Wednesday, November 19, 2008

India, The Navy and Aspirations of Regional Supremacy.

The Indian navy was successful in yet another anti-piracy operation yesterday. The INS Tabar spotted a pirate ship accompanied by speed boats at around 10pm during one of its patrols off the coast of Somalia. The pirate ship was challenged by the Talwar class stealth frigate, at which point the pirate ship tried to ram Tabar.

You have to give the pirates some credit for the sheer audacity of such a move. Maybe they did not really see what they were up against in the darkness. The result, surprise surprise, was that the INS Tabar opened fire and sunk the pirate vessel. Earlier this month, the very same INS Tabar had been instrumental in repelling two successive attacks on commercial ships plying off the territorial waters of Somalia.

So far this year, only the Indian Navy has had high-profile run-ins with pirates off the coast of Somalia. At a time when the Indian profile in world affairs has been markably ascendant, and when the Indian high command has started talking in public about force projection, these successes hold great value in furthering India's cause in regional and global diplomacy.

Over the past few years, many have expressed great concern about the direction India has been heading militarily. Apart from extensive defense spending in general, bilateral and multilateral military exercises such as the Malabar naval exercise in 2007 involving Indian and U.S. navies, along with those of Japan, Australia and Singapore have drawn a lot of flak. The direction in which Indo-American military ties have been heading has also been criticized. A report from 3-4 years back by the Information Assurance Technology Analysis Center (IATAC), quoted here, reads, "U.S. military seeks a competent military partner that can take on more responsibility for low-end operations in Asia, such as peace-keeping operations, search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and high-value cargo escort, which will allow the U.S. military to concentrate its resource on high-end fighting missions." (emphasis added).

While the American conceit should not be overlooked, India needs to look at its options dispassionately. For sure, India should refrain being from allowing the U.S. to setup military bases in India similar to those in Turkey or Poland, or allow too much inter-operability to be established between the armed forces of the two countries (which could potentially allow the U.S. to remote-control maneouvres and operations of Indian forces should they wish to.) However, the low-end operations should not be looked at with too much disdain.

Low-end operations such as off-shore patrolling, and securing the high seas and busy shipping lanes from acts of piracy ought to be seen as confidence-building measures among regional countries. In geopolitics, a country is often only as powerful as other think it is. So far, a non-specific acknowledgement of Indian ascendancy is sometimes given in various parts of the world, but the Indian point of view has rarely been given due consideration. By winning over smaller powers by gestures of goodwill, India can develop its sphere of influence from the bottum-up and in an arguably more stable manner.

A landmark pact in defense cooperation was signed just earlier this month by Manmohan Singh and the Emir of Qatar, where India agreed to 'go to the rescue if the latter's interests are threatened '. Chief among Qatari concerns was piracy on the high seas, and the pact lays out 'a structure for joint maritime security and training '. India has also been deploying its navy for piracy patrol in the straits of Malacca since 2006, relieving U.S. naval ships and joining the Singaporean and Malayasian navies. When taken together with the Indian Navy's recent activities off the horn of Africa, one can comfortably make the claim that India now is a major player in securing three strategically important areas in South Asia: the strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Aden, and the Straits of Malacca. Over half the reported incidents of piracy in the world these last few years have taken place in the latter two.

If success continues over the next few years in similar ventures, India will also be in a much better position to get the U.S. to dismantle its military base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, amongst others in south Asia.

All this needs to be given priority while setting the defence budget by whichever government that comes to power in 2009. Acquisition of 4th and 5th generation fighter aircraft, T-90S Bhishma tanks, aircraft carriers such as the Admiral Gorshkov and nuclear submarines, though all vital for national defense and necessary to maintain a suitable deterrent against external threats of agression, by themselves they will not actively enhance India's importance in the region or the world. Instead, it would be the construction and deployment of lower-profile ships such as corvettes, frigates and offshore patrol vehicles that would truly make a difference.

