Friday, 28 October 2016

Photographing Insects

The Rainbow Shield Bug or the Jewelled Bug is a beautiful critter!

Just this month, when I visited the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary with high hopes of catching the winged birds in flight, I was disappointed! Very few birds had turned up so the Park was more or less deserted,  two of my brothers and I being the first visitors that day. To make matters worse was that we thought the park was closed since there was a lock hanging from the gate. A day of disappointment however turned into a luckier day when one of the Park officers turned up yawning and then let us in, that too without any fees since it was the seventh of October, the last day of the Wildlife Week!

Where there are flowers, there will be Wasps of all kinds!

But then not all wasps like flowers, some like windshields of cars

Of course my two brothers and I were the first to step into the park and the only wildlife we saw were a few Ox that seemed more afraid of us. However we were determined not to be disappointed and so decided to look for anything that would be interesting to photograph. And then my eyes were drawn to a few dragonflies flitting in the air, and my oh my, were they not simply amazing! I had stuck on a 55-250 mm lens on to my camera, so that was it, I could not get too close of the dragonflies, but then, I guess I was able to take quite a few good shots! I guess we were so drawn to the dragonflies that we were not even bothered by the absence of migratory birds in the park.

This butterfly was caught napping on the door of a car

It was after I had reviewed the snaps of the dragonflies that I  was reminded of the large number of photographs I had taken of insects over the years,  and sure when I looked at them, I decided that I would put them on my blog. While looking at some of the exotic bugs, I learned that the Death’s Head Hawkmoth called so because it bears on its thorax a stunning likeness of the human skull. There is a superstitious myth associated with this species of the moth which states that it brings bad luck, so much so that an Aristocrat in England went mad after two such moths were discovered in his chamber.
The Death's Head Hawkmoth is a fierce looking insect indeed!

While no doubt insects are small and you require specialised lenses and a tripod to photograph them, you might manage perfectly well with an 18-55 mm zoom lens, or even a 55-250 mm zoom lens. I guess all it requires is a steady hand, the correct lighting, and, I guess luck! In many cases when you are shooting in the wild, and not in the laboratory, you might not have many options! Macro-photography is very interesting indeed, and when you have a well-focussed snap of a critter with those glaring eyes, then sure enough, you get a thrill. It might also be a good idea to show someone one of your favourite critter snaps only to hear her gasp with fear!
This is a snap of a spider that has gorged itself on a fly

Thus it was while going through some of my old snaps of critters and researching them that I came across one that is called Jewel Bug, or even Rainbow Shield Bug. It is one of the most colourful insects that I have ever photographed, coming next to the Hawkmoth. That reminds me about how I was able to get a photograph of the Hawkmoth. I was in school that day, and while passing through the corridor I came across a strange insect stuck to an essay that had been written by a student of mine. Moving closer, I was both repulsed and fascinated by this critter. The colours on its wings were so attractive that I went as close to it as I could dare and then took a few snaps with my mobile phone.
This is a Hawkmoth that is more beautiful than its cousin the Death's Head Hawkmoth.

There seems to be so much more about photographing insects, because they can be found everywhere. You really don’t need to go to a National Park and yes they might be found in your own backyard if not your living room!  
The Spider is feeding on a fly. The red eyes belong to the fly.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Evans Tries An O-Level is about the need for professional detachment

