October 29, 2007

On Perspective, and Poverty

This is another small post following my previous on Perspective.

Though I am not a movie buff, upon recommendation, last night I watched Tara Rum Pum. It's not fantastic but it has its lessons to teach. It shows how a family's love and bonding is tested to the limits. The movie is a drama of life, hardships, struggle, test of human spirit and naturally, as with most Bollywood movies, the final triumph. It conveyed the message that the power of love and togetherness can sometimes be so strong that it can make you go through the thick and thin of life with a smile on your face.

In the movie, Saif Ali Khan's term of endearment for Rani Mukherjee is 'shona.' Irrelevant to my post here, nevertheless I mentioned it. Why? Probably I remembered someone briefly who used to call me that. Anyway, to quickly get back to my present thoughts, there's this so called happy and once well-to-do family who, at one stage in their life, have no choice but to give up on their lavish living and move out to an impoverished neighborhood. That the mother starts to create a masquerade that they have to live in poor conditions as a part of a reality show is another point altogether. What I want to emphasize on here is that this family's bags are packed and they are about to move, and the little boy yells in a sweet and animated voice, "Hey, we are poor now!"

The boy who exclaimed "Hey, we are poor now!" did so in such a way as if being poor is something to rejoice about! That short declaration by the little boy captured my attention. It seemed he was extremely excited about the new kind of life that was to follow.

Autumn in Cleveland

At that moment, I recalled reading a story of another little boy whose 'wealthy' father took him on a trip to the country side, with the express purpose of showing him how 'poor' people live there. They spend a few nights on the farm of what would be otherwise considered a poor family. On their return trip, the father, expecting his little boy to have understood how poor other people were, asks him if he realized how poor people live there. He asks the son what he learned from the trip, and the son excitedly replies:

"I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them. Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are."

The so-called 'wealthy' father might not have expected that answer and he must have certainly felt, much to his chagrin, very 'poor' that day!

Let's be honest and ask ourselves, did we expect to think differently like the little boy did? It's all a matter of perspective. Having the right perspective is a wonderful thing.

The little boy's words made me remember my childhood. It made me once again introspect on what poverty is all about. It's not necessarily about not having money or less money. Money does help but it's a well known fact that it has not compulsorily made the wealthy happy.

There's this overused expression that is so true: That money can buy a bed but not sleep; that it can buy a house but not a home; that it can buy books but not intelligence; that it can buy companions but not friends; that it can buy amusement but not happiness; that it can buy food but not appetite; that it can buy finery but not beauty; that it can buy flattery but not respect; and that it can buy medicine but not health.

Yes, there are many things that money can buy but I'm sure you agree with me that we also seek things that money can't buy. I do not think a person will always be respected for his value in terms of his wealth alone. Probably to some extent that person may temporarily get a false sense of respect that might help fan his ego, and especially so when surrounded by flatterers.

A point to ponder on is who would really want to care for someone who has money but lacks honesty, honour, joy, dedication, passion, humour, culture and so many other virtues that are so essential in a good human being?

This posting touches on a subject that is relevant not for India alone. However, at this point of time, I want to wind up with my sentiments that I had expressed in a previous posting titled Incredible India Indeed that I had written immediately upon my return from a wonderful trip in August this year:

"I love my India for what it is, for its splendour and misery, its chilling socio-political success stories and failures, for its poverty and its amazing heart-warming munificence.

Some of the happiest people I've met in my life are Indians, who actually live by the day. Sometimes I feel shaken up by the overwhelming poverty seen around. Yet the needy people’s blank refusal to see a bleak future or a life not worth living is a lesson to be learned by the pessimists of this world. Poverty is not necessarily a question of lacking money and I find many of them rich in almost all other aspects. They refuse to be bogged down by the harshness of the realities of their lives and continue smiling. It is so heartening to see the strength of the human spirit that greets me everywhere in India. India is a place that moves me to wonder about many things, a place where the extremes of the human conditions are exposed – unadulterated and raw. That may fill some people with disgust but I am filled with awe."

I wish you a cheerful day and happy halloween!

October 26, 2007


A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he/she knows that you are slightly cracked.

Now, you wouldn't want to X these good eggs, would you?

October 23, 2007


This is another posting on children after my last one entitled Are They Not Innocent?

Most children are pretty simple in many ways. I enjoy spending time with children. I like them. They like me. If they don’t like me, they won’t be with me. If they feel good with me, they want more time with me. If they don’t want to be with me, they have no qualms about conveying it to me. Simple. No guilt about their decision to be away from me.