It is assuring to learn though, that the current defense budgets and proposals are not ignoring such needs. 5 frigates, 8 corvettes and several patrol vehicles are either currently under construction or have been ordered, with many more planned for the near future. Whether these are enough, or whether there is a need for increased spending for such ships is hard to say.

Personally, I should admit that I am very impressed by the diplomatic and strategic overtures made by the current administration, more so over the past few months than before. Where there was a certain lack of will and apparent sycophancy among certain members of the current government, it seems to have been replaced almost entirely by a rational, considered and deliberate (even if a bit too deliberate) outlook in India's foreign affairs. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

May I have the next dance, Miss Ball?

Stephen Colbert, in his inimitable style, talks of Jane Austen and Baseball.
A Wag of my Finger to British Author Julian Norridge, who claimed that Baseball originated in Britain, just because the word 'baseball' first appeared in the Jane Austen novel, Northanger Abbey, forty years before the sport was played here.
That doesn't mean that baseball is British! Austen wasn't writing about American baseball, it was a Jane Austen version, where the ball is not hurled about rudely, but introduced to the bat through proper channels at a society function. And one does not steal bases like a commoner, one sends word to the next base ahead by messenger, requesting to approach at the base's leisure. Of course, what the bat cannot reveal is that though he loves the ball desperately, he's sworn an oath of loyalty to the glove, to whom the ball was promised. So the bat must pretend that he hates the ball, swatting at it though he wishes nothing more than to profess his undying affection. But he can't, he musn't, he shan't
And so... the bad must retreat to the gardens of his estate and pine. 
The point is... the point is, Jane Austen, stay away from baseball. Stick to what you're good at, making your readers believe some debonair stranger will ride his horse through the rain over your father's fields. 
[Cut to Stephen behind an old window, with rain in front.] Oh, where are you, Mr. Darcy? Keep your promise!
*is rolling on the floor*

(It comes somewhere near the middle of that video. Enjoy! And you can go here in case the video doesn't work on my page.)
And to hell with Palin. Colbert for 2012!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A World Lost.

It is with disbelief and sadness that I am writing here today, that Michael Crichton, author extraordinaire, died on Tuesday after a private battle with cancer. 
From the shores of Isla Nublar to the lost city of Zinj, from mediaeval Dordogne to the Nordic lands of yore, he will be missed. The sadness is in part quite selfish, I will admit, that I will never get to read another Crichton novel for the first time. 
A generation of authors seem to be breathing their last. Robert Jordan, Arthur C. Clarke, and now Michael Crichton. Is there anyone capable enough of stepping into their shoes? One can but hope. 
Michael Crichton
October 23, 1942 - November 4, 2008
"Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way." -- Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park. 
If I had to pick five people who were responsible for my interest in science and a scientific career, Crichton would undoubtably be among them. 
You could find his excellent opinion piece about the death of mass media here. You should note that he wrote this in 1993, fifteen years ago. And he was vindicated 11 years later, in 2004. I should also mention that along with Al Gore, he has had a great influence on my views on global warming. (The last link seems to be temporarily down perhaps due to excessive traffic.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sirigannadam gelge!

