Sunday, December 30, 2018

When the Indian army came to our rescue - a story of adventure, sacrifice and survival!

Blogging after ages for a reason... Read on to know why.

This year we decided to go to Sikkim for our annual vacation. We saw the Himalayas standing tall and mighty, visited the colourful monasteries, relished local food, experienced numbness and pain at -24°C, travelled 100 plus km and went 17800 feet high to see the mystical Gurudongmar lake only to be blocked by snow for the last 600 metres, was mesmerised by the monotone grey and white yet brilliant Yumthang valley, sang SRK songs and posed at Zero Point - the last Indian bunker which is 7 km from China with fellow SRK fans (oh yeah, you find them everywhere 😃), made snow man and did many many more touristy things. 

But well, this post is not about all these. This is a first hand account of a survivor from the snow fall that was in the news on Saturday, the 29th of December 2018.

We went on a day trip to Tsomgo/Changu lake and Nathu La (India-China border) on Friday (28th December) and were expected to be back in Gangtok by 5 pm. For the uninitiated, permits to visit this place are given only a day in advance based on weather among other things. Usually, 10 tourists go in a sturdy vehicle on a shared basis. On Friday, the weather was pleasant and we enjoyed the scenic journey. The plan was to visit Nathu La first and then come back to Changu lake. We had just passed by Changu lake when we heard of an accident to an army vehicle near Nathu La. Hence, vehicular movement was restricted and we were stuck in between vehicles.

To provide some perspective, we were at around 12,000 feet above sea level, the roads were slippery and narrow in the snow clad mountains, and the temperature was sub-zero. We started our decent down and stopped a little short of Changu lake to have some hot delicious food when it started snowing. This was the first time I was witnessing snow fall and was thoroughly enjoying it. However, in no time the size, intensity and nature of the snow fall changed drastically. The road was soon covered by a thick sheet of snow. Vehicles were jammed one behind the other, all trying to move out. We then we got the information that an accident had occurred down-hill. The snow makes the road slippery even for vehicles and was the reason for the accident. At 4 pm, we were given instructions to leave the vehicle and start walking. We were told to walk for around 5 km after which an army vehicle would transport us back to Gangtok.

We started walking and soon realised that apart from the cold weather, our major hurdle was the shoes we had as they were not equipped for trekking in snow. People slipped randomly and kept falling. Holding hands was not the best idea, as the other person would fall too in case you slipped. After around 4 km and 6 falls later (my count alone), at 5 pm it started getting darker and colder. There was no army or their vehicle in sight. Thousands of us continued to walk as that was the only way to keep ourselves warm. We came across vehicles in the middle of road, haphazardly parked, all indicating the hurry at which the vehicles were abandoned.

Tourists walking down in the fading light
Vehicles abandoned mid-way
About 8 km from where we started walking, we finally saw the accident site. Around 5 vehicles had collided back to back, probably due to skidding on the snowy roads, and had gone into the gutter on the right side of the road (the non-cliff side). If the vehicle had gone left, it would have dived deep into the gorge with its occupants. Shuddering at the thought, and thanking for the miracle, we walked past the vehicles still anticipating the army vehicle which would take us to the 'promised' land (which was now Gangtok). At the accident site we saw few army personnel estimating the damage. Frantic calls were being made to their superiors at the army base regarding the severity of the situation. We were told to walk another 2 km where we would be provided lodging. That is when the gravity of the situation sunk in - we were not going to be transported to Gangtok that night. 

I had by now lost count of the number of times I had slipped and fallen (15 times at least). One wrong slip and we would have been permanent residents of the deep gorge. Although, I really wished I could just ski down to the army base camp which was still not in sight. NJ held on to me steadily preventing me from falling multiple times. I admired the parents with kids on their back. I admired the kids who walked without complaining. I admired the elderly couples who persuaded each other. I admired each one who got up despite bad falls and continued walking. Amidst all this, it was hard to ignore the beauty of the valley. The clouds had disappeared, revealing the lovely dark blue sky with the stars shining brightly. A sight that we have grown up to but no longer see in the cities back home. So clear was the sky that it left us wondering if there was really a snow storm couple of hours ago. I wanted to stop by and admire for much longer, but I literally had miles to go before I sleep.

En route the last stretch of a kilometre or so, the elderly and women with young children were taken into smaller army buildings and others were asked to proceed further. Finally, 3 hours later and 10 km from where we started walking we finally reached the army camp, named 236 Transit Camp. The women were separated from the men and so, I was on my own. This reminded me of the scenes from the movie Titanic. The 500 odd soldiers had given up their dormitories with bunk beds for the women folk, while the huge gun repair workshop was converted into a shelter for the men folk who were provided sleeping bags. 
Women and children slept in dormitories with bunk beds.
Image sourced from NDTV
Men's sleeping arrangement.
Image sourced from NDTV
Hot milk was provided for the children as soon as they arrived. I found a corner on a bunk bed which already had 5 people on it. Dinner was announced and we were given roti, kichadi and apples. Washing the plates in cold water was another deal as my fingers felt numb. The plates had to be washed as they were in hundreds while civilians were in thousands. I witnessed sights of women frantically searching for their missing kids and men who called out for their family members. It was heart wrenching. The army men did their best to console them, saying they will all be found. They explained that their men had gone up searching for the civilians. The army men gave up their place for us and literally guarded us whole night standing in the cold. When the women felt anxious, they told them how the worse was over, how safe we were here and how their men would not rest until all was fine. We were told to inform them of even the slightest discomfort - nausea, breathlessness, chest pain as we were at an altitude of 12,000 feet which needs acclimatisation. There were 5 helicopters ready to handle any emergency. One of them was used in the night when a man developed breathlessness and was flown to Gangtok. Also, the freak accident that we saw did not claim any lives. 

