Thursday, May 22, 2014

When seconds make a difference

“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” ― Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking 

Time taken to convey a piece of information to the right receiver can make the difference between life and death. Yesterday midnight as we were about to celebrate a friend's birthday, we saw a woman who looked like an escapee from a mental hospital – white robes, shaven head – walking alone on the road, right against the oncoming traffic, aimlessly looking down. We wondered what to do? My friends suggested we should call the cops. I had the phone number for Sadashivanagar police station. For a brief moment, I hesitated pondering whether it was okay to use my cell phone to make this call. I called up anyway pleading the police to look into the matter. Based on the location details, they told it came under the jurisdiction of Yeshwanthpur police station and gave us the relevant number. On dialing the new number, I was told I'd dialed Jayanagar police station and not Yeshwanthpur. 

Amidst all the confusion, the woman had vanished into the distance by the time we could lodge the information at the right place. The person who received the call at Yeshwanthpur police station earnestly took the details and assured that they'll look into the matter. At least ten minutes had lapsed between our taking notice of the lady and the information being conveyed to the police. We don't know what happened afterwards.

This made me realize the importance of always having the phone numbers of ALL nearby police stations, hospitals, fire stations etc. The time saved in not having to dig out the correct numbers could save a life or at least avert something bad. But there's another question that has been bothering me. Could I have done something myself? Could I have run up to her and talk her into coming to the safety of the footpath? Could I help her reach wherever she actually needed to? I don't know. I probably didn't have the guts. When it comes to crunch situations, it's about split second decisions. And you can never say, until later, whether those decisions were right. 

Knowing how to handle emergencies is a skill in itself, one that few people are trained in. There are cases where people, with all good intentions, have tried to pull out survivors from car wrecks and earthquake rubble only to cause irreparable damage to the already badly injured victims. And instances when in trying to save a drowning friend, the rescuer himself is drowned along with the victim - knowing how to swim and knowing how to rescue a drowning person are two different things. But then, there are bright examples where swift action by the locals helped save several lives in a train mishap. An emergency situation is of danger to the victim as well as the rescuer. So does it all come down to the individual and the particular case at hand? What are your thoughts and recommendations on handling such predicaments? In case of emergencies, how do you make that snap decision on whether YOU do whatever needs to be done or you just convey the information to someone who might be better trained to handle the situation?
In any case, the least you can and must do is to inform someone who you think might alleviate the situation. It's disturbing how so many people chose to ignore and maintain safe distance. If you stay in and around IISc Bangalore, keep these numbers handy. Save them on your cell phones and laptops and PCs. Write them on your diaries and notebooks. Pin them on the wall beside landlines. Even better, remember them.

Toll-free numbers for Bangalore City Police: 100, 103
Malleswaram Police Station: 080-22942519
Sadashivanagar Police Station: 080-22942589
Yeshwanthpur Police Station: 080-22942526
Ramaiah Hospital 080-23608888
Toll-free numbers for ambulance: 102, 108, 1062
Fire Service control room: 080-22971500

For a larger collection of important phone numbers (for Bangalore), see here.
Bangalore City Police has compiled a nice FAQ here.

Over to you!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The dialogue from a Bollywood movie

During my convalescence after a knee surgery, I stayed in a close friend Arjun's hostel room as it was in the ground floor and near the bathroom making it convenient for someone on crutches. Also, in case I needed something, he could help me out. Arjun isn't one to keep things neat and tidy. A bundle of soiled clothes and stinking socks would lie in a corner. Spiders and cobwebs abound everywhere. I pick up some item on his table and I'm greeted by a puff of dust. 

Fed up with his lack of cleanliness, I exclaim, "Is there a single thing in your room that's clean?" 

He replies with a deadpan face, "Yes there is."

"What is it?"

"My heart."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

God's own country revisited - II

[Continued from "God's own country revisited - I"]

Day-2: 5th May 2012 @ Kunduthode, near Thottilpalam, Kerala
Trek to Vattipana Peak 
Cocoa harvest at Rex's Estate 

Here's the story of a trek in 40 selected pictures.

If you wake up early morning to a view like this, you are bound to be 
full of energy. And we would need lots of it to get there.

That's our lakshya or destination - Vattipana peak at 2700 feet above mean sea level.

After his ordeal in last year's trek, Deepak was hell-bent on not trekking this time. Inspite of long hours of persuasion from everyone, this is how he was disposed as the rest of us left.

Anyway, we let him be and proceeded on our adventure. Different people prepare differently for a trek. Most of us chose jeans and shoes to face up against the thorns, rocks and leeches. But Rijil chose shorts and sandals. Rex, the seasoned campaigner in this terrain since childhood, was nonchalantly attired in lungi and slippers.

Rijil and Rex walk along the stream. Rijil looks longingly 
at the water saying "I'll see you when we are back!"

