Saturday, February 17, 2018

Our Life, Our Times :: 16 :: Sleep-depriving noise

Javed Akhtar, a script writer, a poet and a lyricist, an ex-MP and an intellectual has recently made a statement against the rising levels of decibels from places of worship. I, too fully agree and support him.

I have my own reasons. The urban centres are already very noisy and there does not seem to be any effort to control the excessive noise. I am an 80+ individual who has to suffer it right through the day and night and frequently the suffering is ­­­­­­­right through the week.

Living on the Ridge Road of the Idgah Hills at Bhopal nights and days are very seldom quiet. That the stray dog population has exponentially risen does not need any re-iteration. In our area they seem to be cooling off during the day and are out as soon as the sun goes down. Nights are for their dog-fights, snarling and barking away at intruders – human, bovine or canine. Some nights it goes on, seemingly, till eternity.

When peace and quiet appears to be imminent, out comes the aazhan popping out from loudspeakers from several mosques one at a time. Every mosque has its own time for aazhan and may differ from others by sheer minutes. There are many mosques in the vicinity and in the quiet of the dying night the loud speakers come loud and clear even from far-away mosques as they commence broadcasting one after the other.

Now that it is winter that is slowly retreating, it is still dark after the session of aazhans. But just when you start getting the much-denied sleep it is the aircraft flying low that shatter the chances of peace and tranquility for some rest and repose. They seemingly line up in the sky and start descending one by one just after day-break. Living right on their flight path we get the worst of the noise generated by their jet or turbo-prop engines. The post-dawn sleep too is also thus trashed.

These are the specific sources of noise that permeate during the most inconvenient hours. But there is a general low-density noise all through the day. Automobile horns, scooters being kicked for a start or a heavy motorcycles booming away or sundry noises like a mason using electric saws to cut marble slabs or a carpenter hammering away on nails in a flat in the block are noises that are ever present.

As the workers call it a day it is time for planes to home in again using the air space above us for their landing run in the evenings. And, then at least thrice in the evening loudspeakers blare out aazhan again calling the faithful for namaaz – the noise drowning even the the TV serial dialogues. And as we prepare to get some sleep the celebratory crackers start going off in this wedding season.  

It is indeed a noisy world. According to the Hindu system of “varnashram”, at my age I should have been in the forests living out an austere life waiting for the curtains to come down on me. But, no, there are no forests around to go to as those have been felled for that dreadful word “vikas”.  And whatever are now left to us are actually those where the burgeoning wildlife has been forced to migrate to from the so-called parks where they were boxed in. Those are no longer the forests where an oldie could try and spend peacefully his remaining few days. They are infested by predators which have spilt over from the game parks looking for fresh pastures and frequently make meals of a bovine or a hapless human. I any case, using a forest for a residence would be an anachronistic in this day and age.

Apparently, in today’s India the elderly have no alternative. They have to suffer the urban noises day and night unless the administration becomes gracious and empathises with them to stamp out, at least, the noises that can be stamped out. While the noise from aircraft cannot possibly be helped, no government in India has the guts to put a curb on the noises emanating from religious places. Besides, Maneka Gandhi being around, we have to co-exist with snarling, barking and quarrelling street dogs.

Ultimately, one has to reconcile with the fact that deliverance from this kind of torture will have to wait till our own day of deliverance and not before that.

*Photo from internet

Saturday, February 10, 2018

From my scrapbook :: 6 :: Krishnan's crows

Rama Chandra Guha, generally known as a historian but he is also a journalist, an environmentalist, a political commentator and a cricket historian, has compiled in a book (Penguin Books, M Krishnan & Indian Wildlife) the articles of Late M Krishnan who has been described as a writer, an ecological patriot, a naturalist and a photographer. The book is very aptly titled “Nature’s spokesman”. It contains some of Krishnan’s columns that came out around fifty years ago in newspapers and periodicals. He used to write for The Statesman, The Hindu and various other periodicals.

