is the official head of the university. (The Governor of Karnataka state – formerly Mysore State – is the Chancellor). Crawford Hall is named in honour of Lt. Col. W.L. Crawford and his brother C.S. Crawford who came to India at the ages of 18 and 17 respectively. They both studied in Mysore and became very successful coffee planters in what was then the “Princely State of Mysore” and donated large sums of money to the University.

CH_1A view of Crawford Hall from one end. Notice the sub-Alpine fir tree in the background with the very interesting curvature!

Remember our friend the “Divisional Commissioner” who’s office was abolished and re-established under a different title”?! Well’ he’s now called the “Deputy Commissioner” and shares this beautiful building (called the DCO) with the Office of the District Magistrate. The statue in front of the building is that of Sir James Gordon who was the Commissioner of Mysore when it was a kingdom. Interestingly today, there is no formal title of Commissioner. I have not been able to find out who the DC reports to. I guess only bored former residents with ample spare time bother about details such as these!

Another view of the DCO from the main entrance. Got to love those cast iron gates!

Maha Col_1
The facade of Maharaja’s College. This pioneering institution is the Alma Mater to some of South India’s most noted men of literature notable amongst them, the novelist R.K.Narayan.

Maha Col_2
A close up showing the National Emblem of India mounted on a pillar painted with the colours of the Indian flag.

Metro_1One of my favourite hangouts used to be the bar at “the Metropole”. This luxurious continental hotel has fortunately been declared a “Heritage Site”, so that it will remain a Mysore Institution for years to come. Since it was only 8 AM in the morning, I decided to give the bar (which I doubt would be open anyway) a skip.

Metro_5.JPGNo, I have no idea as to whom they’re surrendering to!

Metro_2Despite its size, the hotel only has 30 rooms 30 rooms and suites furnished with hand crafted antiques.

Metro_4.JPGDuring the cooler months of the year, tables used to be set out on the lawn after dark. One time they had a large friendly Newfie that would go from table to table greeting guests. It must have been the manager’s dog. I never saw him again. The hotel is now run by the Karnataks State Tourism Development Corporation, and while it remains an excellent hotel, I’ve been told that the atmosphere is a lot stuffier and somewhat uptight, inside the hotel. If you show up in jeans and a T-shirt, they’ll serve you just because its technically illegal for them to boot you out, but you’ll get the classic frosty treatment from the staff.

Orient_1The Institute of Oriental Education. I doubt they teach Mandarin there, but having said that, I must plead ignorance as to what goes on within.

Orient_2Mysoreans refer to the building as the “Oriental Library” despite the fact that there is no formal record of, or reference to it by this title!

Rly Circ
“Railway Circle” just outside Mysore’s “Railway Station”. The statue in the middle is that of Jagjivan Ram a pioneer in the movement for Equal Rights for India’s “untouchables”, and quite a colourful character otherwise!

Rly Stn_1I have always had a particular fondness for the quaint little clock atop the tower of Mysore’s Railway Station. Since it did indicate the correct time, I guess the trains certainly don’t have that excuse for being late! The formal name of the railway station is “Mysore Junction”, which is used to refer to any railway station in India where two different tracks intersect.

Rly Stn_2A train must’ve just arrived. Once can buy a “platform ticket” to see people off. However since the clerk clearly stated that photography was not allowed on the platform, I decided not to buy one. Indian transportation systems are understandably on high alert in response to terrorists from across the border in Pakistan supposedly having been sent on reconnaissance missions to spot weak links in transportation security in India.

South Rly BldgThe offices of the Southern Railway System. My (decidedly profligate!) grandfather retired as the Traffic Manager for the company and had an office in this building.

TempleGeorge Carlin once wrote that “the only good thing ever to come out of religion was the music”. I would add architecture. Be it a church, mosque, temple or synagogue, I almost always find something interesting in their construction, even when minimalism is the governing paradigm. Minimalism is certainly not the case in the gopuram of this temple just outside the Mysore Palace.

