Monday, March 19, 2018

Destinations :: Jaisalmer (1994)

Sands of Jaisalmer
Having come all the way to Jodhpur we thought we might as well take in Jaisalmer. Around a couple of hundred kilometers away Jaisalmer is, unlike Jodhpur, a genuine desert town, situated plumb in the middle of the Great Indian Desert of Thar. On the way we came across the site of what was termed as the first Indian Nuclear (“peaceful”) Implosion, vis. Pokhran. The nuclear tests were conducted here in 1974 that heralded India’s entry into the select group of nuclear powers. The tests were later described as Pokhran I as eventually before
Expansive Jaisalmer Fort
declaring a moratorium on nuclear tests five more tests were conducted in 1998 and were designated as Pokhran II.

Pokhran was the only interesting site on the way. Curiously, Prosopis Juliflora kept our company all through in widely scattered clusters. This only indicates the hardiness of the plant and its capacity to survive in very arid conditions. One wonders whether it would be able to extend its octopus-like tentacles into the Thar Desert.

Yellows of the Fort show up in slanting sun raysAdd caption
Jaisalmer brought back the memories of the film made by Bharat Ratna and Academy of Motion Pictures & Arts award-winner Satayjit Ray’s film “Sonar Kella”, the Golden Fort. It was made more than fifty years ago and, coming from the master of cinematography, it was a great success. Perhaps for the first time a Bengali film director chose a locale so far away from Bengal where everything – from food to the
A long shot of the Fort taken in high noon
spoken language – was strange to them. And yet, the place where the unit used to dine and perhaps also spent some nights still remembered them.

Undeniably the golden fort that has prompted people to call Jaisalmer the Golden City dominates it. It has such a wide sweep that it is difficult to capture it in its entirety in one photo frame. Not only that, the more than 800-year old fort is perhaps the only one that is lived-in and once used to host an entire city within its fabulous golden walls. Only with progressive inflow of people that
Facade of s haveli
settlements came up outside the walls. Remarkably, it has some intricately decorated Jain temples in its confines.

Built by the Rajput ruler Jaisal around 900 years ago the fort was the city known by its name. It is about 1500 ft. long and 8oo ft. wide and inside are residences as well as temples. That pest Alauddin Khilji laid a siege of the fort that continued for 8 o 9 years in the 13th Century that
The famous Patwon ki haveli
disrupted life in the fort pushing women to commit Jauhar and men to die at the hands of the Muslim invaders. Later there were repeated attacks, including by Humayun, on the Fort. Apparently it was a coveted fort, presumably for the riches it had hidden inside.

Jaisalmer is also known for its havelis with typically Rajasthani architecture. Havelis are what hordes of tourists come to see. They are highly decorative indicative of the artistic flair of the artisans who had developed their skills over hundreds of years. The way they would cut and fashion the stones are awe-inspiring. What is more, the architects who designed the buildings and supervised the construction seem ro have had amazing capability of visualization
Another famous haveli of Salim Khan
when they planned massive havelis with countless rooms and intricately worked-on doors and window with projected balconies.

The most famous of the lot is Patwon ki Haveli, a massive structure with dozens of windows that are intricately carved and decorated. The projected balconies and windows called “jharokhas” are essential ingredients of Rajasthani architecture. Perhaps the easy and profuse
 a haveli suffering from disuse
availability of soft sandstone in Rajasthan have promoted and fostered
flowering of artistic work on them.

The town has a number of museums to keep the historically-inclined busy but what we thought was to enjoy out in the open the sand of the desert. We had several camel rides – which is much different from a horse ride. Probably a camel ride tells more on one’s spine. More fascinating, however, were the turbans of the camel keepers who kept us company during the rides. We happened to see some glorious sunsets over the desert.

Bhopal Notes : 62 :: Deficient policing gives molesters a field day

Parade of apprehended molesters
Our state, Madhya Pradesh­ has achieved new heights in excellence in administration. On 17th March newspapers brought happy tidings for the chief minister who appears to be a favourite of the PM. The vernacular press headlines screamed that MP recorded during the last one year as many as 5310 crimes against women - highest ever recorded in any state in the country. Besides, the paper reported that as many as 5 molestation cases were recorded in Bhopal during the preceding 24 hours even as three molesters were being shamed by parading them through the streets when women fearlessly went up to them to give them a hiding.