While growing up in Gwalior in the 1940s and 1950s we used to feast on his columns that would be featured in The Statesman. The columns would contain his impressions of Nature as he happened to come across it not only in the protected jungles across India but also the unprotected ones. He was a naturalist by choice and many of that era with even a little interest in Nature would remember his columns with tremendous amount of longing. Krishnan’s advantage was that not only did he have an abiding interest in Nature and its various expressions he could also give vent to his impressions in brilliant language which, of course, was English. He was a (reluctant) post graduate in English of those good old days when colleges and universities used to teach and impart knowledge.

I got Guha’s book from the dwindling collection of my eldest brother’s library from which a few thousands have been given away to the State MP Academy of Administration and the School of Good Governance at Bhopal. The book is by far very absorbing. Many of the observations of Krishnan are as humorous as they are interesting.

The book would seem to be a gem for naturalists who have been romping around Nature and go about watching the natural processes for pleasure or to record or photograph them. Krishnan had probably been to all the wildlife sanctuaries and the forests that were outside such protected areas in the country. But his interest in wildlife did not always take him away into the jungles. On many occasions his house and its backyard became the locale for his observations of household pests that make miserable the lives of ordinary mortals.

I cannot help sharing a few lines from the book’s chapter on urban birds. In it Krishnan had written feelingly about crows. The words are magical and the narration barely conceals his dry humour. But before I do that I would like to share a few facts about crows.

That crows are intelligent and have co-existed with humans for centuries has been well known. That they can survive on anything that is edible has enabled them to thrive with aplomb along with the explosive growth of humans in urban centres. Their behaviour, especially in relation to humans has been subject of studies in various environmental establishments. Perhaps, the University of Washington at Seattle is one of the rare ones to have a research wing devoted to corvids, the species that the common crow belongs, as some people imagine it is the corvid capital of the world.

A researcher at Seattle has witnessed an exhibition of intelligence of crows. Hovering around garbage bins crows would wait for a squirrel to wriggle into a discarded can. Out when he pops from the can with food in its mouth the crows would mob that squirrel and rob him of his food. Crows have also been found to be smart enough to remember human faces and “hold grudges for human misdeeds”. They also have been seen attacking such humans whom they would seem to abhor. On the other hand, they also show great appreciation for the humans who treat them right. They are known to have left “gifts” for such individuals in reciprocation of the good turns done to them. The gifts included candies, safety pins, keys and such like that, presumably, they think are associated with humans. There are many more remarkable features regarding behavior of crows. I have myself come across a video where a crow would put away litter in a bin. As Krishnan has mentioned below, Douglas Dewar wrote a book only on them almost a hundred years ago.

Leaving that for the time being, here is what Krishnan wrote on crows. The extract reflects his keen observations and an acutely analytical mind and the impressive language that he has used to give expression to his observations. So, here it goes:

“… Crows are such sapient birds, their ways are so curiously dark and daring, that one could write pages about them – Dewar (Douglas Dewar, a British Civil Servant and ornithologist), in fact, has devoted a whole book on grey-necks (crows) – and I dare not add a paragraph! But I will say this, I have watched the civilization overtake the jungle crow, in my back yard.

“It was a rude, uncouth, apprehensive bird in my boyhood, lacking poise, shy and sidling in its approach to the tap for a drink, clumsy and precipitate in its getaway. Today it sits on top of the bucket with easy self-assurance and wears a sophisticated look. The amused tolerance in its eye suggests that it is reflecting impersonally over something ludicrous.

“It is possible that it is thinking, in its black mind, that in the past thirty years it has witnessed the gradual taming and civilization of one who was a robust young barbarian!”

*Photo from internet

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Memories of an ordinary Indian :: 11

(In continuation of previous installment)

While all the friendly matches of football, hockey or cricket used to be played on the College grounds the tournaments used to be held at the Race Course grounds. The Race Course as a destination has now disappeared, the grounds, the pavillions and other assets having been given away to the College of Physical Education now known as the Laxmibai Institute of Physical Education. As these grounds became unavailable for tournaments a stadium was built, I suppose, to fill in the void.

