Life brings with a plethora of experiences, each with a flavour of its own. I wish to share with all my readers these various experiences and observations that I have made during my time here on this planet. They may be funny, thought-provoking or simple reflections. I do hope you will find these enjoyable and interesting.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The elusive visitor

For quite a few weeks now I have been hearing all sorts of new bird calls that I have not heard before.  Our housing complex is in the pathway of flights taking off and landing at what was the old airport.  I wonder if this is the result of the airport being moved out of the city - more varieties of birds making their appearance.

Of these, one bird in particular has a very loud, throaty call that resembles the croaking of a frog.  It is fascinating to hear them calling to each other in a very conversational manner from one tree to the other.  Although they sounded very close at hand, I was not able to spot them for quite a while.

Then one day I saw a blur of green whizzing past and thought it was a parrot.  A few days later, I spotted a dash of green on the branch of a tree outside my window.  I looked - and there it was - but it was no parrot.  It had a strange combination of colours which I had never seen before.

When I posted the picture on a site and asked if anyone could identify the bird, I was told it was a white cheeked barbet.  Kudos to the person who could identify the bird from such a hazy picture taken in such bright light that the picture did not do justice to Nature's art.  The position of the bird did not allow me to get the right colours of the beak etc.

Well, today finally, I managed to capture one of these birds which keep darting from tree to tree, hardly sitting in one place for too long.  This bird mercifully perched itself in full view and gave me a very good pose which helped me get its colours in their fullest glory.

From my balcony
It is amazing to be able to see such birds right in the centre of a major city.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Travel to Mahabalipuram

I guess a drive from Bangalore to Chennai may not exactly be the most original or exotic drive in the world, but this was the first time I went by road to Chennai. Although I have visited Yercaud and Yelagiri by road in the past many years ago, when the highway was just built, this was a different experience altogether.

We (hubby and I) set off at a fairly reasonable hour - 8 in the morning (a good, sound sleep certainly enhances the experience of a long drive). We hit the office going traffic near the Madivala market. But that was not too bad. We were at the head of a traffic jam, so were not too badly hit. We drove quite uneventfully down to Shoolagiri where we stopped to fuel the car as well as ourselves   . The road was pretty good, the weather bracing and the sun not too hot. 

The road was dotted with boards warning drivers to drive slow. These boards on the road merit a separate blog by themselves. The warnings are very clear. Apart from warnings, they are a good source of amusement while drivingalong. (Unfortunately we did not stop to photograph them ).

"Truck lay-bye" 

"If you drive, don't drink. If you drink, don't drive" (no nonsense there - very clear) 

"Be careful, big pothole ahead (was imagining boards in Bangalore saying "Be careful, short stretch of road ahead"! )

"Fast drive is last drive"

But the winner was a board which said :

"Safety gears are between the ears"  

We must give it to whoever has put up these boards - the engineers????? In which case they must be a pretty gifted and creative lot.

This reminded of the boards along the Jammu-Srinagar highway which I had seen in 1977. They were very catchy - so much so as to stay in my memory (which is siftier than the sand on a beach) after so many years. They read

"This is not a race or rally, drive slow and enjoy Kashmir valley", "Drive slow, your family needs you". 

I remember dad and myself reading all these boards along the way and enjoying ourselves.

From there on the highway was undergoing 6 laning right upto Krishnagiri, so we had to drive carefully.

The drive was so beautiful, that we missed the turning to Chennai and went straight down along the Salem highway for about 30 kms with BH wondering why the road was so green - apparently after the turn near Krishnagiri, it is quite barren.

Well, we had all the time in the world and the scenery was far too beautiful to regret the loss of time and extra drive. In fact seeing that the road led to Kanya Kumari, I secretly wished we could abandon the previous plan and drive down to KK. Anyway, neither of us is given to such sudden whims, nor did we have so much time to manage that. Anyway it was a great pleasure watching the green environs around - a real treat to the eye. Distant hills, coconut groves, a lake with birds dotted the way all along.  Well, a lesson learnt there - the journey is an integral part of the holiday experience, getting to the destination another part of it.  (What is any story without a moral, eh?)

Eventually we made our way back to the right turning leading to Chennai. What a drastic change in scenery. Amazing to think that just a few kilometers away and the scenery could be so markedly different. 

After that the drive was pretty routine. We stopped over at Vellore for refuelling (our own tanks that is ) and then carried on. I curled up on the back seat for a while to rest my petulant back and slept till we got to Sriperumbadur. (The road was pretty bad compared to the beautiful highway till Vellore). Got up in time to see the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial on the way. (Seems so unreal to think of him getting blown up so violently). Anyway, after that it was pretty slow going with huge Hyundai trucks trundling along one after the other. (One of them had "Garib Rath" written behind it as if to convince potential robbers that they did not have any precious cargo aboard" It would be nice if all the Garibs in our country could have Hyundai cars.) 