Crimes against women seem to have become routine. One opens newspapers and finds the city pages full of reports of rapes, molestations and suicide by girls who either were raped or persistently molested. While school and college-going girls are routinely molested in broad daylight those who go to late evening coaching classes or are held up at their offices have the worst of it. Worse, even the minors and infants are not spared by these brutes.

 Some of the most heinous kinds of rape cases have taken place in the city but there seems to have been hardly any initiative on the part of the local administration. For some time after an incident policemen become active and take some cosmetic measures as is happening currently but soon they fall back into the same inertia. Many a life of young intelligent girl aspiring to achieve something in life was cut short by the increasingly bold and fearless molesters of the town. Fear of law and its supposedly long arm – the police – appears to have evaporated.

For long for crimes against them politicians have been blaming the girls for their outfits – brief or otherwise. All the time they refrained from blaming the police whose cover of sensitive areas has disappeared apparently because of a conscious decision to give up the beat policing system. While the so called VIPs are guarded 24X7 by batteries of policemen common men and women have literally been left unprotected against the wolves prowling the streets. It is probably to deflect attacks on these well-guarded politicians for their overprotective layers of policemen that girls/women were being blamed for attacks on them for their provocative attires or conduct. Politicians have cornered the lion’s share of scarce police resources even as the police population-ratio in the state has progressively become dismal.

Only this morning (18th March) the Times of India in a news headline said “MP grapples with shortage of cops, higher crime rate”. The story below it said the state has a crime rate higher than the national average and numerous vacant posts of police personnel against the sanctioned strength.  It quoted from a report of the Bureau of Police Research that said that the state’s crime rate in 2015 was 338 per lakh population against the national average of 234 per lakh population. At the same time, the Bureau said that the state has a sanctioned strength of 1,15,756 of policemen in January 2017 but the actual strength was 98,466 – more than 17,000 short.

The short manpower has converted maintenance of law and order into more of a joke. Whether in rural or urban areas crime is rampant. Rapes in Jabalpur, Gwalior and other towns are as frequent as in any other town. Rural MP is as unsafe for women as its urban parts. Elsewhere the sand mafia has become so emboldened that it resorts to attempts to killing of forest or police personnel when they try to prevent illegal sand mining. It is anarchy that reigns in the state

 The shortage tells heavily on policing all around and especially for providing safety and security to the common man. Since the government has not acted upon the orders of the Supreme Court to make the Police independent of political control, politicians merrily draft policemen mostly in excess of requirements for their own security. No wonder crime is increasing and the criminals have a field day, becoming bolder and fearless by the day. Even if they are nabbed they can be easily bailed out as investigations take time since there are not enough policemen to investigate crimes. No wonder molestations, rape, robbery and murders, especially of senior citizens, are frequent in the state capital as also elsewhere in the state.

Besides, even the policemen are stressed out because of the heavy pressure of work. Suicides in the force are not uncommon. A few months ago even a deputy superintendent took his own life on account the heat he was facing because of the heavy load of work. It is not that the facts are not known to the government but there is a perceptible drift, more so when the assembly elections are creeping closer and closer. None, for the present, including those in the government, is going to do anything substantive to take care of the state’s law and order.

When a non-performing government is fighting for its survival what the people can do is to take measures for their own safety. The vulnerable sections will have to take such precautionary measure as can ensure the safety and security of their life and property.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Destinations :: Jodhpur (1994)

Jodhpur and its Meharangarh Fort

Sometime in 1994 official business took me to Jodhpur. Instead of flying my wife and I decided to go by the metre gauge train and in the process, we had to negotiate the incredible crowds of the Sarai Rohilla Railway Station of Delhi. The station is named after a noble of Mughal era and has nothing to do with the Rohillas of Uttar Pradesh as the name suggests. The railway station serves railway traffic from and to the Northern and Western India. An overnight journey took us to the fabled city of Jodhpur.

Jodhpur is the largest city of Rajasthan after the state capital of Jaipur.
Receptionists of the Fort offering a musical welcome
The city was founded around five hundred and fifty years ago by Rao Jodha Singh, a Rajput chief of Rathore clan, who conquered the surrounding territories to form the state of Marwar. Later the state came within the Mughal Empire in which it contributed significantly by providing warriors of note. The British too made it subservient to the Crown of England. When the British were preparing to
Gusrds of the Fort
leave the Maharaja did not wish to join the Indian Union. However he was persuaded to do so by the Home Minister of Independent India. It was a case of mischief by Pakistan which wanted to enlarge its territory by offering various benefits to the Maharaja, almost verging on bribery. Fortunately, the mischief was nipped in the bud.

