An oil slick amidst the Hungry Tide

Just a short while ago, I hadn’t the remotest clue of what an Orcaella or the Irrawaddy Dolphin was.But within a span of two months, I encountered it twice. Two days ago, I glanced at the papers and it jumped out at me.A huge oil slick off the coast of Sunderbans had endangered several lives including that of the Irrawaddy dolphins.Somehow,this struck closer home as I had just finished Amitav Ghosh’s book ‘The Hungry Tide’. Human activities continue to threaten the fragile ecological balances existing worldwide as we doggedly pursue our blinkered journey towards self-annihilation drowning out the few dissenting voices of naturalists and environmentalists. Piyali Roy, the main protagonist of the book is one such lone voice.
Fiction set in rich contexts exploring a historical setting or those examining the uniqueness of a particular locale is always an intriguing read.But it transforms into a magical journey in the hands of adept authors like Amitav Ghosh when the characterization takes on a different dimension altogether.’The Hungry Tide’,set in the Sunderbans, brings to life all the magic, mystique, intrigue and perils of the place that one could possibly associate it with. The lives of people for whom change is enduring, living is indeterminate, survival – a daily odds; those who are aware that the very ground they stand on, could be swallowed up the very next minute. It portrays the psyche of such people who encounter death on a daily basis but nevertheless, life elsewhere is unthinkable. They are the inhabitants of the tide country. And with such a narrative, not only are you riveted by an engaging plot but also absorb the essence of a place and time painstakingly sketched by an author’s extensive research.

The protagonists of ‘The Hungry Tide’ are as unlikely a bunch one could envisage. A young cetologist, Piyali Roy, whose life’s ambition is to study the habits of the little known Irrawaddy dolphin.An illiterate rustic fisherman, Fokir.And Kanai, a suave city-bred translator, who is summoned to Lucibari – a remote,unreachable and hostile island in the Sunderbans, for a very curious reason.In typical Ghosh’s style, each of them is very expansively portrayed.Piyali comes across as a resilient woman; passionate about her scientific work and single minded in her pursuit,enabling her to overcome the harsh extremes that her work imposes.She also happens to be a woman, who’s still searching for her identity and discovers her answers in the remote Sunderbans amidst the congregations of the Irrawaddy dolphins.Fokir, though an illiterate fisherman and a man seemingly so far removed from the scientific and highly educated Piyali, still remarkably congruent in his passion for the flora and fauna of the mangroves.And hence, it comes as no surprise that when fate throws Piyali and Fokir together, they connect. A primal bond that renders language superfluous, barely acknowledged yet resilient enough to withstand a storm. And finally there was Kanai.Out of all of them, it is his mutable character with the shades of grey which would have been the trickiest to portray.At one instant, his character smacks of superficiality and conceit but at the very next, it also manages to elicit sympathy for the struggles of a reasonable mind against the prejudices that form the bedrock of his upbringing.Confident to the point of arrogance,but also possessing a remarkable sense of intuition, Kanai rises above himself when he’s put to the ultimate test.He arrives in Lucibari on a strange mission – that of reading his dead uncle’s diary which chronicles his last days before the massacre of Morichjhanpi,when the government of West Bengal forcibly evicted thousands of refugees.And in that dairy,he again encounters his childhood friend,Kusum, who is an ephemeral presence throughout the novel, entwining the past with the present.

It’s a novel which explores many facets – about human bonds that transcends barriers, about rising above oneself, about life in the Sunderbans but above all, I felt it was a novel about exploring one’s identity and the human spirit. Finding that elusive purpose divergent from materialistic pursuits. It also poses several thought-provoking questions when environmentalism comes into conflict with humanism. Does the plight of the Sunderban tigers far outweigh the plight of human refugees ? Though the novel is a good 400 pages, my interest hardly flagged even through the arcane descriptions the author provides on the habitat and the etymology of the Irrawaddy dolphins.

And thus it was, that I came to know of the existence of the rare Irrawaddy dolphin and of the wonder that is the Sunderbans and of the remarkable people of the tide country. In light of my almost personal acquaintance with the animal through the eyes of the cetologist, it was even more distressing to read of the oil slick off the Sunderbans that threatens to disastrously tilt the scales.The need of the hour is to join forces to save the last of the wonderful creatures that depend on these fragile eco-systems. The hungry tide has risen and it shall not be stopped by the narrow confines of national boundaries.