On the football tournament days as a child I used to frequently accompany father to the Race Course. One Mathura Prasad Choube, an old Jhansi Heroes legend during his hockey-playing days and in-charge of games at the college, would come to pick up father and would throw the temptation at me to accompany them and witness the match. It was an offer that just couldn’t be spurned. So, mother would quickly dress me up and I would climb on to the tonga. As the college had not till then acquired a bus the teams used to be ferried to the Race Course in tongas. Some of the tonga-wallas were regularly engaged and they were well known to the players and the staff who used to accompany the football or hockey teams. They had become die-hard supporters of the college team. I remember there was a portly tonga-walla by the name Bhagona. He was such a big supporter of the college team that he would go cart-wheeling along the far boundary line if the college team scored a goal. Such loyalties are seldom seen today.

No races of horses were ever held at the Race Course. At least, I hadn’t seen any. It had a football field on which hockey matches also used to be held. A cricket field would also be carved out of it with a chalk boundary. The ground being devoid of grass cricket or hockey balls would run very fast on it. Beyond these grounds which were next to the two pavilions there used to be a piece of vacant land of huge proportionsthat was meant for Polo.

 Polo matches would be held on these grounds which would generally coincide with Scindia Gold Cup Hockey Tournaments that has an unbroken record of being more than 80 years. A huge tent would also be erected on one side of the ground for the players and their assistants. Horses used to be kept away from the tent. As horses had to be changed after every “chukker”, there used to be quite a collection of them. Not many spectators would assemble to watch the matches as not many were familiar with the game. It was, till then, a maharajas’ game. Many of them would, however, go all the way to have a glimpse of the maharaja, if he happened to be playing.

 The sleepy town, as it was, would seem to be suddenly coming alive with such activities as hockey and polo matches with Gwalior Mela that would also be on its month-long run at the same time. Once, the town was agog with excitement when the maharaja fell off a horse while playing polo. Anxious citizens rushed to the hospital to inquire about his welfare even though it was well-known that the maharaja was safe and sound in body and soul. People were terribly fond of the Maharaja. Those were feudal times and the maharaja was considered to be good feudal.
Since I used to potter around the house when I was the only child at home, having nothing better to do I used to hover around father. His classes apparently started after mid-morning in winters and yet my mother had to hurry up to give him lunch before he left. Despite mother’s rush she occasionally wouldn’t be able to cook the regular course-wise Bengali meal and frequently she would boil some eggs and cook daal to go with the rice and a vegetable dish. As he sat down for his rather early frugal meal he would ask me to sit next to him. He would mash the eggs, mix the mash or hash with the rice and add salt and some black pepper. He would then make small balls out of the mash which he would shove into my mouth. Later, I saw that boiled eggs and rice with salt and ghee are favourites of many bongs. I, too, have always liked this stuff, only I add a generous bit of green chillies to give to the mashed-up pile quite a bit of sting.

After a meal that was basic to the core he would start dressing up. Despite the modest income, he had built up quite a collection of suits over a period of time. His shirts, generally white, were most interesting for me as to them he would add the detachable collars and cuffs. These were all imported. This was in early 1940s and the Great War was still being fought and, hence, perhaps, the austerity. The shirting used to be of cotton that was scarce. The collars along with the edges of the cuffs were the first to get dirty and hand-washing would quickly wear them off. Those days there were no strong detergents and no washing machines. The tailors, too, wouldn’t use any stiffeners. These detachable attachments that were permanently starched freed people from this worry as these would remain stiff even after a wash and perhaps give a smarter look to the ensemble. After use, one could wash and reuse them which is precisely what my father used to do. They wouldn’t crumple – such was the stiffening material inside.

 The shirt itself would remain clean inside the jacket and didn’t need to be given frequent washes. Introduction of synthetic cloth made out of artificial fibres along with several other accompanying changes including those of fashion have ushered in many sartorial changes for men, as they surely must have for women too. The detachable collars and cuffs have since disappeared from the Indian market. These were virtually a necessity those days but today perhaps only the rich and fashionable use them Much, much later I saw Jerry Lewis in a film wearing under a dinner jaclet only the cuffs and collars with an attached stiff white triangular pad tied at the back.