Meanwhile, I tried searching for NJ, but in vain. Was he fine? No idea. Should I announce his name on the microphone? No, there were others who were missing. I at least know he is in the camp. To distract myself, I helped a woman who was having breathlessness and helped another woman find her child. I came back from dinner to see the bed now occupied by 7 people. I had just enough place to sit and stretch my legs. More people poured in. They kept coming in till 11 pm, as and when they were rescued. I tried getting some sleep, but couldn't. Would I survive the night? It was freezing cold at -12°C. Would NJ be okay? Would we be able to get our flight that was scheduled tomorrow? Will my parents be worried since my phone was not reachable? Could I have a blanket? There were none available. The army had given us everything that they had and I saw that the elderly and children needed the blankets more than me. I don't know if the army men ate that night. I definitely know they did not sleep. They did not sleep for us.

It was a restless night, but I woke up to see the light of the next day. I waited by the window to see any traces of NJ. And finally I did see him 12 hours later, shivering in cold. He slept in a metal hall (the gun repair workshop) sharing a sleeping bag meant for one. Scenes around me were filled with missing ones being found and hugged. The women I helped the previous night came searching for me and offered their thanks. Everyone seemed much more optimistic. It had begun to look like a happy ending. We stood in queue for breakfast and tea. This time the army was better prepared to serve the crowd as they now had disposable plates. Still, we ran out of disposable plates too. Civilians finally resorted to having the puri with pickle in hands. Few started feeling uneasy and were promptly looked after at a make-shift medical centre at the army camp. 

The sun showed up and the snow had finally started melting, but there was still no army clearance to drive on the road. We managed to get a soldier's BSNL phone (obviously the Vodafones and Airtels did not have any signal) to call home and the airlines to postpone the ticket. The army then announced that their vehicle would go first to check if the road was clear. If the road was clear for vehicles, we would be dropped off 10 km from the army camp after which other vehicles would take us to Gangtok. Priority would be given to elderly and families with children. Bachelors and couples were allowed to walk with army guidance only if they were physically fit. We decided to walk the 10 km than wait. We stood in the queue, got our names written and at 11 am, we started walking in the second batch. 

Melting snow meant more slippery roads and so we walked at even slower pace. It was easier to walk uphill than downhill, as there were lesser chances of slipping. Thankfully, the sun was up, bright and shining and hence, patches of road were cleared off the ice. After walking couple of miles, a vehicle stopped to pick us up. The driver, like other drivers had spent his night near Changu lake. He said the other vehicles had frozen and hence would take time to move. He had kept his vehicle's engine on throughout the night and so could start the vehicle in the morning. He said they burnt the spare tyres they had to keep themselves warm. He dropped us off at a police check post after which he returned to the army camp to pick up more people. The police arranged for us to get into local cabs to reach Gangtok. Buses were deployed by Sikkim government to pick the rest of us from the police check post.

The entire evacuation was organised and handled so well. I cannot put in words how fantastic the army was, for they gave the words sacrifice and commitment a whole new meaning. However, it would be unfair if I did not mention the unsung heroes - the Border Road Organisation (BRO), the cab drivers, the local people who cleared the snow with spades, the Sikkim government and police. An estimated 569 vehicles were stranded in the snow and 4199 civilians were evacuated in this operation.

The route we took on Day 1 of the ordeal. 17 minutes by vehicle but it took us 3 hours to reach by foot - thanks to snow, slippery surfaces, and darkness. 
The least way we could express our gratitude to the Indian army was by writing 'thank you' messages.
Now I am back, safe and warm in the plains. My hands hurt from the multiple falls, my legs hurt too, am having a fever and I am tired. But I am not complaining. For, I am alive with a story to tell and an experience of a lifetime.

Over and out.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A taste-bud's initiative

In Pune, every Thursday, I follow a ritual to go to a particular place of worship, for which I have to take a different route than the usual. And in this particular right turn that I take, Pune transforms to Mysore instantly! Thanks to the aroma of hot Sambhar wafting to the roads from Pune's THE South Indian restaurant. And thus, begins my weekly food nostalgia..