Reached Chennai in the evening to find the weather very pleasant and bracing.

Went two days later to Mahabalipuram. Personally was not so enamoured by the ECR - may be the heat and my travel sickness coloured my perspective in a deep shade of grey. 

However after reaching Mahabalipuram, had a wonderful time playing on the beach, walking through the water along the beach, gathering sea shells. There was a particular kind of long, conical shell which was plentiful, but unfortunately all of them seemed to be inhabited with some sea creature. So listened to hubby dear (for a change) as well as to my conscience and returned to the sea what belonged to the sea. Was lucky however to find one single one which was abandoned.

We did not go to the Shore Temple, but walked up close along the beach and got some nice pics. Was surprised to see so many people swimming in the sea and wished I had gone prepared for one myself. Well, good reason to go again.  

Had a wonderful buffet lunch at the resort there (Continental, Mexican and Indian dishes). Then while the seniors (hubby, my cousin and her husband)  relaxed post lunch, this not yet so senior went back to play in the water, messed around and eventually very reluctantly got out to go back home.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Science and the scientific spirit

Of late I have been preoccupied with a lot of interesting phenomena of the paranormal kinds. I would go to the extent of admitting a degree of obsession with these topics, my favourites being Near Death Experiences (NDEs), Out of the Body Experiences (OBEs), Rebirth/Reincarnation.

Do I believe in these? If I have to reply very honestly, I am very intrigued, evidence which is being published seems strangely convincing, but if asked for a yes/no, I would have to say "I don't know". I would like to believe in it. I want to believe in it. My personal leanings would be towards belief. However, that is entirely besides the point. 

Any attempt at discussions with most people leads to one of two answers - a total belief (largely based on religious convictions and/or based on available evidence) or an outright denial. It is only a handful of people so far who have said "I don't know - maybe, may not be".

I have nothing against the people who disbelieve. My only arguments are against their reasons which are essentially the same as for a question like "Is there a God"? It would be, there is no "proof" orno "evidence" for such a phenomenon. They would go out of their way to give some neurochemical explanation to shrug off the evidence based on case studies which is being published these days. Never mind the fact that their explanation does not necessarily disprove the phenomenon. Does lack of evidence or proof constitute valid reason to negate a theory?

I wonder: why is it that we can accept mathematical equations which are "empirically formulated", but not other evidence. (I might be absolutely stupid, but frankly an entity like "pi" whose value is 3.14 to me appears to be empirically fixed. Where did they dream up the value from? The level of mathematics I studied in school/junior college did not give me any explanation on how it was derived. And I am sure it is the same for anyone whose field of expertise is not mathematics. But we have accepted this value "empirically" nonetheless and got through school quite uneventfully by accepting it as it is. Is there any "proof" for this value? There might be, but my level of knowledge in the field or the lack of it does not let me understand it. 

On what grounds can I refute studies which are published by leading psychiatrists or experts in the field? What is my level of expertise in this area)? 

Fair enough, one wants to think of possible alternative explanations - neurons are triggering all over the place, the person is in an altered state of consciousness - be it due to medication, trauma, level of suggestibility of the subject - whatsoever. But what is the harm in accepting that the other side may also be true? That there are many things we do not know and may not know for centuries to come, that there could be a dimension beyond our comprehension, beyond our ability to prove? 

The earth was spherical even before it was proved to be so. (How many people lost their lives because they said it was)! The earth did rotate around the sun even before someone came along and proved it. Until then anyone who said it was not the sun that rotated around the earth was accused of heresy with "grave" (pun intended) consequences. Gravity existed even before the apple landed on Newton's head. The proof came only later and then only on a chance. If that apple had not decided to fall off the branch on Newton's head, there is a possibility that the existence of gravity may not have been discovered for decades or centuries. Would that mean there was no gravity? Our ancients talked of "prana" and "vayu". How did we accept the existence of these without the proof?

Looking at the flip side of the coin, what makes an organization like NASA spend so many billions or trillions of dollars on launching space missions looking for life on other planets? Why don't they say, "We have never seen any such creatures so far. So they can't exist"? (Ironically all this goes on while "rationalists" try to claim that sightings of UFOs and extraterrestrials are fraudulent and reported by highly suggestible people). Isn't this a contradiction in terms of "science"? You spend so much of money trying to find life on other planets, but when someone says they have seen or photographed unidentified spacecrafts, you say it is rubbish. 

That there is no proof of NDEs or OBEs or of a "God" (definitions of "God" could vary and which definition is right or wrong is not the point of this discussion) does not necessarily mean that they do not exist. It only means that we do not have the means today to prove or to disprove their existence.

The very spirit of science demands that we approach any possibility with an open mind. And all such possibilities are valid unless proven to be absolute, incontrovertible impossibilities.