 To keep the collar firmly attached to the shirt father used to have a couple of biggish buttons – one for the back of the neck which used to be somewhat collapsible and the other for the front top buttonhole that used to be part of a set of four buttons.

 This was before the plastic age and hence there were no plastic buttons down the shirt front. The front opening used to be only up to half way down the shirt-front, anyway, for which a set of four buttons was enough with a slightly bigger one for the top one to take in four layers of cloth for the collar. My father used to use brassy looking buttons and cuff links whereas well-to-do people would use silver or gold buttons. After all this time-consuming rituals he would select a tie which would be normally be fromhis collection of Tootal ties. Tootal used to be a famous brand for ties before Independence. If I am not wrong, these ties are just not available In India any more. Of course, other brands have occupied its predominant place and have kept pace with changing cycle of fashion.

He would then put on his shoes, generally a tan Oxford (a black Oxford was supposed to be a no no during the day time – a convention which he asked me to observe even when I was going to the Academy of Administration), and then the jacket and he was ready to go with his battered portfolio with a sola hat on his head. All of us used to marvel at the way my father walked as even after a day’s outing he wouldn’t lose the shine of his shoes. We used to live in a lane that was pretty dusty as the maharaja’s establishment probably could never find the resources to metal it. And yet, while our pairs used to be overlaid with dust, father would come back home with his shoes still be shiny with only a thin film of dust on them.

(To be continued)

*Photo fro the internet

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Our Life, Our Times :: 15 :: Indian speed mechants

Speedster Mohammed Shami with his skipper Virat Kohli
India won the third Cricket Test against South Africa by 63 runs at Johannesburg. Having lost two earlier Tests, India has avoided a white-wash by winning this Test. The victory at Johannesburg, therefore is significant.

 What, however, is more significant is that not a ball was bowled by any Indian spinner. In fact, with a clear swing away from tradition, not even a single spinner was included in the team. It was the wicket at Johannesburg that induced this highly unusual decision. Besides, as the cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle said after the match, Virat Kohli, the skipper, has a liking for pace. And, pace it was right through and twenty South African wickets were shared by the five Indian pace men in the Test.

To be able to field five pacers all at one time in the same test is something which is remarkable for Indian cricket. It has most of the time been handicapped for want of raw pace. What we mostly have been nurturing was medium pacers barring the interlude provided by Kapil Dev in the 1980s. Kapil was a genuine pacer and became available to the Indian team after a very long gap.

The gap commenced from the 1930s when Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh were lost to Indian cricket. Thoroughbred pacers, this duo could make life miserable for even the English cricketers in their home grounds. After the eclipse of that duo what we had was a long line of medium pacers. The handsome and debonair Fazal Mahmood, who too could generate genuine pace, migrated to Pakistan leaving the pace department to Lala Amarnath, Dattu Phadkar and CR Rangachari – all, at best, medium pacers.

The intervening three or four decades were infertile in so far as appearance of a genuine pacer was concerned. None, perhaps, knows the reasons. Maybe, most of the players did not have the physique and strength to sustain long spells of fast bowling in tests, the only format that cricket was played in those days. Perhaps, the over-dependence on spinners, too, prevented from pitches being made that were conducive to pace bowling. No wonder, during this period India produced some distinguished, world-class spinners for whom the Indian pitches used to be tailor-made. While touring teams made Indian teams miserable with their pace attack, their batsmen were troubled no end by the guile of Indian spin bowlers. They would use everything - flight, turn, bounce, drift and dip – to confound the batsmen.

With the appearance of Kapil Dev in the late 1970s India saw for the first time in many decades a genuine ‘quicky’ who could deliver fast balls and also take wickets. His out-swingers were lethal and got him many batsmen of repute. What he used to miss was genuine pace support. Most of his associates in the fast bowling department of the team were medium pacers, barring, perhaps, Chetan Sharma who unfortunately did not last for long. Others who were playing along with him, like Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny, Manoj Prabhakar, Madan Lal or Ajit Agarkar, were all medium pacers. To that extent the Indian pace attack has always been blunted – regardless of the histrionics with the ball by Kapil Dev. Only Javagal Srinath did fill for a while the void that was becoming far too disconcerting.

