Sunrise in Stockholm

Sunrise in Stockholm

— 1 month ago

ROSTOV ON DON, RUSSIA

— 1 month ago
Is Social Media Too Free?

In an alternative world, if there was a broadcast media willing to broadcast every word, thought and mind fart of the world’s new cyber-somewhat-celebrities, there would be no social media. These “somewhat knowns” of the cyber world would constantly have a press pack relay up their audio, video, textual, sensory and other expressions and exudations.

The only possible difference in this alternate world would be that since their thoughts would be relayed through third parties with interpretation, conjecture and analysis, they would be that much more careful in what, how and who they choose to speak to. Indeed, they may well hire 24x7 PR agencies to help shape their every expression.

The crux of the issue, therefore, is why people believe that their expressions on the social media be treated any different from their expressions to formal media. In effect, both are methods of broadcasting. They cause as much good or harm in either format.

Is the issue about whether “social media is too free” really about  whether people believe that there should be different levels of accountability for what they say on social media as opposed to if they had said the same thing on prime time television”.

Most do believe that there is a different level of accountability. Therefore, they act, post, text and react in a manner where they believe that there is a peculiar fundamental right and freedom of expression that protects them from legal action.

Draw that thought a step more and you get people who act “too freely” and give rise to this questioning whether “social media is too free”.

Before we go into answering that question, let’s go into a small digression about what speech deserves to censured and what does not.

If you happen to be sitting in your house and over a cup of coffee declared to your friends, “it is time to eliminate all the people with one blue eye, blonde pig tails and elevated nostrils”, would it constitute an act of provocation to genocide against all one blue eyed, blonde pig tailed people with elevated nostrils? Clearly, not.

However, if you happened to be invited to prime time television and said the same thing, should you be locked up? Clearly, yes.

Social media users wish to have the reach of prime time television but plead the protection granted to people expressing views in their homes.

Arguably, the simplification does not allow for the complexities of real life. For example, instead of a home, if the intent of genocide against one-blue-eyed-ones was expressed at a wedding where there were a large number of people, would it count as a legal misdemeanour? What if the same number were at a religious place of worship? Or what if it was made to a community gathering of the green-eyed-ones who hated the one-blue-eyed ones?

The moot point is actually quite simple. When you use social media, you are, in effect, broadcasting, publishing, addressing a crowd, making a public speech or on the pulpit in some form or the other. It doesn’t really matter whether you have a handful of followers, a dozen friends securely locked up in your Facebook friend’s community or carefully screen who listens in to you. By the definition of social media, you put out content that you are responsible for and can be shared by anyone, anywhere, anyhow.

Having said that, I must argue that the overall thesis runs exactly contrary to what the above reasoning may suggest: You don’t tame, curb, circumscribe, proscribe, prohibit or otherwise censure social media any more than you would put curbs on media or political activity because the media conjures up a brutal rape or a just-empowered politician decides to show his macho side by attacking frightened African women.

People will increasingly – if painfully realize – that self-publishing is a power and a freedom that must follow the same rules, standards and restrictions that mainstream media follows. That the power to write, post, upload, share, like, troll, flame, tag, retweet is no different from the power enjoyed by journalists or a mohalla leader who is able to drum up an audience of 50.

The lack of realization does not, in any way, diminish the freedom that should stay with social media for the same reason that it is at a higher plane than both media and political parties in actualizing the working of democracy.

We are undergoing a period of transition akin to the one last brought in by the power of printing that could spread a thought or an ideology by the printed word.  Gutenberg’s printing press was simple technological leap that changed Europe’s political landscape. It changed the very essence of the ruling theology of power from god, descent or might. It still took another half a century for the transition to be completed and it did create the platform for a new ruling elite.

Social media in its various manifestations has taken it to the next stage of reorganization of political forces around the need to embrace and carry a much larger constituency – one that is informed, often visually participative and with an ability to express its opinion.

The question whether social media is too free looks at the hind end of the new animal – the one that keeps kicking and downloading, from time to time, buckets of excretable material.  Just as Guttenberg’s printing press led to an intellectual ferment (albeit in more, much more, than 140 characters) that created political, social and economic turmoil and eventually led to current political systems of governance based on lines of thinking that erupted from the works of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau to Marx and more. (*I shall avoid here any attempt to go political theorist and download a thesis on parallels but there is one hiding here somewhere.)

 Needless to say few of the twitterati are likely to eventually figure in the pantheons of people who created a new political discourse through their tweets but it must be remembered that the first and most energetic users of printing technology were quacks, charlatans and the likes. The history of the earlier years of printing is clouded by the use of printed leaflets and advertising-filled newspapers to sell everything from clothes to comfort, cough syrups to con jobs.  If that had been provocation enough to stop the freedom to print (and many countries, governments and even local bodies did do so), little of what we see today as acceptable political systems would have taken shape.

To conclude, there are two seminal points I would like to leave behind in this debate. 

First, social media users must grow up to the reality that they are and should be responsible and account for what they write, post, upload, tweet, tag, and so forth. They are subject to the same laws that any publisher or politician or citizen seeking to speak to a large number of people is subject to. You are as responsible as the next journalist or public person. If it is a belief that you express, be willing to stand up for it. It will also result in excesses by the governing, as we have seen in a number of instances. That is also a part of the reaction to the power that you exercise.

Second, muzzling social media would be more or less equivalent to muzzling Gutenberg’s press. There are powerful forces of history at work that will see cataclysmic changes in the way humanity has ruled, governed and interacted.  The power of individual expression to create impact has become a reality and can be curbed with as much success as the flow of liquor to the dry state of Gujarat.

— 1 month ago
Enchanted Circles & Fine Cuisine

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The other day in Sweden, I happened to be hosted by a kind friend in an unusual Club for dinner. On reflection, it seemed a good idea to list out the places that were unusual, possibly quaint, and qualified by a certain amount of exclusivity. Places where I lunched/dined or simply snacked that is a little out of the ordinary and, possibly, places where your wallet wasn’t enough of a passport.

The common thread, of course, is that I did not pay for any of these and owe my entry to indulgent hosts. And since these were fairly exclusive places, they did not encourage going wild with the camera, capturing the moment. Here are my top 5 from different places around the world, in no particular order.

1. To start with the Swedish rendezvous. SÄLLSKAPET, Arsenalsgaten, Stockholm. The instructions were: No sign or banner. Ring the bell and the porter will let you in. Dress code: jacket and tie, no jeans.The Arsenal road was tucked away in a quiet corner of Central Stockholm, a stone’s throw from the Grand Hotel. It was the essential “gentleman’s club”… a place where they “got away” from their “women”. Even today, the Club continues to be out of bounds for women for membership and even their presence is strictly regulated.