File Photo: Irrawaddy Dolphin

File Photo: Irrawaddy Dolphin

Footloose in the hinterlands of Goa


The sun, sands and the sea? Nah. Not by a long shot.

Those were the images on our mind as well till we glimpsed a different Goa. A rustic and virgin Goa. A Goa that promised to be more alluring than its famous alter-ego. We booked our vacation through India Untravelled and got a chance to stay at one of the most amazing locations ever.

Our homestay “Cancio’s House” was located deep in the hinterlands of North Goa – in the tiny village of Aldona located on the banks of the Mapusa river. “Cancio’s House” also known locally as the Amaral’s house is a 500+ year old Goan-Portugese property owned by the beautiful family of Roberto Amaral, his graceful mom Maria, his wife Raquel, their three lovely kids – Harrison, Antonio and Rafael, their two beautiful dogs – Donut and Jess and the cat which has adopted them – Floss Boy.

Cancio's House, Aldona

Cancio’s House, Aldona

The Amarals

The Amarals

The house, which is believed to have been built in the pre-Portugese period, has undergone several restorations over generations but still retains its old world charm with lovely rooms overlooking a central courtyard. We listened avidly as Roberto recounted his rich family history in the charming dining room where black and white photos of his ancestors line the walls, lace curtains adorn the windows and the lilting strains of music floats in the background.The house is surrounded by dense foliage consisting of native trees, shrubs and creepers inhabited by a plethora of creatures.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Malabar Pied Hornbill


Roberto and Raquel welcome their guests warmly not only into their homes but also their hearts. I was overwhelmed by their amazing hospitality in spite of them being in the midst of a personal tragedy. My 9 year old was elated to have found such endearing friends and dogs to play with and had to be literally dragged out for any outings! As Roberto regaled us with his inexhaustible supply of anecdotes, Raquel served us wholesome home cooked meals. Her home-made chocolate brownies and jams are something to die for. We tasted several locally made breads like the Katro (Butterfly bread), Poi (Wheat flour based bread) and even had the good fortune to taste the Bol (A traditional goan bread made for distribution during marriages). Roberto took us to visit a local bakery where we had the opportunity to see the breads being freshly made. Piping hot Pois’ straight from the wood fired earthen oven tasted heavenly!

Raquel's delicious spread

Raquel’s delicious spread

Bread straight from the oven !

Bread straight from the oven !

The Traditional Bol

The Traditional Bol

Aldona is a biker’s delight as the narrow but incredibly well maintained roads crisscross the entire village. We rode past lush fields, small water bodies, local churches, old Portugese styled homes and through some interesting stretches that led nowhere. It’s a place where one can keep driving forever. We did stop at times to listen to the call of the Red Wattled Lapwing or to gaze at the beauty which a serendipitous turn on the road would reveal. We stopped by an old stone bridge with wooden sluice gates (Teen Mansher) to see an angler gathering his spoils for the day. Around 4 Km from Aldona are the ruins of the old Corjuem Fort built around 1705.A military fortress used for the defense of Portugese India, the ramparts of the fort were an excellent place to watch the sun set over Aldona.



A serendipitous turn

A serendipitous turn

Teen Mansher

Teen Mansher

Corjuem Fort

Corjuem Fort

Amidst the small hamlet, the white washed walls of St.Thomas Church rises imposingly. A 400-year old church, its ornately decorated biblical murals were captivating as I attended the mass with Roberto and Raquel on All Soul’s Day.

St. Thomas Church

St. Thomas Church

'Aiz-Maka-Falea-Tuka' - Today Me Tomorrow You : Inscription on the cemetry

‘Aiz-Maka-Falea-Tuka’ – Today Me Tomorrow You : Inscription on the cemetry

The adjoining villages of Aldona boast of some breathtaking lakes and waterfalls. Mayem lake, around 10 kms from Aldona and located among sleepy villages, is a sparkling and serene water body enveloped by lush vegetation. As our boat glided in the crystal clear waters, we seemed suspended in a tranquil space as the greens above merged with their shimmering green reflections.
The Arvalem Waterfalls around 20 kms from Aldona, is located near the village of Sanquelim. Located in a small cove nestled amidst dense vegetation, the waterfall is pristine as the white foam cascades down the sheer rock cliff.
Adjacent to the waterfall, the monolithic structure of the ancient rock cut cave of Arvalem, which dates back to the 5th-6th century, stands striking with its laterite stones. As one absorbs the stillness of the chambers inside, one can almost travel back in time.