Srinath was one of the products of MRF Pace Foundation where he was guided by none other than Dennis Lilly. Late in the 1980s a rich cricket buff thought of doing something for the country’s deficiency in pace bowling. He put his company’s money creating facilities for nursing potential Indian pace men towards making them world-class pacers with the help of outstanding international pace men. His MRF Foundation got Dennis Lilly to do the honours of guiding and coaching young Indians who had the potential to come good in the tough and demanding five-day tests.

Apart from Srinath the Foundation produced several winners like Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Bhuwaneshwar Kumar, etc. With the creation of an environment for fast bowling and improvement of pitches that support quick bowlers large numbers of youngsters have taken to fast bowling. Off and on one hears some names that have done well in knocking off established batsmen with sheer pace. A number of young men like Jaydev Unnadkat, Shardul Thakur, Basil Thampi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, etc are waiting in the wings for opportunities to perform. Until they get into action against foreign teams they would need to be nursed carefully to obviate the possibilities of frequent injuries that fast bowlers generally are prone to.

The significance of pacers coming good at Johannesburg should not, therefore, be lost on the cricket-loving public in India. Among the pacers who played in Johannesburg there were four who were in the team to form the nucleus of the pace attack. They were all hurling the ball constantly at 140 kmph. The fifth one, Hardik Pandya, who is basically considered an all-rounder, does twirl his arms as a change bowler who too bowls in the range of 140 to 145 kmph. And yet, curiously it was two of the genuine pacers who, coming good at wielding the bat, put the Indian total in the second innings well beyond the capabilities of the Proteas.

If the quartet (Bhuwaneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Jaspreet Bumrah, Mohammed Shami) continue to perform in the way they are doing, sharing all the twenty wickets of the opposition in a match, they would seem to be putting the likes Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravinder Jadeja, Kuldip Yaday and such other spinners of the red cherry out of business. Remember, while Hardik Pandya did not get many overs, another speed merchant, Umesh Yadav, the fastest of them all, was not even played in any of the test matches in the series that just ended.

 So, if the knowledgeable cricket commentators call it the Golden Age of Indian Fast Bowling they wouldn’t be far off the mark. We can only join them and wish may the tribe of Indian fast bowlers increase to make the country a massive threat for other cricketing nations. Given that and the kind of batting line-up that it has, India could remain numero uno in test cricket for a long long time.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Destinations :: Niagara Falls (1998)

The Horseshoe Falls
On our way back home we were to catch a flight from Durham for New York. Durham is one of the three cities that constitute the Research Triangle; the other two being Raleigh and Chapel Hill. All are within the state of North Carolina. Durham, incidentally, is the seat of the famous Duke University.

We caught the train from the Penn Station in New York for Niagara Falls. The passengers just cannot go straight to the platforms. They first have to
My wife on the "Maid of the Mist"
wait in a lounge until they are given access to the platform and then board the train. There is just no hustle or bustle. Absence of crowds makes a more orderly way of life possible. In our case we have far too many people and our trains stretch out to a couple of dozen coaches carrying far more numbers of passengers. For this and several other reasons confusion is what reigns on Indian railway platforms.

The Howard Johnson hotel

The train runs along the Hudson River which defines the inter state boundary of New York with New Jersey. It passes through some picturesque country and it travels through many cities with familiar names, like Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and so on. It covers more than 450 miles in around eight hours.

Already booked into a Howard Johnson hotel the first thing we did on arrival after a long journey was to get a pot of good tea and some snacks. The Hotel being very close to the Falls we walked across to take a look. It was just awesome. I was reminded of two things. The first one is our own Chitrakoot Falls of Bastar, also known as Niagara of India. Chitrakoot Falls has a substantial drop of around 90
Along with others on the "Maid on the Mist"
ft. whereas the Horseshoe Falls, one of the three falls at Niagara, the waters drop down around 190 ft. which is a massive fall. It is a massive drop and massive volumes of water go down making a big racket. The two other Falls are American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. The three together make the Niagara Falls. The Horseshoe Falls straddle the international border between the United States and Canada. We were told the Falls look far better from the Canadian side but since we
A fast food kiosk in the Falls area
didn’t have Canadian visas hence couldn’t make it.