Here is the description: 
On December 1,1800, SÄLLSKAPET was founded in Stockholm, the Club’s “Rules and Regulations” were accepted, entered in the “Original Documents Book” and duly signed by the 91 founding members. SÄLLSKAPET could consequently celebrate its bicentennial in the year 2000.

SÄLLSKAPET chose its name from the Swedish expression for “society” or “social gathering”. The Club was founded as a “Gentlemen’s club” and it has so remained till this day.

Since March 31, 1870, SÄLLSKAPET resides at Arsenalsgatan 7, a building which was purposely erected for the Club. The architect Johan Fredrik Åbom was a successful Stockholm builder and he had impressed the Club’s members with his design of the banqueting hall at Hotel Rydberg, located on Gustaf Adolfs Square, where the Club resided at that time. He was sub-sequently requested to copy the banqueting hall in the new Club building. Today the result of his efforts is our beautiful principal dining room. On March 31, 1877 SÄLLSKAPET acquired the building.

The Club houses one of the largest private libraries in Sweden, containing more than 15.000 volumes in addition to a number of attractive lounge rooms as well as games and billiard rooms.

H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf is the Patron of SÄLLSKAPET. HRH Prince Carl Philip, the Duke of Värmland, is a honarary member.

SÄLLSKAPET counts some 2.000 members. Some 30 current members have belonged to SÄLLSKAPET for more than 50 years and benefit from a life time membership.

http://www.sallskapet.se/

2. The BT Tower, London

3. Cafe Pushkin, Moscow

4. Le Gare Restaurant, Paris

5. Temasek Club, Singapore

— 1 month ago
Istanbul: Summer of 2013

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Shah Rukh Khan! The cry follows one as the rare brown face with “Indian” etched all over it winds through the Grand Bazar and the shopkeepers seek to catch your eye and your wallet. Reminiscent of another day, another market in Cairo almost a decade ago when the cry was “Amitabh Bachchan!” But perhaps that was the extent of “India” in a country that seemed to have the flavour of Bengali jhal muri: A medley of flavours jostling in to deliver mouthfuls of tangy, zingy kick.

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Mixed metaphors aside, Istanbul provided the roving eye much to register as the burkha clad and fez wearing mingled effortlessly with the barely dressed tourist and Turk alike. The thin minarets of Istanbul’s many mosques stand out just as much as the flatter domes (as compared to India’s more buxom domes) in a mess of modern apartments and houses. The blue of the Bosphorous, a blue that is riveting, soothing and simply gorgeously aquamarine, bathes the shores of Istanbul in a mesmerising cloak of tranquillity. Mix it up and you get the perfect puffed rice concoction.

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Not that the streets of Istanbul have any space for puffed rice as the revelry of meat, dairy, dry fruits, greens and fruits provide the perfect backdrop to enchanting spaces. For a few Turkish lira, the doner kebab is the ideal accompaniment to a walkabout. Niftily made in virtually every corner of the city, stuffed with chicken, lamb or beef, the doners are consistently fresh, juicy and filling. Despite the surrounding seas, fish turns out be fairly pricey. A foray into restaurants under the Galata bridge for fish throws up a choice ranging from octopus, red and grey mullet to varieties of bluefish, bonito, anchovy, scorpion fish, mackerel, swordfish, sea bass, haddock and pilchard. But even the most die-hard carnivore can’t escape the eye catching bounty of fresh greens and luscious fruits that abound in every corner, every plate and every meal. The other dominant theme is a profusion of delicious cheese, from short noodle shaped stringy cheese to salty, slightly grainy, thick textured cheese from sheep’s milk.  Interestingly, many cheese carry a rather familiar appendage, paneer, in their names: Beyaz peynir, tulum peynir, Kelle peyniri, Örgü peyniri. Breakfast is often a simple spread of soft white bread with boiled eggs, different varieties of cheese, salamis and sausages, sliced tomatoes,  crispy cucumbers and a variety of butter, cheese or olive spreads. Breakfast as a meal format, incidentally, can run through the day and we tucked into our first breakfast well into midday in what was essentially an all-day ‘breakfast’ place. For the rest of the day, Kofte and Kebap feature prominently in the menu of every eatery along with Salata, Pilav and Yogurt as accompaniments. There isn’t a very large variety in cooking methods with most meat being either roasted, grilled, batter fried or made into gentle curries that depend largely on the flavours of the meat being cooked.

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Food, being the major preoccupation of tourists such as ourselves, got a better than average rating on most counts though the prices in the restaurants were not always budget friendly. But here is a city that offers a choice of dinner between 5 and 10 Turkish lira with an offering of chicken doner or fried fish wrapped in a newspaper. Or going upscale and splurging on a 80 to 100 lira meal for four people. Pilav and curry (mildly spiced gravy with chunks of chicken, lamb or beef) is the other option and served up across a variety of cafeterias.  Turkish beer, mostly Efes, is refreshingly mild and keeps good company with most meals but there are days when a glass of Ayran, a cross between a lassi and chhach, does a much better job of quenching one’s thirst. Istanbul was hot but never humid in the week long sojourn and our feet found their way unerringly to little kiosks in shops where costumed Turkish lads twirled scoops of ice cream scoop in a rubbery, creamy visual opera. Ice cream was never served up straight as the ice cream man went through an elaborate juggle and jiggle before handing over a well topped up cone. Istanbul’s delights for a foodie don’t end without dropping into the many confectionaries that put out a tempting fare on virtually every street. The crispy, sugary, sticky Baklava is a merely a well-publicized sweet in a repertoire that extends from simple pastries and tarts to Helva, marzipan, milky deserts, Turkish delight, dates and nuts candy.

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Before the fascination with the food comes the fascination with the people of Turkey. The city is a tableau in motion with cultural currents criss-crossing each other gently in every part of the city. From attire to mannerisms, the East-meets-West storyline is played out in mosques and bazars, tramlines to down town Istanbul. Women in shorts that defy bikinis on beaches stand patiently to enter the Blue Mosque confident in the provision of blue wrap arounds and plastic covering for shoes along with women in full hijab. Few eyebrows are raised on open amorous displays though tight bunches of oriental families keep a firm eye on their young ones. Little boys and girls stand at street corner or busy tourist junctions selling bottles of water. Huddles of middle aged men sit around in the evenings exchanging tales from the day that just passed. On either side of the Bosphorous strait, fishermen sit stitching up their nets and talking about the one that got away. If the women are pretty, the men of Istanbul have a handsomeness that is riveting.  Every Turk seems to be born with features that inherently give a sense of character, dignity and grace.