Children go on feelings. Their feelings are not actioned through a set of complex mental judgments - unlike how it is with adults. Relationships are a simple matter for young kids. Life would have been much better if adults thought similarly.

I want to share three simple stories here. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I am sharing it with you now:

Thanks to my friend who shared these pictures. She is one good photographer.

Bread Seller:
My friend narrated this incident when her son was so captivated watching children selling a type of bread called ‘Kaak’ in the streets of Istanbul. He got so fascinated at that new scene that unfolded before him that he refused to continue to walk alongside her, and instead insisted on watching them. So, thankfully to his delight, she stopped and let her kid enjoy the street kid vendors. At one point, he turned to her and said, "Mama, buy for me ‘Kaak’ to sell."

Bread Seller. Chose his occupation at that young age then and there, and without any guidance. Who insists we need a counsellor to sort out our thoughts?

My nephew, Keith, in Kuwaiti traditional clothes

Round and Round:
There is this incidence when a 4 year old in my family was one of my constant companions. I have often played many self-invented games with him. One of the games we used to get amused about and enjoy playing was twirling him around. He used to call it the game of playing ‘round and round.’ It was merely a game of the kind when I used to hold him firmly clasping my palms tight under his little arms, thumbs securely in place right over, and then spin him around as fast as I could in roughly circular movements. Each time he wanted to play that, he used to say, "Please turn me ‘round and round’." One particular day, I felt I did play with him for quite a while, began to feel dizzy myself and so told him, "That’s enough. If I turn you ‘round and round’ anymore, you would feel dizzy." Instantly, he responded, "Then please turn me square and square."

Mathematical genius. Euclid reborn.

Keith with his Carmel School shirt

Yellow Teeth:
Then there was this time when the same little guy was busy coloring a picture of a crocodile. As I passed by him, I noticed he was passionately filling up the outlines of the crocodile teeth with yellow colour. I stopped over to ask him, “But why yellow?” Pat came the reply, “Because the crocodile doesn't brush its teeth.”

Promoter of hygiene practice in the animal kingdom. Steve Erwin, Jr.

Children can be sensitive and wise in their own little way. Maybe they have more to teach us than we sometimes give them credit for. Children have such different perspectives.

October 20, 2007


Can you think of a suitable caption for this picture?

I can think of Lost in Nature and The Dragonfly Can't Disturb.
What would you suggest?

Do click on the image - it's worth a glance!

Oh, dragonfly, sweet little dragonfly;
Around lovers you linger,then off you fly;
With the beat of your iridescent wings;
Messages of cheer along you bring.

Exciting and random are your flights;
You soar high above, just like the kites;
Take me to your world, so cool and high;
You look so glorious against the sky.

In the air, like a bird, you are free;
Dancing with delight and filled with glee;
Joy, sorrow, euphoria and strife;
Only a day, yet a full life !


End Point - Part II

Yesterday I posted some shots of the rainbow that was exhibited on the eastern side of End Point, here are pictures from the western part displaying landscape of picturesque beauty. I particularly love to feel the breeze rush by, caressing the face gently, as I watch the idyllic river flowing serenely.

I have often visited this place to enjoy the scenic beauty and walks on miles and miles of green carpet of grass.

Last month, I noticed that a part of the area is being cleared free of flora (and fauna, naturally) and I was informed that construction work on building some star hotels was to begin shortly.

Now for some not-so-pleasant shots:

Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) sings well to convey a message:

"Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass,
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas,
And you make them long, and you make them tough,
But they just go on and on, and it seems that you can't get off;

Oh, I know we've come a long way,
We're changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?"

I felt dispirited to think that a place of such beauty - where children played and where people and animals roamed freely and happily - will soon be cordoned off and remain captured in the hands of some business entrepreneurs.

I hope the development they are planning on is harmonious with nature, rather than destroying it or the environment in the process. I also hope the consequence of the construction and development plans in their agenda will take into account a person's relationship with another human being and with nature. In my opinion nature, as it is, without unnecessary and harsh interference by human beings, is a beautiful place. Nature is harmony. Let's not take it for granted, instead learn to appreciate it and grasp the wisdom of living in harmony with nature.

"I thought that nature was enough, till human nature came." - Emily Dickinson.

October 19, 2007

End Point - Part I

Last month, I spent about a week in my hometown in India. While there, I made time to be with my best friend - nature.

One of my favourite spots is the End Point. As I was spending time there, it rained briefly. After the shower, voila - there appeared a huge rainbow!