The second thing I was reminded of was “Niagara”, the Hollywood film that I had seen in mid 1950s. It had Marilyn Munroe, Joseph Cotten and Jean Peters in the main roles. Marilyn was given top billing over and ahead of Joseph Cotten who was a leading Hollywood actor of 1940s whom I had happened to see earlier
In the Niagara area
in “The Duel in the Sun” and “Portrait of Jennie”.

The Falls were a great sight to see. More overwhelming was the constant roar of the waters flowing and dropping down those precipitous cliffs. We took a ride on the Maid of the Mist – a boat tour that takes one around all the three falls and for a while crosses into

On the Rainbow Bridge
Ontario in Canada. Otherwise the tour is confined to the American side as it begins and ends from there. The highlight of the tour is the fine spray that one gets when the boat nears the Horseshoe Falls.

The Rainbow Bridge over the Niagara River is an international bridge that connects New York State in the US with the province of Ontario in Canada. About 200 ft above the water level the Bridge runs for around 1000 ft. It was
With the american Falls in the background
commissioned in 1941 after its predecessor, the Honeymoon Bridge collapsed earlier on account of ice-jam.

The hotel receptionist told us one morning that that night the lights would be switched on to illuminate the Falls. We made it point to be at the Rainbow Bridge and saw the spectacle for quite some time. I had taken a number of photographs but somehow I have mislaid them. The
The mist and the fall
waters illuminated with different coloured lights are indeed a fascinating sight, something out of this world.

As we had a day to spare we walked into one of the malls. There were two of them and we visited both. Both were packed with goodies. As we were wandering inside I got the brilliant Idea to buy a couple of T-shirts. I bought them only to find later that one of them was made in Bangladesh and the other, of all the places, India.

   The illuminated Falls  (from the internet)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Our Life, Our Times :: 14 :: Disputing Darwin's theory of evolution

Thank God the Junior HRD Minister has been ticked off by his senior colleague. He seemed to have become too big for his boots and indulged in making statements that were utter drivel. Satya Pal Singh was a late entrant in the Union Cabinet and was appointed the Minister of State in the Department of Human Resources Development. Before becoming an MP he was an Indian Police Service officer and had worked as Commissioner of Police, Mumbai. He had also worked as Commissioner at Pune and Nagpur, two big and problematic cities of the state of Maharashtra

To recount his brilliant findings, he had claimed that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was all scientifically wrong. The claim that Man had evolved from apes was not proved as none has ever seen a monkey transforming into a human. “Since (the time) man is seen on earth he has always been man. Nobody, including our ancestors, in written  or oral (sic), said that they saw an ape turning into a man”.  Unfortunately, it was not very clearly reported about what his views were about man’s evolution. He, probably, was aiming at his own theory based on Vedic and/or Puranic theology.

He was, apparently, planning a seminar to prove that Charles Darwin was wrong and his theory should not be taught in schools and colleges. While making the statement he also claimed that he had acquired a degree of doctor of philosophy in Chemistry from the Delhi University and, therefore, he, presumably, thought he knew what he was talking about. Thankfully, he did not claim that he also cleared the Civil Services Examinations and qualified for the Indian Police Service which made him all the more eligible to reject Darwin’s theory of evolution that has been accepted by the scientific community over the last century and a half.

No wonder his statement evoked violent reactions from the scientists of the country. About 2000 scientists from major scientific institutions, such as Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, IIT Mumbai, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Sciences etc. condemned the minister’s remarks. “There is no scientific dispute about the basic facts of evolution”, they said. They also said that it would be a retrograde step to remove the theory of evolution from the curriculum of schools and colleges.