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Even the most weather beaten face has the quality of a sculpture and it is difficult to spot a face that qualifies as unappealing or ugly. Resat Ekrem Kocu made the beauty of the men of Istanbul the central focus of his epic Istanbul Encyclopaedia. Where Madrid had come across as a city of gorgeous women, Istanbul was a city of striking men. Little wonder then that men in Istanbul are seen in tourist haunts trying their luck with passing European women tourists who look remotely single.

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But neither food nor the people of Turkey alone can define the Istanbul experience. The everlasting memories of the city will remain for most visitors the Bosphorus and the many mosques and minarets that define the skyline.

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Istanbul is as European as it gets in its infrastructure and tolerance of cultural diversity and yet as Islamic as any Islamic society could well be with its very visible traditionally dressed men and women. The Turkish flag, more a symbol of the modern Turkey built by Attaturk Kemal Pasha, is visible across the city, marking out, in a sense, the dominance of the ‘secular’ state under the guardianship of the armed forces and the bureaucracy. The roads are well maintained and there is a clear, crisp quality to the air and to the blue, blue, blue skies.

For those wanting a script for a quick visit to Istanbul, here is the short, quick and dirty on the city built on seven hills: a visit to the Galata Tower, Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Dolmabache Palace and the Suleymaniye Mosque. Talk a walk on the Galata bridge, take the funicular from the Kabatas to Taksim Square, ride the nostalgic tram from Tunel to Taksim Square, hit the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Market. Remember that the city sits astride seven hills and therefore the walks can, at times, be challenging. Top it up with the Bosphorus Cruise and then walk to the derelict lighthouse at the top of the hill at the fishing village of A Kavagi to take a view of the Bosphorous meeting the Black Sea. A little more time on hand and bung in a Cruise in the Sea of Marmara.  We did give the belly dancing circuit a miss but there are more than enough programs on offer that should be easy to spot.

If that is the big picture, the beauty lies certainly in the detail. Take the Basilica Cistern across the Aya Sofia. A massive underground water storage and one of the many in Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern is home to two Medusa’s heads, one of which sits on its side at the base of one of the many pillars. The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns. The Cistern is cool and dark, the pillars lit up to enhance the effect of being a “Sunken Palace” as its Turkish name, Yerebatan Sarayi, suggests, though now it is home to well fed fish. Much like the fountains in Rome, the underground cisterns have become wishing wells with a carpet of coins encouraging others to leave a wish behind. 

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The cistern is just a small representative of a massive water supply system built by the Romans. The Roman Valens Aqueduct or the Bozdoğan Kemei,   an important landmark of the city, was part of gigantic system of aqueducts and water channels that sourced water from the slopes of hills between Kağıthane and the Sea of Marmara and stored it in ancient Constantinople in three open reservoirs and over a hundred underground cisterns.

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To dwell on the cistern just a wee bit more, its two Medusa heads possibly originate from Roman buildings of yore though their orientation (upside down and sideways) remain puzzling and attributed largely to requirements of masonry rather than any ritualistic context. The walkabout platforms in the cistern are relatively new, replacing the boat rides that earlier were the only means to tour the underground “palace”.

The cistern sits across the road from arguably Istanbul’s most famous monument, the Aya Sofya or the Hagia Sophia Museum. The Aya Sofya is from the outside a jumble of architectural styles, dates back as it does to the Christian Era in Turkish history before being adopted as an Islamic place of worship and finally turning into a Museum with the ascendance of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Pasha. The Hagia Sophia (from the Greek, “Holy Wisdom”; Latin: Sancta Sophia;  Turkish: Ayasofya) encompasses in its confines the sweep of Western Civilization, having being the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople till 1453 with a brief interregnum as a Roman Catholic Cathedral. For the next five centuries till 1931, the Hagia Sophia stayed a mosque before being opened as a museum in 1935.

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The confluence of civilizations, indeed their continuity, is most manifest in this defining building of Istanbul. The walls continue to be adorned with mosaics from its Christian antecedents. A ramp to the gallery on the first floor gives a breath-taking view of a huge domed place of worship. The dome, an architectural marvel, became the model to replicate for the many other magnificent monuments that dot the city: the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque, the Sulemaniye Mosque, the Rustem Pasha Mosque and the Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque. The Aya Sofia is, on the inside, a relatively simpler structure with an expansive central space. The altar stands converted into a Miharib facing Mecca while the ceiling of the central dome has painted Arabic calligraphy. The transition to a mosque meant addition of minarets to the overall structure and over the course of 500 years, two minarets were added to the structure.

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A gently sloping ramp inside the Aya Sofya leads up to a square gallery that overlooks the central hall. The gallery in itself is unremarkable but a closer study of the walls reveals mosaics, from the structure’s Christian period depicting the Virgin Mother, Jesus, saints, or emperors and empresses.  

The vicinity of the Ayasofya is worth a look around given the relics and remnants of centuries of building – and dismantling – of the structure through centuries of religious and political transformations. The ruins and remnants speak as much as the Byzantine feel of the original structures.

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Walk across from the Ayasofya to the Blue Mosque, or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, given its name for the colour of the interior tiles. A mosque that continues to be a place of worship, the dome was meant to replicate the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia but has attained its own unique space with its 8 domes, a central dome  and six minarets. Blending Ottoman mosque and Byzantine church styles, the Blue Mosque’s minarets delight in their slim lines and pleasing grey stone facades. Unlike the more chunky and robust, almost militaristic, minarets of Indian mosques with their severe lines, the minarets in Istanbul are almost effeminate in grace, like twirling ballerinas reaching out to the skies with little witches hats and skirting of lace.  The open courtyard of the mosque is an inviting square surrounded by arches and smaller domed ceiling with the minarets set as relief. Check out the designs in stone along the ceiling of the covered courtyard, simple and elegant , setting a rhythm to this place of worship. But the most compelling view from the courtyard is the rising crescendo of domes topped up by the central dome with the slim minarets standing sentry on either side. Inside the Blue Mosque, ornate pillars and domes rise in a poetry of motion with a predominance of blue tiles that gives the Mosque its more popular name. The central dome ringed with Arabic motifs in blue and brown rival the famed domes of Rome. The lack of human form, otherwise celebrated in Christian places of worship, paintings and sculpture, is not missed in the domes of Istanbul.