Evans Tries An O-Level describes the need for professionals, especially prison officials to develop a culture of professional detachment especially while handling prisoners. While we condemn crime, we sometimes develop sympathy for the criminal. This is exactly what happened with Stepehens, Jackson, and the Governor of H.M. Prison Oxford. Evans was a shrewd judge of human character, and he was able to exploit this sympathy in the prison officers to make good his escape from the prison. Emotional attachment, or a tendency to sympathise with prisoners can only develop a weakness that would make the official vulnerable to manipulation by the prisoner, and at times dereliction of duty!
When Jackson and Stephens visit Evans on the day of the examination, they converse in a manner that shows excess familiarity, a closeness that borders on intimacy that is unprofessional. Evans greets his visitors with cheerfulness (which doesn't have to be reciprocated) and says, "Morning", Mr Jackson. this is indeed an honour." The prisoner and the prison officers then enter into a banter which is not only unprofessional, but also borders on flippancy. 
'Buried somewhere in Jackson, was a tiny core of compassion; and Evans knew it.'-that is the crux of the whole topic. Jackson had a feeling of compassion for Evans, and the latter knew about it. This sympathy or softness towards the prisoner forced Jackson to let Evans continue wearing his bobble hat. If Jackson had insisted that Evans took off his hat, then the secret would have been revealed, the closely chopped hair underneath the bobble hat would have aroused Jackson's suspicions. Later when Jackson puts in his final appearance before the commencement of the exam, he says to Evans, "Behave yourself, laddy!" Evans turns and nods, as if he is going to obey his prison officer's . A degree of familiarity between the prisoner and  his prison officer does not guarantee that the prisoner will not try to escape! Just before he leaves, Jackson says to Evans, "Good luck, old son" knowing little about the latter's intention to escape. Would Jackson have wished Evans success in escaping if he had known about his motive behind appearing for the exam in German? It is ironical in its implications!
Familiarity and compassion for prisoners can lull a prison official into a sense of complacency and carelessness in matters relating to the secure custody of a prisoner. The Governor of H.M. Prison, Oxford becomes a good for a giggle gullible governor because he allowed his familiarity and sympathy for Evans to weaken his alertness. When he catches up with Evans in his hotel room, the Governor is filled with a sense of accomplishment and he pities Evans for having made a slip! The conversation which turns into a friendly banter, diverts the Governor's mind away from the possibility that Evans might still have a trump card up his sleeve. Later while a prison officer silently handcuffs the 'recaptured Evans,' the Governor calls out to him, "See you soon, Evans." It was almost as if the Governor were saying farewell to an old friend after a cocktail party.' Evans makes good his escape a few moments after leaving the Governor. The Governor had been too comfortable, complacent, and confident that Evans had been 'recaptured' - this was all because his sympathy had dulled his alertness. The take away after reading 'Evans Tries An O-Level' by Colin Dexter is that one should maintain a professional distance with prisoners lest they should exploit your emotional vulnerability!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Memories of Childhood, the lesson, describes Cultural Chauvinism as a scourge

The Lesson, Memories of Childhood, found in the grade twelve CBSE textbook for English describes how cultural chauvinism as experienced by Zitkala - Sa and felt by Bama during their childhood forced them to rebel against the injustice of exploitation. Zitkala-Sa experienced discrimination on the basis of culture, colour, and language when she was forcibly taken away from her family and put into a school run according to the Western Culture  Gertrude Simmons Bonnin was born in 1876 - she was put into the Carlisle Indian School where she was forced to adopt a Western culture and thus forego her native Indian culture. She was taught that the western culture and language were better than her native Indian culture. Her experience in the Carlisle Indian School was akin to a process of 'brainwashing, radicalization' or even 'indoctrination,' processes that involved the stripping away of previous memories and starting anew. The process of, 'unlearning' her native Indian culture, however, did not work well because it ensured that Zitkala-Sa became a rebel who fought for the justice of native Indians living in America.
The process of learning the western culture at the Carlisle Indian school was a humiliating and painful experience for Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. The first day at the school was a veritable culture shock for her. The loud sound of the bell came, 'crashing' into their sensitive ears, the shoes of other students had an 'annoying clatter', added to 'the constant clash of harsh noises'. It is important to note how the author makes use of onomatopoeic words to describe the disruption, confusion and pain that she was going to suffer from as a result of being literally stripped of her native Indian culture. She felt as if the bedlam  was something 'within which I was securely tied. And though my spirit tore itself in struggling for its lost freedom, all was useless.' Zitkala-Sa felt trapped and helpless on the first day in school. 
During the following days Zitkala-Sa would be steadily stripped of her dignity and and freedom as a native American who was living in the land of her forefathers. Her hair was forcibly cut which was a travesty, for native Indians since the cutting of hair symbolised cowardice, subservience, and grief. Her traditional clothes,  her gowns were taken away and instead, she was made to wear skirts. Her moccasins were taken away and replaced with shoes that squeaked. They did not even let her keep her blanket! What made everything worse for Zitkala-Sa was that her consent was not deemed necessary. Her mother was not there to comfort her and the way she was being 'processed' was as if she 'was only one of the many little animals driven by a herder.' This is how she felt about Cultural Chauvinism, the way an alien culture was being imposed on her forcefully as if she did not have the right to say 'No!'
Bama, in India, felt the pain of being a Tamil Dalit.  As a child, she saw one of her community elders bowing low in subservience to a man who was much younger to him. The older man was holding a packet of vadais by the string so that his hands would not come into contact with the food. Bama felt like laughing at the scene because it was simply absurd-the older man was bowing to a younger man, his holding the packet by the string. Bama's desire to laugh at the incident however swiftly changes into a rankling anger and a fury about how the Dalits, members of  a marginalised community were being exploited my Upper Caste members of the mainstream community. In her own words, 'I felt so provoked and angry that I wanted to touch those wretched vadais myself.'
Another incident narrated to Bama by her brother was about how one day her brother who had come home from university and was stopped by one of the landlord's men. He was going to the library in the neighbouring village to borrow some books.The man asked him who he was, what his name was. When Annan told him his name, the other man who was with the first man asked, "Thambi, on which street do you live?" The point of asking the second question was that the man wanted to know the Caste to which Bama's brother belonged! The village was divided, the upper caste members lived on one side of the street, wile the lower caste members lived on the other side of the street. One can see how neatly the two communities were divided. 
It became clear to Bama that her community was not given any 'honour or dignity or respect' by the other community. In fact members from her community were expected to run errands and do petty jobs for free for the other community members because it was expected from them. The community members to which Bama belonged were supposed to be subservient, and passive, servile and humble; obedient and ready to take orders from members of the upper caste community ever if the one who was doing the ordering was half the age of the one being ordered. To add further insult to the injury of belonging to a lower caste community was the expectation that all this service was free, and nothing would be paid for doing errands!
In both the accounts however, education is the common tool that leads to the emancipation of the two women from the scourge of Cultural Chauvinism. Education however is not only a  tool that leads to emancipation, it is in fact also, a weapon that both Zitkala-Sa and Bama used to fight cultural, social and religious dogma. Both of the women used education to fight the 'evils of oppression', Cultural Chauvinism, and manner in which the society is divided on the basis of caste, culture, colour and creed. Zitkala-Sa would write numerous articles that criticised the Carlisle Indian school, and the absurdity of Cultural Chauvinism as relfected in the way the native Indians were being treated by the white settlers in America. Bama too would write an autobiography, a novel, and a collection of  short stories that expose the absurdity of casteism in India - the way the Dalit are being treated by the upper caste community members in India.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Crossing Over Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Crossing Over Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: I remember the date, the seventh of October, 2016, and my brother and I were the first to step inside the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary. It was about 7:30 a.m. and this was my first photograph of that day. The photograph captures two Asian Antelopes crossing the path ahead of me. The light was low and there was a slight mist. The effect of the lighting is evocative enough which is why I have titled the snap, 'Crossing Over.'