On the eve of the fifty-second anniversary of the formation of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the central government gave the two states a most coveted prize: the granting of classical status to the two languages Kannada and Telugu.
A status enjoyed only by Tamil and Sanskrit so far, the Union cultural minister Ambika Soni announced today that two languages had been allowed to join this elite group. A nine member committee of linguistic experts had been formed for this purpose after four years of intense lobbying by the respective state governments and an assortment of political and civil entities from the two states. 
Is this but a cheap political trick on the part of the Congress government which is soon to face nation-wide elections and the expected anti-incumbent factors? Or will the parties currently in power in the two states tout this as a victory and try to score some political points? Did the committee have to lower prior standards for this classical language status in order to award it to Kannada and Telugu? All this even if one forgets to consider the validity of those prior standards and the ulterior motive behind awarding the classical language status to Sanskrit and Tamil four years ago. 
Yes, the worse the idea, greater the chances that it's true. But. None of that matters. Kannada finally got the classical language tag that it so rightly deserves! The Halmidi inscription, the earliest known use of full-length Kannada, dates back to circa 450 CE. 1500 known years of continuous use surely deserves something. The kingdoms and dynasties which ruled over ancient Karnataka all switched their loyalties from literary Sanskrit to the common man's Kannada, slowly developing the literature of the language. Over the centuries it has enjoyed the royal patronage of the Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Gangas, the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagara empire and the Wodeyars of Mysore after them. It is the language of kavirajamarga, it is the language of Pampa and Ranna and Ponna. It is the language in which Purandara Dasa sang of Vittala, it is the language in which Carnatic music as we know it today was systematized and stylized. 
Modern Kannada has been living up to its glory days in courts of Amoghavarsha I, Veera Ballala II, and Krishnadevaraya. With the likes of Kuvempu, Gorur and Maasti, since independence Kannada literature has managed to bag seven Jnanpith and fifty one Sahitya Akademi awards, more than any other language in the country. It is in our times that Bhimsen Joshi introduced many non-Kannada speakers to the language with his sublime rendition of Bhagyada Lakshmi Baaramma. 
So sit back, relax, forget all politics for a while and bask in the glow inherent to being a Kannadiga
Sirigannadam gelge!
Top right. A Hoysala stone inscription from a Lakshmi temple at Doddagaddavalli, Hassan district, circa 12th century CE.
Bottom. Dated circa 700 CE, the Kappe Arabhatta inscription at Badami, Bagalkot district is the earliest known example of Kannada poetry. It is written in what appears to be an early form of the tripadi meter, ubiquitous in early Kannada verse. 
PS. It is with regret that the author of this post refuse to claim having any significant reading or writing skills in the language he so identifies with, as a prime component of his cultural heritage even.
PPS. As corny as it may sound, I offer the heartiest of congratulations to Telugu and Telugu speakers as well. As the language of Tyagaraja's music, its positive impact on me hasn't been insignificant. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Intoxicate me now.

Toxic. The latest song which has managed to bury itself into my head and get stuck there. And before you run off thinking that it's the Britney Spears song I'm talking about, stop. Yes, it is her song I'm talking about, but covered by the most wunderful Yael Naim
Rising to fame when Apple featured her song "New Soul" in the MacBook Air commercial, rumour has it that it was Steve Jobs himself who discovered her. Of French-Israeli origins, she sings rather well in English, French and Hebrew.
And she was in Madison last night. Music is usually so much better live, but yesterday was so much more. Giving off an Anne Hathaway-Julie Delpy vibe (which could never ever go wrong, obviously,) she was enthralling, accentuating the music with some memorable antics. And that voice!  
I'm positively smitten. :) 
The highlight of the concert for me was Toxic. The studio recording is lovely, and the live version magical. What she played at SXSW comes close, I suppose. 

It was hilarious when she started playing New Soul. Half the girls in the audience (and two guys. Just two,) ran up to the stage and started jumping up and down. 

And the applause after the concert did not stop until the whole troupe came back on stage wearing red (Go Badgers!) and performed New Soul again and then some. My feeble words cannot do justice to her music or her performance. She's touring in the US for the next week or two. Hope you can catch a concert!

Monday, October 13, 2008

New exhibit unveiled.