Here, as in much of Istanbul, the typical Turkish compromise of styles and values comes across and is a good pointer to why the country became the cradle of secularism that India was later to follow. If the architectural styles blended Islamic mosque formats with Byzantine church styles, the tradition continues in the effortless acceptance of women under-dressed by given standards of appropriate clothing for a mosque by providing wrap arounds and covers for shoes that are smoothly handed over and dispensed during entry and exit to the mosque. No sermons, no finger wagging, no loud arguments, no rudeness. Simple practical solutions have removed day to day ideological and religious strife.

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That same spirit is as much evident in Topkapi Palace with its quaint witches hat, opulent harem, treasury room and the Privy Chamber where important holy relics of the Islamic world, including the Prophet Mohammed’s cloak and sword rest. Perhaps the huge gap between the sub-continental  practice of Islam and that of the rest of the world is most evident in the understated display of the relics of Prophet Mohammed or other artefacts from Mecca and other parts of the Islamic world. The Privy Chamber houses the Chamber of the Sacred Relics which includes the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle where the cloak of Prophet Mohammed is on display. The most sacred relics of the Islamic world — the cloak of the Prophet Mohammad, two swords, a bow, one tooth, a hair of his beard, his battle sabres, an autographed letter and other relics, the swords of the first four Caliphs, The Staff of Moses, the turban of Joseph and a carpet of the daughter of Mohammed – are displayed in the Privy Chamber and can be viewed without the crush and fervour that often marks display of such relics other parts and religions of the world.

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Crush and fervour are reserved for the royal harem which housed what is portrayed in the many signboards of Topkapi’s Harem as a place where the Ottoman Sultans carried out their supreme duties.

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As one such signboard solemnly affirms, “For the perpetuation of the dynasty and service to the Ottoman Dynasty beautiful and intelligent girls brought from neighbouring countries became Cariyes, Concubines. Concubines who were introduced into the Harem in their tender age were brought up in the discipline of the harem and were promoted according to their capacities and became Kalfas and Ustas. The Concubine with whom the Sultan shared his bed became a member of the dynasty and rose in rank…” Clearly, running a harem was serious business with layers of accomplishment that needed to be chalked up over the years. Given the great importance that the harem had in keeping the Sultan and the Dynasty going, it was opulently designed from the living quarters to the hamam to outdoor swimming pools on the shore of the Bosphorus. The Harem quarters house breath-taking designs, usually Arabic motifs in gold against black or white backgrounds, right from the exterior façade of the Harem to the filigree of gold on the roofs of the open courtyard in the harem and the bright yellow glasswork in the stained blue glass windows to the gold painted dome of the room where the Sultan was entertained by his women.

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The use of gold is, however, unrivalled in the Dolmabahce Palace which sits square on the Bosphorous and was the last administrative palace of the Ottomans and the place where Kemal Pasha spent his last days. The interiors of the Dolmabahce is reminiscent of the exaggerated opulence of Versailles with liberal use of gold, gigantic chandeliers and staircase of crystal. Fourteen tonnes of gold in the form of gold leaf were used to gild the ceilings while the overall design combines European styles with traditional Ottoman architecture. The Palace garden is a pleasant walk and host to magnificent flowers, not the least beign the white magnolias that droop heavily from their branches. If luck, and timing favours, the Mehter band will be performing outside the palace, as they have for centuries. The Ottoman military band, with their swinging march up to the gate of the Dolmabahce, makes for a riveting sight before it launches into a performance of military marching songs.

The first sight of the Dolmabahce Palace for most typically happens on the Bosphorus Cruise. Starting off at Eminonu nestled in the Horn, the cruise makes a stately passage down the straits with the company of sea gulls and dolphins, capturing on both sides much of the Ottoman history along the Bosphorus. The longer version of the cruise of six hours allows for a three hour stopover at A Kavagi for a walk up to the Rumeli lighthouse from where the confluence of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus makes an awesome sight. On the cruise watch out for the Rumeli And Antolian Fortresses, the Dolmabache Mosque and the Galata tower. The houses on both side stack up colourfully like Lego blocks, a little disoriented but adding to the charm. Minarets and domes peep out ever so often but the real charm of the cruise stays the aquamarine waters of the Bosphorus.

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The Istanbul experience is a book in itself. A place to sit and ponder. To enjoy rather than rush about. The Coffee in the bazaars, the fine cheese served up with virtually every meal, the warmth of the people around. Somehow a lot of it comes together in the Suleymaniye Mosque, less visited by the tourists but representing “the artistic power of the great architectural genius Mimar Sinan and the political power of Sultan Suleyman the lawmaker”.  As Orhan Pamuk writes in Istanbul: Memories and The City, “The beauty I see in Sulemaniye Mosque is in its lines, in the , elegant spaces beneath its dome, in the opening out of its side domes, in the proportions of its walls and empty spaces, in the counterpoint of its support towers and its little arches, in its whiteness and in the purity of the lead on its domes…” 

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— 3 months ago
AN ENGLISH SUMMER: JUNE OF 2010

Blue Skies are a rarity in London, blessed as it is with, as the Londoner said, with two kinds of weather: Rain and Cold. But here we were in London with the city served sunny side up. Weather is clearly top of mind for the people of the isles that form the UK. From the dressed up gladiator in the Roman Baths at Bath to the Scottish tour conductor, it was weather, and the good fortune of no rain, that occupied their thoughts. Not that a little bit of rain would have really been too off the plate for the family which had escaped the searing heat of Delhi at its peak summer.

 We arrived at Gatwick on a ten day barnstorm of the British Isles after having learnt the hard way that visas and passports shouldn’t be taken too lightly and the pain of dealing with outsourced Visa sections. The original plan was a London-Paris trip but was pulled up short against a new Schengen rule that effectively made passports with 20 years validity illegal once they are a decade old. Combined with an almost offensive treatment at the French VFS section in New Delhi, the plan got quickly tailored to an England-Scotland holiday.

 And what a fortuitous change it turned out to be though there was yet another lesson learned: Don’t buy Eurostar tickets too early, specially if they are non-refundable. There is simply no way in which you can cancel them though you can take a shot at selling them on the Net on a number of sites that helpfully provide an alternative to this very un-English oversight, though be warned that it isn’t really legal. That said, don’t buy Eurostar tickets too late either as we learnt during our last trip: There just wouldn’t be any left. Personally, though, I prefer the bus and ferry across the English Channel where the white cliffs of Dover stay with you for a while as you gently cross the channel and the French coast floats into view. For shoe-string travelers, though, cost counts, specially when you are a family of four trying to consume as much of the world as possible in every summer break. And buses are more expensive as is an air hop to Paris so the Eurostar stays a no-brainer and a convenient one.