The Meharangarh Fort dominates the city. Built on a rock about 400 ft. high the fort was constructed by Rao Jodha. Enclosed by thick walls the access to it is provided by seven gates. A winding narrow road leads one to the Fort where, like numerous other Rajasthani forts, there are a number of palaces known to be decorated by intricate carvings. The Meharangarh Fort has a
A palace inside the Fort
fabulous museum and the most interesting item in its collection are the palanquins that used to be in use for the peripatetic maharajas and maharanis.

The view of the city sprawled below from the Fort, which is one of the largest in the country, is unbelievably beautiful. It looks like a spread of blue as most of the buildings are painted blue. The city is, therefore, known as “The Blue City”. Rajasthan has three other cities which are well
A palace wall and the city beyond
known by their respective colours : Jaipur is known as the Pink City, Udaipur as the White City and Jaisalmer the Yellow or Golden City of India.

Most interesting feature of the visit to the fort was the strains of shahnai, an ethnic wind instrument, that became audible as we approached the Fort. Two men with colourful turbans wrapped round their heads
a part of another palace in the Fort
were rendering the music to the visitors – one was blowing into the shahnai and the other was providing the accompaniment by playing a set of two Rajasthani percussion instruments that looked like nagadas. The turbans of the two musicians with their ethnic musical instruments created just about the right atmospherics for a Rajasthani fort. There was another person in Rajasthani attire lurking
Jaswant Thada -  the Jodhpuri Taj Mahal
around and was more noticeable because of his substantial graying mustachio. Rajasthan is known for its men with massive growths on their upper lips.

For visitors there is another incredible site to see. This is Jawant Thada which is not very old as it was commissioned around the end ot the 19th Century. Its marble cenotaphs are remarkable. It was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in memory of his
The marble crematoria
father Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. The complex has a good-looking garden with fountains come alive during the day.  It is now used as a place of last rites for members of Jodhpur Royalty. It is known as the marble wonder of Jodhpur or even the Taj Mahal of Jodhpur. Some of the marble sheets used in it are so thin that they glow
Entrance of Jaswant Thada
in sunshine.  The sun here is rather strong and that has given the city its second nick name, viz. the Sun City.

The fort and the city beyond
Umaid Bhawan Palace is of more recent origin and, hence, it is a lived-in palace that also doubles up as a hotel. The visitors get an elevating feeling of sharing the hotel with a real-life maharaja. It is an opulent 5-star hotel managed by the Taj Group. Completed in the 1940s, Umaid Bhawan has more than 340 luxurious rooms some of which are used by Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, many others are set apart for the hotel and a few house a museum. Like any other palThe Fort and the city beyondace it is located in the midst of splendid gardens with almost regulation fountains at play and pavilions embodying typical Rajasthani architecture. One gets a feeling of opulence scattered all around. Perhaps this is how maharajas live even today in independent
My wife Bandana with Meharangarh Fort behind her
India when there have been divested of most of their titles, lands, wealth and power.

One was surprised to see that for a desert town Jodhpur is pretty green.  Perhaps the Indira Gandhi Canal has made some difference by charging the underground aquifers. Although it looks arid but it certainly does not give the impression of being a desert town. The invasive Prosopis Juliflora also has spread greenery around. Only time will tell whether this invasion
The blue city sprawlled below the Fort
by a foreign species would be beneficial for the community living around Jodhpur.

One must talk about the kachoris, a local fried preparation on which one could snack – no, even survive at least for a day. It is much bigger than kachoris found elsewhere and contains a lot of ghee. We had one each one evening and were done for the day.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bhopal Notes :: 61 Ridge Road and its ditches

One of the decrepit Bhopal roads
I happen to live on the Ridge Road located on that part of the Idgah Hills which overlooks the famed but now-decaying Upper Lake of Bhopal. While the view from the windows is exquisite the approach to the complexes like ours or the newly-built billion rupees bungalows is horrid. In my 22 years of living in this flat I have hardly ever seen the road in good repair. Whenever patchy repairs were carried out they never survived a bout of rain. And for years it has remained in its decrepit and crumbling state with the residents remaining in the hope that at the time of elections of councillors perhaps the road would be attended to. For at least ten years now this has not happened.