Mercifully, the senior minister Prakash Jawdekar squelched Singh’s plans well in time. Otherwise the latter would have got together some malleable and friendly scientific folk to propound some views contrarian to those of Darwin and made fools of themselves among the scientific community in India and abroad bringing bad name to Indian Science.

How could one ever think of contesting what Charles Darwin propounded in his Theories of Evolution and Natural Selection beats me. Darwin did what all he did by a laborious process. For instance, he went off, much against his father’s wishes, on a voyage in the early part of the 19th Century of around five years and meticulously collected his specimens of rocks and fossils from the coasts of South America, interested as he was in geology and natural sciences. Darwin is regarded as a giant of modern science, a naturalist to the core whose theories have been proved in modern times by several investigators in England and elsewhere. SP Singh, despite his Ph.D. in Chemistry, can stand nowhere near Darwin much less contest the latter’s pronouncements.

SP Singh’s views are in close proximity to those held in Islam. Best of educated Muslims, including Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, the Oxford educated late skipper of the Indian cricket team, reject Darwin’s theory. Pataudi had once said that Islam does not believe that Man had descended from monkeys and so he, too, couldn’t accept the proposition. They perhaps believe that everything in the universe, including Man was created by Allah.

The very comment of Singh that none has ever witnessed a monkey transforming into a man indicates he has not understood the scheme of things as Darwin saw and comprehended before theorizing about Evolution. Evolution, as the very word suggests, is not an instant process as Singh would like it to be. It is a slow and gradual process that has an indefinite future and may continue till eternity. The earth itself with all its components has evolved over millions or billions of years. Man, for example, in all probability, is not completely evolved yet and could continue to evolve and, with efflux of time, may become a creature far superior to what he is today. Who knows? Not you and I, nor SP Singh!   

Monday, January 22, 2018

Destinations :: Washington DC (1998)

Washington Monument
I had to cancel our hotel booking in Washington as a very old friend working with the US Diplomatic and Commercial Service insisted that we stayed with him. We had decided to travel by train as so far we had travelled mostly by air and cars. Amtrak was to take us straight to Washington from Cary in North Carolina. Amtrak is the only government subsidized passenger railway transportation service in the US.

 We were to catch a train leaving around noon. When our nephew took
Lincoln Memorial
us to the station we were overcome by disappointment. There wasn’t a soul at the station and the building appeared to be locked. Unlike in India, there was no jostling crowd and no tea or snacks sellers. A wicket gate led us to the platform which too was empty as if all the trains had departed and none was expected. As we waited here for the train, it soon pulled in around the appointed time. As it came to a stop an official, presumably the guard, checked our tickets and took us to the carriage we were to travel in. We were the only ones to embark from Cary. The
On the forecourt of Capito
whole process would not have taken more than two minutes and was facilitated by the absence of crowds like in India. Obviously most people fly or take to the highways and very few travel by trains. The railways in the US are in competition with both, the highways and the airlines.

The train was not particularly fast and took around six hours to reach Washington, a distance of less than 300 miles. There was another surprise at Washington. I was looking for my friend on the platform but didn’t find him. Then I realized all the passengers were heading towards an exit point where all those who had come to receive people were there in a big lounge. As we were going across to exit the station I heard my name being called out over
Korean War Veterans Museum
the public address system. That is how I got to meet my friend. In the US barring the passengers none is allowed in on platforms, a system that cannot, unfortunately, work in India. We facilitate non-passengers’ entry by providing for a platform ticket for them which was dirt cheap till only a few years ago. No wonder, crowds would jostle around for receiving or seeing-off their friends and tea and snacks establishments operate from the platform.

Kennedy Centre murals
This was a very old friend of mine. We were in middle school together around late 1940s, then at the high school and were also in the college together though in different streams. He then did his engineering and made way to Germany, later to Canada and finally to the US. Living in Bathesda, a very likable suburb of Washington DC located within the State of Maryland, his house was on a hillside and was built along the incline. Very hospitable, we had a great reunion after many years.