October 16, 2007

Guns n' Roses

Guns from Jaipur Palace and Roses from the garden

This post is dedicated to a sweet little person in my life called Lulu

When I look into your eyes
I can see a love restrained
But darlin' when I hold you
Don't you know I feel the same
'Cause nothin' lasts forever
And we both know hearts can change
And it's hard to hold a candle
In the cold November rain

Do you need some time, on your own
Do you need some time, all alone
Everybody needs some time, on their own
Don't you know you need some time, all alone
I know it's hard to keep an open heart
When even friends seem out to harm you
But if you could heal a broken heart
Wouldn't time be out to charm you

Sometimes I need some time, on my own
Sometimes I need some time, all alone
Everybody needs some time, on their own
Don't you know you need some time, all alone

October 15, 2007

Conning Ponkra

Both pictures courtesy Google

One of my relatives - let’s call him Joe#1 - is an interesting person in more ways than I can describe here, as much as he can be ruthless when he is hell bent, like a butcher's hook, on achieving what he wishes to.

There is this incident when he got quite exhausted of repeated unsuccessful attempts to recover some money that he had loaned a certain person - let’s call him Ponkra.

Ponkra was quite a character, bearded and hairy all over. When people came across him, they mistook him for a mutated gorilla. He liked to be shirtless, and mostly seen wearing just a sleeveless red vest. Probably he prided in the fact that the red matched the colour of his eyes. It appeared like he had half of the Black Forest hanging out of his arm pits. Give one glance at his nose and you can't miss spear-like hair jutting out of his nostrils. He should have a license for being that ugly. I wish I had a picture of him to post here. But he's been as elusive as the Yeti.

I digress. Anyway, Joe#1’s abundant patience with Ponkra finally wore thin one day and he decided that drastic measures were required to get his money back.

He chose a cousin of mine (I shall call him Joe#2) to pretend to be a gangster. Joe#2, big size, both in terms of height and weight, wearing beads around his neck and wrists, shirt almost unbuttoned, mostly seen scowling, seemed like the kind who just had to be himself to look like a gangster - with a gun, of course.


So the two Joes drove off to Ponkra’s place. That day Joe#2 in the back seat of the car, donning huge sunglasses and a Cuban hat, his shirt buttons open halfway to his waist, baring his chest, successfully presented a vicious look on his face, while holding a gun.

Upon reaching there, Joe#1 summoned Ponkra out to the car for a "little chat." Ponkra came towards Joe#1 not knowing why he was beckoned. He had a silly grin on his face and looked as confused as a hungry baby in a topless bar.

Ponkra got into the passenger seat beside Joe#1 and as soon as he noticed the hulking Mafioso sitting in the back seat of the car, the fawning simper on his face disappeared. All Joe#2 did was to sit there, with that ferocious look on his face. After that, it would not have mattered if Joe#2 had looked outside the window since one fleeting look that Ponkra had of Joe#2 got him stammering even before Joe#1 could start his "little chat." Ponkra darted one more glance to confirm what his senses registered initially and that's when he was sure Joe#2 had a gun on him.

Ponkra got agitated and began to sweat profusely. In those few moments, he developed more wrinkles of worry on his forehead than an elephant has on its scrotum. The gun was a very convincing looking water pistol, but of course, Ponkra didn’t know this!

Ponkra’s eyes darted back and forth – from the gun to the door (and freedom) – as he debated whether he could get away without being shot in his back. Swiftly deciding he had no hope of remaining alive in that situation, and before the "little chat" could begin, Ponkra drew a deep breath, and managed a coy smile to soothe, if not control, what could turn out to be an explosive situation. He then adjusted his red vest upwards, hurriedly shook hand with Joe#1 and quickly offered to give Joe#1 his brand new motorbike as a substitute for payment.

As Ponkra was getting out of the car to get his motorbike, Joe#2 unwittingly sneezed. Both Joes swear that from the smell that emanated then and the strange way in which Ponkra awkwardly walked back to his house, it was evident that he had soiled himself!

In no time Ponkra returned, hobbling distressingly, and handed the motorbike keys over to Joe#1. Joe#2 drove back to Joe#1’s home where they celebrated their success of conning Ponkra.


In my opinion, this was a win-win situation for all involved:

- Joe#1 got his payment in the form of a motorbike;

- Ponkra got his rather messy freedom; and

- Joe#2 liked his look of the day so much that he is stuck with it till today, though the water pistol gets him into trouble on and off at airports.