Chamaraja W
A statue of the great Chamaraja Wodeyar, IX at the centre of Chamaraja Circle adjacent to the palace. Even though he died at the age of 31, his influence on the growth of the kingdom of Mysore was nothing sort of extraordinary. Interestingly his ascension to the the throne was through an instrument known as the “Rendition of Mysore” whereby the English basically handed control of the Kingdom of Mysore over to the British-educated Chamaraja Wodeyar. His heir to the throne was only four when he died, so that his wife served as the Queen Regent until the king came of age, and oversaw the construction of the current Mysore Palace after the old one was destroyed in a fire.

I would have taken more pictures in the area, but my camera’s battery had had enough, so that was sadly, it. I’m leaving in a bit to drive up Chamundi Hill where one gets a spectacular view of almost the entire city and thanks to my brother-in-law’s tripod, I may get a fairly decent night shot as well. I’ll be back.

The drive up Chamundi Hill took about an hour from our flat to the top of the hill. The sun had just about called it a day by the time we started our ascent. So what follows below are snapshots of the city at various times during the drive up the hill. Note that the area that I’ve focused on is the heart of the city and by no means all of Mysore which wraps around the hill.


About two-thirds of the way up the hill is a large stone carving of what’s called a Nandi Bull that is also worshiped as a god, and ironic as it sounds, thats no bull! However given its immense size I’m tempted to say that its also a huge load of bull!

At the top of Chamundi Hill is a statue of the mythological chap Mahishasura for whom the city of Mysore is named. I will let anyone interested in details do their own wiki/google research. I terminated mine when the goofiness meter went off-scale, which when it comes to all matters religious, is early and often. Anyway he looks like he might actually have been fun to have had a couple of beers with, if he could’ve been persuaded to stow the machete and snake beforehand! The legend in a nutshell is that the goddess Chamundi (there are many alternate variations of the name) decided that he should be terminated for reasons that elude me. I sort of feel sorry for the poor bugger – some uptight goddess goes postal over something he did and the next thing you know, its “off with his head”.

My mother and I are off to the Kabini River Lodge about 80 kms away from Mysore tomorrow and we’ll be back on Saturday. There’s a chance that we might actually get to see a tiger in the wild during an elephant safari ride! I don’t know if there’s internet access at the lodge, so I apologise in advance if I’m unable to post a blog entry for Oct 9 on schedule.


Oct 7 2009

October 7th, 2009

My mother had some errands to run in the commercial part of town which dovetailed neatly with my plan of wandering around that area. Its the oldest, but still the busiest part of Mysore and both facets are in abundant evidence. Traffic is unnervingly, and maddeningly chaotic. When I lived here a little over two decades ago, this was a part of town that I’d avoid like the plague, because of how crowded I thought it was at the time. However, I can honestly say that upon reflection, the traffic of those days comes across as almost suburban in comparison to what it is today. It is not an experience that can adequately be captured in a series of photographs accompanied by paragraphs that attempt to put the scenes in “perspective”. There is probably no unique perspective to anything that goes on amidst the chaos, and at times sheer madness, but it is a rich thick slice of life in a busy Indian city and something that one can only experience in person.

I am glad that over the past couple of decades, I have matured – the hung jury on this account notwithstanding – to at least the extent that I can see beyond all of the things that put me off then and actually appreciate the experience for what it is. It is a collection of several teaching moments in the school of life. There is something profoundly moving about a sea of humanity surging back and forth in waves of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, all engaged in peaceful commerce and something akin to what the founders of the Unites States called the “pursuit of happiness”. Despite the undeniably harsh conditions and congestion, people find compelling reasons to show up here every day and to remain productive, exuberant and motivated.

This sort of scene is certainly not unique to Mysore or even India. As I walked amidst the crowd converging onto the area adjacent to Devaraja Market, I had this chilling awareness of what it must have felt like on a sunny day in a market in Baghdad, with people buying and selling things, engaging one another in chatter and laughter, moments before a bomb did what bombs always do – chip away at the edifice of humanity. We are tremendously fortunate to live in a safer world here. As I blended in and out of the crowds, taking pictures, no one hassled me or even yelled at me to get out of the way. It was almost as if they accepted me as just another ingredient in their pot – as one of them. For that I am grateful and humbled beyond words. I promise to step off my soapbox now.