The same Thursday routine was followed in Mysore too (during my graduation days), and almost always ended up in the churmuri stall. I have travelled so many places in India, but I am yet to find churmuri like the one made in Mysore. Even neighbouring Bangalore does not come close. My brother once said, "I thought I will miss street food when I go to the US for higher studies, but I already miss it in Bangalore!" Such is Mysore's cuisine! :)
Churmuri!!                                                  PC:Pavan Reddy
My favourite and longest memory associated with food is during the lunch break at JSS Dental College for all the 5 years of BDS at the Katte. Lunch hour was the most anticipated hour of the day. The lunch boxes would be passed around for everyone to have a bit of the multi-cuisine lunch menu, what with having a group which had Coorgi, Christians, Muslims, Andhrite and a Kannadiga. So, you can imagine what a smorgasbord it was! 
Lunch time at the Katte
There were times when our dear friends in hostel would crave for home food during clinical hours. And student's lab was the best place to quickly go and sneak in some food into the tummy, irrespective of whether the tummy was grumbling or not! ;) The hostelites would return the favour by getting us bottles of yummy buttermilk from the hostel. Yes, you read it right-hostel food can be yummy too (conditions apply!) :P Speaking of students lab, we were overwhelmed when the patients, who were overwhelmed in the first place, got us food in those layered tiffin boxes! It was enough to feed an entire department! Cherish those fleeting moments :) By the way, am I the only one fascinated by these type of lunch boxes? I remember my salivary glands working over time while watching the movie 'Lunch Box'..
Eat while you work :P. My lunch box doing the rounds in the student's lab
When we are talking about food, how can one forget the place that we would resort to when we did not get lunch box - the canteen! During our times, the college canteen was pretty rudimentary compared to the huge building that it is right now there. I have seen the canteen's metamorphosis from the fenced wall canteen where fried rice was a standard order to the much more sophisticated, yet small canteen in 2005-2006 which served combos and swirl ice creams! Before this place came up, we used to buy orange/ mango/ grape ice candies from a small stall behind canteen which also housed a coin phone booth (yeah, thaaaaaat era!)

If we had slightly more time during the lunch break, we would head out to our then haven, Nimra. What a place! Pity, it does not exist in all its glory now. It catered to almost every cuisine (which we knew of then), and THAT was finger licking good indeed! The cost was very affordable and hence, it became our second canteen! Nimra has since then changed locations and hands. But, it still is a prized place for us. When one had little more vitamin M, then Blue Inn was the place to go. It was nothing like what exists right now. A tiny, not-so-dingy place where you would always bump into JSSites - that was Blue Inn back then. The testimony to their food is the fact that a deacde later, it is still much talked about in our Whatsapp group :) Cool Corner was another place that was frequented, summer or not. We had our first sip of cold coffee there and that beat every other feeling!!

Somewhere in between all these, emerged Nescafe. No, it is not just the name of a coffee brand. It was where students and staff alike, frequented more than once a day. A quick meal would most often be a vada pav and peach iced tea brought from a thoughtful friend while you were stuck in an extraction. The dishes got reinvented to noodle cutlets and noodle pakodas, and even the 'humble' Maggi has left us wanting for more. The boys working there were so accustomed to all of us that all we sometimes had to do was just find a chair, and our orders were ready without having us place them! It was our 'go to' place for the 11'o clock break or lunch break or post-college chit chat except, if you were posted in OMR or Conservative dept, as these departments had a direct view of Nescafe ;). In other words, it was the local 'cafe coffee day', where you could sit for hours with just a cup or sometimes nothing at all! 
Happy times at Nescafe! Our batch seemed to be there forever!! ;)
Many more eateries tug at our memories - the hot, yummy meals at Andhra mess, tea from Aunty's, sugarcane juice and corn cob from the stalls are amongst many Well, I could go on and on. But then, the salivary nuclei in my medulla oblongata has been stimulated with all the food talk :} Time to go and take a bite. Am sure, you will be needing a bite too. ;)

A sincere foodaholic,
Lakshmi Krishnan

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Your wedding is NOT your wedding

Yeah! Doesn’t make sense right? But, it’s true. Am sure some of the married ones agree ;)

Me being me, I did not want to get married, but then I loved the idea of being ‘wedded’. Alright, probably everyone dreams about their wedding. But it completely slipped my mind that my parents have been dreaming of my wedding too! And so, the saga begins…

Things wouldn’t have been difficult had I
  1. Not chosen ‘the’ guy all by myself
  2. Not attended the turtle walk which got me closer to the environment (read about it here)
  3. Not grown to be an independent girl with MY opinions, MY principles, and MY thoughts.
Well, what is an Indian wedding without all the drama, you say? ;)

I had always dreamt of a temple wedding. One of my cousins got married in Madurai Meenakshi temple and I thought it was magical! The thought was further romanticised by the wedding scene in the movie ‘2 states’ (do not bother googling the name of the temple – it was a studio setting much to my disappointment). And then, I attended a friend’s wedding in Guruvayoor, where the whole concept grounded me because of the simplicity. Brides along with their grooms stood in queues awaiting their turn on their ‘D day’ which was also the ‘D day’ for many others. It was then the ‘stardom’ feeling was kicked out of me. Needless to say, this feeling of ‘grounded’ was much stronger than the initial feelings of magic and romance of the temple wedding idea. I was never more sure about wanting a temple wedding. But well you know, ‘Your wedding is not your wedding’. The parents worried, “What will people say?”; the ‘people’ asked, “Oh! Why temple? You have only one daughter. You should get her married in style.” And here I thought we are proud of our temples' style and all! But gladly, the parents agreed :) So, finally it was to be a temple wedding in the morning followed by a lunch reception at a wedding hall. Wedding hall?? What??? WAIT!!! That was not what I meanttttttt...