The beauty of shoe-string travel is the choices that get thrown up, specially if you are avoiding the more expensive (never mind the advertising) packaged tours. A well timed booking of tickets to London can give you basement prices though they may carry the odd stopover. For a family of four, we shelled out a little over Rs 1,00,000 in the top of the line Emirates though it did carry a stopover of seven hours in Dubai on the way out.

 Trip Advisor is an excellent way to home in on affordable Bed & Breakfast lodgings or apartments. The apartment in Edinburgh turned out to be a dream home stay and the Caring Hotel at London turned out to be an efficient enough hotel though with very cramped loos. Its always good to reach out directly to the properties as they are more likely to give you the best price though travel sites often give you surprisingly good deals.

London is an all seasons sojourn for tourists. But summer brings to life an amazing cacophony of languages that seem to invade the city. KensingtonGardens, GreenPark and Hyde Park is replete with Arab family camp downs with lavish spreads. East European voices drown out English speakers. American tourists crowd the Big Bus and the Original London tours and, charmingly, the English from the rest of the British Isles come to tour the city. So do the Aussies, the Canadians and of course the Indian in good strength. Of course, while you can spot the Aussie, the American and the Canadian on the bus tours and the various sights of London, Oxford Circus and Bond Street are jammed with a human avalanche where every fourth biped (birds included) is an Indian with the gleam of shopping in their eye. That said, the weak Euro and Pound had invited a surge of traffic into London and Selfridges was as comfortable as Big Bazaar on a Sunday noon day. The long days with the sun shining bright late into the evening is an invitation to the Indians and the people of the world used to going to bed with the sun to party late into the evening.

 London’s character changes with its neighbourhoods and have often little to do with any of the Anglo Saxon tribes. Queensway and Bayswater, for instance, are a nice mix of Malaysian, Arab, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures and the restaurants reflect the culinary diversity. From some delectable Peking Duck to Malaysian Chicken Curry with rice, the spread is fairly satisfying for the gourmet. For those with a more modest means to spend on food, duck into the ever present Pret A Manger that gives very affordable, natural and tasteful sandwiches, baguettes, wraps in its 225 odd stores. Of course, you can duck into any of the supermarkets and pick up these and packaged foods but Pret A Manger does stand out as our little discovery of the trip.

 

The key is to look out for the unusual while taking the usual tours in London. An evening in glass covered Covent Garden market is worth a trip with its open piazza and performers ranging from jugglers to mime artists and a choice of cafes. We walked into a crowd performance of “O Sole Mio” as enthusiastic Italian tourists joined the street performer for a rousing rendition. Avoiding the Cafes, an open cart serving delicious Spanish paella and a little tucked away pie shop turned out to be two gems of the market. The Covent Garden market also tucks away a rather interesting assortment of shops selling everything from costume jewellery to seaweed cosmetics.

Equally fun is to do ‘touristy’ things in London. Hop on to either the Original Bus Tour or the London Big Bus Tour and hop off wherever you please. The Red Tour is specially fun as it comes with a tour guides who speak with their tongue firmly locked in their cheek. The Royal family, save the Queen and the Royal Children, are often at the receiving end of these narrations that take you through the fabric and history of London. The facts are often coloured over but, nonetheless, entertaining.

 

If you traveling on the Bus Tours through London this summer-autumn, look out for the Elephants that have mushroomed across the city as a part of the Elephant Parade that draws attention to the endangered Asian elephant. Don’t be surprised to see some Elephants decked up in IPL team colours. Check out the “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle” by Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare in Trafalgar Square, filling the empty fourth plinth. Keep an eye out for the performers outside Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Hamleys, the large but not particularly overwhelming toy shop. As you cross the Thames, keep a lookout for the unusual modern symbols of London, the odd shaped building dubbed the Gherkin by those unimpressed by Sir Norman Foster’s St Mary Ax though the building has gone on to become among the most admired. Or the Big Eye, the huge wheel that gives a panoramic view of the city. The Thames cruise is, of course, a must do, if nothing else for the salty commentary of life on the banks of the Thames rendered by the captain of the cruise ship as he points out the National Theatre, the MI-5 and, of course, the Westminster.

The London Dungeon is a good ghoul stop over with its dramatic rendition of real and fictional fiends of London. At the Tower of London, wait for one of the Tower Guards, the Beefeaters or Yeoman Warders to give you the tour with compelling tales of treachery, traitors and deceit and executions at the Tower Hill as also the lay of the Tower against the Thames. In case he doesn’t draw your attention to the Ravens, do take a look at the plump, plush black birds which hop around, unable to fly due to clipped wings. Tradition dating back to Charles II has it that six ravens must stay in the tower or else both the WhiteTower and the monarch will fall. There are currently seven, a spare to mitigate risk of the kingdom falling for the lack of ravens. The Crown Jewels are on view and while the entry does tend to be a little crowded, it usually eases out as the flow of tourists gets into a pattern.

 On the other hand, Westminister Abbey is probably a far better representation of British history over the past couple of centuries, even though the Abbey itself dates back a thousand years. For those with a keen sense of history, the Abbey is good place to take time out on as the roots of English literature and theatre, economics and politics, science and discovery all stand represented in good measure. From tombs to memorials, the Abbey contains within its elegant walls a moving chronicle of the passage of time and the shaping of British fortunes.

 

As the day of Bus Hopping on the London Tour buses ends, it is good to sit back and look at the pubs that have tried to keep their unique identity. Most pubs with a ‘look’ do have some history to them but take your time making up your mind between the beers off the tap, ales and the branded stuff. Much though the romance of a beer off the tap, it still doesn’t mean that the warm bitter beer is the stuff you are really looking for. Finding a good place to eat is never really a challenge but our culinary expedition for finding just the right Fish and Chips was a bit disappointing.

 In London, our first encounter with this traditional British dish was in an Indian joint in the marketplace behind the Covent Garden Market. Having put out a fairly decent and crisp Fish and Chips, the Chef informed us that his other job was as a diplomat in the Indian High Commission.  Subsequent encounters in London with beer battered haddock and various avatars of fish and chips outside the Tower of London and eateries across the city didn’t really rise too far above the Indian version of the ‘fish fry’.

