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Sunday, November 30, 2008

What we now learn

The irony of what range of information was avaialble, has only just begun to come to light.

It now turns out that there were more than enough warnings that an attack by means of a sea approach was imminent.And that information was available for all to see.

In August, the first warning that the Lashkar E- Toiba was training men for a sea attack.

And then , some more...

Most recently, on the 18th of November, a clear document defining the high probability of an attack by sea...

And yet...
What happened? The whole world watched in disbelief and horror as the terrorists continued their maddened rampage, shooting and killling mercilessly...

And today, the Home Minister of India resigned.

Is that going to be it?

Or will the coming elections change things around?

Completely/marginally/not at all???

Only time will tell......

Saturday, November 29, 2008

And then there was silence....

60 hours, 183 dead, and over 300 injured. The visible evidence iof what has raged in Mumbai.
But what of that which is not visible, things that will remain under the surface and continue to smoulder...un-observed.

Until a tiny spark will light up the fire, once more, perhaps?
Many questions raised, some answers provided.

But the main one, as yet unanswered -How were 12 terrorists able to hold the whole of Mumbai to ransom, and where did all the ammunition come in from?

Someone....somewhere will have to provide these answers..

Sooner, rather than later

Friday, November 28, 2008

Terror in Mumbai-26th Nov 08....onwards

54 hours into the stand-off, and there is still no sign of the situation coming to an end.

And this, while the whole world watches in shock, horror and disbelief.

Reality TV like no-one really wants to see.

Yet one is drawn to it, just as a moth is drawn towards the light...

For how can you not watch, when it is there??
In all it's bitterly stark and grim format..

Maj Gen JK Dutt, Director Gen of the NSG has just gone into the Taj, and we can only hope that this will be the last battle, one that will finally bring things to a close..

Yet, the thought that is paramount, at what cost??

Over 130 lives lost, scores injured, and the two major landmarks of Mumbai, the Oberoi Trident and the Taj brought to an unrecognisable condition..

Who stands to gain?

More importantly, are there really any 'Victors' in such a situation?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Muscat Expressway, a modern 'miracle' in road engineering

Muscat has a number of unique features, along with a great deal of natural beauty.

And what takes it up many notches further is the amount of thinking and planning that has gone into developing the city- into more modern, better and yet, uniquely Arabic in look and feel.
Truly combining the best of the East with the West..

Shown here is the Muscat Expressway, a modern miracle in road engineering, possibly the most expensive road constructed anywhere in the world. This road leading from Darsayt to Qurum has actually been cut through sheer mountains, and the quality of construction is un- paralled, and way better than many, many roads I have seen anywhere.

Add to it, the striking beauty of the view that runs just ahead of and parallel to this road, and you will realise why Muscat is what it is...

Beautiful, fascinating and fun to be in.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Surviving the Somali Pirates- MV Stolt valor- in Muscat....

Pirates have freed 22 hostages and Stolt Valor after a two-month ordeal off Somalia. The 25,269dwt chemical tanker, owned by Central Marine of Japan, managed by Fleet Management and time chartered by Stolt Tankers, was released on Sunday after a ransom was paid. Estimates of the amount paid varied widely. The pirates first demanded $6M but later cut that to $2.5M.

The ship’s master was Captain Prabhat Kumar Goyal along with 18 sailors from India, two Filipinos, a Russian and a Bangladeshi. Stolt Valor was on an Egypt/Mumbai route transporting 23,818 tonnes of oil products when it was taken in the Gulf of Aden off Yemen’s coast on 16th September. The pirates took it to Eyl on the northern Somalia coast. India's shipping minister TR Baalu said the case had been very complicated because while the ship-owner is Japanese, it was flagged in Hong Kong, the ‘charterer’ is Norwegian and the crew mainly Indian.

The Indian Embassy was the cynosure of all eyes late on Sunday night, as two buses pulled up, and in them were the crew of Stolt Valor. And the relief that was writ large on their faces was clear for everyone to see. Indian Ambassador to the Sultanate, Anil Wadhwa, whilst thanking all present on the occasion, mentioned that while Captain Prabhat Goyal, had been detained on board for some detailed questioning, and de-briefing, he was delighted to have the others present at the Embassy premises. Adding that this was a moment of sheer relief after all the tension of the last two months.