KRC_1Krishnaraja Circle or K.R. Circle as everybody in Mysore calls it. People in this (Karnataka) state really love their abbreviations! – B.R. Hills, H.D. Kote, J.P. Nagar are just some of them. Two of Mysore’s busiest commercial streets Devaraj Urs Road and SayyajiRao Road run into K.R. Circle. Trust me when I say that the area at the time was far busier than it appears to be in the photo. Had I taken the picture a split second later, I’d have had a wall of people and vehicles blocking the entire scene.

The statue at the center of the circle is that of the former Maharaja of Mysore, KrishnaRaja Wodeyar IV who appears by all accounts to have been one of the more enlightened figures of royalty.

KRC_4The influence of Mughal architecture is evident in many monuments built by both Hindu and British administrations prior to India’s independence from British rule in 1947. The dome atop K.R. Circle is an example. So it appears that while the Brits and Hindu kings may have cooperated to purge the last vestiges of Islamic rule in South India, they rather wisely decided not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Lansdowne Building a historic Mysore landmark. This ancient complex is home to several stationers and bookshops that are institutions in themselves. The building has been declared a heritage sight and is therefore off limits to developers who would bulldoze it down in a jiffy and erect a characterless utilitarian cuboid in its place. However, very little money has actually been earmarked for its maintenance.

LD_3Here’s another view of Lansdowne Building further down the street. It would break my heart if this marvelous relic of ancient Mysore were to disappear.

RajkamalRajkamal Theatre or as many locals call it, “Rajkamal Talkies”, smack bad in the heart of the bustling Shivrampet business district. The use of the term “Talkies” to refer to a cinema theater is an enduring and endearing Mysorism. The Kannada movie being screened is “Maga Dhira” which means “Bold Son”. The average Mainstream Kannada movie can be a Tour-de-Force in histrionics featuring some of the most egregious hammy overacting in the history of the theatre, not to mention a soundtrack featuring screechy female voices. I would require the sort of pleasant buzz one gets from a few pints of beer (with perhaps the odd sake-bomb thrown in!) before I could sit through about 20 minutes of one. So I’ll just wish the “bold son” well and hope he survives that motorcycle stunt without a helmet, unscathed.

Tree Shrine
Old Mysore is full of decrepit religious street-shrines like this. I was a bit circumspect about photographing this lest I offend the sensitivity of the Hindu faithful who’ve been an edgy bunch lately, but Raghu (my mum’s driver) assured me that there wouldn’t be any repercussions. He wasn’t quite sure as to which god the shrine was intended for, or whether it was manned or unmanned.

DCOThe Office of the Divisional Commissioner. According to this article, the post of Divisional Commissioner was “abolished, but recreated with a different name”. Brilliant! I’m going to go out on a limb and say that like the Mysore Palce, the architecture of the DC’s office is Indo-Sarcenic, but I’ll perform some due diligence in this regard.

We stopped by my cousin Indira’s office at the university of Mysore. She’s a professor of sociology and a Fullbright scholar. She is also at the forefront of the feminist movement in South India. She now heads the Department of International Studies. She is an exemplary role model for young women worldwide and I am proud to call her my older sister. She has always gone to bat for me. When I was a teenager and almost everybody else dismissed me (not entirely without foundation) as a good-for-nothing wastrel, she would defend me with passion. I hope that in the decades since, I’ve given her at the very minimum, a modicum of vindication. If not, its back to the drawing boards!

Indira Office
Indira and my mum relax on the couch in her spacious office. I still remember the cubbyhole she had as a lecturer in the dept of sociology 30 years ago! My big sis is now a big shot!

Raghu, Varun and I went to Planet X, an indoor/outdoor game arena. We bowled, played air hockey and went Go-Kart Racing. I won all events! Beating a 13 year old kid at Go-Kart racing is obviously not something for which I should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour, but Raghu has done some stock car racing in real life! He’s also a rock climbing instructor. He’s promised to teach me the basics the next time I’m in town. Later we had dinner in the excellent cafe at Planet-X. I had the “Peppered Mutton Fry” (spicy, but delicious) and some fresh piping hot Tandoori chicken and a Butter-Naan (does it count if a non-believer declares it “heavenly”?!) They have a very neat 18 hole Put-Put golf course here with some really interesting obstacles!

Chamundi Hill
Tomorrow we’re going up Chamundi Hill seen here from Planet X.