 

With a football fanatic in the family, it was destined that a trip to England would involve a football tour. The Chelsea Club sitting in the Stamford Stadium in Fullham was just the right pick for this year given their sterling performance this season. The walk into the stadium itself is a delight with Chelsea fans of all ages fitting themselves into all the photo ops that had been created on the walls around the stadium. The tour itself takes you through the memorabilia into the stadium and the dressing rooms with a saucy commentary on the performance of Arsenal, Manchester United and other less well off teams. The big attraction this season is that you can pose with all of Chelsea’s trophies of the season: Barclays Premier League trophy, and the FA Cup.

 

Out of London and into the English countryside, there are many a day trips that can help cover a lot of ground. Else, take a car and drive around the country and see for yourself. We chose the former and headed off to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. The WindsorCastle is a revelation. This home of the Royal Family and the oldest continuously occupied castle dates back to the time of William the Conqueror who set up castles at a distance of a day’s march a thousand years ago. The Queen’s favourite weekend home, the WindsorCastle has on public view the State Apartments, St George’s Chapel and Queen Mary’s Doll House. Having landed up at the changing of the guards, we tarried a little even as the clock is an unrelenting master in the day trip tours, leaving little time to explore the castle fully. That said, the audio guides help you quickly spot pieces of history which would other miss the eye. Look up when you at the St George’s Chapel and see the panoply of crests, each with a tale to tell. Queen Mary’s Doll House was never made for a child and houses but for the Queen by Princess Marie Louise and is a collection of miniature items that actually work and are representative of how a royal family might live in the 1920s.

 

Stonehenge, on the other hand, is possibly a tick in the box. Now that the stones have been cordoned off, you might as well see them from outside the fencing without losing too much. But cast your eye around the countryside and look for small circular mounds. These are burial mounds with often as many as fifty graves tucked inside. And, as you look around, figure how those stones got there all the way from Welsh quarries.

 On the way to Bath, stopover for lunch at the charming Lacock village, taken over by the UK National Trust and now the epicenter for many a film and television shoot, including Harry Potter. The GeorgeInn at Lacock is a preferred luncheon place but let them know well before that you are on your way. The Inn boasts of a dog wheel turned spit that is still working, dating back to the days when dogs worked the tread wheel that turned the spit. While a wander around Lacock gives a picture perfect view of an English village, nip across to the back of The George Inn to a little shop with a range of woolen garments, a reminder of the days when Lacock was at the centre of the Wool Trade.

Moving on to Bath, the spas of the Romans, was once known as Aquae Sulis and dated back to Celtic times, though what you see today goes back only to the Roman inhabitations of AD 43. Legends of the curative value of the hot sulphur springs in Bath were probably well established well before, but it was the Romans with their very un-European fascination for bathing who converted the city into Spa Central for the Roman Empire. The Bath Abbey adjacent to the Roman Bath dates back to the 7th Century is also worth a look around. Check out the PultneyBridge across the river Avon, built along the lines of Florence’s Ponte Vecchio.

Day tour over, its time to move on to Scotland, but not before our guide warbles eloquently all the way back to London about the perfect English summer day!

 TRAVEL TIPS

 1/ KLM and Emirates if tracked over time give some excellent rates.

2/ Definition of Child varies from location to location. While airlines treat anyone over 12 as adults, the London Underground gives them the honour at 15.

3/ Buy an Oyster card to travel around London. It works on both the bus and the Underground system and is much cheaper. For children under 15, its better to buy the day ticket at two pounds a head. Children under 10 are free on the Underground.

4/ The British National Rail Pass is an excellent way to get around the country. The three day passes also take care of the trip to Heathrow and Gatwick a

5/ If you thought Baksheesh was an Indian concept, think again. For virtually every service delivered, you will get an open exhortation to tips, with various degrees of bluntness. So keep some loose change handy at all times.

6/ Booking on the Net is usually safe and problem free but do check if the hotel or establishment will get a pre-approval and if cancellation charges would be applied.

7/ If you take the London bus tours, it might be handy to buy entrance tickets to the Tower of London, the Dungeon and other sites on offer along with your bus ticket. You get a discount and you don’t have to stand in a line.

 8/ Logic and costs need not go together. It is cheaper to buy a Delhi- London-Delhi ticket than a Delhi-London-Paris-Delhi ticket even after counting the cost of a return Paris-London ticket. Also, return tickets on the same airline, same route are cheaper than booking one way.

9/ Book your day trips out of London before leaving but no real need to pay for all stops or even lunch. You can do your own thing and cut costs. 

— 3 months ago
newyorker:

A cartoon by Tom Cheney. For more cartoons from this week’s issue: http://nyr.kr/1anfcsn

newyorker:

A cartoon by Tom Cheney. For more cartoons from this week’s issue: http://nyr.kr/1anfcsn

(Source: newyorker.com)

— 5 months ago with 1838 notes

newyorker:

By the time the last American combat soldier departs Afghanistan, at the end of next year, the country will have been at war for thirty-five years. Here’s a look at photos by Robert Nickelsberg, who travelled to Afghanistan for the first time in January, 1988, to cover the Soviet occupation, and has returned regularly ever since: http://nyr.kr/HxvgRF

Top: May 1990. Young Afghans huddle outside a refugee camp for internally displaced families near Khost, by the Pakistan border.

Bottom-Left: May 1988. An Afghan soldier hands a flag in solidarity to a departing Soviet soldier in Kabul on the first day of the army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Bottom-Right: October 1996. Afghan men pray at the main Kabul mosque following the Taliban takeover.

Photographs by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty.

(Source: newyorker.com)

— 5 months ago with 496 notes
My Journey Begins Here: The Teesta Floods of 1968

Following are two posts by Swapan Sen, Assistant Engineer of the Irrigation and Waterways Directorate on the flooding of the Teesta in 1968. Those floods would irrevocably change the course of our family life. We lost our mother - and more - to those floods when I was just a little over two.

Forty-five years later, I stumbled upon perhaps the only surviving accounts of the flood which, from another research document, still holds the record for the highest flood levels.

As the country waits for Phailin to make landfall and braces against the impact 45 Octobers later, I wonder what the people of Jalpaiguri were thinking as they saw the flood waters rising…

http://akdcts.blogspot.in/2011/10/teesta-floods-of-1968.html

The Teesta Barrage 


Yesterday was the 43rd anniversary of the Teesta flood of 1968 which caused untold devastation and changed the landscape of North Bengal to some extent.
In one of my earlier posts ,I had carried a scholarly contribution By Mr Swapan Sen, who was the Assistant Engineer of the Irrigation and Waterways Directorate of the West Bengal Government and was posted in the area at that fateful time.
In today’s post he recounts the horrors of that day and recreates the memories of many brave men(including, I must add, himself) who fought against the elements, albeit unsuccessfully to save the people of North Bengal from the calamity. Without their efforts, the death toll and the scale of devastation would probably have been much greater than it actually was.While the Teesta is in the news nowadays for political reasons, nobody really remembers those terrible days. This is an important memoir of the floods of 1968. 