Chicago, IL. A new exhibit was unveiled on Saturday at the Art Institute of Chicago containing a single photograph by a reclusive French artist who wished to remain unnamed, titled Au large de la fonte. 
Noted Italian art critic Grigio Pellegrino had this to say about it, "... [the photograph] embodies contrapositive destruction, the removal of one object from the universe by another leaving only the shell of existence which reflects the human condition."
The late Henri Cartier-Bresson was unavailable for comment, but the manager of his estate expressed strong feelings of disappointment that the photograph was not in black and white. 
The Indian Association of Orthopedic Surgeons issued a vociferous statement alleging that the photograph belittled the human trauma that ought to dominate any study undertaken, however artsy(sic), of orthopedics. When asked if the leg ought to be included in the photograph, the director instead suggested an inclusion of the surgeon involved in the creation of the cast. 
The exhibit is open from 10:30am-8:00pm Monday through Thursday, 10:30am-5:00pm on Friday and 10:00am-5:00pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In between lenses.

Most people who love photography get stuck behind the lens a little too often for their own liking. It isn't something that is easily admitted, though. 
It's nice to have someone better than yourself at photography come along with you to lovely places. And include you in the frame in a most tasteful fashion when possible.

Taken in MahakooTa and Badami, Bagalkot district, Karnataka.
Photos courtesy Grey skull. And that awesome cam of his.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

To drink philosophically.

Café Descartes: I drink, therefore I am.
Taken from a bus somewhere in the Near North region of downtown Chicago. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

No one can help Sgt. Jimenez.

What the fish? I thought I'd posted this ages ago. Anyhou, here it is.

As it turns out, Staff Sgt. Jiminez Alex Ramon is a real person. Of the delta company, 4th battalion, 31st regiment, 2nd brigade combat team, 10th mountain division of light infantry. Hailing from Lawrence, Massachusetts, he was really in Iraq.

And then he went missing on May 12, 2007, during an ambush on the 4th Battalion somewhere in South Baghdad. His body was found earlier this year (a few months ago, the news reports seem to have conflicting dates, so I cannot say for certain when,) and returned home.

So I wonder why the good fellow who sent me that e-mail used this particular name. Maybe he started using it while the soldier was still missing, maybe? To attract even greater curiosity? Or was there an implicit assumption that it would be unlikely in the extreme for me to know anything about the real seargent? I'm very much aware that I might be over-thinking it, but I've never stopped for that reason alone.


The tracking software on my blog told me something rather interesting last week. Someone from the town of Wetter, Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany visited my page by searching for "". Which, as of right now throws up only one result. I'm assuming that if it were someone who had also got the same mail as me, he or she would've left a comment there.

So. Sgt. Jiminez's shade seems to be resting in some nondescript li'l town on the Franco-German border. And in retrospect, has picked up a German influence in the written English grammar that he uses. In German one capitalizes all nouns, irrespective of position in the sentence, something that can potentially explain the ease with which he's capitalized things here and there in the mail.

Lemme know if you have analyses more interesting than my own.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Can you help Sgt. Jimenez?

Here I thought that all the Nigerian princes who wanted to get out of the country with millions of dollars had all managed to do that.

Apparently, some of them had the misfortune of coming to the US, becoming Hispanic, and then getting enlisted in the US army.

One of them was clever enough to get a hold of my e-mail address and contact me.

Dear Friend,

Good day and compliments, i know this letter will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but I implore you to take the time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will go off a long way to determine my future and continued existence. Please allow me to introduce myself I am Sgt. Jimenez Alex Ramon, a US Marine SPC. Serving in the 3rd Battalion, 25th US Marine Regiment which Patrols the Anbar province, Iraq .

I am desperately in need of assistance and I have summoned up courage to contact you.I am presently in Iraq and I found your contact particulars in an address journal, I am seeking your assistance to evacuate the sum of $12,570,000 (Twelve million Five Hundred and Seventy Thousand US dollars) to the States or any safe country of your choice, as far as I can be assured that it will be safe in your care until I complete my service here. This is no stolen money and there are no dangers involved.

Some money in various currencies was discovered and concealed in barrels with piles of weapons and ammunition at a location near one of Saddam Hussein’s old Presidential Palaces during a rescue operation and it was agreed by all party present that the money be shared amongst us.

