Ranthambore : A fort with a story and the elusive jungle cat !

A trip to the beautiful state of Rajasthan had been on our bucket list for so long, that it had gathered moss. Finally it materialized this October, when we managed to  cover a tiny bit of what Rajasthan had to offer. Even though we had nearly 8 days, travel time within Rajasthan ate up quite a bit of it.

Our first stop was Ranthambore, roughly a 4-5 hours drive from Jaipur and connected by good roads.Train journey is only 2.5 hours and there are regular trains to the small town of Sawai Madhopur. Typical of tourist places, Ranthambore hotels are generally expensive and in the best interests of our wallets, we chose to stay at the Vinayaka residency run by RTDC.They offer clean functional rooms with good bathrooms.

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Ranthambore Fort,one of the main attractions in Ranthambore,is a beautiful fort and was once counted among the most impregnable forts of India. It was coveted by the Mughal rulers because of its strategic importance in the trade route and was built sometime during 944 AD during the reign of Chauhan Rajput King.

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The sharp spikes on the main entrance door prevented elephants from breaking open the door.Even more ingenious was the use of a right-angled shaped entry to access the gate. This prevented any possibility of exerting a strong force to break open the door.

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Andheri Pol

Called the Andheri Gate or Pol, this gate falsely leads an enemy to an open ground which had a pit covered with grass, while the real entrance was on the right.

Battis Khamba Chattri (32 Pillared Umbrella) is built right in the center of the fort to commemorate 32 years of rule of the King.There was a small Shiva temple which was situated right under the Battis Chchattri, entry to which was again through a secret passage that’s not easily visible.

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Battis Khamba Chattri

True to the intrigue that surrounded the place,the walls bear history to a lot of tragic happenings. Hammir Dev, an illustrious Rajput ruler invited the wrath of Mughal Ruler Allauddin Khilji, when he gave protection to Khilji’s enemy. When Khilji found a direct incursion was extremely difficult, he chose treachery and bribed Hammir’s two generals. After the battle, the traitorous generals raised the black flag of the Mughals even though Hammir was very much alive, and all the women in the fort committed Jauhar (suicide).The married women committed Agni Jauhar (immolation) and the unmarried Jal Jauhar (drowning).

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When Hammir found out about the treachery, he tortured and beheaded the traitors on this very rock. Afterwards, he had no desire to live and he chose to give up his life in front of Lord Shiva.( This was the version as told by the local guide. I did however find some contradictory facts about the nature of his death, some of which claimed that Hammir had died in the battle itself.I also couldn’t find too many details about the exact nature of the treachery. However the guide’s version could have been passed down as popular folklore and was riveting to hear). In fact, the guide also inserted some mythology here and claimed that Lord Shiva did not want to take Hammir’s life , but on the third attempt Hammir had his way !

The fort was huge and involved plenty of walking.There were also a lot of monkeys in the fort eating a whitish powder, which we later discovered to be Bajra powder which the locals fed them.

In the afternoon at 2.30,was our trip to the Tiger Reserve.The safari happens both in the mornings and afternoons.After consulting experts who claimed to have direct contacts with the tigers, we were advised the afternoon safari.The reserve is split into several zones and we were allotted Zone-6 (Again vetoed by the tiger astrologers).One can either take a canter ( which is an open van with seating of about 20 people) or a gypsy (if the number is less than 7). The canter costed us 550 bucks/seat and off we went on a bumpy ride across the town. Sawai Madhopur is a very small dusty town, mainly surviving on the tourism industry.The narrow bylanes and the small run-down shops were a stark contrast to the plush touristy hotels.

Finally we entered the jungle through the Zone-6 entry gate. It’s an interesting forest, very different than the ones we see in the western Ghats. Dry deciduous trees alternate with open grassy meadows making the changing scenery a pleasure to watch.Photography is a difficult accomplishment unless you have more than two hands, considering that you needed both of them to hold on for dear life and to keep ducking to escape passing branches. In fact, one of our co-passengers, a french lady, who underestimated the ride, was unseated ignominiously from her seat.

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Over 40 species of mammals which includes tigers,leopards,sambar deer,spotted deer,neel gais and jackals ; 35 species of reptiles and 320 species of birds including migratory birds are found in the jungle. We spotted a lot of sambar deer, spotted deer, a wild boar, a crocodile which was catching the last rays of the sun. When we stopped to see a Grey Pond Heron which was busy doing its own thing, a pot bellied Uncleji wanted to know if we were planning to waste time on such things instead of looking for the “main cheez”.

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We did finally spot some tiger paw prints on the road, but didn’t spot any tiger, though there were 20 pairs of eyes of straining hard to see moving stripes. As is the norm in such safaris, one gets to hear of the morning travelers who managed to spot or the ones that went after us who got lucky.