The Teesta Flood 1968- a real life story ( Part 1) By Mr Swapan Sen 


It was 2nd of October, 1968. This being Gandhiji’s birthday was a holiday for all but not for me. My colleague Dipankar Chakraborty, who was the Assistant Engineer of the Moinaguri Subdivision of the Irrigation & Waterways Directorate’s Jalpaiguri Division, had gone on leave and I was to look after his work in addition to my own at Jalpaiguri. Rain was pouring down incessantly from the previous evening and at about 8 AM that day, I received a telephone call from our Executive Engineer, Kamakshya Prasad Chowdhury (Kamakshyada to all his junior colleagues) asking me to go to Moinaguri and take a look at the Domohani embankment. So I was on my way to Moinaguri in my Jeep not knowing what to expect.

Reaching our office at Moinaguri, I called for Sri Monoranjan Adhikary, the senior-most and the most experienced Sub-Assistant Engineer of the Sub-division. Together we set out for an inspection of the Domohani embankment which was crossing the Railway Bridge on the Teesta. I had little experience with the behavior of the mighty Teesta. So at the Domohani gauge-site, the spectacle seemed quite frightening. The river water was nearly touching the danger-mark and the river seemed to be endless between the two embankments of Jalpaiguri and Moinaguri. The country-side slope of the Domohani embankment, protecting Moinaguri, had slipped away at places. But these slippages were visibly old. Mr. Adhikary and I called up local men for covering the countryside slopes with gunny bags filled with earth with the hope that this would slow down the seepage of river-water through the embankment soil and prevent further slippage. 

The water level of the river kept on rising and towards the evening it went beyond the danger-mark. As dusk set in, it became practically impossible to do any fruitful work amidst incessant rains and darkness. I decided to stay on at Moinaguri and went back to the office. I rang up Kamakshyada and narrated what I had seen at the embankment-site and the fact that it was impossible to work with a handful of local labour during the night and continuing heavy rains. Sensing fear in my voice, he told me not to panic, as the embankments, as experienced by him, are never breached by mere seepage unless the river-water itself flows over the top of the embankment. 

I spent a very restless night in Dipankar’s living quarters. In the morning, I set out again with Mr. Adhikary, for the embankment. As I reached the embankment, what I saw was simply appalling. The river water had crossed the extreme danger level and there appeared to be, as we had been taught at our Engineering College, “sand-boiling” along the toe-line of the embankment on the country-side. Seeping across the embankment, the river-water was coming out with sand taken from the embankment along the toe-line through numerous holes. The sand coming out appeared to boil in the river water at the exits. It looked as if there were numerous pipes in the embankment through which the river-water was finding way to the other side. Evidently, if allowed to continue, this would eventually cause sinking of the crest of the embankment. We gathered the village people available nearby and sought for their help in covering the embankment toe with gunny bags filled with earth taken from wherever this was available. Soon other problems surfaced. There were large-scale slippages on the country-side slope of the embankment and the top of the embankment, as apprehended, started sinking at places. As our brave men kept on collecting and depositing earth in their bid to repair the damages, I went down to the village and managed to phone Kamakshyada from the phone of a log-yard owner. He told me, he would try to come to the site but the condition of the protection embankment on the Jalpaiguri-side too was no better and he and other colleagues of mine were busy in protecting that embankment. He also told me to keep in touch with Utpal Bhadra, the Assistant engineer at the Head Office, who had been deputed by him especially to monitor the situation, maintain liaison with the District Administration and the Army for help.
It was clearly a losing battle we were fighting. We neither had the man-power, nor enough useable earth or sand nearby to cover the leaking toes and depressions of the crest of the embankment, that had started appearing in the upstream reaches of the embankment. The top of the embankment had also narrowed down in places due to slippages and it was hardly possible to access the upper reaches of the embankment in our Jeep any more. The rains were not also showing any signs of letting up. I conveyed to Utpal from the log-yard owner’s phone that we had to somehow save the people as a breach in the embankment seemed imminent. He said the Army has been asked to help and I should remain at the site till they arrive. 

At about 12 Noon, Government Officials, including the Sub-divisional Officer, Jalpaiguri, arrived on the spot to ascertain the situation. Asked what I thought about the condition of the embankment, I told them that the prognosis was bad as the water was still rising and the embankment could give way; the people in nearby villages should therefore, be alerted and evacuated. I made the same request to a local political leader, Mr. Chikur Chanda, who had also arrived at the spot around the same time. I told him the village folks were not ready to leave their homes in the incessant rain and that they were to be convinced.

At about 3PM, the rise in the water-level seemed to slow down and the water-level, apparently reached a peak. This brought some solace to our anxious minds but little did we know what was lying in wait. With the dusk setting in, we had to return to our office. I was in rain-soaked clothes throughout the day and needed a change of clothes. I slipped into my nightdress, which was the only dry apparel then available with me. Mr. Adhikari too, went home for a change of clothes but came back to the office in an hour’s time. Just then, a radiogram message arrived from Teesta Bazaar and we learnt that the level of water at the Teesta Bazaar (Anderson Bridge) gauge site was rising rapidly, more than 6 inches in 30 minutes. The status reported was that of about 6 PM. We consulted our gauge-records and previous history of time taken by the river-water to reach Domohani from the Teesta Bazar. What we found, took our breath away. The water level at Teesta Bazaar had reached an all-time unbelievably high peak (20.4 m above the extreme danger level*). The time the river water takes to reach Domohani from the Teesta Bazaar gauge site, we found, was 6 to 8 hours. This meant the water level at the Domohani gauge site would reach its peak between 12-00 hours that night and 2 AM, the next morning. 

We set out again for the embankment. As we reached the gauge-site of the embankment at about 12-00 hours, we found that the water level was just about a foot below the top of the embankment. It was dangerous to proceed further upstream along the embankment in our Jeep. To reach the log-yard owner’s place we had to pass below a Banyan tree, which had, by that time, started leaning on the embankment partially blocking our path. We managed to reach the log-yard in the village along the side-road leading off from the embankment. I could call up Utpal over the log-yard phone and he told me to stick to the site as the Army was to arrive to take charge of the embankment. Before I left, I told the owner of the Log-Yard to call up his neighbors and move to safe zones as quickly as possible. Apparently he was unwilling to leave his home and said he had no place to go amidst such incessant rain. 