Varun left with his grandma (my cousin) for Mangalore (with an M, not a B) tonight. So I’m going to be starved for intellectual company! Who else will discuss wall-rebound attacks in Prince-of-Persia, with me?!

Oct 6 2009

October 6th, 2009

After a breakfast of my mum’s famous potato sandwiches with her absolutely delectable homemade tomato chutney, I left with my brother-in-law (I hate the term cousin-in-law) Babu (S.K. Laxminarayana as he is formally known) to visit my Alma Mater (the National Institute of Engineering) NIE used to be an integral part of the University of Mysore (which issued the actual diplomas) when I was a student there in the 80s, but its now a semi-autonomous body and has grown by leaps and bounds since. Its is still in the same complex that it started off as a tiny civil engineering institute in 1946, but to keep up with the growth in programmes, they’ve opened up several satellite units.

When I was a student there (1983-1987), there were several flower gardens in lieu of the lush green lawn you see now. But it saddens me that they’ve taken down the creepers, because of occasional problems with bats. I remember seeing the odd bat or two, but it was never a problem. Oh well…

RoboticsThe new Robotics lab. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a demo, but they have some very neat equipment there.

Mech LabThis takes me BACK!!!! The Engines Lab !!!! We had to conduct experiments to verify the basic principles of all thermodynamic cycles! The equipment has been replaced by newer models, but the concepts are the same! I want to go back to school!

MotorCycleA bunch of lucky buggers got to build this puppy as part of their senior project! Grrrrrrrr

Fire Lab Once again, too bad I couldn’t get a demo, but I doubt they’d just set that thing on fire every time some doofus-alumnus shows up.

Irrig Swing
NIE has an “Alternative Energy Courtyard” with examples of all kinds of alternative energy units. This one (A Swing Irrigation Pump) cant be matched for sheer brilliance – you set this swing up in your plant garden and use the energy generated to power a pump that irrigates your plant beds, while you relive your kindergarten days on the swing.

Flour Mill
Babu who has been a pioneering force behind NIE’s recent wave of expansion demonstrates a pedal-powered flour mill – burn off the calories that you’ll probably get from consuming all the wheat products from the flour!

Thanks to some bad scheduling, we’re going to Planet-X tomorrow, but I am meeting my former classmates Gopal and Shiv for dinner this evening. In the meantime, I’m going to hop over to the Pelican for a pint.

Pelican_4 Shyam (left, the Man-U acolyte) and Venkatesh (who worships at the altar of Cricket alone) tend bar at the Pelican.

Tap_Me I was invited to pour myself my own half-pint (they don’t do full pints, next step up is a pitcher) of Kingfisher (one of the world’s best lagers)! This is an honour I shall cherish for the ages!

KF Tap A close-up of the Kingfisher keg. The colour red appears to be the dominant theme of all things Kingfisher – which is rather at odds with the fact that the kingfisher is actually a blue bird – Raghu, my mum’s driver pointed one out to me at Kukkarahallikere the other day)

Pelican_EntThere’s a coconut tree just past the entrance to the Pelican. No, I do not know why the lowermost portion of the tree is (or appears to be) painted, but I will make a mental note to ask – My suspicion is that since it does not involve the minutiae of either Cricket or Soccer, neither Venkatesh nor Shyam will be of much help, but I’ll give it a shot nonetheless.

KF_Babes This photograph should constitute incontrovertible proof that I am quite the ladies’ man, even if said ladies are two-dimensional and therefore not exactly capable of issuing a reasoned rebuttal. That women (particularly women of faith) worldwide fail to recognise that I am god’s gift to women is astonishing – Wouldn’t the fact that the “supreme being” has a macabre sense of humour be axiomatic to them?!

GroupGopal, Shiv and I outside Gopi’s (no relation to Gopal!) a rooftop restaurant after a night of much mirth and recollection of events from three decades! Gopal and I went to middle school, high school and college together. Shiv and I have known each other since college. Shiv (an electrical Engineer) and Gopal (an industrial engineer) are friends in spite of their entrepreneurial relationship.

Paan When you’ve lost track of how many pints of beer you’ve had, the answer to “Paan Sir?” invariably switches from an emphatic, if polite “No Thanks” to a whimsical “Ah! Why the heck not?!”. Fair enough. So how was it, you ask?! Well, .. do the expressions on our faces suggest “Interesting” ?! Lets go with that anyway!

