Saturday, September 26, 2009

What we refuse to destroy

There's a quote by John Sawhill that I happen to strongly agree with "In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy." By that standard, I think we deserved a pat on the back today. The High Court of Karnataka has directed the BBMP not to fell trees in GKVK. To give a background on the story, the BBMP had proposed to run a 100ft road through the GKVK campus to provide a shorter link for commuters traveling from Yeshwantpur to the new airport.

I had always heard about the GKVK "forest" from the folks in the birdwatching circles. Today I decided to pay a small visit. In the single hour that I was there I saw at least 20 species of birds without having to strain myself. I managed to capture a few with my camera too. I can also testify that it's no exaggeration to call the campus a forest! It would have been inexcusable to lose it. The road would not only have destroyed a lot of trees, fragmented pristine habitats, but probably would have sparked off a wave of commercialization in an area that's surprisingly untouched.

The forest is safe for now, probably because the Judges' colony is right adjacent to it. However, admittedly, the traffic situation that the BBMP is trying to address is terrible too. In a few years time, when we'll have a hundred thousand more cars on the streets of Bangalore, our collective patience will run out. Eventually our hunger for better infrastructure and development will prevail. Before that happens, I hope I have the time to photograph all the bird species there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Age of Stupid

Allow me to be naive about this; the idea of watching a crowdfunded independent movie -with a doomsday theme to boot- in a fringe movie hall that doesn't serve 100-Rupee popcorn pushes so many of my buttons that my enjoyment of the movie was almost fait accompli.

"Age of Stupid" is a collection of montages all on the theme of how we are being irresponsible with the planet's resources. There is one intriguing story that runs throughout the movie and that's an account of the launch of Go Air, a low-cost airline that sought to make air travel affordable to the average indian. It's a fascinating example because it shows how many of our values and rational choices are at loggerheads with what is responsible at this moment in history. With your normal spectacles it's impossible to find fault with someone launching a low-cost air service. There's no culture that would find it ethical to dictate limits to the entrepreneurial spirit let alone completely discourage it. There are very few individuals, and I'm definitely not one of them, who would voluntarily eschew an opportunity to travel the world conveniently. Yet it takes us one step closer to getting fucked and that much harder to wind it back. It got me thinking of the enormity of the solution. Nothing less than dismantling our value system and recalibrating it would do.

The owner of GoAir, Jeh Wadia, honestly believes that his efforts are guided by his deeper purpose of eradicating poverty. You have to already believe "peak-oil", "imminent ecological collapse" and "overcrowding" to catch the irony in that example. Therein lies the movie's biggest fault. It rams its lessons hard into the converted. Most people will probably dismiss the whole gig as fear-mongering by the leftist nuts. I still say everybody should watch it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kumara Parvatha

The first time that I went to Kumaraparvatha was a long time ago; cameras needed film rolls back then. Seven monsoons ago, five of us had been crazy enough to spend a night on the peak. We had been rudely jolted out of our sleep when the fly sheet of our tent had flown off at around midnight. P and I had ventured out to fetch it and fix it back on. In the two minutes that we had spent outside, every inch of our clothes had become wet. We had seen each other's scared faces when a couple of lightning strikes landed a few hundred metres from where we stood. We had spent the rest of the night holding on to our tent that was being threatened by the loudest and most furious wind I've ever experienced. Four of us were hanging on to the side beams and P, being the tall one, was clutching the top rod. By morning, we were wet, cold and angry. I swore never to venture into the Western Ghats during the monsoons.

You know how we look back on even the worst episodes and say "It happened for the best!". Psychologists call that sub-conscious rationalization 'Synthetic Happiness'. That is what makes us sugar-coat our memories and call them "experience" and genuinely feel good about having had them. That is also what made me forget my resolution. So I was there last weekend with a bunch of people again at Kumaraparvatha.

This time we climbed from the Pushpagiri side. The skies had stayed clear till late afternoon. The leeches, in my evaluation, were less enterprising too. I boasted about how I had spent three days (counting my Anejhari trip too) in the Ghats and not a single leech had feasted on me, while most others around me had been victimized. I was joking about how the leeches seemed to be on a low-cholesterol diet, when the clouds said "tada!". Old jungle saying "Forest not likes being taken for granted". It started to pour at 4 and we stood helpless under the shelter of styrofoam floor mats waiting for the fury to subside. The strong winds had ensured that all of us were drenched and nothing in our bags was dry either.

After a few hours, we gave up hope, pitched our three tents in the dark, and ate our soggy chapathis before sneaking into our sleeping bags. None of the other folks slept in the wet tents, but I told myself that I was in a bathtub, and convinced myself to sleep. Like I've mentioned before, when I sleep I don't just sleep, I hibernate. N woke me up hours later to tell me that my feet were covered with leeches. That's when I decided to check myself thoroughly. There were leeches all over the place including some too close to "the family jewels" to borrow from N's rich euphemism library. I de-leeched and did something that guaranteed my status as a legend: I slept again! I reportedly talked in my sleep too, something about an upcoming Yahoo! release. I bleed purple! Ask them leeches.