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Lovely Omelettes, and Bhatta Falls at Mussoorie

Chilling out on Mall Road

Day 1: Drive to Mussoorie from Gurgaon via Delhi, Ghaziabad, Muzzafarnagar,Saharanpur,Roorkey Chutmalpur,and Dehradoon, check at  hotel, park vehicles at the parking lot since the hotel does not have enough space-Clark Hotel.

Mall Road, perfect place to grab hold of a bowl of Maggi!

It is important for visitors to book their hotels before hand. Web portals like Go Ibibo, offer this facility. After picking relatives from Ghaziabad, we started at seven in the morning and cover the 250+ kilometres to Mussoorie in seven hours. Frequent bottlenecks and jams make it a stop and go journey necessitating stopping for a cup of tea. You might also want to stop a t Dehradun to buy an extra bottle of water, or perhaps replenish your stock of chips. Yes, playing some nice and latest numbers on the car deck would be a boon since it makes the trip a little bit more interesting and fun.
Day 2: Stroll on the Mall, window shop, local sightseeing includes visit to one of the waterfalls, GunHill (We cut off a visit to Company Garden, the Wax Museum because we have three senior citizens with us).

The Central Methodist Church

A walk on the Mall Road will turn up many surprises for the visitor each time one takes a stroll. The best time for me  is to take a walk alone in the morning before the others start to stir out of their beds! Life starts a bit late in the mornings, and goes on late into the night. The Central Methodist Church, is a must visit site for everyone on Mall Road. People often ignore stepping inside the compound because of the iron doors that appear to be locked but are not. It is amazing to know that the church was built in 1885 by the Revd. Dennis Osborne, although the trust had been formed in 1882. The earthquake of 1905 left its impact on the building as a few cracks became evident and four clocks had become loose and had to be removed. I, unfortunately was not able to gain access into the inside of the church building itself though I would have loved to see the interior, perhaps I will do so in my next visit.

Gun Emplacement at Gunhill - is that a real gun? No, it looks like a drain pipe!

A visit to Gunhill is a must for those who have never travelled in a cable-car, and yes, for those who would like to go on a short but punishing 500 metres trek to a point that is said to command a vantage point over the rest of Mussoorie. While taking the punishing walk up the steep slope, I stopped to talk to a porter who was carrying some provisions for one of the food stalls on GunHill and he told me that the spot was at a height of seven thousand feet, a good thousand feet above the library crossing. I had taken a break from the family saying that wanted to take a short stroll, and instead decided to walk up to GunHill. Unfortunately since it was morning about a half past seven, the only people at the spot were a few stall holders who were preparing for the huge rush of visitors with hungry stomachs. Incidentally the only 'Gun' that could be seen was a poor replica that craved for some more imagination and creativity!