I’m going to venture into the heart of old Mysore (SayyajiRao road) tomorrow and attempt to engage the shopkeepers and street vendors there in casual banter so as to get a feel for how they think the city has changed in 21 years. Since I wont have a translator with me (my mum even in her golden years probably has more worthy causes that demand attention), it will be my tortured if nor altogether fractured Kannada, and my best interpretation of their responses that will determine the outcome of these cultural exchanges. I suspect that I’ll discover how one says “Bugger off” in Kannada, but that too would prove immensely useful!

Other Notes:

  • It turns out that I was mistaken about KukkarahalliKere (See Blog entry for Oct 4) translating to “Crane Village Lake”. I got this information from Shiv (not a native Kannada speaker) who thought that Kukkara means “Crane” in Kannada – its actually Kokre (pronounced Kok-ray). Halli does actually mean village. But apparently, there is no way of formally translating the name of the lake to English. Shiv can be forgiven though, because the lake is indeed famous for the flocks of cranes that show up at dusk.
  • It is not exactly clear how much, if any, treated city waste water really flows into Kukkarahalli Kere, or if that waste water is actually treated prior to being discharged into the lake. I will try and research this topic a bit more.

Oct 5 2009

October 5th, 2009

Woke up at 6 AM and upon firing up the “internets” (as good old Ted Stevens put it) was delighted to find out that the Giants beat the Chiefs 27-16, Manning’s 4th quarter injury and some late sloppy defense by the G-men notwithstanding. When I yelled forth this news from the balcony, the city lit up in a profusion of excitement and joy! The mayor of Mysore has declared today New York Giants Day and a ticker tape parade is planned for their bye weekend. I hope they can make it.

I attended to some banking matters at the ICICI (”Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India” acc to wikipedia). They have a lone uniformed guard outside the building armed with what appeared to be a musket from the Third Anglo-Mysore War . Tempted as I was to take a picture, the “Delhi Metro incident of 2007″ (Took pics of swanky new Delhi underground metro/ Accosted by 3 armed guards with machine guns / Forced to delete pics from camera) is still fresh in my memory and so I moved on.

We’re headed to see the interior of the Mysore Palace and I’ll (hopefully) be able to post some pics later in the day. There is some question as to whether photography is allowed inside the palace. I’m about to find out.

I took Varun (he’s from out of town – from the port city of Mangalore, yes with an M, not a B) to see the Palace during the day – you might recall my semi-botched attempt at capturing it illuminated last night.

The palace seen here from the main gate was built in 1912 by the Wodeyars. It is a spectacular if somewhat indifferently maintained example of Indo-Saracenic (Hindu, Muslim and Gothic) architecture. Photography as my mother had surmised, is not allowed inside the palace, which pretty much eliminates capturing some of its most breathtakingly beautiful features. The oft-cited explanation for this by laypersons is “terrorism”, but if so, this is very selectively applied in India. Neither the Jaisalmer Fort nor the Jodhpur Palace has a ban on photography, as I observed during my visit to Rajasthan in 2007. Moreover for some bizarre reason, shoes are not allowed inside the palace! So, in a nutshell, you’ll just have to either take my word for the fact that much of the interior is awe-inspiring, but if not, you’ll have to be the judge of that yourself, if you chose to visit Mysore sometime in the future.

A close-up of the central marble domes. The middle one is gold-plated.

Corner A view of one of the corners of the palace which incidentally was designed by an Englishman named Henry Irwin on commission by the Queen Regent at the time (The heir to the throne was 4 years old) Maharani Vani Vilas Sannidhna after the old palace was destroyed in a fire. Irwin Road (strangely pronounced “Eerwin Road” by many Mysoreans) is one of Mysore’s landmarks.

GateThe ornate main gate as seen from inside the palace.

Temple AOne of the 12 temples in the palace courtyard. The Wodeyars were obviously very devout Hindus.

Temple BA close up of the edifice known as the Gopuram.