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We contended ourselves by posing in our tiger T-shirts.Considering that I normally haven’t ever had the luck of spotting any of the big cats or for that matter anything even remotely falling in the “dangerous predatory animals” category, this safari didn’t do anything to upset my comfortable status quo.

My husband, who’s a birder and a naturalist,managed to spot several birds. Photo Courtsey: A Ajit

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Eurasian Collared Dove , White bellied Drongo, Indian Robin,White throated Kingfisher, Brown Capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey Francolin

We departed from Ranthambore the following day by train and onto our next destination – Jaisalmer !

That Day After Everyday

The demons outside lurk everywhere and in every turn.For a huge majority of women, this is a reality they have to contend with everyday, every hour, every minute.

We talk about issues when they become incidents, but what of the millions of just-missed incidents which don’t ignite the collective furor of the society but leave an indelible mark on the psyche of a person. Strangling her each day, little at a time, till she’s a shriveled up shell who gets startled at every unbidden glance, the beginnings of a whistle, a dress material getting tangled somewhere, a hand which comes too close.

“Eve-teasing”,is an ubiquitous term we encounter in newspapers and everyday life. Interestingly, its a relic from the post-colonial era, with ‘eve’ implying a temptress who can seduce men and hence, insinuating women in it’s very double-edged euphemism.

Sexual harassment of women in public is not only about sex or lust, but also about masculine aggression and domination in a patriarchal society. It’s about simmering frustrations, inferiority complexes coupled with a complete lack of social/ethical/family values.A way to display that a fledgling has earned the rite of passage to become an adult in front of his equally depraved peers.The glamorization of these acts in films just fuels the lunacy further.

We, the urban women, have the luxury of being cocooned to some extent by the comforts afforded by our social strata.For a woman who doesn’t have the privacy of her own vehicle or can ill afford to live in relatively safer localities, it’s an everyday tussle.

Today I would like to present this 22 minutes short film “That Day After Everyday”, which is directed by none other than the brilliant Anurag Kashyap and is written by Nitin Bhardwaj. In spite of it’s very somber theme which can get under your skin, its not a depressing movie. It’s movie about three women who learn to fight.

Do their methods seem practical ? Maybe. It definitely seems fraught with nebulous risks. Is it positive ? Yes. I loved the way the film ended. And it made me ponder about the movies which are too real-life like to leave the viewer with any succor. Treated as an art movie or as a conduit to awaken public conscience, they are great.But in a world that is full of depressing news, where every fight against injustice seems onerous, a little hope is like water on the parched earth. We definitely need more movies which depict somber themes but leave the viewer with the after-taste of hope.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” –  Desmond Tutu

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“Akka, can you please buy the pavadai for me from the mall. I cant go in there but I will pay for it” – My help requested me the other day.

The chasm that divides the have and have-nots is so abysmal and vast, that having the necessary financial resources is trivial in the whole scheme of things.

I recently watched an award winning Tamil movie called “Kakka Muttai” (Translated: Crow’s Eggs) which is about two slum kids longing to eat pizza and their unrelenting quest for it. Written and directed by M Manikandan, it’s a marvelously simplistic plot yet rich with serious undertones.

For two very enterprising boys whose life’s goal becomes tantamount to biting into a succulent pizza, their simplistic conjecture, that acquiring money for the pizza was all that was required,was rudely shaken when they face a barrage of hurdles.For a moment, my naivity almost made me make the same mistake.

The simple act of walking up to a pizza shop and eating a pizza seems like a gargantuan task.The invisible shackles that a society enforces is a thought that often escapes our mind when we see only well-dressed folks in a mall.The film is superb in how it translates such a simple aspiration of kids into such deep societal questioning and our so called “normal” way of living.

The Times of India gave the film 4 stars out of 5 and wrote, “Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai is multi-layered; on the surface, it is all warm and inviting — a feel-good film about two kids and their simple desire and the earnestness in the filmmaking invites comparison with Iranian films like Children of Heaven…there is a hard base to it as well and from time to time, the film turns into a commentary on the class divide in our society and how it is exploited by wily politicians, an allegory of the effects of globalisation, and even a satire on media’s obsession with sensationalism”

For me, the best stories are the ones which leave things unsaid. The simple and relatable ones but which are delightfully multi-layered. Kakka Muttai is a movie that’s going to remain with me for a long time. I couldn’t find one with subtitles but if you do get a chance, this is a movie that you shouldn’t miss.

Along the same lines was this succinct 9 mins short film called “Haircut” by Anand Tiwari and Sumeet Vyas. A film about a man from an economically disadvantaged section of the society, who goes to get a haircut at a fancy salon.Unlike Kakka Muttai, the protagonist does manage to gain access to the hallowed precincts of the salon but, the chasm is still too wide to be crossed. And interestingly, is it time that we shouted that the emperor isn’t wearing clothes 🙂

The Debut of Tektoks

Considering that I could soon announce “I used to be a blogger” as I drag my feet to publish new posts on my so called “active” blog, I had the temerity to start a new blog at https://tektoks.wordpress.com/ !