Special Milk to be enjoyed with a couple of Jalebis at Masoorie Sweet Shop

There is apparently a lot going on in Mussoorie and a lot to choose from. The itinerary for the second day had included a visit to Kempty Fall, about fifteen kilometres from Library. I was however not very comfortable and had misgivings about being able to return before four in the afternoon (a crucial time since the entry of vehicles into the Mall Road is not allowed after four) and instead suggested a visit to Bhatta Fall. Things were to happen just like I wanted. We exited from the Cinema Hall side and ran into the typical rush of vehicles coming from Dehradoon. Looking at the rush, we took a u-turn and instead decided to visit Bhatta Fall, a decision we did not regret since Bhatta Fall is relatively less crowded. Bhatta Fall is a wonderful place for families to spend together without the hustle and bustle of people jostling for a place in a pool that gets cramped as time passes.

One of the many water falls at Bhatta

Started in 1918 Lovely Omelettes is a must visit for the gastronomist specialising in varieties. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are important days for students, because students are served a variety of omelettes irrespective of whether they have money or not! There is always a huge crowd of people waiting for a chance to sit inside the cramped but cosy little shop for a chance to bite into the omelettes. We chose the Cheese Omelette, a large omelette with a cheese stuffing in the middle cut into neat little squares. The clientele include famous personalities, in fact we were told by the proprietor that the gentleman and family that had occupied the eatery just before us was an important minister in a state government.

Waiting for a chance to taste Lovely Omelettes

A time to get together on Mall Road

A fairy-tale waterfall at Bhatta Falls

A dip in the clear rills of the Bhatta Falls will revive youth in many!

Oops, look out, that guy on the top left corner is doing a stunt! The waters of the Bhatta Falls will make people do all sorts of stunts. Of course ensure that your cellphones are splash-proof, if not dust proof!

Day 3: Back to Gurgaon, checkout from hotel, collect vehicles from parking lot aim to leave by ten in the morning, target-avoid too many stops, drive continuously.

It was a short but eventful trip, and sure, exhaustion had certainly made its impact, especially because of the altitude and of course the steep slopes. A suggestion for those coming from he plains, 'Do not overdo it, take it easy on the first day acclimatise yourself.' We did start at a little before ten in the morning, but then took frequent stops, the first about fifteen kilometres from Mussoorie to take photographs of the whole gang but then just when had become warmed up and ready for our special poses, a group of Langurs turned up. A few of us were able to shut ourselves in our cars, but then the three elderly ladies were not fast enough. One of us entered the car that was attracting the attention of the Langurs, and drove off only to turn back and pick up the others when the  Langurs had lost interest. The next pit stop was to buy chewing gum since the girls were feeling a little discomforted by the twists and turns on the hairpin curves. Pit stops such as these are a necessity especially when you have small children and elderly people with you. We finally reached Ghaziabad at six in the evening. I finally decided to take a break at my brother in laws place in Ghaziabad itself and decided to continue on the 57 kilometre journey to Gurgaon the next morning at six.

A group snap on the way back 

You need to watch out for the Langoors that are found in abundance on the way. Please be careful, and don't leave your doors and windows open, or else, they will run away with your food! Don't tell me, I did not warn you.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Dragonflies, a Grasshopper and a Kestrel

The greatest thrill about taking up photography as a hobby lies in being able to capture things one does not see in everyday life. Added to all this is that once you have taken your snaps, you can sit back and re-live the moment! Without saying more, allow me to present before you some of the photographs that I enjoy re-visting from time to time. Do have a look at them and leave a comment in the comment section!

Just hope the viewer enjoyed looking at these snaps. Each of the snaps tells a story, a story about how precious nature is and the need to preserve wildlife because it is priceless. All of these snaps were taken at the Sultanpur Bird Sancutuary close to Gurgaon. When I visited the bird sanctuary today along with my brothers, I was disappointed to see that we were the only visitors at the park. Moreover, there were fewer birds this time. I guess something must have happened to drive them away. Development, construction of residential buildings, a competition between different species, Asian Antelopes competing with Cattle, local varieties vying for space with migratory birds, shrinking spaces, and perhaps even climate change are responsible for the disappearance of migratory birds at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary!