At the Lincoln Memorial with a friend
Washington DC, the capital of the world’s most powerful country, is surrounded by the states of Maryland and Virginia both of which donated lands for creation of a national Capital District along the Potomac River. Normally known as “DC”, i.e, the District of Columbia, on which the US Congress has exclusive jurisdiction. The city is named after President George Washington and Columbia is said to be the poetic name of the US – hence Washington DC.

Jefferson Memorial across the Potomac Tidal Basin
It is a city of monuments and beautiful parks along its several avenues with very pleasant vistas. Our first site was the Lincoln Memorial, the monument for my favourite American President. “The government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth”, that is what Lincoln said during his famous Gettysburg address. He was a democrat and a libertarian to the core though he could not usher in liberty and equality for a very large number of his countrymen who even then survived as slaves in some states.
At Arlington Cemetery

The building is in the form of a Grecian structure which has inscribed on its walls the two great speeches by Lincoln including the one delivered at Gettysburg. This is one of the most visited National Monuments of the US and has been the site of many inspirational speeches including the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. delivered just about a hundred years after Lincoln’s assassination. It was an elevating experience to tread the 
same piece of earth as these great Americans.
In front of the White House

Probably the tallest of obelisks, the Washington Monument dominates the Mall in Washington. It commemorates George Washington, the first president of the country who was claimed to be “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. Standing at around 550 ft. it is virtually the symbol of the Capital. As we stood under the massive dome of the Capitol we could see the Washington Monument down the National Mall that ends up close to
The Capitol
Arlington Cemetery in the West in the state of Virginia. It is a fabulous sight. Made of marble the Monument was thrown open in 1880s and is a great place for lolling around on the well-maintained grass.

The beautiful Capitol building is where the American legislature comprising the two houses of American Congress congregates and makes laws and also ensures checks on the all-
At the Washington Monument
powerful US President. Here is where the Presidents are sworn in by the chief justice of the US Supreme Court. The building was completed around 1800 and was used for some decades as a church. The houses of the Congress used to meet then in Philadelphia. We were impressed by the dome and the columns that supported the two wings. The dome was reported to have been patterned on Les Invalides of Paris, only it is supposed to be double its size. Since we could not access the two wings we missed the murals and other decorations in them and on the inside of the massive dome. Branded as a Neo-Classical structure, it is highly impressive with its colonnaded frontage and a dome adapted from Paris.

A few steps away from the Capitol building is the Supreme Court of USA,
US Supreme Court
Again neo-classical structure which came up in the 1930s to provide for judges a dignified place of their own; otherwise they were earlier cramped up in the Capitol building where the needs of the Congress had outgrown the available space.

Arlington amphitheatre
We could see two of the several Smithsonian Museums – the National Air and Space Museum and the Holocaust Museum. The latter was most impactful as the Museum covers the whole range of activities of Nazi Germany  from beginning to end towards what they called “the final solution” – which in point of fact was extermination of Jews. Even the almost completely sealed box cars that were used to transport the Jews to the concentration camps have been put out as exhibits. It was a heart-rending experience. The Museum effectively uses the electronic medium to facilitate understanding of the exhibits.

Somehow or other we could not visit the Jefferson Memorial though we took a picture of it from across the Potomac Tidal Basin. Jefferson was
The Mall and Washington Monument behind usd
one of the founding fathers of the country, drafter of the American Declaration of Independence. We did, however, visit the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial. This was of recent origin as it was thrown open only in 1995. It has a long wall of highly polished granite with photographic images. More interesting are perhaps the bigger than life-size what looked like metal statues of the fighting forces in full combat gear disperse in the park. A very impressive memorial for those who fought the War!

Dome of the Capitol
We had to again cross into Virginia to visit the famous Arlington Cemetery across the Potomac. The Cemetery was initially owned by a Confederate General and only later passed into the hands of the Unionists. The war-dead of all the wars are supposed to have been buried here. And, of course, President John F Kennedy too was interred here where on the request of Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy, an eternal flame too burns. The whole place is steeped  in history and is a somber place.

We also went and saw the ‘regulation’ sites like the White House and the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts.. A clutch of people were seen outside the White House which only indicated the attraction it holds for visitors being the seat of the most powerful man in the world.

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...