After coming to terms to the wedding hall wala addition, I thought it was best to focus on the décor to feel better. After all, I had pitched in my ideas at various events, so I had a head start. Or so I thought. Turtle walks had heavily influenced my thoughts to ‘think local’. Our needs do not have to add additional burden on the environment for the sake of exotic flowers! Flowers are all about colours in wedding décor (not much for fragrance as we have cosmetics to do the job ;)). But hell I was wrong! Flowers have 'class' – the highly orchids and anthuriums, the middle class carnations and roses and the lower class gerberas and marigolds! Frankly, I was tired of all the orchids and huge canvasses at the weddings and wanted a traditional, simple décor using colourful marigolds, jasmine and roses. Inspired by a friend’s wedding in Chennai, I wanted re-usable components like bells and lamps and not thermocol which would add to the wedding generated thrash. Armed with the idea, I entered the battlefield. “Marigolds? Why are you saving so much? This is the only time you are getting married!”; the customary “What will people think?”; and the deadly “What marigolds? That is used only in funerals!” (while in North India, marigolds are even used as garlands for bride and groom!!). Negotiations later, I let go off the marigold because the funeral became an emotional point (I was already causing 'enough' emotional distress by choosing a guy of my choice….. ah!). So, roses , jasmines and bells it was! It involved a lot of drawings and re-drawings of the arrangement for the decoration guy, as he had never done something like this before. But thankfully, he was game for the challenge and this is how it looked..

Backdrop in white and red, and the bride was in green to contrast the colours :)
Yeah, the colours of my saree was decided after the backdrop colours were decided :P

Two discussions down, many many more to go…

I moved on to my favourite section – fooooood! I am generally the star at eating out, and have almost always been the one to order from the menu. Ergo, this was no big deal. Boy, I was soo wrong! Because, I not only had to satisfy the general criteria and wishes but also, the Marathi taste buds (thanks to yours truly marrying a Maharashtrian!). The only thing that was consensually agreed upon was the traditional south Indian yelle oota (plaintain leaf meal). And then it began..

Sweet #1 – Payasa of Sabudaana 
“That is fasting food! Not a celebration food”
“Okay, so semiya payasa?” “That’s so ordinary”
“Dry fruits payasa?” “That is too rich that I have seen people leaving it on the leaf, such a waste”
“Fruits payasa?” “Very courageous I would say”
“Ah! Let us just stick to safe semiya payasa”

Sweet #2 – “Chiroti laddu is a must”
“Too many diabetes patients these days, it will get wasted”
“But young people will eat na?”
“Majority of the guests will not be young, it’s a weekday wedding”
“But it is a signature dish. It will look grand too – separate plate and ….”
Wait! No food items that will consume plastic. Cancelled! 
Thankfully, this was not overruled!

Starter – Gobi Manchurian
“That is Chinese, not south Indian!”
“And it contains garlic”
“It can be made without garlic”
“But the taste wouldn’t be the same”
“Everyone has it these days. It is so ordinary”
“How about vada?”
“Nooo! It is served only in certain festivals and funerals”
“How about bajji?”
“Bajji is best when served hot and it becomes soggy later.”
“Oily too. People will waste it on the leaf”

And so it goes on for three hours before we finalise details - from the size of the water bottle to whether beeda needs a separate counter. Phew! After all that food talk, I am hypoglycaemic! ;)

This is only the first half of the menu..
A Maharashtrian fascinated by the south Indian plaintain leaf meal at the wedding captured this :)
Loved the colours!
The next ‘big’ decision was about invitation cards. And to ensure there is an argument, invitation cards come in all sizes and shapes; in single sheets to multiple layers and in vaaarious styles. Our ‘wants’ ensured that they go the full way too - from wanting it big to wanting it small enough to have just the date, venue and names. After all this, they find their way to the dustbins, not to mention the wastage of paper (in case you still don’t get it – climate change is for real, even before Leo said that last month). So we decided to get the simple card. And that was only the beginning of the card story. From the name of the male god and the female goddess to grace on the card, to the length of the address, to the size of the font - everything was a debate. We had the additional printer here who had to say no to almost everything we suggested. As we wound up, he asked, “cards for your friend madam?” Ah! And I thought we were in a digitised world.  Well, this is the ‘logo’ I Whatsapped to invite my friends and they were the coolest to consider it 'sufficient' to attend my wedding. Thanks dearies :)

The logo also went on tiny fridge magnets as souvenirs - custom-made with the famed Mysore palace as the backdrop :)

Talking about the attendees, I realised that my parents' invite list only grew lengthier each day – not by tens, but by hundreds!! Yeah, happiness should be shared and my folks took it rather seriously. And while I went about shrinking my personal invite list, my parents stretched it to include their 35 year old colleague’s neighbours who were known to my parents way before I was born! And that is when I gave up and realised that well, your wedding is not really your wedding! So there I was, standing on the stage, sweating it out in front of those lights, smiling on auto-pilot mode at the 1000 odd people - my parent's friends/colleagues/relatives, who have been their co-passengers in the journey of life. So, rightfully they have chosen an occasion to meet them all. I think I finally understood my parents, although it is very unlikely of me to follow their footsteps in making a wedding big and fat.

I frankly don’t remember much of my seemed like a blur. Sometimes I wish to marry again, just to remember the events of the day you know. I mentioned it to my brother, and he asked, “you want to plan it all again?” No no! Not again!!