Kestrel about to feed on a Frog Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Kestrel about to feed on a Frog Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: I was curious as to why this Kestrel was not ready to leave the branch of the tree when I approached it. Later when I took a closer look at the snap, I realised that there was a dead frog close to it. The Kestrel was guarding its meal, therefore it did not want to leave the branch. I took this snap today when I visited the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary close to Gurgaon, Haryana. I used a 55-250 mm lens.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

How is Sci-Fi a precursor to the Future?

Image Courtesy Nishthaa Lekhi (an ex-student of mine )

An interesting discussion with faculty members of the eighth grade brought about the immense scope of the Science Fiction genre in today's world, especially because of the fact that most of what science fiction writers wrote (Ahead of their times) turned into reality after some time. 
A few science fiction writers who come to mind include, Jules Verne, H.G.Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C.Clark. Jules Verne was far ahead of his times when he wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. The very idea of underwater travel would become a reality with the invention of Diesel Electric Submarines in later years. The use of submarines as weapons would become a deadly reality with U-Boats sinking allied ships during the second world war.
H.G.Wells described time travel in his book, The Time Machine, and he described Space Travel in his book, War Of The Worlds.His book, The Invisible Man describes the possibility of invisibility.  These concepts might have appeared weird and outlandish to their reader at the time when the books were published, but then with the passage of time, they became a reality. Space travel became a reality with Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man to go into space, although not in a shell fired from a huge gun, but in a rocket. The concepts of time travel and the relativity were explored by Einstein much before people even began flying at the speed of sound. Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark were well ahead of their times when they explored the possibility.We have robots today that display a fair amount of usable Machine Intelligence, we live in a world of virtual reality, and we know what Augmented Reality is when we play games like Pokemon Go.
It is clear more often than not that Scientists cannot invent things that have not been dreamt. A Scientist who is a dreamer would be a great asset, however, the constraints of rationality and logic often curb flights of fantasy with the result that they often have to depend on what their poet friends have dreamt for them. The steam engine was not invented out of a drawing, rather it was first dreamt and then put on a drawing board.The structure of the Benzine molecule was inspired by a dream that Friedrich August Kekule saw of a snake seizing its own tail!
Today we seem to have accepted time travel as a strong possibility and are in the process of exploring inter dimensional travel. The randomness of Quantum Physics might, as such suggest the possibility of parallel dimensions existing at the same time. The possibility of the existence of parallel worlds would indeed presuppose the existence of an infinite number of possibilities and outcomes of catastrophic events that took place in the past. Take for example the outcome of Hitler winning the Second World War, or for that effect, the outcome of Sadashivrao winning the third battle of Panipat. Science fiction is an important genre of literature and it explores the immense possibilities of creativity which in might have in many cases, the ability to look into the future.
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle is one such book that is way ahead of its times. The book written in the early sixties describes the warping of space to leap forward in space. The characters, Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which travel from Earth to the planet Uriel, the third planet of the star Malak in the spiral nebula Messier 101.According to Mrs Whatsit, "We tesser. Or you might say, we wrinkle."
When Jayant V.Narliker, a well-known Astrophysicist describes how Professor Gaitonde managed to get knocked into a parallel dimension after being hit on the head, he is describing the possibility of making a transition to another world. The story, "The Adventure" an adaptation of a story by Jayant V. Narliker,  appearing in the NCERT English textbook Hornbill for grade eleven, explores the immense possibilities of making leaps through dimensions by warping space rather than travelling in a linear manner. Jayant suggests how "The lack of determinism in [the] quantum" world might help the traveller in space to make a transition from one world to another world by making a quantum leap like electrons do when they jump from one atom to another. What if this were to happen at a macro level, what if the spaceship was an electron with the space traveller inside it and what if the planet was the atom, would it not, therefore be possible for the space traveller to travel to a distant planet by making a quantum leap?

Narliker,Jayant: The Adventure.Hornbill, Textbook for Class XI (Core Course) 2011 P.60
L'Engle Madeleine.A Wrinkle In Time, New Delhi, Puffin, 2007

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Vine of Life Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

The Vine of Life Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: This is a picture of a typical frieze the underside of a wall and roof of one of the entrances to King Akbar's Tomb, at Sikandra in Agra, India. The lighting was really bad, but then I was able to take a decent enough snap.This frieze is obviously a restoration of the original piece of Mughul art. The intricate design depicts what appear to be bunches of grapes hanging from grape vines.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Morning Glory Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Morning Glory Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: The sight of these flowers grabbed my attention. These are probably the last blossoms of the season. Though the flowers were not in the best of their state, there seemed to be something appealing about them in their semi-withered state.