Speaking on the occasion were two of the crew members of the Stolt Valor.Mr Acharya thanked all the people and families of Fleet Management Ltd, as well as the owners, and said that while this was the first time an Indian ship had been the victim of piracy, he hoped that “each one of us should learn a lesson that no civilized person should exhibit such inhumanity to mankind. “

Mr Ulhas Krishnan, Second Mate said that in the last two months these were the first English or Hindi words that he was uttering and feeling a sheer sense of relief in doing so. Adding that during the entire period of two months, they were under constant threat from their captors, who would speak only in Somali. Piracy along the Somali coast was increasing daily, and this was despite the presence of Combined Task Force 150 in the Maritime Security Patrol Area – (MSPA).

In an Exclusive chat with me, Mr Krishnan detailed exactly how the hijacking of the ship took place. He was on duty on the deck that day, when he saw two boats approaching, from as far as three and a half miles way. Sensing immediately that something was extremely wrong, by the sheer speed at which the boats were approaching, he sent out a distress signal and a wireless SOS to Naval ships nearby but soon realized that they were helpless to deal with that particular situation, obviously never having faced it earlier.

The situation was compounded by the fact that the speed of his ship was at 15 knots, while both these boats were easily capable of doing 50 knots. Further, they had absolutely no weapons on board the Stolt Valor, whilst these had armed gunmen. They were all put into the hold of the ship and stayed there till they were finally released. In fact, even if one of them wanted to use the toilets, the hijackers insisted on keeping the door open.

Food had to be strictly rationed, and while they originally had two months stock on board, the Somali hijackers soon dug into that too. Until the sheer need for rationing was urgently communicated to them and they finally started using their own rations.

How the Ransom was paid-This is truly the stuff that thrillers are made of, and one that would give a Hindi film hero, a run for his money.
The Captain and Ulhas were told that there would be particular signal for dropping the ransom. A boat would make a 100 metres wide circle on the left side and parachute would then drop off the money. The Somalis and he would then collect the ransom after which a smoke signal was to be sent out by Ulhas. However, even the best laid plans plans sometimes have a way of coming apart and this is what almost happened...

The plane dropped off the chute and the boat was racing towards the chute. Suddenly, Ulhas got an urgent wireless SOS call from the Captain, asking him to immediately turn 180 degrees, as the bag was separated from the chute!

Ulhas did exactly that, and a blue coloured bag carrying all the ransom money was safely pulled up on board!And he saw, the ransom money, with his own eyes in US$. Money that was counted and distributed on that boat to each of the hijackers. What is most exciting is the fact that Ulhas knows exactly he amount of money that has been paid out, but is not at liberty to divulge. With that, the agony and torment of all the sailors on board came to an end.
They were told that they were now free... to.. go...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Clouds in the sky

Have you ever wondered?

What it is really like be be up,up,up in the clouds?
Literally,as well as figuratively?

No need to....any I show you visuals of scenes at over 30,000 feet in the air...Right in the midst of the clouds...

Stratus,Nimbus,Cumulus,whatever be their name-there's a tremendous feeling of freedom,as well as of islation,when you are so close to them.

And yes, a sense of awe and wonder too---

Define this feeling for yourselves.For sometimes,mere words are not enough.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Adieu- Kamlesh Ahuja

This has been a season for sad, sad news. For people that we've really cared for.

In March, just before Holi, we lost our Grand Bhuaji, Surinder, who had been suffering from cancer.
More recently, our friend Amrita's father, Nigam Uncle.

Today, Kamlesh Ahuja Aunty. 69 years old. To Cancer.Kamlesh Ahuja- Wife to Dharam Bir Ahuja, mother to Deepika , Kanika and Vishwavir..
Someone I've known since I was 16 years old.Our closest neighbours in Chanakyapuri, and dear friends of my parents, particularly my mother's.

Kamlesh Ahuja- Who loved her garden, eating sweets, Bridge, Rummy, movies, friends, laughter and garden parties.
Her children, their friends, and their friend's friends...