Mayem Lake

Mayem Lake

Arvalem Waterfalls

Arvalem Waterfalls

Arvalem Caves

Arvalem Caves

One cool morning before sun rise, we set off for Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. As we floated in the estuarine mangrove habitat located along the Mandovi river, we spotted several types of Kingfishers, Egrets, Redshanks, Cormorants, Brahmini Kites, Sandpipers and the more rarely seen Lesser Adjutant Storks.

Birding along the mangroves of the Mandovi

Birding along the mangroves of the Mandovi

And at long last, we did go to a beach ! Morjim beach – one of the lesser known and hence, lesser populated beaches in Goa, it also serves as the nesting site for the Olive ridley sea turtles.

Morjim Beach

Morjim Beach

My post cannot be deemed complete if I were to omit mentioning one of the most endearing aspects of staying in Aldona. And that is the people of Aldona. Extremely amiable and helpful, simple and unassuming, they unreservedly share their laughter and tears. Our cab driver, Deepak, a happy-go-lucky man was an archetypical Goan as he chattered loquaciously and prevailed on us to have home-cooked snacks with his family. Happy and contented with all that life had to offer and his uncomplicated way of looking at life, he could have given a run to many of the so-called-successful but stressed out folks. Maya Angelou’s words came back to me – “We need much less than we think we need.”



Au Revoir Aldona ! We leave a part of us with you and take breathtakingly beautiful memories back home.

Will to Will

Life is not predictable and neither is death. We encounter innumerable reports of freak accidents occurring everyday in the newspaper.But more often than not,we don’t foresee a similar situation befalling us. A lot of folks plan their life to the minutest detail, but strangely enough, only a handful plan for death.No, its not a morbid statement and neither is it anything to do with mental conditioning,which while definitely, is a wonderful goal to achieve, is not the object of this post.

Pic Curtsey:

Pic Curtsey:

Imagine yourself dying today. This minute. Who is aware about your financial assets & liabilities ? Who will be the beneficiary to your assets ? Is the person(s) who you assume to be the beneficiary, also the beneficiary under law ? If you have kids and if you and your spouse were to die today, who will be the guardian to your children ? Who will ensure that the money goes to who it is meant for ?

Imagine the hassles for your family of you dying intestate.

A sudden fatality occurring in the family can leave everyone emotionally devastated.While dealing with the emotional turbulence is everyone’s personal struggle, the practical aspects can be sorted out to a great extent with proper planning. Having been exposed to circumstances which led me to appreciate this much more, I wanted to highlight some of the key things to do.

– This is the most basic and something many people forget to do.Many a times, an account is created after which a person undergoes a status change in his/her marital relationship.In such a scenario, the possibility of missing out naming a nominee or having a wrong nominee on the records, increases several fold. The accounts on which one can specify nominations include savings accounts, fixed deposits, mutual funds, demat accounts and insurance policies.Certain demat accounts might facilitate single authorization of a Nominee for all fund holdings but may still require a fresh nomination for new funds.

Who is a Nominee and what are his/her rights ? – In very simple terms, a nominee is just a representative to whom the FI/Bank can give the money to, after your death.This eliminates the hassle of producing a legal heir certificate or a succession certificate. An important point to note is that a nominee is a NOT a substitute for a legal heir. In most cases nominees are people whom you also deem to be one of the beneficiaries.

The distribution of a person’s assets are governed by the Succession Act and it is critical to understand the several categories of Legal Heirs.Class 1 heirs are the ones who are first in the hierarchy and authorized to receive your monies after your death on an equal distribution basis. According to Hindu Succession Act, the legal heirs are different for males and females.Class I heirs for a Hindu male are sons, daughters, widows, mothers, sons of a pre-deceased son, widows of a pre-deceased son, son of a pre-deceased sons of a predeceased son, and widows of a pre-deceased son of a predeceased son.Class I heirs for a Hindu female are sons and daughters (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) and the husband.