This might appear as an illegal thing to do but I tell you what, No compensation can make up for the risks we have taken with our lives in this hell hole. The above figure was given to me as my share and to conceal this kind of money became a problem for me, so with the help of a German contact working with the UN here (his office enjoys some immunity) I was able to get the package out to a safe location entirely out of trouble spot.

He does not know the real contents of the package as he believes that it belongs to an American who died in an air raid, and before giving up trusted me to hand over the package to his close relative.

I have now found a secured way of getting the package out of Iraq for you to pick up. I do not know for how long I will remain here as I have been lucky to have survived 2 suicide bomb attacks by Pure Divine intervention.

This and other reasons put into consideration have prompted me to reach out for help. If it might be of interest to you then endeavour to contact me and we would work out the necessary formalities but i pray that you are discreet about this mutually benefiting relationship.

Contact me via my private box: ( so that I can furnish you with more details.


Sgt. Jimenez Alex Ramon
United States Marine Corps. IRAQ



I love the words "Pure Divine intervention". Which could even double for some Jehadi group when translated to Arabic. =) And heh, the random chinese characters at the bottom of the e-mail.

The sender's address is funny as well.
The account name is the fake e-mail ID. So devilishly simple. And I would've never seen it unless I had asked gmail to "show details".

So, will you help the poor man?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Can it always get worse?

The first question one should ask a potential roommate is not Do you smoke? but should instead be Do you snore?

Mine does both.

Help. Me.

Friday, September 5, 2008

For the sake of a post.

Hello. I'm alive and well, in case you were wondering. I have a lot to blog about and possibly enough time to do it, but somehow I am unable to. And I'm tired of giving excuses. So here's a post for the sake of one.

Lifted from The Wertzone.

The rules:

From Box Office Mojo's list of Top 48 Sci-Fi Films Based on a Book (or Story) (1980- present).

Here are the rules.

- Copy the list below.
- Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
- Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn't finish it.

1. Jurassic Park
2. War of the Worlds
3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
4. I, Robot
5. Contact
6. Congo
7. Cocoon
8. The Stepford Wives
9. The Time Machine
10. Starship Troopers
11. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
12. K-PAX
13. 2010
14. The Running Man
15. Sphere
16. The Mothman Prophecies
17. Dreamcatcher
18. Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
19. Dune
20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
23. Battlefield Earth
24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
25. Fire in the Sky
26. Altered States
27. Timeline
28. The Postman
29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
30. Solaris
31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
32. The Thing (Who Goes There?)
33. The Thirteenth Floor
34. Lifeforce (Space Vampires)
35. Deadly Friend
36. The Puppet Masters
37. 1984
38. A Scanner Darkly
39. Creator
40. Monkey Shines
41. Solo(Weapon)
42. The Handmaid's Tale
43. Communion
44. Carnosaur
45. From Beyond
46. Nightflyers
47. Watchers
48. Body Snatchers

Nobbad. 5 out of the top 10 and 9 out of the top 20.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Wrapping up Mysore.

I've been thinking of unusual, non-linear ways of spinning a tale out of my recent travels, and though the voices in my head have thus far been unable to reach consensus on the matter, they all unanimously decided to get the Mysore trip out of the way.

We were quite lucky while at the palace, managing to catch the only patch of blue sky that July Saturday was willing to favour us with. And after Madras, midday heat at Mysore seemed rather trivial.

So here ya go. A photographic tour of the Mysore palace from the outside. Wish I could've given you a similar tour from the inside.

Mysore has two beautiful traffic circles built in an Indo-Saracenic style to commemorate the rule of two of their recent kings, (Nalvadi) Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV (1902-1940) and Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur (1940-1950). Managed to get a decent photo of one of them (JC circle) from within our vehicle.
The Mysore palace complex has several wonderfully-preserved temples from the Vijayanagar era when the Wodeyar kingdom was a vassal state of the Tuluva and Saluva emperors.