There are times when words fail one. Aunty, for me, this is one of those times...
We will all miss you..

But more than that, we will miss what you stood for...a true belief that children will do their best if allowed to 'flower' in their own individual ways.For even siblings can be different.And we see you in all the three that you gave birth to- Depika, Kanika and Tunnu.

Forever and ever...

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Safe Harbour- An excerpt

It was a wonderful drive, the route taking them through a specially constructed new road. Shangrila’s Bar Al Jissah Hotel was located almost at “land’s end,” and though it was dark right now, they could well imagine the view during the daytime. As it was, both Aafreen and Mantej looked awestruck as they drove through roads that looked like they’d been cut right out of the mountains!

As Sanjit turned into the resort, both of them gasped. Brilliantly lit up, like a jewel rising out of the sea, it was an architectural masterpiece and one that any country would be proud of.

Parking the car, they entered, looking around at the enormous hall, with its enchanting Arabic décor. Trishala enquired, “Would you both like to have drinks before or after dinner?” laughingly adding, “Or both?”

Mantej replied, “I think I speak for all of us. Before.”

Moving inside, they took in the plush and elegant surroundings. The ambience was soothing, yet stirring. The brightly covered tents, serving barbequed meat with its appetizing aroma, were uniquely Arabic. Topping their list of favourites, were the two famous Arabic sandwiches, “Shawarma,” and “Mishkak.” Somewhat similar to the Indian Kathi Kebabs, they were delicious. The “Sheesh Tawook,” a Lebanese delicacy, something like Chicken tikkas, was served with
“Khubz” a variety of Arabic bread.

Also popular with visitors, was “Shisha” (Hookah or the Hubble bubble pipe) that all the guests could try out. Topping the truly Arabic atmosphere was the background music. Particularly, Amr Diab’s “Habibi,” a song that had become a universal hit, spawning numerous clones in its wake...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Neha- One for you

This will really surprise you Neha, as I intend it to ...
After our very interesting chat yesterday, this is what I wanted to write-

I remember, it was the just other day that you were born, and I saw you looking at me- with those lovely, bright eyes. It was as if you were saying, "I know you Ma."And even though I was so tired and so exahausted after having just delivered you-I felt so happy....

I really find it difficult to imagine how a child who had /has everything done, cooked, bought for her till yesterday, (or so it seems)is now managing so well on her own.......

When you tell me that you cooked chicken and rice, or keema, or daal, or a chicken Biryani, I cant help but marvel...

You know, Neha, at your age, I didn't know more than how to make a cup of tea/coffee for myself!And possibly on the very rare occasion, when I just "had to"- a sandwich.

Neha, it really makes me feel very proud as a mother.
And both of us, as parents..... that you're able to handle your life ...on your own.

Now what I want you to do is also to look after your health.Particuarly, as it's now going to be winter in the UK. Always, carry your coat, and wear socks.And nothing cold to drink.

With lots and lots of love

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Bond Phenomena- Quantum Of Solace

James Bond, the most exciting Spy in fiction, and one from whom numerous 'clones' have been spawned. Some successful, and some not so...Over the years, we have seen Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan,and now the 'ever so fit' Daniel Craig.Each one of them have brought in a new dimension to the character. And added some interesting personal touches as well.

Quantum of Solace takes straight off from where Casino Royale left off.....

Betrayed by Vesper, the only woman Bond ever really loved, he fights the urge to make his mission personal. Dominic Greene is the major player, and one whom Bond has to tackle, and in the process he meets the new Bond Girl, well played by Olga Kurylenko.What follows is fast and furious, guaranteeing a pure adrenalin rush- where the viewer is sucked right into the film... and how...

Haiti, Italy, and London are all explored with a thoroughness and astonishing use of camera/ camera angles/ And the technical wizadry incorporated in the film far exceeds anything one could have possibly imagined.

One more Bond movie, and a world world fever pitched excitement accompanying it...and with this one realizes that some legends are here to stay forever...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rebirth-Myth or reality

The Sanskrit word for rebirth or reincarnation is 'punarjanam' and 'samsara' (the round of births and deaths or transmigration of the soul). Researchers have found that memories of past lives are most active during childhood, mainly between the ages of three and five.