Well, while this blog was a lot about how things don’t really go the way you want them to, it is also my humble attempt to create awareness and engage in a healthy conversation at how we could downsize and downplay events. So feel free to share your thoughts. 

P.S – I thought I could manage my own wedding and trust me I did it till the last week. But then friends, family and most importantly, my parents did a great job in executing it! Here is a biiiiig shout to all of them :)

P.P.S – The blog above is just the tip of an iceberg, and has dealt with only few topics with a modest approach. Feel free to exaggerate and imagine on the other issues. It is an Indian wedding after all! ;) 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Live, let live!

Of late, the talkative me has a standard element in my conversation with people - TURTLES. No, not that I have run out of topics; just that they have become closer to my heart. :)

Two and a half years ago, when I landed in Chennai, I googled 'things-to-do' in Chennai. Among the many things that caught my eye was the turtle walks of SSTCN (Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network). I imagined it to be a one night event in the month of January, more on the lines of the publicised marathons people run these days, except that this involved some live Olive Ridley turtles as well. So, every January when I read a newspaper article on the turtle walk by Marina beach, saving turtles caught in fishing nets, I assumed I had missed the walk and had to wait for the next year. After two Januarys of missing it, I resolved to actively track the event so as to attend it in my 3rd January in Chennai. So, I mailed SSTCN expressing my interest in participating in the walk. I was happily welcomed to be a part of them and join their walks on Friday and Saturday nights.

A mother turtle preparing to nest
The Olive Ridley are critically endangered species of sea turtles, which come nesting on the east coast of our country from late December to late March. These reptiles are largely sea creatures and come on land only to nest, which means the male of the species never come ashore; until they (both males and females) are washed ashore dead due to human intervention. The female of the species reaches sexual maturity at the age of 13. The turtles mate near to the shore during the season, and then she comes on land, walking rather clumsily which leaves a characteristic track to lay her eggs. She usually chooses night time to nest as she gets assistance by the high tide to make it ashore with her bulk of eggs. She laboriously digs a 25-30 inches deep, pot shaped nest in the sand using her hind flippers, and then drops her eggs in the nest, which ranges from around 200 at the beginning of the season to around 60 towards the end of the season. As she lays her eggs, she goes into a trance like state, totally unaware of the surroundings. {Anecdote 1}. 

Eggs being laid in the 
sand nest

The sweeping dance to
camouflage the nest
After this, she performs a beautiful thumping dance using her body to fill the nest with sand, followed by a sweeping dance using her flippers to camouflage the area. She takes such pains to do this that her camouflage clearing sometimes can be as wide as 5 feet in diameter to cover a nest of just few inches wide!! She then returns to the sea, leaving the eggs to their fate. The entire process can take more than an hour. 

After a period of 40-45 days (also depending on the temperature of the sand), the young ones, called hatchlings, make their way out of the nest and surface on the beach. Their natural instincts guide them to the brighter horizon of the sea, their home. But due to the human need of safety and beach beautification, strong street lights dot our beaches these days confusing the hatchlings, as a result of which they travel the opposite direction towards land where they can get devoured by land animals or even die due to dehydration.
Probing of nesting area

To prevent this, volunteers of SSTCN walk sections of the beach every night for the entire nesting season and beyond (yes, you read it right - it was not a one night event!), looking out for the characteristic mother turtle tracks - an 'up-track' and a 'down-track' which resembles a huge tyre track. Not an easy job, considering that the beach sand is always uneven. The clearing of the area at the end of an 'up-track' confirms the presence of a nest. There are times when there are only 'false tracks', but no nest at the end of the track as the turtle would have encountered a hurdle in the form of fishing nets or the motherly instincts would not consider the area safe, and hence returned back to the sea without laying eggs. {Anecdote 2}. Once the clearing at the end of the track is found, the sand is probed by a trained volunteer.

Eggs taken out of nest to be
relocated in guarded area
The part of the clearing which gives way easily to the probe gives indication to the location of nest. The sand is then dug and the eggs collected, counted and transferred to a cloth bag. The nest is measured to replicate it in the hatchery, where the eggs are relocated. The hatchery is a guarded, fenced out region of the beach. At the end of the night's walk, at the hatchery a nest is dug using its original dimensions, the eggs are placed inside the nest and then covered with sand. A perforated basket is placed covering the opening of the neck so as to not let the hatchlings walk away unattended. The eggs are of golf ball shape and size, and are soft and pliable, which is why they can sustain the fall when the mother turtle drops her eggs into the deep nests. The eggs have to be relocated within the first 4-5 hours; after which they harden and relocating them after they harden reduces their survival rate drastically.

On few lucky days, I had the great opportunity to see a nesting turtle in the process of laying eggs. That one and a half hour was such a spectacular event that it seemed like I was witnessing a silent orchestra! The way she strains her neck muscles while laying the eggs, the peace I believe I see in her eyes, the way she alternates her right front flipper and left hind flipper and vice versa to do her sweeping dance..every step of the 'performance' is so beautiful! After watching it once, there was no looking back for me.. What was supposed to be a one night walk, became a regular weekend plan and then an addiction!