Having long back shunned all the advocated advice on blogging & blogging frequencies, I did not let those piddly little irritations come in the way of spawning more blogs. I think I now have the general drift of why low-income families continue to procreate rabidly despite having limited means.

The new blog is predominantly slated to be on data science and analytics, a field of my interest. I hope to publish posts for “normal” people and some for those who are from Planet Zog.

This little upstart was unceremoniously kicked out of Indiblogger, where it was told to get at least 20 posts before it could show it’s face.Since that is a tall order and could take several years, I decided to repost some of my not-so-geeky articles through “The Motley Collections” as well.

So re-blogging my first post on “The Art Of Finding Patterns”….

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Prophecies have existed and have continued to enamor us since the ancient and the medieval period. Humans have always been interested in knowing the future, because of the decided advantage that gives us. Knowing what can happen next and being among the privileged few to have that knowledge, is the key to success.

Early in school, we learn that to predict the next number in a sequence, we must figure out the patterns in the previous set of numbers. While in textbook problems, we always know that a pattern exists and we only need to uncover it, in many real world problems, the question whether any pattern exists in the first place, needs to be answered.

Read the rest on my new blog – https://tektoks.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/the-art-of-finding-patterns/

 

 

Emil’s Enemies

Our knowledge on Nazi atrocities is quite voluminous but very little is known about the German resistance which took the lives of approximately 77,000 people. The loosely bound resistance could not muster an organized strength to pose any serious threat to the Third Reich, but it did carry out about 30 assassination attempts on Hitler.

Notable among these conspirators was a Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law ,a lawyer by the name of Hans von Dohnányi.Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a protestant theologist who rose against the Church’s unequivocal support to the state and sought to distance religious affairs from state influence.While he was opposed to Hitler’s philosophy right from the beginning, it was due to his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnányi, that he got more actively involved in the resistance. As he moved away from pacifist ideologies of the church, he believed that a true follower of Christianity also needed to act on it. “..the church must “not only bind up the wounds of those who have fallen beneath the wheel” of the state “but at times halt the wheel itself.” – (sic) from his essay “The Church and the Jewish Question”.It was this thought which helped him to cross the critical divide from being a mute spectator of evil to actively stopping evil and somewhat assuage his moral dilemma .

Equally and if not more courageous, is the story of Hans von Dohnányi – the man responsible for rescuing almost 14 Jews and also engineering several assassination attempts.Hans and Dietrich were men who showed great moral integrity and exemplary courage at one of history’s most difficult times.Both of them were eventually caught, tried by the SS courts and condemned.They were executed by the painful method of being hanged using a piano wire.

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The story of Hans,Dietrich and others at the German resistance are stories that need to be told. To condense such a vast history,context,characters into the confines of a time-bound theater play seems daunting,but this is exactly what the play “Emil’s Enemies” sets out to do.A famous play by American playwright,Professor Douglas Huff,it portrays the last assassination attempt on Hitler (code named Emil) by Hans and Dietrich. The play is a result of 10 years of diligent research by Prof. Huff where he has endevoured to bring out the essence. Directed by the renowned theater personality Prof. Vijay Padaki and presented by Bangalore Little Theater, I got a chance to watch the play at Ranga Shankara,Bangalore yesterday.

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Col. Raeder and Lt. Creutzfeldd of the SS – Emil’s Enemies

It is a 95 minutes play without interval and comprises of 12 scenes.Scenes of Dietrich writing his memoirs and readying for his execution alternate with events that lead up to the capture of the conspirators. The acting by the cast was quite commendable.Their capacity to enact and bring to life such complex characters,shows the enormous effort that’s been put in.With all the pre-reading that I had done on the subject, I was expecting to see Dietrich as the central character, and hence was pleasantly surprised to see both Hans and Dietrich being accorded equal importance. The play also brings forth a more human aspect of the characters, wherein each one faces a dilemma of some sort or the other, but in the end abides by their inner conscience. For such a somber topic, the humor in the dialog provide a welcome distraction. I did however feel, that audiences who did not read up on the history, might have found it a bit difficult to follow and keep track between the swiftly alternating scenes. The lines of some of the characters were delivered a tad bit too fast and it’s possible to miss out on some crucial conversations. I would definitely advice audiences to pre-read on the history before watching the play.
If you haven’t watched it yet, here’s a chance for you to catch up on the play in Bengaluru on April 21,April 29-May 1 and May6-May8.

FB : https://www.facebook.com/events/368196763304068/
Book My Ticket : https://in.bookmyshow.com/plays/emils-enemies/ET00040622

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I end with this hymn that was written by Dietrich Bonheoffer in the concentration camp, shortly before his death.

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
Oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, You taught us to prepare.

And when this cup You give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world You give us
The joy we had, the brightness of Your Sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be Yours alone

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Disclaimer : I was invited by BLT to watch the play