Had lunch at a large gathering to commemorate the 14th day of my aunt’s passing. Today, she is supposedly at the “entrance to heaven”. It apparently takes a whole year to actually get in. No word on whether its a paperwork or a backlog issue! At lunch, I bumped into Gopal an old classmate, who runs his own IT company and who is doing phenomenally well! He, his wife and I are going to meet for a round of drinks later tonight along with another common friend Shivkumar who took the lion’s share of the impact from our 2005 motorcycle accident in Mysore and was knocked out cold. Mercifully he’s made a complete recovery.

Before that, I’m going to take my niece Shruti and a host of nephews out for ice cream. Shruti is a very sweet, charming young journalist, not the least of which is on account of her putting up with my mercilessly ragging, especially when I remind her that I first saw her when she was 4 hours old (true!).

Back from Ice cream. Shiv had a conflict so we’re going to hook up for some beers tomorrow instead. Lazy evening otherwise. Made plans to visit the Kabini Lodge and Resort at Bandipur National Forest Park.

Tomorrow I’m off with my cousin Indira’s husband Babu to visit my Alma Mater – He’s now on the Board of Directors.

Late Update: I forgot to mention that I met last evening with a gentlemen Mr Nagaraj Rao who retired as the Director-General of the Archeological Survey of India. He gave me a neat explanation of how and when manuscripts evolved out of the oral tradition in Greek and Indian mythology. He appears to have been pulled out of retirement to oversee a couple of projects involving the digitisation of ancient manuscripts on palm leaves! He’s also a faculty adjunct at the University of Mysore and his current class consists of a group of students from Humboldt University. He said that they’re the most impressive batch of students he’s had in the dozen years or so that he’s been teaching.

Oh and by the way, when I asked him about why photography wasn’t allowed inside the Mysore Palace, he said “because they’re a bunch of stupid people”. So I feel vindicated, even if deprived of some glorious pictures.


A platoon of India’s next generation stopping en route to the future for an ice cream break! From left to right –

  • My nephew Shashank (my cousin Pratibha’s son) who’s sprained an ankle ligament playing soccer which explains the blue taped up foot. He’s going to graduate as a chemical engineer in a year.
  • My nephew Aalaap (my cousin Indira’s son) who’s golf skills have won him several trophies. He’s just about to enter college. The little twerp who’s a Man-U fan has been giving me endless grief about Liverpool losing to Chelsea! Kids these days …
  • My niece Shruti (Aalaap’s older sister) who’s a journalist and covers fashion and tourism. Like her mother, she’s one of the sweetest people on the planet and puts up with my constant teasing, especially when I play the role of elder statesman and remind her of how tough things were when I was her age ( we didn’t or at least I didn’t have cell phones). The look of resignation on Shruti’s face is probably because her prankster of a brother has piled up all the ice cream cups in front of her, which may also explain that goofy grin on his face!
  • My grand-nephew Varun (who I introduced earlier in this blog and is my niece Rashmi’s son) a Karate black belt and video game enthusiast. He’s cracked “Assassin’s Creed”, something still on my to-do list. He’s also an inveterate cell phone artist.

“Shruti” and “Aalaap” are musical terms. Their parents met while they were both on the board of a musical society in the early 80s.

Oct 4th 2009

October 4th, 2009

Got up at the crack of 9 AM and after a breakfast of Dosas thought I’d wander around one of my favourite hangouts in the past – KukkarahalliKere which I’m informed loosely translates to Crane Village Lake. Its a lake not altogether unlike Dallas’s White Rock Lake in that it too is surrounded by a neat walking trail.

I first accompanied Mumsie down the street to Loyal World a local supermarket – its like one of the grocery stores you’d find in Manhattan – small but fairly well stocked. “Temple Street” as its called has quite a few vendors on one side and I spotted one that particularly tickled my fancy:

Hot Chips If this enterprise doesn’t work out, he’ll be back with “Sri Vinayaka Hot Chicks”!

I felt bad about getting a chuckle at the the store’s expense, so I bought 100 grams of Tapioca chips whereupon I quickly discovered that the “hot” in “hot chips” was not the “hot” as in “Texas in July”, but rather the “hot” as in HOT PEPPERS!!!

On the way to Kukkarahalli Kere (I wonder how the British would have anglicised this one) I spotted this gem in front of us:

Coconut Bed Damn! I’ve got to try that sometime! The man is on a bed of coconuts piled up on the bed of a moving truck! In conjunction with the odd pothole, it might actually turn out to be some sort of dynamic Shiatsu therapy. He’s wearing a lungi.