A wild hatchling being rescued
 from a fishing net
Just when I thought the nesting turtle was the most serene thing I ever saw, I was proved wrong by the hatchlings. Hatchings are the cutest beings I have ever seen, and leading them into the sea is the most wonderful thing I have ever done in my life! These lovely creatures cannot be directly let into the sea. They are made to walk into the waves as this gives them the vital memory of the shore.. for they come back to the same stretch of the beach years later to nest. Isn't that incredible!!! Watching them walk fast, unlike their mother's rather slow gait, and disappear into the sea gives a sense of completion....because that is where they belong. And though their journey has just begun, they have at least started the journey and were not devoured by other beings even before they could know their home, the sea. We stretched our walks beyond the nesting season for the sake of 'wild hatchlings'. These are the hatchlings from those nests that were missed by chance during our routine walks. These are identified by numerous tiny tracks running in circles. A very trained eye is required to spot these tiny footprints in the sand! The tracks often have lead to the roads, meaning the hatchlings were misguided by the street lights :(. Some get entangled in the fishing nets and hours are spent tracing each track and retrieving the hatchlings. Most of them are lost and the few that are found are carefully let back into the sea.

A dead turtle profoundly hurt by
 human intervention
It is estimated that only one out of 1000 hatchlings that reach the sea survive till adulthood. So getting them into the sea is just one of the battles that we have helped them win. They are eaten by bigger creatures in the sea as part of the food cycle. But the hatchlings that do survive these dangers and grow up to become adults, die in mass numbers due to trawlers used for fishing. These trawlers go into the deep sea and scoop the ocean bed. The catch is then pulled for 2-3 kms towards the shore as a result of which the adult turtles, along with other trapped beings, get injured and suffocated thus leading to a slow and painful death. The dead turtles are washed ashore and my initial turtle walks were dotted by the sightings of such carcasses all along. The trawlers have been ordered to not venture into the deep sea and to use a TED (Turtle Excluder Device), which allows the trapped turtles to escape from the fishing nets. However, these orders are largely in print only and are yet to be put to thorough practice.

SSTCN has for 20 years and plus, under able leaderships, worked actively by directly saving the hatchlings and also by bringing changes in the trawler rules, by getting court orders for the beach lights to be switched off during the nesting season and many more. If you are in the east coast and especially in Chennai, do contact local conservation groups like SSTCN to pitch in your bit. Click here for more information.

Ever since my participation in these walks, my perspective about the environment has been altered at large. Somehow I feel that if I have ever achieved something in my life, it is the fact that I did my bit for the hatchlings. This gave me much more satisfaction than anything else I have done in my life. The hatchlings also made me realise that my species is but just one of the element on earth. They taught me to be selfless. People who know me know how much I go out of the way to make someone's birthday very special or make any event a success. Though I don't expect the same treatment in return, I must admit that I do expect gratitude- a simple thank you or a word of appreciation. And here I was, helping the hatchlings live a life - I was doing something good for somebody without expecting anything in return - no money, no recognition, not even a 'thanks' from them. They did not even know I was doing something for them. THIS gave me peace. It is indeed something to know that some of these hatchlings that I let into the sea will come back some decades later to the same shore and I wouldn't even know which one!!

The experience of the turtle walks deeply influenced my way of life. If you think it is all about being vegetarian, then you are wrong. Drinking milk can be backtracked to all those cows being forcefully milked and not allowed to lead a normal life. Eating that healthy broccoli might be good for you, but imagine the hours it had to travel (and consume the fuel!!) to reach the supermarket from where you picked it up. You just added to environmental pollution without your knowledge. Google 'food miles' and you may nearly be shocked. As humans, we may care for the environment and its constituents. But somewhere deep down, we think we are doing a favour on them. It is sadly forgotten that we ACTUALLY don't own the earth to be doing a favour on fellow inhabitants. Replace those expensive orchids at your wedding/function with something that is more locally available. Step out and buy locally grown fresh vegetables and fruits and ditch the canned groceries which have collectively consumed more electricity and fuel than you can imagine. A simple invite for a function can be more thoughtful than a booklet invite which will anyway find it's way to the dustbins of various houses. That new car is good and comfortable, I agree;  but when you have to travel alone, consider taking the public transport. Yes, you worked hard, and you deserve all the luxury your money can provide you,.. but not at the cost of other beings. The rule is to let go of exoticness and instead, THINK LOCAL.

So next season, make time to attend one of the turtle walks. They deeply influenced my life. Hope they do the same to you...

*Anecdote 1: Once, when a turtle was in one such trance state, a volunteer chose to sleep until she laid her eggs and did her routine dance. He woke up to see a headless turtle! A crocodile had come and bit her head off!! Such is her trance!
*Anecdote 2: A mother turtle dug 13 nests over a period of 3 hours and still went back without laying eggs, probably because she did not find it safe!

Cuteness personified - my love!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Movie time!

Am not much of a movie person. So it did come as a surprise to myself when I watched 3 movies in 3 weeks - a Kannada thriller Rangitaranga, a multi-lingual drama Bahubali and a present age Hindi movie Bajarangi Bhaijaan (BB).

It would be unfair to compare the three movies as they belong to three different genres. But when it comes to realism, Rangitaranga wins with BB coming a close second- pushed to the second spot because of the last ten minutes. It reminded me of the movie refuge, where people would cross the border as though it was just a street. Only, BB was much much better and had logic and reason. And the girl who won our hearts (soooo adorable!!) could have remained dumb, you know.