October 12, 2007

Trip to Nubra Valley, Ladakh

In the last four following postings, I recounted briefly the experiences of my trip to Nubra Valley of Ladakh with a few pictures:

1. Khardung, the Pass and the Village;
2. Himalayan Diskit;
3. Hundar - Retracing the Silk Route; and
4. Panamik.

I tried to cover the breathtaking views from Khardung-La, the scenery all the way south over the Indus Valley to the seemingly endless peaks and ridges of the Zanskar range, and north to the giants of the Sasser massif, the road from Leh rising steeply to meet the Khardung-La and then dramatically plunging into bends and turns to gradually unfold itself along the meandering Shyok and Nubra rivers, the romance of the Silk Route and the joy of riding in border land areas on the jeep safari bringing out the adventure of travel to gain an insight into fascinating landscapes, villges, people, and their culture.

Mountain road on the way back to Khardung-La
Hopefully in days to come, I shall write more about the rest of Ladakhi regions I visited this time including posting more pictures of Leh, the Ladakhi capital and the areas around it, my trip to the awesome Himalayan Pangong Lake and also about a day spent in the beautiful Himalayan village of Phyang.

It's said all that you feel in your heart cannot be described in words, and all that you see through your own eyes cannot be captured on camera. That stands true for my experiences during my recent trip to Leh, Ladakh.

A view on the way to Nubra Valley

October 10, 2007


Backtracking along the river from Diskit to the divide in the road, we then traveled north to Panamik, which is the farthest village that can be visited on that side of the valley. It's the last destination travellers are permitted to travel to in the Nubra Valley. As mentioned in my last posting on Hundar, Panamik was the last village on this circuit in the days when the caravans used to take the Silk Route. Here they halted for a few days to make final preparations for the journeys across the mountains of the Karakoram.

The village on the way to Panamik

Panamik is famous for its hot water sulphur springs. We had to climb for a while to check out the source of the sulphur springs. I was quite taken aback to note that the water that flows from small springs in the mountains was steaming hot (probably almost at boiling point) and it was not possible to touch it at that spot. I had to walk down a few metres along the direction of the water flow and try the temperature along until I felt I could touch it without getting scalded.

The place of origin of the hot springs

Usually spring sources of water is not considered safe for drinking, however, it is is believed that the hot water from the springs in Panamik is non-toxic and safe, and hence potable. My personal opinion is that contamination of water at that height in the Himalayas is a remote possibility, so it should be safe for drinking. During my treks in other high altitude regions of Sikkim, I've quenched my thirst from running brooks of the Himalayas and have had no complaint whatsoever anytime in that regard. But for some reason I can't quite describe, I stopped myself from drinking water flowing out of these springs.

Steaming sulphur hot spring flows

I am not really sure what exactly I expected at that the Panamik springs, but the unimpressive moss growing wet areas did look messy to me with flowing water haphazardly everywhere. Probably I should not under-estimate the efficacy of the healing powers of the natural hot sulphur springs. It is supposed to cure skin diseases, stomach problems, and a number of other ailments. There was also an option to bathe from the water that collected in a container in a small shed where one could have a little privacy, if needed.

I felt healthy enough NOT to want to go for any therapeutic dip. I pulled off my sneakers and socks and soaked my feet. I also washed my hands and face in the warm flowing waters to cure myself of skin diseases I did NOT have. To me, the hot springs of Panamik was a bit of a disappointment.

The road leading to northern areas beyond Panamik

After the visit to the hot sulphur springs, we stopped by for some tea at a road side restaurant. I was told that this is the only one in miles of desert around us. I had some delicious black tea steeped with cinnamon (and have since tried it a few times upon returning home). I discreetly watched a couple of military personnel having maggi noodles in the same restaurant - discreet, in wanting to give them due respect to enjoy their meal/snack in privacy and peace. I felt unhappy for a while at the thought of the sacrifice these gentlemen have to make in carrying out their duty at that great height of the Himalayas. I was there out of choice, but they were there to fulfill their duties at that outpost.

It made me ponder on the pointlessness of conflicts and futility of war again.

Sumur Village

It was now time to head back to Leh. We passed by the Sumur village on the return journey. The village was delightful and we encountered traditionally clad villagers with their colourful clothing. The roads on certain areas were surrounded by tall hollyhock, willow and poplar. The flowering plants and trees, and vegetation in general in that area was a beautiful sight to behold and I was so absorbed in it that I forgot to shoot pictures on that part of the journey.