Once we were past the stream behind Rex's house, a muddy trail with a modest acclivity took us higher.

Up we go!

It was nice to see some healthy cashew plantations. We had to resist ourselves from plucking this one as it was in someone else's estate.

Cashew nut or kaju (Anacardium occidentale).

Even the humble and ubiquitous mimosa plant looked so attractive with lots of these pink flower-heads strewn along the way.

The mimosa plant (Mimosa pudicasays "Zara zara, touch me (not)!" 

One wrong turn on the way up, and we ran into a huge monolithic rock blocking our accent. The only way to circumvent it was to take a brief decent on a relatively steep slope. We had to be on all four limbs moving slowly and cautiously while taking utmost care not to dislodge any stones lest they roll down to hit someone lower down the slope.

Tree trunks always seem to be vertical irrespective of the slope of the terrain.

We then took a breather in the shade of a generous kapok tree with it's signature palmately compound leaves and thorny branches. We were carrying lots of water, chocolates, fruits and bread to keep our energy levels up. 

The stately kapok or the white-silk cotton tree (Ceiba pentandrafrom below. 

Sudharshan already started to show symptoms of trekophobia of Deepak fame. Nonetheless, he wasn't as grumbling and continued marching on at his own steady pace.

Sudharshan in his typical looking-down gait. In the background, 
one can see how cultivated land is eating into forests.

This spider was patiently waiting for its meal in a web that looked gorgeous as it held on to thousands of droplets of water. Any entomologist arachnologist out there who could identify this guy?

Water, water, everywhere, where's my food to eat?

Found this peculiar umbrella kind of thingy under a tree. Any botanist who could pin this one down?

What is this?

Here and there we would see houses in the middle of nowhere with a flight of stone stairs leading up to them - some had an old, rustic charm while others were well-maintained with avenue plantations of ornamental plants.

Stone stairs - the old and the new.

Every now and then, we had to go a short stretch down before we went up again.

Sudharshan goes down as Roshan looks on.

Climb down soldiers.

Sometimes, you just have to stop by and take a look in awe. This was one such occasion. The background is usurped by a stately mountain with a pristine and dense forest cover all over it and clouds caressing it's peak. It's a picture of tranquility and calmness as seen in the deep green hue. The foreground, in contrast, is a lively bright green - a reflection of human activity, of cultivation and it's fruits. 

Stop by and behold, oh traveler.

The mountain cultivators had put an electric fence around their farm to protect against wild foragers. Thankfully, they weren't powered up, so we could cross them as we took a short-cut to the peak. The risk paid off as we were soon well above the banana orchard.

Sudharshan's tutorial on how to cross an electric fence.

The view from above the banana orchard.

As we neared the Vattipana peak, we saw numerous surrounding peaks with clouds casting moving dark shadows over them.

Clouds, unlike us, can be hundreds of meters away from the their own shadows.

The last stretch leading up to the peak, was rocky. The dark rocks were baking hot.

Dark rocks lead to our destination and the azure sky beyond.

Here are a couple of shots of the breath-taking view from the top.

Where is the horizon?

The power gang sitting atop Vattipana peak for the second time in three years.

Vattipana conquered!

At the peak, the lone creature other than us, was a 
butterfly that was happily perched on Sudharshan's hand.

We finished off whatever snacks and refreshments we were carrying and braced ourselves for the decent through the grasses straight towards Rex's estate which we were able to see from the peak.

A zoomed view of Rex's estate 2450 feet below us.

A zoomed view of a stream thousands of feet below us.

That's the way down!

In a group trek, staying more or less together is key if you don't want to have a few people losing their way. So, if a couple of people go ahead from the pack, they eventually have to wait till the rest catch up. 

Rex and Rijil play the waiting game seated on a nice natural piece of furniture.

Down we go among areca-nut trees (Areca catechu).

No sight can be more relieving to a weary trekker - who's out of his supplies - than that of an enchanting well like this one.

The enchanting well.

An improvised water filter served us with cold well water that, in the hot sun, tasted every bit like ambrosia.

An improvised water filter.

In a very conspicuous way, so much of this place is about water. Be it the streams, the forests they feed, the clouds that loom over, the wells, the bamboo bridges, the weirs. Everything seems to revolve around water. A very striking reminder on the importance of water in life, something we take for granted in cities.

A bamboo bridge over a stream.

 Small weirs, built across the stream help store water for when the rains are gone.

Close to the end of the nine-hour trek, we saw this intriguing plant with petite orange flowers below which there were two glossy bracts bright white in color while the rest of the plant had the normal green leaves. Almost as if someone has carelessly dropped some pieces of paper on it, it's called the paper chase tree.

The intriguing paper chase tree (Mussaenda glabrata).

Going down turned out to be much faster than climbing up, because most of the time we were working against gravity that was trying to take us down in a hurry and also because we took a shorter, more direct, route. 