After the last elections the newly elected Mayor happened to visit the road and promised to make such a good road of it that people would be able to use it as a dining plate and dine right off it. More than three years have since gone by but t residents are yet to see the surface of a dinner plate; in fact we have only seen the road progressively deteriorating with far greater numbers of ditches than seen any time before. The councilors are indifferent as indeed the Mayor. So far no signs are visible of any repair work of the road. It is understood that a few times contracts for the work were awarded but the contractors ditched it and disappeared without carrying out the work. Perhaps, their tenders were so low that the contractors later realized that they would be left with any margin on construction of this hilly road after paying the cuts of the officers and councilors.

I, for one, am unable to use this only approach to my flat unless I am in a vehicle. Long time ago, at least now it seems so, I used to take my constitutionals on this road. But then I was younger and my bones were perhaps stronger. Now a few steps here and the joints creak and at every step there is the fear of a sprain in the ankle, jagged stones-strewn as the road is.

Thus a very important source of my wellbeing has been taken away from me by the negligence apathy of the government-sustained municipal corporation and its councilors and the Mayor. Thay are responsible for keeping me unhealthy and, hence, unhappy. The government, however, is touting its Happiness Department that is having a ball with tours abroad. They are reported to be looking for ways and means for extending happiness to the citizens of the city. Why doesn’t it occur to them that people will derive happiness if only the functionaries of the municipal corporation – elected and unelected – did their work sincerely, effectively and honestly? The chief minister has been shouting from the roof tops about “su-sashan” (good governance) in order to make people happy. Surprisingly it does not appear to have occurred to him that rendering effective public services to people is an important component of “su-sashan”.

It looks like that the time has now come that people need not depend on the government or its agencies for receiving essential services. They may have to take the bull by the horn and fill the staring gaps left by the local administration in the matter of road building by themselves. Newspapers have already reported instances where people have started building their colony roads by eliciting contributions from the residents. Clearly, this municipal body and the government cannot be depended upon for such services. The residents of Ridge Road may also have to do likewise and cut the municipal corporation from their lives at least in this respect.

*Photo from internet

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Bhopal Notes :: 60 :: Cleanliness competition - Bhopal is no patch on Indore

Indore Mayor hits the streets promoting cleanliness
I happened to be in Indore during the survey for the national cleanliness competition. The effort put up by the Indore municipal corporation was most impressive.

Earlier, I happened to have noticed the efforts of the Indore Municipal Corporation when I was on way back from Jaipur via Indore in November last. It appeared to have been a massive effort to win the first position. Somewhat fading signs of their efforts were still visible. The publicity seemed to have been of saturation level with all available walls plastered with slogans and graphics accompanied by the ubiquitous pair of specs of Mahatma Gandhi.

From the efforts that were being made this year it was quite evident that the municipal corporation was determined to retain its top position that was awarded to it in the first annual survey last year. As I went around the town on my businesses I found it to be a tremendous experience. I had to run around in autos on various errands and I kept my eyes peeled to see all the tell-tale signs of the massive effort put in by the municipality.

Unlike Bhopal, very well done-up roads were spotlessly clean. It was noticeable from the very point where our vehicle moved into the town. As is their wont, the autos took me through the lanes and by lanes. All were devoid of any litter. And almost everywhere there were slogans - some old and some newly painted with the same content. The painted slogans and graphics were done in professional manner that held attention. Good quality paint had been used for painting on the walls and, despite the prosaic content, they looked attractive. The paint jobs done in Bhopal on several public walls look pedestrian In comparison.

The slogans were mostly for cleanliness, like use of dustbins by householders, shopkeepers and everybody else, use of toilets for attending to nature's calls, and so on. Very effective use has been made of public spaces in a pleasant manner. BRTS buses have been painted in a very bright and colourful manner to disseminate information. The use of bright yellow has cleverly been used to capture people’s attention. What I saw was almost like carpet bombing; there was no escape from it. None could probably avoid being exposed to the campaign. It was as if the need to keep the city clean was being rammed down people’s throats.