Kukkarahalli Kere:

Lake This artificial lake is essentially a catchment area for treated waste water from the city. There have been several restoration projects over the years to maintain the quality of water in the lake as well as to eliminate the water hyacinth that at one time had threatened to occupy a sizable portion of it. Fortunately they’ve been very successful, and the lake is today, arguably the most scenic part of the inner city.

Big Tree
There are some very interesting trees around the lake. I cant tell if this is a single tree or the arboreal equivalent of “Siamese Quintuplets”!

Sloping Tree
This one’s also a stumper – if you’ll pardon the unfortunate pun! I thought trees grew vertically, regardless of terrain slope.

Forest Fire
My mum who taught Botany informs me that the flowers on this tree are called “Forest Fires” (Salvia Coccinea).

My 13 year old grand nephew Varun who accompanied me on my jaunt around the lake. He’s my cousin’s grandkid. My cousin’s daughter is my age. The earlier generations on my mother’s side were not exactly the most ardent practitioners of birth control. She’s the youngest of 8 children that survived. She has nieces and nephews older than her. Anyway, Varun is a sharp smart kid. We share the same interests in video games. He’s a huge Prince-of-Persia fan as well. Tuesday night we’re going to Planet X, Mysore’s premier video/indoor game arcade.

There are quite a few species of white birds on that cluster of trees. My mother’s driver Raghu appears to be quite an avian buff and he informs me that the best time to be here is in the evening when the cranes show up.

NCC Boats
These abandoned boats belong to the Naval wing of the all volunteer NCC (National Cadet Corps) of which I used to be a member (albeit in the Air Wing). They were used to train cadets in the basics of boatsmanship until crocodiles were discovered in the lake in the 80s. To this day, there are anywhere from 3 to 5 crocodiles in the lake, which has pretty much put the kibosh on boating.

The Illuminated Mysore Palace
Between 7 to 8 PM on weekend nights, the entire Mysore Palace is illuminated with something close to 100,000 bulbs. Its a sight that I’ve seen several times since the late 70s and it is always spectacular! Unfortunately tonight, I showed up late, approached the palace from the wrong entrance and fidgeted around with the tripod that I borrowed from my brother-in-law Babu (one of the most resourceful, knowledgeable, competent, helpful and generous persons I have ever known). Anyway, on account of my sloppiness, I was only able to take two pictures.

These are the palace gates, which are also lit up.

This one is from the courtyard. I’ll try to take better pictures next Saturday when for starters, I’ll plan on showing up on time!

I got a waiver from dinner at my sweet cousin Indira’s (who’s really more of a sister than a cousin) so that I could watch Liverpool play Chelsea at the Pelican pub. Unfortunately, Chelsea is up 1-0 as I’m typing. I am likely to receive at least a modicum of grief from the matriarch, for this transgression in protocol. Speaking of grief, Liverpool just squandered a terrific opportunity to level the score. I may need another half-pint of KFish to drown my sorrows …

Well, Florent Malouda’s goal just put Chelsea up 2-0 with 2 mins of injury time in the 2nd half, so I’m headed home. Wish me luck with the matriarch. She is too short-sighted to appreciate the subtleties of the English Premier League.

Oct 3 2009

October 3rd, 2009

About 8 hours after leaving Frankfurt, Saarland touched down at Bangalore 35 mins past midnight on the 3rd. The swanky new airport is awesome. There was an all-female team of H1N1 screeners wearing surgical masks just prior to the immigration queue. I timed the process from stepping off the plane to the baggage claim area at just under 6 minutes! … and bags were already on our carousel from the Lufthansa plane! Of course, my bag took forever to arrive – but that’s the roll of the dice with 400+ pax.