Abhijit heads back to base camp amid vegetation of all sizes.

After the tiring trek, the entire gang went to the stream behind Rex's house for a refreshing bath.

Stream, stream, here we come!

The crystal clear stream water.

Up next was, cocoa (Theobroma cacaoharvest for chocolate making. Cocoa fruits are quite big - six to eight inches long, four inches across. The white pulp around the cocoa seeds has a taste reminiscent of custard apple, while the seeds themselves have that characteristic bitter chocolate flavour. After a few days of fermentation and further processes as per Abhijit's secret recipe, we had home-made chocolate on our lab table. 

Abhijit and Roshan expertly scoop out the cocoa.

Cocoa seeds.

The facade of Rex's comely home.

The ideal way to unwind after the long day, was the post dinner relaxed chit-chat sitting on the large rock behind the house, with the moon and the stars gazing at us amid intermittent music on Sudharshan's guitar and alluring calls from the brain-fever bird. That was one day thoroughly lived.

Photo credits: Abhijit Kshirsagar and Roshan Kumar Pappu

Saturday, June 9, 2012

God's own country revisited - I

There's some enchanting lure about Kerala that keeps pulling you back towards it. Two year's after the first lab-trip to God's own country, we were at it again. There isn't a dearth of exotic destinations in Kerala. Still we chose to revisit pretty much the same part of Kerala that we'd fallen in love with last time around - Kozhikode and Wayanad.

Day-1: 4th May 2012
Places visited: Kozhikode, Soochipara Falls, Banasurasagar Dam

A thoroughly drenched Yesvantpur-Kannur Express safely delivered us to Kozhikode having gone through a particularly noisy overnight thunderstorm. A typical Kerala style breakfast comprising stew, appam, idiyappam and plantains at Rijil's place prepared us for the day ahead.

The city of Kozhikode is an alluring blend between the urban and the rustic. From inside our Tata Sumo Grande, one moment we would see a swanky mall and the very next an eye-full of greenery.  

It's a pleasure to drive around the city roads in Kozhikode.

As we ascended the ghat section near Kozhikode, we got engulfed in a sea of green of various hues. Just as it leaves Kozhikode, National Highway No.212 goes through nine hairpin bends leading to a scenic viewpoint providing a panoramic vista of the ghats. To have ice-cream while you soak in the scenery is amazing but to litter the spot with wrappers is simply unforgivable. When will the Indian tourist learn to respect his own land?

Look out of the window and behold the greens.

The hairpin bends of the Kozhikode ghat section as seen from the viewpoint.

At the view-point, one gets to see two pictures - a spell-binding one 
conjured by mother nature and repugnant litter created by irresponsible men.

Our next halt was the Soochipara waterfalls in Vellarimala, Wayanad. In Malayalam, "Soochi" means "needle" and "para" means "rock". To realize how apt the name is, you need to take a 10-15 minutes walk through a trail - partly muddy, partly rocky - from the security check to the foot of the falls. Sitting with your head and shoulders under the barrage of cold water pounding down on you is ethereal bliss. It's like a refreshing cold water shower combined with a healing massage from a seasoned acupressurist.

As you walk to the falls, don't forget to take an extra pair of shorts and a towel!

Seated on the rocks, you can relax yourself with your feet dipped in the cool water.

But the real fun is right under the falls, 
letting the cold 'needles' of water hit you.

Green leaves and a network of roots hold on to the
 dark rocks as the water gushes down.

Apparently, the quantum of water flow and the depth of water at the foot of the falls is exponentially higher in the rainy season making it impossible for tourists to get the same kind of experience that we had. That would be an awe-inspiring form of the same site. We witnessed the more friendly and amiable avatar.

Our next destination was Asia's second largest earthen dam, the Banasurasagar dam on Karamanathodu tributary of the Kabini river. The reservoir of water held up by the dam was a pretty picture dotted with hills. On the other side of the dam was an incline covered with verdant grass.

The grassy incline leading to the top of the dam.

Rocks, water, hills, clouds and sky come together in a perfect picture.

There were motor-boats in the reservoir, but they were far too noisy to blend with the tranquility of the surroundings. So, we chose to stay away from the boats and to just soak in the beauty with all our senses. 

Sitting silently atop the dam as you are caressed with an invigorating breeze - pure bliss. 

Beside the dam, there's a park and a jack-fruit grove with numerous swings tied to the trees. It was a reintroduction to the simple thrill of swinging, something forgotten after school days.

Up, up and away.

The sun and the clouds play hide-and-seek casting rays that reach you carrying 
some mysterious message. Call it the enlightenment coming from above.

The three destinations for the day rekindled the child-like fun in us as we moved towards Rex's estate at Kunduthode expectantly bracing ourselves for a challenging trek on the following day.

[To be continued in "God's own country revisited - II"]
Photo credits: Abhijit Kshirsagar and Deepak Gunasekaran