Rangitaranga is a thriller and keeps you gripped till the end. It comes as a refresher amidst the current trend of Kannada cinema which has not really made me proud. This movie showed the world, 'hum kisi se kum nahin'  ;) Bahubali's war scenes are just excellent, but half the movie time to set up the stage was way too much a bore. Two major issues - I would have slapped a stranger who is trying to paint my hands and colour my lips. Really. And well, does the hero have some syndrome which has unbreakable bones in a well built body? We can name it the Bahubali syndrome. :P No mortal can survive repetitive falls from such great heights and not have a single scar (another feature of the syndrome). And if indeed he is immortal or godly, he did not need so many attempts in the first place! No?

This apart, one thing that was common in all the three movies was commendable acting from both the main and supporting actors. Definitely worth mentioning is the acting of the newcomer Nirup Bhabdari in Rangitaranga; Ramya Krishnan in Bahubali - watch her turn from fiery to tender in a second - her body language is brilliant; and almost everybody in BB - the young Harshaali Malhotra and her mother, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui to name a few..

So, watch all the three movies. Watch Rangitaranga for its cinematography and a good story, Bahubali for the sheer magnificence of technology and opulence, BB for its heart warming story and the comedy which gives you the feel good factor. :)

Monday, June 9, 2014

'Food' for thought...

I have of late become a foodie and hence I spend a lot of time reading and writing food reviews. I went a step further from reading and writing to watching a foodie Kannada movie called ‘Oggarne’ (tadka in Kannada), what with it being directed by Prakash Rai and getting good reviews too...

So, with the best cook in town (read mother), the foodie went to watch the foodie movie. The first song was awesome, just awesome! Food porn literally killed me!

And then the movie began.. A mid 40's unmarried man who is an archaeologist, is happy and content with having just one love in life-FOOD, both eating and cooking (brownie point for showing how much a man can enjoy cooking)! A call from a wrong number (thanks to, what else but food) and he ends up talking to a mid 30's dubbing artiste who gives voice over for all the leading actresses (another brownie point-she has a job, earns her money and is not someone who is dependent). She is unmarried because of some fault in her astrology charts (sigh! minus 1 point). 

They spend hours on phone together discussing, what else but food (brownie point again-love can happen at any age). They even bake a cake together... on phone!! The cake tastes yumm and so they realise that they need to meet. Apprehensive of the meeting, they come up with the same idea (of impersonation) and how they finally meet each other despite the confusion forms the rest of the movie.. With the subject as 'love is cooking', I was expecting their love to grow and bond over cooking. I was expecting an unique recipe, but was fairly disappointed!

What actually happened was that they stopped talking due to the confusion of impersonation. The archaeologist who was till now content with love for food, after 'tasting' companionship is all hurt and depressed (he continues to work though). The lady on the other side is unable to do her dubbing and gives takes after takes (minus point for showing the woman weaker). She hates the word marriage even more than before, what with everyone saying things about her beauty fading away before marriageable age (really?!? Olay should probably close down now. Minus point again!). Well, the lady succumbs to societal pressure and keeps cribbing about no man ready to marry her. RIDICULOUS! Here is a pretty lady, having a job of her own but is threatened in the society because she lacks a man in life (how medieval can you get! Minus minus minus!). A senior colleague makes a pass on her to which she fittingly replies but continues to crib about how she cannot take it any longer (I have lost count of minus points...). The message put across is that marriage is a necessity, otherwise men will make passes on you, consider you 'open', and worse, it does not matter if you are earning or not cause if you dont share life with a person of the opposite gender, then your earnings are worth nothing! (RaGa, see no one cares about women empowerment). And what ever happened to the caption 'love is cooking'??? They focused only on marriage, not love; and not even cooking! 

I expected Prakash Rai (who is greatly appreciated here and elsewhere too for his acting) to deliver a coming of age movie. He instead sticks to the much revered stereotype of marriage is a necessity, and is infact a necessary social evil. In these days and times, it is important to teach our girls that she can rule the world with whatever she has, that she does not need a man who will marry her for her money or for her beauty (this is infact the man you need to avoid). Husband is no lucky charm to ward off social evils. You need to fight them yourself first. Sneha plays the part brilliantly, but I wish her character had broken free of her stereotyped boundaries and instead inspired women by not succumbing to pressure, like this article says or this or this.

The movie was about reaching a destination called Marriage and not about the journey called love.
I would have been happy if they had atleast stuck to their caption of 'love is cooking'! Thankfully, the other characters in the movie give some subtle essence to that line.

Watch the movie, but dont take home the message..

P.S – Could someone please tell me what was the tribal's role???

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Warning: This could be quite gross - gross for people who cannot accept the truth.

On a recent overnight train journey, while I was still awake and wishing to get a berth with my RAC ticket, a sudden commotion erupted in the compartment next to mine. I looked over to see a flurry of activity which made the TC spring into action. Calls were made, a man detained, women's pleas to let him free and much more. The reason- the man in question apparently was testified against by an 8 yr old girl for molesting her. He, the girl said, put his hand over her mouth and touched her body.  
For all those people who have chosen to advice me to wear 'decent' clothes, 'be in group', not to go to less crowded places etc etc., let me clarify that here was a girl, just 8 year old, knowing no provocativeness whatsoever, wearing clothes that covered her from head to toe, travelling in a 'fairly crowded' train, and with her parents. Now, my dear friends, kindly explain what made the man touch her????