The campaign and its execution on the ground has been exceptionally good surely ensuring for Indore a higher rank than other towns of MP. If it happens, as I believe it will, it would be very well deserved. From all evidences, the campaign for “swachcha bharat” has been carried out very imaginatively and sincerely and in vast contrast to what has been done in Bhopal. Mere sweeping with big brooms of carefully selected sites by the chief minister and the mayor, as was done in Bhopal, doesn't carry any conviction. Such efforts are, at best, photo ops giving the impression of being insincere, even deceitful - as fraudulent as the assurances and promises of the protagonists.

 It might be recalled that last year there were murmurs that the second position was obtained for Bhopal by unscrupulous means. Worse, many of us were surprised to see the city walk away with the second rank as it never in anybody’s imagination could achieve a rank among the first five. Here, whether it is the mayor or the councilors, they do not put in sincere efforts. Reports abound that they generally are busy making money by, inter alia, disfiguring the cityscape by installing illegal hoardings, installing kiosks (gumties) or introducing for monetary considerations pushcarts to create congestions in streets that are already chock-a-block with vehicular traffic.

 Though I live in Bhopal I would like Indore to top the rankings as the civic body there appears to be more sincere and honest in pursuit of its objectives. Its relentless efforts have encouraged the citizens to keep the city clean. Even the drivers of the autos proudly said that Indore had now become clean and beautiful. Such an expression of satisfaction and contentment is a huge take-away for the municipal corporation.

*Photo from internet

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Chetan Bhagat's advisory to Congress

Chetan Bhagat, the popular novelist, has emerged as a journalist of note. His pieces are often featured as leading articles in Times of India which is a widely circulated English language daily. Obviously he writes well and his writings carry lots of common sense. While his communicating skills are improving by the day one does remember that this very man, having written his first novel a few years ago, confessed that he did not know the English language very well.

Recently Bhagat wrote an advisory for the Indian National Congress regarding the way it should combat Modi and his BJP at the next General Elections in 2019. Suggesting as many as ten points that needed to be taken care of, Bhgat said that among them was a very vital point relating to Modi’s failures in achieving what he had promised while campaigning before the last elections. He thought if the Congress concentrated on this angle the battle would be more than half won.

According to Bhagat, it should be hard to counter a man like Modi who has worked hard and is certainly not corrupt. Though his plans schemes were well-intentioned he could not deliver on them. There are many areas where Modi has failed to deliver as much as he had promised during his campaign speeches. Among his failures are not silencing the divisive elements and/or allowing an environment where the countrymen do not feel free. Perhaps in saying that, Bhagat meant the progressive loss of the freedom of speech and expression. Bhagat adds that Modi has “choked the economy” and has been unable to create jobs. Besides, he has increasingly added to the tax burden of tax payers.

It is true that there is not much that can be said against Modi but what Bhagat has delineated are issues that are serious enough. The rising fear of intolerant behavior as was evident right through Modi’s tenure and especially during the recent “Padmavati” agitation is something which is dreadful. Never ever were threats like beheading of a producer of a mere cinematic film and cutting off of the nose of an actor in a film based on a story of a supposedly fictional queen were witnessed in this country. It was quite difficult to distinguish such discourses from those of Taliban or ISIS. These failures were more serious than those on the side of the economy as the economy could be made to pick itself up but the damage done to the psyche of people is irreparable.

The cow vigilantism and instant capital punishment for those who were suspected to have been carting beef also told heavily on the acceptability of Modi and his party. Consumption of beef is banned only in few states but the effort of all the vigilante groups was to impose it almost all over the country. These groups, as it were, took upon themselves to decide what one should eat, thus denying the freedom of the people at large to choose the food of their choice. Strangely, Modi’s reactions to these unchecked despicable instances of curtailment of freedom were tardy and not quite adequate.

Quite rightly, therefore, Bhagat has suggested to the Congress to concentrate on these failures that stand out in a country which not too long ago enjoyed greater freedom. At the same time, it should become incumbent on Modi to initiate steps that affirm the traditional pluralism of the country. We have been a pluralistic nation all through and everyone was free to hold his opinion, act according to his conscience and express his opinion in whichever way he wanted subject to its being in conformity with Constitution. Besides, the religious divide was seldom made use of. Even today stories are recounted where Hindus and Muslims work together in various industries contributing, of all the things, to each other’s religious festivals. A division on religious lines is not only a manufactured division, it would also seem to be artificial and, hence, ephemeral.