Shweta Varahaswamy temple, Mysore palace, Mysore. (Photo courtesy Arun Verghese.)

Krishna as kALinga mardhana, south gate, Mysore palace.

JC Circle and the north gate, Mysore palace.

Okay, okay. 'nuff stalling. I give you the Mysore palace, by day.

PS. This is something I noticed only now, going through all the pictures from the trip. You can see something similar ff you zoom in on the north gate image as well: Indian-ized angels! Some part cupid, some part generic angel, only male. I don't think I've seen their like elsewhere. Apsaras adorning brackets or columns in other places like Badami or Belur are very different from whatever these are.

Is this what Indian art free from cumbersome nationalist pride and (hence) overtly influenced by European ideas would look like? Slightly creepy as the man-angels may appear, I like the notion.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Lil' Bitta H-D-R.

Title stolen from here.

HDR, or High Dynamic Ranging is this lovely photographic technique for capturing both very light and very dark parts in an image. And as much as I like silhouettes, it's nice to get both a pretty looking sky and all the detail in whatever it is that I am trying to photograph.

At first I thought that this needed a more fancy cam than what I had, but apparently you don't. I simply varied the exposure levels and clicked multiple pictures of the same objects, and then combined all of them using a really simple desktop software, Photomatix Pro 3.

And voila!

Inside the South Fort, Badami, Karnataka.

The North Fort, Badami, Karnataka.

One of the rock-cut temples, Badami, Karnataka.

"Durga temple", Aihole, Karnataka.

Kailasanathar temple, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 3

This will the third and last segment on birds for some time to come. After this I'll get back to showing off pictures of things that don't fly off or dive under water without a moment's notice, but stay squarely centered in viewfinders.

#12 Spot-billed Duck: Anas poecilorhyncha.
Also known as the Spotbill, it's the one in the centre, behind the twigs. That's the best shot I got of the bird. It's being flanked on both sides by:

#13 Little Cormorant: Phalacrocorax niger.
Cormorants were the most common birds there, I think. It was the same with Ranganthittu 3 months ago. There are three species of cormorants found in large numbers in India, this one being the smallest and darkest.

#14 Indian Cormorant: Phalacrocorax fuscicollis
Slightly bigger, a little browner. They swim much lower in the water than ducks, giving them an almost Nessie-like appearance. This particular bird dived under water and did not resurface for at least 20 seconds, and it re-surfaced quite far from the place where it dove in.
(I like my silhouettes. :))

I haven't been able to make up my mind about the bird on the right. The Indian and Great Cormorant species are far too alike, and having enough morphological variation amongst themselves to be easily differentiated.

#15 Oriental Darter: Anhinga melanogaster.
The bird on the right, with the snake-like neck. Wasn't easy to identify, this.
Melanogaster means black-bellied, by the way. Drosophila (the fruit fly) and some species of buttonquail also shares the same name.

#16 Purple Swamphen: Porphyrio porphyrio poliocephalus.
Yes, a swamphen. Who knew such birds existed?

I can't get my head around why birds evolved such fancy colours. It's certainly not as a part of some fiendishly clever camouflage scheme (Purple in a swamp?). Yes, I know, colours and the display of fancy plumages is a big part of bird mating rituals, but surely there must be a more substantial evolutionary reason, like co-occurance with some other vital trait.

#17 Brahminy Kite: Haliastur indus.
The bird on the left. I remember them being very common in Delhi, and I've seen quite a few of them in Bangalore as well. Very distinctive white plumage on the head and neck, chestnut everywhere else. Usually identified with the Garuda of Indian mythology, the eagle vehicle of Vishnu.

#18 Black Kite: Milvus migrans.
At least, I think it's a black kite, cannot be sure. Too many birds which are similar in appearance. Could be a Lesser spotted eagle, a Steppe eagle, or a Common buzzard. The last of them is the most likely alternative. Eagles are bigger and half well-built feet unlike kites and buzzards, but it's difficult to check both size and the nature of the feet from this photograph.