I headed outside the terminal and greeted Mum and my cousin Nagu who lives in Bangalore and who very graciously put us up for the night. The next day, I met my 94 year old aunt (my mum’s much older sister – she has children my mum’s age!) and then we departed for the quainter confines of Mysore. Mum’s driver has some phenomenal road skills although I must confess that he unnerved even me on occasion! Traffic on the Bangalore-Mysore road is unbelievable. I will be back in Bangalore on the 11th and plan to visit some of the city’s supposedly exotic spots. So until then, I’ll be blogging about Mysore (pronounced “Maisoor”)

Mysore is a charming if somewhat decrepit city and I suspect that part of its charm is its stubborn if futile determination to remain unchanged over the times. I went to high school and university here at a college with the somewhat inflated name of the National Institute of Engineering” (Yes, they even have a wiki entry!) I always thought of Mysore as a bedroom community and while that remains true today, the city is starting to acquire some of Bangalore’s worst traits in terms of urban sprawl, traffic, congestion and lack of zoning. Having said that, there are some precious vestiges of the cities royal and colonial past.

I had lunch at my cousins’ place. They just lost their mum 10 ago, and in a couple of days, there is going to be a ceremony of some sort to signify her “entry into heaven” which according to the Hindus takes 14 days. I wonder if this is plausible seeing as how it took me about a day to get from Dallas to Bangalore alone. I would imagine Nirvana to be a heck of a lot more than 14 times that distance, but I’ve decided not to press the faithful on this point especially under the circumstances.

Its been an uneventful day otherwise. I plan to potter around town tomorrow and report on anything that I find interesting. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to head to the Pelican pub down the street from my mum’s flat and nurse a pint of Kingfisher and maybe a plate of Chicken Manchurian.


Update: the Pelican Pub

This place is still the same wacky little tavern that it was 2006, albeit with a smoking ban, thanks to some belated postmodern enlightenment. I just love the fact that its a 5 minute walk from my mum’s. Shyam the friendly bartender brought me up to speed on 20/20 cricket and the English Premier League. I have decided to forgive him for being a Manchester United fan (I’m a die-hard Liverpool man). I had 3 half-pints (for some reason they only serve pitchers or half pints) along with some INSANELY spicy Chicken Manchurian bar bites! Chicken Manchurian is not unlike the delicious Chicken McNuggets of yore that used to be made from all the left-over parts of the chicken – beak, feet, gizzard, liver, and in the case of Manchurian, all minced together with garlic, chillies, spices and LOTS of paprika and cayenne and chilli powder and deep fried. I had to almost chug the last half-pint to fight the inferno building up in my mouth and the mini volcanic eruptions on my scalp.

Note to self: Might want to check into the availability of the “Mild” option on the Manchurian at the risk of losing all street-cred (said ship might have sailed anyway)

Will post some pics tomorrow.

Over and Out for the night. Strangely not jet-lagged.

OCT 1-2 2009

October 1st, 2009
I will certainly miss my boy ...

I will certainly miss my boy ...

All checked in at DFW … the damn D8 jetway is blocking my view of the Lufthansa Airbus 340  :( HPIM1792

But I did get better shots of the KLM Airbus 330 and the North American Boeing 767 (troop charter)
KLM Airbus 330-200North American Airways Boeing 767-200

Finally a slightly better shot from the jetway. The aircraft is named after the quaint German town of Remscheid
Lufthansa Airbus 340-300 "Remscheid"

Remscheid leaves a nice shadow on the parallel taxiway as she climbs out of DFW.

The sun rises over Glasgow. Note the frost on the outer pane. If you look very closely, you can see Ian McEwan stumbling home from the corner pub!

Spoilers slow Remscheid after one of the sweetest touchdowns I have ever experienced on a 340

If you’re an airplane spotter like me, Frankfurt airport is heaven! But for the more sensible traveller, it can be a hellacious ordeal with its rundown terminals and the labyrinthine process to get from Gate A56 to B26. I saw planes from 5 continents on the ramp while just taxiing to the terminal!

Air India uses Frankfurt as a secondary hub – There are 3 of their Boeing 777s on the ramp, bound for Chicago, Newark and Delhi.

Try saying that 5 times quickly!!

“Saarland” (named for the State of Saarland) is the Boeing 747-400 that will take me to Bangalore. Lufthansa has been using the big bird on the Bangalore service for over two years now and the flight is always packed.

The Lufthansa gate agent’s valiant attempts at pronouncing a few polysyllabic jawbreaking South Indian names is mildly entertaining. I’m sure she’d have no problem saying Donaudampshippfahrtsgesselschaftskapitan (I’m not making this word up – check the link!), but somehow Balasubramaniam throws her off :)

More from Bangalore tomorrow. Cheers.