The lake on the way back from Panamik

After an hour's drive or so, our driver stopped by a vast expanse of desert with beautiful mountains around it. He asked us to trek up and check out what was beyond the mountains he pointed to us. We climbed up the mountain to discover a mountain lake nestled in the middle of the wilderness.

We met a few tourists from other parts of the world and started chatting with them. At one point, I chuckled to realize that our charming discussion group at that Himalayan lake consisted of a Hindu, a Christian, two Muslim gentlemen and a Jewish tourist couple, not to mention our Buddhist driver who was close by. I recall quite well that I was not feeling guilty of dispersing the group by stating that we had a long journey back to Leh to look forward to (which was a fact, of course). I had to cut short the discussions after a certain time as the topics changed to sensitive issues of Kashmir and Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I've had enough of such discussions in this part of the world already and was not willing to waste more time participating in such pointless discussions in the beautiful Himalayas.

View of mountains near Panamik

The rest of the journey back to Leh via Khalsar and Khardung-La was uneventful and spent mostly in singing songs and happily clicking pictures at every available opportunity.

October 8, 2007

Hundar - Retracing the Silk Route

From Diskit is a sand dunes and boulder-strewn route that took me to Hunder. At one point in Hundar, there is a roadblock for tourists with a sign explicitly stating "No Visitors Permitted Beyond this Point." Only locals and military vehicles are allowed to pass beyond that which is the way to the Line of Control (the glacier that India and Pakistan have been sadly fighting over for several decades).

The main attraction here is the domesticated Bactrian camels found among the sand dunes of the Hundar Village. The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back, in contrast to the Dromedary which has one. The wild variety of Bactrian are apparently found only in Northwest China and Mongolia otherwise.

I went on a short camel safari for about 30 minutes - short, since a mild dust storm began and therefore, it was not very comfortable to continue. By the time I finished the safari and headed back to Diskit, the road looked like this:

The Hundar valley was originally part of the trading Silk Route and these camels were used in earlier days as means of transport on that Road. The villages in the Nubra Valley that I explored in the jeep safari are the ones that fall along on the ancient Silk Route to Central Asia with Panamik being the last halt for the caravans before they crossed the high Karakoram passes.

I found cattle grazing in the broad expanse of the valley. I stopped by to take a few shots of a herd of sheep and goats grazing happily in the sand dune valley against the brown mountain backdrop. It was an enchanting scene.

I came across more military personnel here. There was particulary one I chatted with who hailed from Kerala and his Bengali wife and two daughters travelled from West Bengal to visit him. It was a family reunion for them in the Hundar Village of the Nubra valley of the Himalayas!

October 7, 2007

Himalayan Diskit

The Karakoram Range (which is at an altitude of 20,000 feet) can be viewed from the northern part of the Khardung-La Pass. Turn 180 degrees and one can see the Himalayas back towards Leh.

The Karakoram Range in the horizon as seen from Khardung-La

Another view from Khardung-La Pass

After enjoying the magnificent views from the Khardung-La Pass and drive through breathtaking scenery to Khardung village, pictures of which have been posted here, we passed through starkly beautiful mountain country side to the Traffic Check Post at Khalsar where permits have be registered and checked. From here one has to turn to the left side from the winding Shayok river.

Shayok River

Then it was a drive for about 25 kms over a narrow steep road to the beautiful village of Diskit.

There was a dust storm that kicked up in the Diskit village after our arrival and I was able to shoot a few pictures both before and during the dust storm.

Picture of Diskit village before the dust storm

Our guest house at Diskit was comfortable and it had a beautiful garden in front of it along with a few fruit trees.
Guest house at Diksit

Beautiful garden

View of Himalayan mountains from the guesthouse

There is a new Gompa being built in Diskit, and it is said that the Maitreya Buddha statue, when completed, will be one of the largest in Ladakh.

Pictures of the new monastery under construction

The other old Diskit Gompa dates back to the 14th century. My visit to the Samstanling Gompas nearby had to be cut short due to the dust storm that started.

Samstanling Gompa

Dust storm blowing over Diskit village as viewed from the Diskit Gompa

Dust storm blowing over Diskit village as viewed from the Diskit Gompa

That evening at the guesthouse in Diskit, I met two groups of French tourists. There were also a few other tourists from other parts of India, including some students and one from South Korea. The evening was interesting having animated conversation with people from different parts of the world and from all walks of life. All guests were served dinner in a rectangular traditional Ladakhi dining room that had some decorated dining tables and colorful rugs arranged in the area. Food was plenty and Ladakhi hospitality was, as usual, commendable.

Ladakhi dining style