While the Congress will do well to use the failures of Modi as sticks to beat him and the BJP Modi also has to reassure the people about a safe and sure environment for people to live in and survive in the country. Time is running out for Modi with only 18 months available for initiation of remedial steps. This term was an opportunity for his party but quite wittingly it has blown it. This country can never be converted into a Hindu Rashtra as it is made of several different strains each thriving under an umbrella of an emancipated, magnanimous, humane and enlightened Hinduism.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Destinations :: New York (1998)

Besides being called Big Apple New York has many other sobriquets. But, that is beside the point. During our stay of more than two months in the US we somehow happened to only transit through it. Having come to America and not visiting New York would seem to be denying oneself something quintessentially American. It is a great melting pot of various nationalities and sub-nationalities which live and work together to create a community as diverse as it could be, yet each exuding its unique cultural flavour.

On our way back home we spent some time in New York and took in the sights that it offers. Our booking was quite accidentally in Queens –
The two World Trade Centre towers were standing then
a borough where Asians are reported to demographically dominate. Queens is one of the five boroughs of New York, the others are Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island. Named after the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza and English Queen Elizabeth I the Borough of Queens is the largest in area of the five
From The Battery
boroughs and is also supposed to be hosting most diverse communities. Around 50% of its people are foreign born with the dominance of Asians. Our hotel was once again a branch of Best Western where the receptionist was a Pakistani. Even the taxi drivers were Pakistanis. Incidentally, the Arthur Ashe Stadium where US Open Tennis tournaments are played in Flushing is within the borough of Queens.
From The Battery again

On arrival back from Niagara we headed south for what is known as The Battery. It is also known as Battery Park. What, however is more interesting is that the place was known earlier as New Amsterdam because it was comprehensively overrun by Dutch immigrants. As the name suggests this was the area
Outside Guggenheim Museum
where artillery installations were erected to protect the settlement behind it from attacks from the sea. It is at the southern-most tip of Manhattan. As we were approaching it in New York Underground we got a bit frightened as the crowd progressively thinned out and we were all by ourselves in the compartment for quite some distance. The skyline on view from here was very interesting, numerous skyscrapers trying to scrape the heavens, as it were. These included the two towers of the World Trade Centre that were brought down in the 9/11 attacks. They are there in the picture taken from here.

We took a ferry to visit the Statue of Liberty in Bedloe’s Island (now called Liberty Island) – one of many islands around New York. It was
On the Museum Mile-outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art
evening and a cloudy day, the light was not perfect yet the statue was very impressive. Symbolising freedom and liberty for the oppressed it was fabricated In the freshly liberated France of 19th Century and transported piece by piece in crates to New York to be assembled there. The pedestal was made in America.  The sculptor
Busy Times Square
Bartholdi, living in the oppressive French regime of Napoleon III was obsessed with freedom and hence is reported to have worked for years on the statue. Ferdinand de Lesseps of Suez Canal fame was also present at the dedication ceremony.

The green statue of a robed woman taking a step forward, as it were,
At Times Square
holding a glistening torch in a raised hand was a sight to behold. We didn’t have the time to scramble on to the platform but whatever we saw was unforgettable. It is a marvellous sculpture and the way the pieces add to the whole body is highly ingenious. Since it was cloudy we didn’t quite get its grandeur. Nonetheless, it must have been an inspiration for millions of immigrants who passed by to start their lives anew and to build their new homes in the New World. No wonder it symbolizes America – the land of liberty and freedom. Curiously, its installation did not beget liberty for millions of African Americans who continued to live and work as slaves.

At Rockefeller Centre
For want of time we had no intention of diving into a museum and get lost for hours yet we chose to walk down the tree-lined Museum Mile. This is a section of the famed Fifth Avenue where the rich and famous play around. The Avenue is full of expensive shops, high-end restaurants and hotels and starts from somewhere near Greenwich Village and partially runs northwards alongside another famous site – the Central Park of New York, ending
Rockefeller Centre again
near Harlem. The famous hotel Waldorf Astoria and one of the country’s tallest buildings, the Empire State Building, are located here as also the Rockefeller Centre. It is a major thoroughfare of New York falling in the borough of Manhattan. It is popular location for Hollywood movie-makers. I do not know how many movies I have seen in my younger days that were shot in this area.