I had no alternative but to go back to the gauge-site and wait for the Army to arrive. This was a relatively safer zone as the gauge-site was close to the crossing of the Railway embankment and our protection embankment and this crossing was at a level several feet higher than the top of the embankment. On the way to this crossing I summoned my gauge-readers from their camp, rigged-up on a wooden-platform, by flashing the headlights of my Jeep and told them to be alert and stick close to the water-gauge and the Railway line. We turned our Jeep focusing the headlights on the water-gauge, very little of which was sticking out above the river water by then. We kept on waiting in our Jeep and trying to read the water-gauge with the Jeep’s headlight from time to time. (to be continued)

The second and concluding part of Mr Swapan Sen’s account of the Teesta floods of 1968

It was at about 2 AM that we realized that the gauge-stick was no longer visible. The top of the stick had apparently disappeared below the river-water and this meant that the river was flowing over the top of the embankment. The gauge-readers were nowhere in sight. I was worried that the camp of the gauge-readers would be washed away as soon as the embankment was breached. The men in the camp needed to be saved. Mr. Adhikary, got down from the Jeep and went in search of the gauge-readers. The tall figure vanished from the path of the Jeep-headlights as the brave man walked away towards the camp along the embankment. Minutes went by seeming like hours, but he did not come back. At last when I had given up hopes of seeing him alive again, a staggering figure emerged from the darkness. It was Mr. Adhikary. He came up to me, uttered, “I am sorry, Sir, I could not reach the camp. I fell into the river”, and then dropped on the ground apparently losing his senses. My driver, Kanu Mali and I jumped down from the Jeep and hoisted the heavy man on to the back sear of the Jeep. I told Kanu to turn the Jeep in the direction of the gauge-reader’s camp and flash its headlights. After several minutes, that seemed like ages, two figures appeared before the headlights of the Jeep - the gauge-readers. As I asked for the Gauge-register, they said they had not brought the record-book. Mr. Adhikari had, in the meantime regained his senses, and shouted at the gauge-readers urging them to go back and fetch the Register from their camp. The gauge-readers were obviously afraid of losing their lives, as the river-water was flowing over the embankment, but ultimately went back to their camp and fetched the Gauge-register. As they arrived with the Register, Mr. Adhikary snatched it away from them, embraced it as if this was his life, and kept on hysterically crying out, “Now everyone will believe us. This will prove that the Teesta has gone over the top of the embankment”. 
I told Kanu to take me to Jalpaiguri, so that I could be with Kamakshyada and other colleagues. I asked the gauge-readers to board the Jeep and together we started for Jalpaiguri, across the road bridge on the other side of the river. As we entered the town of Jalpaiguri, we found that the streets were all water-logged, - possibly inundated by the waters of the overflowing rivulet Karala , which meanders through the town and meets the Teesta finally. Further inside the town, the water-level went on steadily increasing. As we reached the Police Station at the center of the town, Kanu, our driver, declared that the car-engine would stall if we proceeded further towards the Executive Engineer’s Bungalow. I told him to drop me at the Police Station so that they could, if possible, go back home at Moinaguri. They left assuring me that they would not take any undue risk to reach their homes. I found a policeman talking over a phone. I snatched the receiver from him after disclosing my identity and managed to connect Kamakshyada. He asked me to come to his place immediately. I was in no shape to make the half a mile journey to his residence alone. I was then running a high temperature and told him I could not come to his place. He told me to stick to the Police Station, where he would send some men to fetch me. I found an empty table, climbed up and lay down on the table. A few minutes later, the lights of the township went out. I was not also able to use the telephone thereafter as apparently, all the telephone lines too, went dead. 
I had lost all sense of time lying on the table, when someone shook me up awake and urged me to come down. I found it was two of our office-clerks, who had been sent down to fetch me from the Police Station. We waded through the waist- deep rapids then flowing through the town and after about 20 minutes reached Kamakshyada’s house. I was terribly excited and told him what I had been through and that the Teesta waters had overtopped the Domohani embankments. He said the Jalpaiguri embankments had also been likewise overtopped and told me to take rest and not to think about what has happened. I lay down on a bed and woke up in the morning only to hear someone weeping. It was Kamakshyada. He was looking out of the windows of his first floor and was watching helplessly carcasses of animals, trees and debris floating by. By then fifty five people from the Colony of the Irrigation Department’s Division Office had taken shelter in the first floor of Kamakshyada’s house, the ground floor having already gone under water. The water available in the overhead tanks of the house was insufficient for the people who had taken shelter. This was therefore required to be saved for drinking purposes only. The water level outside kept on rising till about 11 AM and at 4PM, this receded only by a couple of inches. It was evident we were all going to face serious crisis if the water level did not recede faster. 

It was 6th of October, 1968, 3 PM, when help arrived. Mr, Kutty, the Executive Engineer from Siliguri Division, arrived with his men, water, rice and other essentials wading through near waist-deep water and sludge. To us he seemed like God. He assured that all help will be available from his men and we were not to worry any more. 

Yes, we got a fresh lease of life but the townsfolk had by then suffered irreparable and inconsolable loss. Their sufferings would continue for many more months and for some, for many more years. After a few days I was able to reach my residential quarters, pack up a few things and leave for Kolkata, where my parents were anxiously waiting for me to come back home. 

Epilogue:

The Domohani Gauge-register, that was saved, was unfortunately not available after the flood. My colleague Dipankar Chakraborty, who retired as the Chief Engineer of the Irrigation Department of the West Bengal Government, tells me he did not see this after he was called back from leave and took over charge of the Moinaguri Sub-division again. He says all documents in his office were destroyed by the flood water.

Kamakshyada, my Executive Engineer, is no more. What he told me from his experience that the Teesta embankment would be breached only if the river water flowed over the top, proved to be true. 

I do not know if Mr. Adhikary, the braveheart, is still alive. The official records of the river-water levels at the Domohani gauge station will not be available any more to prove him right. 

(Acknowledgements:
Dipankar Chakraborty, Chief Engineer (Retired), Irrigation Department of the West Bengal Government
*Flash floods in India- Pritam Singh, A. S. Ramanathan and V. G. Ghanekar)

— 6 months ago

The Baya, Weaver Bird. Spotted in Gurgaon

— 8 months ago with 1 note
#Baya  #Weaver Bird  #Gurgaon