There. 18 birds seen in some three hours. Not bad, eh? There would've easily been double the number of species there, if not more. With this being off-season. One little lake supporting this many birds. Hard to believe.

Pictures 5 and 6 courtesy Arun Verghese.

Also see:
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 1
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 2
And the road becomes my bride.
Shine on you crazy diamond.

A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 2

OK, now for some pictures taken in a more natural setting. Note the simultaneous decrease in image quality. I have a dozen crappy images for every single one I've put up here.

Common Kingfisher: Alcedo atthis.
Not sure which subspecies the bird belongs to. Way too small for real identification.

Grey Heron: Ardea cinerea.
Lovely bird, glided around on top of our boat for quite a while. Note the bent neck, a characteristic while herons and egrets fly. Storks and cranes fly with a stretched neck. Wanted to capture this bird on the ground as well, but alas.

Little Egret: Egretta garzetta.
Closely related to the Grey Heron, but very different in appearance. The black beak and legs distinguish the little egret from other species like Great Egrets and Cattle Egrets, both very common in India and elsewhere. The picture below was not taken at the lake, but at the base of Balamuri falls: there's water splashing everywhere, the quantity of water making up for the lack of height, and there you have this bird, standing silent and still, without a care for the surrounding chaos.

Eurasian Coot: Fulica atra.
Very duck-like, but do not belong to the same family as ducks, geese and swans. The adults are all black, except for a white facial shield that extends to the beak, and a thin red ring around it.
Eurasian Coots and a Little Egret
#10 Spot-billed Pelican: Pelecanus philippensis.
Apparently a very small pelican, it still looked pretty huge when it landed on the water next to our boat. Wish I had captured the landing on camera.

Lesser Whistling Duck: Dendrocygna javanica
These two were going around in circles for at least half an hour. I could see the same pair bobbling up and down there from various parts of the lake. Taken from the observatory tower there.

If you already despair of these, there's a third segment yet to come.


Pictures 5 and 9 courtesy Arun Verghese.

Also see:
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 1
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 3
And the road becomes my bride.
Shine on you crazy diamond.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 1

Bird photography is highly frustrating. Success rates are very, very low. And then you have to spend hours and hours trying to figure out what you captured on film.

Karanji Lake, Mysore is a good place for a beginner to do it though. They have an aviary, a butterfly park (open air thing, so you have a good variety of butterflies there only in November), a 30 foot high observatory tower, plenty of nice spots on the lake shore providing a good view of the birds, and the piece de resistance is that you can go boating around much of the lake. No other bird sanctuary gives you so many options. The aviary there is really cool, letting you walk up to within mere feet of exotic birds.

I've spent at least 7-8 hours spread out over the past 3 days rifling through wiki pages trying to identify all the birds we found at Karanji lake on Saturday. It took me insanely long just to identify one ruddy bird, and although I've improved a little since then, this was no mean feat. And even now I have a few birds that I am unable to identify.

#1 The Indian peafowl Pavo cristatus.
Both the albino and the coloured varieties, breathtakingly beautiful. All words are superfluous.

#2 Indian Sarus Crane: Grus antigone antigone.
One HUGE bird. Almost a metre and a half in height, it's the tallest of the cranes. Very distinctive colouring. Kept in one half of the aviary, we weren't allowed to go too close to them.

I wonder why the species name is antigone. In Greek myth she's the daughter of Oedipus, born of the infamous incestuous marriage. Can't see any link there. Antigone also apparently means "unbending" and "in place of a mother" in Greek. The whole baby-dropping thing has to do with storks, not cranes, so that it can't be the latter. Hmm... cranes and storks don't bend their necks while flying, but herons and egrets do. Lemme know if you think of a better reason.
#3 Helmeted Guineafowl: Numida meleagris.
Funny looking things. Had trouble identifying them as these birds are native only to Africa. Apparently they've been domesticated a little over the past century, and introduced extensively in various parts of Europe.
#4 Wild Turkey: Meleagris gallopavo.
I think this is a wild Turkey. The colouring seems a bit unusual. May in fact be a very ugly chicken.