We started off from that architectural marvel of Frank Lloyd Wright, the
At the Battery
Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. I had first seen it in a spread in the Square magazine even when I was in college, presumably when it was opened around late 1950s. It has always been peddled as one of the outstanding museum buildings anywhere in the world. Wright, it seems, had conceived the structure as early as 1943 but it took more than 15 years to realise his
From the observation deck of Empire State Building
dream. Its spiral ramp climbing up to its domed skylight has captured the imagination of its visitors. The spiral can also be imagined as you stand before it and see a solid band of what looks like concrete move up in a spiral. The Museum houses some of the most famous works of art by iconic legends of the artistic world.

Empire State Building outlined in neon on the groundfloor
There are a large number of museums in the vicinity. As we walked down we came across the New York Metropolitan Museum – a huge, more than a hundred years old building that houses every conceivable item from the world over. It is one of the most visited museums. It is the largest art museum in the United States. It contains works of art from ancient times to middle ages – of almost all the European masters.

But we couldn’t have gone into the Museum as we had to look at other
Quintessential New York
sites. Walking southwards we turned right into an opening the huge green stretch of the Central Park that looked far bigger than Hyde Park of London. While the latter was somewhat crowded when we saw it with children playing and people lolling around on the grass the former was more serene and quiet and perhaps much more green. As we entered the Park we saw a push-cart selling snacks. The man behind the pushcart looked Indian but when we talked to him
At the UN Hqrs.
he turned out to be a Bangladeshi. Apparently a recent arrival, he was still waiting for a steady job.

Exiting from the Central Park we entered the V Avenue again and stood at a bus stop to catch a ride to the Times Square. If one has to sample signage one has to go to Times Square located in Mid-Town Manhattan. It is a glittering place with massive illuminated billboards that frequently are animated. Awash with neon, the place blazes its way right into your consciousness. Thankfully the place is pedestrianised and one can take in the sights without the fear of being run over. Huge wall-sized monitors alive with colourful ads make it one of the most touristy sites of New York. Not one wall is seemingly devoid of a signage – still or animated. Hundreds of thousands of
At the UN Hqrs.
people visit it everyday. It is supposed to be Mecca for media companies. After all, it takes its name from New York Times when it started publishing from here more than hundred years ago. Being close to Broadway gives it an added advantage as Broadway is another place that has a large number of visitors and also is a tourists’ haunt. 

In the UN complex
We also took a packaged tour and it took us to the Empire State Building – an art-deco structure of 102 stories. Its height is more than 1400 ft. Built on the original site of Waldorf Astoria Hotel, it was thrown open in 1931. Named after the nickname of New York, Empire State, it was at one-time the tallest building of the world and now is only one of the tallest buildings in the United States. Its height went increasing during its construction as the competition with Chrysler Building hotted up. Eventually the Empire State Building came home with a few hundred feet to spare in height.

We were lifted up to the observation deck in high speed elevators. There are reportedly 70-odd elevators in the building, only some of which are high-speed, rushing up and down in the shafts at around 1000 ft. per minute. Once on the observation deck we found things familiar.
Times Square
We had had recently the experience of going up to the observation deck of Sears Tower in Chicago.  This one in the Empire State was no different – except that the skyscrapers in the surroundings appeared a little too smaller, almost like midgets. One could not see very much in the distance because of a haze but as one looked down below it was kind of surreal. All structures of Manhattan that would appear tall from ground level looked like midgets.

At Broadway
I had a good look at the Brooklyn Bridge while being driven up and down. It may not be as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco but it has a lot of character, having been built in the 19th Century. Connecting Manhattan with Brooklyn it spans the East River. One of the oldest cable-stayed bridges, it was completed in 1883. The Tower Bridge of London was opened later in 1893 but it is much better looking and is a whole lot more iconic than the Brooklyn Bridge. It therefore does not stand for New York as the Golden Gate Bridge does for San Francisco.

It was time to leave for us. Regrettably, we had just a small slice of the Big Apple. We were leaving a great metropolis with a tinge of sorrow as we probably missed on many essentials of New York. But that is how it is
One more shot of Statue of Liberty
when one is out on a shoe-string tour – you see some and miss out on much more.
Worse, it was most distressing to remember the predictions that this along with other cities may go under water as a victim of global warming. Ruminating over over all that I failed to sleep in a flight that was all through the night. But for me, looking out of the window towards the North daylight seemed to be accompanying me right through. Maybe, I thought, we were flying close to Greenland in one of those flight paths known as Great Circle.

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