So how does the nomination and the Legal heir system work together ? – In a nomination, as previously stated, all one is doing is naming the person, who will collect the assets on your behalf.BUT, this does not give the person absolute rights over the assets.This means,that the money once collected by the nominee is to be distributed as per the legal heir beneficiaries.In the absence of a nominee, the bank will ask for a legal heir certificate or a succession certificate.

Why does one require a Will ? - A Will is a legal declaration of the intention of the person to distribute his assets.So lets assume that you intend your sole beneficiary to be your spouse and the sole beneficiary is the spouse according to law as well, then one could safely conclude that the Will would become a nice-to-have document which can do away with the hassle of creating a Legal Heir or a Succession certificate.

But now lets now consider other cases where a Will is absolutely required -

    1. If the beneficiaries you intend are different from the ones laid out under the law

    2. If the proportion of assets you want to go to the beneficiaries are different from the equal distribution clause laid out under the law

    3. If you have a clear mapping of your several assets to your beneficiaries – Say property in Mumbai to go to your spouse, property in Bengaluru to your mom, then this would not be possible without a Will.

A Will is a highly desirable document for distribution of properties as properties don’t have nominations.If your family needs to sell a property after your death, they would not be able to do so without a Will or legal heir/succession certificate. And for each of such sales, all the legal heirs need to be present for executing such transactions. Imagine a case, where a legal heir is living abroad and the hassle involved therein.Power of Attorney needs to be created in such cases if the remaining heirs agree to let go of the property in favor of one.

Now lets also look at other aspects of a Will, which are not fully financial in nature.

A Will can also act as a statement of intent. This, of course is left to the goodwill of your family members to act on it. This is typically true for guardianship.If you are a single parent or you want to make a joint Will, to be executed in the event of the death of both you and your spouse, then you can specifically state the guardian you want to nominate for your children. This takes care of unnecessary disputes among family members later.Imagine the peace of mind you would have in knowing, that if something were to happen to you and your spouse today , your child would still be taken care of, in the way you want. In the case of a Joint Will, it also aids a person who might not be an immediate family member, to have a record of all your assets and liabilities.It also enables you to bequeath certain specific possessions to certain people.You wanting to leave your precious stamp collection to a relative or a friend who’s equally passionate about it, is possible only through a Will.

For all this peace of mind, all you require is a piece of paper and some concentrated thinking. Yes, a Will can be written in a plain piece of paper in your handwriting. It should just cover that you are in a sound state of mind and should take into account all your assets and express your intent clearly.If you foresee disputes arising later, a Will can also be registered.

Life is not in our hands, but we can make things a bit easier for our next of kin by taking these simple steps.“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” ~John Allen Paulos

Further reading :

1.Good information on Legal Heirs as per Hindu Succession Act –
2.Difference between a Nomination and a Will –
3.Quick reference for terms of a Will –
4.Good information on various aspects of a Will –
5.A format for a Sample Will –

The Great Indian Roads

Whoever said driving on Indian roads was a curse, didn’t have the foggiest clue about the enormous life-changing benefits it has.Take for instance my everyday drive to my son’s school . It has imbibed me with almost Zen like qualities. Though you might be hard-pressed to spot it amidst the generous profanities that spews forth, but let me assure you its there.

Curtsey: Times of India

Curtsey: Times of India

There was a time, when all it took to unleash the beast in me, was a full blown horn of a vehicle which appeared like a bat out of hell, with a mission to go right back.I would fix my face with most baleful stare I could manage,puff myself up like a pufferfish ready for battle and turn on the infernal anthropoid !..and.. and my anger would dissipate like a POOF , when by my side would appear this most insipid, half-witted bloke who looked like he could only open his mouth for eating or leering or both.But now, all that has changed. When somebody honks the living daylights out of me, I am now able to resist the impulse to reach for a shotgun.

I now understand.