As I sat there stunned as the little girl testified, men from the entire boggie converged in. Some drama happening here??? Oh sure it was! Cause, later the women folk related to the accused, including his wife, begged the child's parents to take the complaint back... Huh??? Would they expect such forgiveness to happen had it happened to their daughter?? "My husband would never do such a thing", his wife reasoned. But, how did she know? Why would a sleeping child get up in the middle of the night to identify and testify against a man if not for his illegal touch which has sent a chill down her spine?

While the man was taken away, the father of the child slept with her on the same berth so as to give her assurance and protection. Was he destined to live a life of a watch man throughout his life? Is that why they say, to have a daughter is like having red hot coal tied to the ends of your saree??

I want to know, what is it that makes men reach out and touch? 
What is it that makes men so curious? 
What is it that makes them ‘want’ an unknown person of the opposite sex? 
Exactly what is it that makes them want to touch our breasts? 
If you want them, then go for an implant surgery. You can fondle them your whole life!

Image source:
 Scene X: Years ago, anatomy dissection class: We had finished dissecting the soft tissue of the maxillofacial tissues. We now had to cut open the skull to learn the insides of the skull cavity. A saw was brought and the students given a chance to saw away the skull themselves. I wanted to do it too. I raised my hands to show my interest and a voice from behind said, "You cannot do it, it is difficult.. It's the boys job". The voice was that of a girl.... How did she know it was difficult if she had never tried? Why did she resign without knowing? Why did she give up even before she got into it? Me being me still went ahead and begged for a chance which I was luckily given. While I sawed away the bone, there was not one voice of appreciation. I was slow I agree, the bone yielded slowly, I agree. But we were there to learn, not hurry. Concentrating hard on the job, I heard another voice, "Leave it ya, it’s not for us''. This time too the voice was that of a girl, my best friend at that.

Scene Y: Orthodontics (ortho) pre-clinical lab: A department where you learn to straighten thin wires and bend them into various shapes and mini shapes to become those braces that you have seen. It is indeed a task. The finger pricks, the rough marks, altering the surface anatomy of our fingers to some extent will attest to that fact. In one such class, when a certain appliance ripped out the skin of a friend I heard a voice, "Ortho is a subject for the strong, for the men folk to specialise in...". This time too the voice was that of a girl.

Scene Z: A function: As I was bidding adieu, I was asked when I would be returning back to my place. The night train, I replied. “Never travel by night. It’s better to be safe than to be sorry’’, I was told. “Haven’t you heard of the stories?”, I was asked. The advice was from an aunt. A female once again.....

How many times will we women folk refuse to raise against the obvious? 
How many times will we be submissive? 
How many more times will we resign to our 'gender'?? 
Let me ask, how many times have you taken your two-wheeler on that street where you have heard that accidents are more? Many times, isn’t it? You still take the road despite accidents, you still go by flight despite crashes and hijackings, then why should I not travel by night? Why should I live my life in fear?????

When can I live life without worrying???

Image source:
Scene A: On the roads. With my back pack across my shoulders, I was riding my vehicle at around 4ish in the evening. At a fairly busy circle, while I slowed down to let a vehicle pass ahead, a hand suddenly shot out, groped at my breast and suddenly he was gone. An ‘unknown’ touch paralysed the rest of my evening!

Scene B: A crowded movie theatre. Engrossed in the movie, I felt something sliding by my side. Concentrating for a split second, I ignored it. How can it be? It was my friend sitting by that side. Moments later the hand came up again and this time I was not mistaken. A ‘known' touch paralysed me for many days as I tried shrugging the memory off..

Scene C: Bus journey with a gang of friends. A man chose to open his fly and dangle his precious thing naked, (yes yes, naked) on to a friend's shoulder. Turning to her left to see what was trying to seek her attention, she started gasping for breath. By the time she could gain her composure back he was gone.

Scene D: A fairly crowded over-bridge. A man was seen shagging on the bridge! When did it become his private space, especially with no movie posters around to 'seduce him'? He took to his heals after being shouted at.

What makes you want to show your desperation when you molest?
What makes you want to show your physical power on us when you indulge in raping?
Or are you showing us that you are emotionally weak and hence cannot control your fantasies?
What makes you scan through us when we are just walking down the lane?
What makes you want to know us as commodity, a property you can lay your hands on?
What makes you think you own us and the world? 

And then,

Why are we taught to hold a pin while sleeping in buses to counter the hands that slide through smallest of small openings?Why are we not instead taught to get up and slap the owner of the hands???
Why are we taught not to go out alone? Why are we not instead taught to earn our right to live without fear?
Why are we taught to be submissive? Why are we not instead taught to fight?
Why are we taught to live carefully? Why are we not instead taught to live care freely?
Are we not entitled to live without worry, live without abandon, live our life?  


Beause, without the right to live without constant fear, all other rights are meaningless...

#livewithoutfear #equality #womenrights #molestation