I know, I know, clicking pictures of birds caged in an aviary isn't real bird photography. Wait a while. Next up: A little bit of Ornithology: Part 2.

10.00 am

#5 Muscovy Duck: Cairina moschata.
Finally managed to identify this duck. Was rather hard to place as it's a native of the Americas. Scary looking fella, but allowed me to get within 3 feet of him.
Pictures 1,4 and 7 courtesy Arun Verghese.

Also see:
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 2
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 3
And the road becomes my bride.
Shine on you crazy diamond.

And the road becomes my bride.

Ze wanderlust has had me in its grip for quite some time now. If only it had caught me a little earlier. The last few years seem like such a waste of time now. Kodai last December was my first real fun-trip in a long time, I suppose... though a trek expects a lot of effort in exchange for the fun and pleasure. Weeks later I visited Kanchi and Mahabalipuram when dad and the brother had come over, but somehow, as wonderful as both places were, their effect on me was not very profound.

It was the Mysore trip in March that really kindled that wandering spirit, that desire go see exotic places, to try and take home some of that magic. We had visited Ranganthitoo and Karanji lake for the birds, Somanathpura for the exquisite Chennakeshava temple there, and Mysore for the Jaganmohana Art Gallery and to see the palace lit up by a million lights.

Last weekend I returned to Mysore, and it seems like Mahishasura's mythic capital finds it impossible to disappoint. Our itinerary was a little different this time.

First stop, the Mysore palace, to see the interiors by day. It's been nearly 10 years, I think, since I went in last, more than long enough to get you to forget the grandeur of the place. Oh I would have given any amount of money to be allowed to photograph in there. From its multi-domed ceilings to it's exquisitely enamelled floors, columns adorned with Apsaras to peacocks in tinted glass ceilings... in every direction and round every corner there was a photograph begging to be taken. (I wonder how many strings were pulled for this to be taken.) I lost count of the number of times my hands itched for the nonexistent camera.

The next stop in our trip was Jaganmohana palace again. You don't say no when presented with a chance to see Ravi Varma originals, even if you've been there 3 months prior. (The pictures on the site don't do justice to the paintings, not by a long shot.) Or to see the Glow of Hope by Haldenkar, hung up in a room all by itself, the room lit by a single 60W bulb. The lady looks as if she's lit up only by the lamp she is holding.

After all that, we went over to Karanji lake again, armed this time with a better camera (the 12X zoom works wonders), and a lot more time to kill.

Hmm. This is beginnning to look like a travel blog. Must make amends.

Next up: A little bit of Ornithology

PS. Yes, I stole the title from a Metallica song. I am not ashamed to admit that I'm revisiting their songs after some 6 years. You heard me right. I like metal. I also like classic rock, old pop, western classical and MS Subbalakshmi, but I like metal. Time to start labelling, people.

Also see:
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 1
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 2
A Little Bit of Ornithology: Part 3
Shine on you crazy diamond.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Your result for How good of a Calvinball player are you?...

Your Grade= A+ Good knowledge and excellent strategy!

71% Game_Knowledge and 96% Game_Skill!

Amazing. You are part of the 4.3% of the population that landed in this category.* You know the game and its history well, and you did amazingly well when it came to playing Calvinball strategically.

This suggests that you probably have a natural talent in Calvinball. You have learned that the trick to doing well in Calvinball is not brute strength, but quick wit. With your natural ability you could go far.

You are definitely already talented enough to beat Calvin. A match versus the quick-witted tiger would be close. I'm going to give you the edge, but his superior knowledge of the game might propel him to victory.

* This is a made up number.

Take How good of a Calvinball player are you? at HelloQuizzy