For instance consider the ubiquitous honking. “Horn OK Please.” Could there a more amiable way to solicit somebody to blow their horn ? Who could resist that. I, for one, definitely cannot.At times I feel rather despondent when I am not able to oblige all the vehicles on the road. You see, it has this whole lot of positivity connected to it. Its equal. If you have a horn – blow it. It doesn’t matter if you have a three wheeler just hammered together as an afterthought or one of those sleek swanky cars.Its a message to blow your own horn and you don’t even need to be on Facebook ! Isn’t that liberating ? You don’t have to be lily-livered about broadcasting to the whole world that you have a horn and you can blow it.

It also demonstrates an astounding scientific understanding in the power of sound aka. acoustic levitation.We are trying our level best to see whether our powerful honking can lift the obstructing vehicle out of our way, especially when some nincompoops mistakenly believe they need to stop at traffic lights.Now those simple – minded folks who installed those traffic lights just wasted tons of money. Imagine thinking that the junta will halt based on some dumb pole flashing lights, though I admit that its kinda convenient for sticking chewing gums as you whiz past.

Our traffic is our biggest leveler. The autorikshaw-wallahs with the stained betel leaves,the scooter with a family of six astride, the cacophony of two wheelers, the starched guys sitting in the plush backseats of their Benzs’ and Audis’, the truck belching black fumes are all stuck in the same traffic jam. The traffic doesn’t give way based on how pricey a vehicle is. I found that thought absolutely resounding with social equality. You are only as fast as the slowest vehicle on that road. Tsch ! Tsch ! to all those dorks who decided to waste their dough on buying shiny SUVs and flashy sedans while they too move at the pace of the cycle rickshaw. Especially when the slowest moving vehicle always decides to experience life in the fast lane. I call that ambitious.

I also learned that changing lanes at your whims and fancies is not bad.It shows a single minded determination to reach your destination, no matter what.Lane changing on a whim also increases the reflexes of all drivers who need to break, swerve or run into the pole at a second’s notice. This is in fact the single thing which has been instrumental in equipping our country’s drivers with sharply honed reflexes. I determined to do my bit to uplift my country.

Its also a place sans rules.How many places can truly boast of being as liberal ? You can weave through the traffic at breakneck speed – enjoy the thrill of overtaking from wherever you want – shift lanes whenever you want – jump the lights – even do wheelies. Ooh La la ! I am waiting for the next-gen hovercars to experience skyjams.

Crossroads without those meddlesome traffic lights are the ones I dig the most, especially when we practically solve a puzzling theory. How can three vehicles form a triangle without the possibility of any of them moving an inch. While the drivers are absorbed in this interesting conundrum, the long line of waiting automobiles provide a colorful audience.Talking about color, I love the way, we greet each other on the roads. My language learning has improved by leaps and bounds as I coin newer adjectives cocooned within the confines of my car. I specifically delight in the minimalist gestures on the road – when so much gets expressed by the simple raise of the hand accompanied an ‘AEEE’.

Its also such a comforting feeling to have so many cars,buses, autorickshaws by your side, rather like the Kumbh Mela.If you erroneously thought that traffic was the only thing that was curative on the roads – think again. There is an organization which is exclusively responsible for our betterment as individuals. Its called the Bureau for Betterment and Maintenance of Potholes (BBMP). It was preordained that potholes were a necessary requirement for all roads – in a bid to make vehicles more robust, people more flexible and to make life generally more interesting. And the good BBMP said – Let there be potholes. Only the most stodgy kind of chaps could love the monotony of a level road without any potholes.I would be like a fish out of water. If you thought potholes always appeared out of thin air, then let me immediately dispel that notion and and apprise you of the immense effort that goes behind it.Sometimes, poor materials are strategically used or heavy vehicles are made to do the task. At other times,the making of potholes is so strategically thought out that immediately after laying a road, some industrious individuals from other responsible organizations are seen digging right across the road. These dug up roads are then conscientiously filled up with mud, leaving enough rocks on the surface so that we can still experience the thrill of the potholes.