In the morning, the Ghats were benign and benevolent. We were amidst the clouds and everything was dream-like. If we overlooked the little detail that the protagonists all looked like they were returning from battle, everything else was straight out of postcards. We lingered on for too long. In the evening we were left with 3kms to traverse when darkness crept up on us. My group of four had become separated from the rest and we had one torch between us. We each fell several times and made such slow progress that I was already steeling myself to spending another night in the forest, this time with no tent. When we eventually saw the light of a vehicle on the road we were too spent to even celebrate. It's likely that someday I'll narrate this experience as if it was a good one. If you catch me doing that, slap me.

Monday, September 14, 2009


We had started our journey from Bangalore at nearly 3 AM and had driven for nearly 10 hours. That and the trekking we had done in the rain had given me that sweet kind of pain all over my body. We had had a beer each after dinner. I was now sleeping under a night sky that seemed impossible to render without the use of Photoshop. For instance, the far rim of the milky way was clearly visible. The forest guards had all left the premises and we were the masters of everything we surveyed. Cicadas and tree frogs were announcing themselves to the world. And then there was the sound of the river flowing. That's about as much intoxication as I can take on a Saturday night. I had nearly slipped into coma when I was awoken by my friends. They insisted that I come and see something truly strange. The I've-seen-a-ghost look on their faces told me that this wasn't some poorly planned practical joke. Curiosity prevailed over stupor and so I gathered my torch and ambled along. After walking some distance they asked me to switch off the light and look at a particular tree. I saw why it had been so important to wake me up.
Here's how the tree looked under the torchlight.

...and here's how it looked in almost complete darkness.

It was one of the most bizarre things I've witnessed. J told us that he had heard about varieties of bioluminescent fungi. I later learnt that this phenomenon is called foxfire. We found patches of the forest floor that were carpets of luminescent lighting. Apart from the foxfire, there were glowworms and fireflies too. Truly bizarre! Kudos to M for spotting this without her specs.

Some other highlights from the trip
The Guesthouse: The foliage is so dense that it is almost perpetually dark here. Just outside the door of the guest house is the Souparnika river doing a right angle turn.

The leeches
: One of the highlights of the trip was my northie friends' initiation to leeches of the ghats. I have pictures of blood-covered feet but decide against putting them here, but S-man sure is proud of them.

The drive: Shimoga to Anejhari is one awesome drive.

Wildlife: This really bold Malabar squirrel and some exquisite bird-sightings.

Shivappanayakana Kote (Fort): This fort is in a town called Nagara on the way to Kollur. Not only is the fort pretty but offers from its top a great view of the surrounding landscapes.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


It's as easy to wake me up as it was to put Rasputin to sleep. They first poked me with a broom, collapsed the mosquito net on my face, flashed a bright light at my closed eye and then hit me with a bicycle speedometer. I eventually woke up when a copy of E.O.Wilson's The Future Of Life fell on my head. When I eventually stumbled back to half consciousness I saw five frustrated faces staring at me from outside my window. Five of my favorite faces in the world! I always insist that it is pretty silly to make a big deal out of your birthday but I confess I enjoyed the attention. I was handed over the other gifts that hadn't been used as missiles; The Blind Watchmaker, Reading Lolita in Tehran and a bottle of Merlot, which we finished in the half hour that followed. There was also a cake that had a lot of hidden cultural references.

The 31st birthday wasn't as confronting as the last one. No big milestone in the decimal system. No crossing over the hill. No underachiever angst. No deeply penetrating cheapshots about my age. Just raising a toast and moving on.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Emerging Leaders

When you pledge 12 weekends to a program that can and was only vaguely explained, you tend to be a little nervously inquisitive before it begins. That's how I felt on friday at the first session of the Emerging Leaders program that I'm participating at my workplace. I'll post my thoughts on the program as we go along, but my impressions from the first two days has been positive. There was one particular exercise in which we had to make a recommendation to our CEO about how we think the strategy of the company should be shaped in the coming days and years. While the brainstorming and the presentation was a lot of fun, it severely exposed how limited our thinking can be in areas like this.

There was also a lot to watch and learn by means of just being in contact with folks who can boast of fairly remarkable past demonstrations of leaderships. I must say it indeed was enlightening to watch the varied perspectives that got thrown around. Without dropping names I was intrigued by two separate sessions presented by two execs from our company. The first of them has, I'm certain, a lot of good things going for him in terms of his aptitude and executional efficiency. Oratory, unfortunately, is not one of his gifts. I wonder how much of an impediment that is. I wonder if the art of rhetoric is just an overrated stereotypical expectation from a leader or an absolute necessity.

The other talk was by an executive who is currently on a sabbatical. His speech was a simple collection of anecdotes, and he proved how many perspectives you can actually impart without ever having to resort to hackneyed jargon. At the end of the talk you just felt like getting up and fixing everything!

My favorite part of this weekend's session was a panel discussion that involved Ms. Shukla Bose, founder of Parikrma Humanity Foundation. Her clarity of thought was as refreshing as her vision is goosebump-inducing.