I will now recount a short story-One little boy of three was taken by his mother to Pantaloons Calcutta,for the first time, to buy some new clothes.As they came upon the kids section,and the mother asked for trousers with suspenders, the little boy turned towards her and said- "Yeah, I will take them,as I always wear these types of trousers.''

But the mother knew that wasn't the case, as she had never bought them for the child earlier.

So she asked him when-and his response was "When I lived in Bangalore, and I was also wearing them the day I died."Despite being shaken by the answer, the mother persisted with her qns. and soon had the name of the young man,who had died, as detailed by her little boy...

A few weeks and some phone calls later and it was proved- that a young man of abt. 26 had been killed in a headlong collision with a truck in Bangalore, the day before her son was born.And he always wore jeans/trousers with suspenders.

And her son loved playing with cars and bikes to the point of being obsessed.....In fact, he still does.

This story- is reproduced exactly as this young woman told me. Make of it what you will....

One thing is certain, however, as the Bhagavad Gita says: "Jatasya hi dhruvo mrityuh—for one who is born, death is certain.'

Perhaps what Manu wrote in Manusmriti could serve as the definitive answer: he who possesses true insight (into the nature of the world) is not fettered by his deeds, but he who is destitute of that insight is drawn into the circle of births and deaths."

Monday, November 3, 2008

In Memorium -Nigam Uncle

Nigam Uncle passed away this evening at 1830 hrs IST...

Was it unexpected? Who can really tell?

Did he know that the end was so near? Possibly....

For Uncle knew that the surgery had numerous 'potential' hazards, yet he chose to go ahead.

<strong>With that indomitable fighting spirit that he had...all his life, and even in death.
Uncle, we will always, always-remember you as a great human being.

One who everyone, young and old alike could learn so much from- scrabble, games, general knowledge, maths, English literature..... the list could go on and on.

That 'spark' of mischief, that particular look in your eyes, that hearty laugh, that love for animals, birds and humans....

And the depth of wisdom that you chose to share with all of us freely and frankly..

Aunty, Amrita, Sandeep, Sonu, Juju, Ajit, Meenakshi and words can express what we feel...Yet this is my personal attempt to capture a miniscule part of what Uncle epitomised.

I miss you Uncle, and it's not even been one evening.....

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An Evening walk

The key to 'fitness' is consistent and regular activity - For weight loss, weight maintenance or just to feel good...

As to what form that activity takes, is something that every individual must decide for himself/herself. Having tried numerous forms of working out when I was younger- Aerobics,( fun, but only for a while)Yoga,( I find it difficult to sit on the ground beyond a point)going to the gym -(lonely if you do it alone, and a waste of time if you have people walking up to chat between their routine, apart from the smell of sweat that pervades the entire area!)

So I finally arrived at what I've been doing for the last many years- an evening walk. And that is a particular time of the day that I really look forward to.Whether I walk alone or in company, I don't let up the pace,and keep on at it- until the mandatory 45- 60 mins are over.

Looking around at the scenery,(ideally the beach, or sometimes our walking track) the other people walking at the same time, and the feeling of being in 'steady motion,'breathing in fresh air, and feeling the breeze on my face and hair,is something that I seriously miss if I don't walk for even one day....

And at the end of my walk, I head home -satisfied. The day's exercise routine is over, and any possible indulgence( particularly if it's chocolate based)is now a distinct possibility...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Art - representing culture and society at it's best...

"A society which enjoys art and culture, is an evolved society". Or something pretty close to these words is what I had heard when I was a child.
And understood the importance of thtose words even at that age.As I clearly identified with those thoughts.

Since then, I have always marveled at the magic that the 'artist's' fingers can create. On a blank canvas. Which then comes alive.

The magic that can "bring to life", flowers, trees, gardens, mountains, streams, deserts, horses,and even humans....

Truly God's gift to some people, and one that makes countless others really happy.Simply by allowing them the 'privilege' of viewing such beautiful works of art- their creations

'Viva la' artists, and may their tribe forever increase....