There is also the occasional cows, drain water flooding onto the roads, just to liven things up a bit. I dig the games we play on the road ‘See I scared you’ and ‘My House is on Fire’. Some people like playing ‘One way or two way,my way is the high way’ by driving the opposite direction in one-ways. ‘Who stopped the traffic’ is my personal favorite. This is basically when one vehicle blocks the stream of vehicles by maneuvering exactly perpendicular to the direction of traffic bringing the entire traffic to a halt while it waits to get on to the other side. Ingenious some of them are – I tell you.

So while you tell me which games you like to play on the roads, let me go and have a word with that twerp who just dented my car.

Babette’s Feast

“Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. Man, in his weakness and short-sightedness, believes he must make choices in this life. He trembles at the risks he takes. We do know fear. But, no! Our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when your eyes are opened. And we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence, and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions. And, lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything we rejected — has also been granted. Yes, we even get back what we rejected. For mercy and truth are met together. And righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another”- (Adaptation from Psalm 85:10) and thus spake Lorens Lowenhielm in Babette’s Feast.

– ooo -

Does self-denial really make us more virtuous ? Self-denial as a means to salvation has been pursued in various faiths and at various times. Self-denial is not the same as loss of desire for ‘denial’ inherently means that there was desire.Therefore self-denial takes infinitely more determination than abstaining because of a desire free existence.While I dwelled on this thought as I watched the 1987 drama film, Babette’s feast directed by Gabriel Axel,it left me much more to think about later.

In 19th century Denmark, is a tiny hamlet situated in an isolated stretch off the coast of Jutland.In this barren landscape, two beautiful sisters, Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Phillipa (Bodil Kjer), follow a rigidly devout path.


They had opportunities to deviate from their chosen path, but they doggedly stick on.Initially I was tempted to attribute it to the high handed approach of their father, a minister in the church, but later was forced to renege when I saw their obvious devotion and joy in their faith.Many years pass, the father is now deceased and the two sisters still continue to follow their path with the same joy and devotion. And then on one stormy night, a young & desperate French woman knocks on their door and she brings with her a letter which rekindle some forgotten memories. They take her in as a cook and so it was that Babette(Stephane Audran) came to live with them and loyally served them for 14 years.

On the 100th death anniversary of their father, Babette requests them to let her cook an authentic French dinner. But when they observe the dinner preparations which includes wine,tortoise soup and quails, it sends the puritan sisters into a flurry. And the would-be dinner guests undertake a vow that not a word about the dinner would pass their lips.

And the meal would have received no verbal recognition had it not been for the sudden appearance of a former suitor of one of the sisters, Lorens Lowenheilm,now a general in the army.


He was the only person present who could genuinely appreciate the meal unhindered by austerity.He found that the superlative meal could easily parallel one of the finest dining experiences he had  long ago in an exclusive French restaurant.The power of the delicious dinner is such that it breaks down the distrust and the rivalries between the guests and after partaking the wonderful spread, they are uplifted to a different level of equanimity.

It was then that Loren Lowenhielm says – ‘Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.

The film has been shot at some very realistic locations which bring alive the bleakness of the countryside.Every actor plays their part to perfection which is not surprisingly considering that they were specially selected from the same nationalities as the part they were playing.The film won a lot of awards including the 1987 Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

The movie has some interesting thoughts at play.Does moral uprightness result in small-minded pettiness ? Does one’s humanness take a backseat when confronted with religious intolerance? Did it make the guests hypocritical who in spite of savoring every morsel, felt ashamed to state the obvious ? Was it the bliss of good food alone that brought forth the halo of congeniality ? The film also brings to the fore, the unfailing faith of the two sisters.Before leaving for dinner, Lorens Lowenhielm also ponders about his life’s choices – whether he has won or lost. But after the dinner,he realizes that life was not only unpredictable,it was also beyond reason.Winning or losing was too narrow a boundary to confine God’s wishes.The film also has lent itself to very deep religious interpretation owing to its use of Christian symbolism.


Babette is a great artist and as she herself declares ‘An artist is never poor’. Paradoxically, the meal was never meant for the sake of the guests.It was,in fact, for herself that she cooks.It was just as she had intended it to be – Not only an artist’s statement but also her personal spiritual en-devour.

The movie kind of grows on you and it will linger long after you have watched it. Watch it if you don’t mind watching slower paced movies and for the interesting interpretations that follow.

Here are some interesting links which talk at length about the religious interpretations..


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