Unexpected flashes of brilliant blue

An old picture from an old trip. A calm day, a duck gliding over the water at Karanji Lake, Mysore. I was watching it, feeling relaxed. I often find photographing birds very soothing, and so I took a couple of shots. It was through the camera that I saw the duck flap its wings in preparation for a dive, and with it, an unexpected flash of blue. I clicked in time to catch it, and then stared at the picture I’d captured, sure I’d been mistaken. But then I turned and saw the duck, and yes, under that white and grey was a brilliant blue. It was such a cheerful, unexpected blue that it brightened up my day. And this time, when the duck folded back its wings, a band of blue remained visible, making me wonder whether the blue had been there earlier, too, and whether I’d just missed …

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Childhood memories, cities that change

I spent the happiest part of my childhood in Patna. No, that’s not a typo. My father was posted there, and I lived there from 1962 to 1966 in a large Govt. bungalow spread over several acres. The bungalow was an old British style one, with a pantry and coal-house and large rooms and place for dancing and fireplaces and mantels and curved staircases. There was this huge banyan tree whose roots I would swing on. I distinctly remember three huge Dussheri mango trees, fourteen guava trees, lots of red silk cotton trees, sapota trees, bel trees, and many others. I would carry a cushion to my favorite guava tree, climb the tree, and sit comfortably and read my Enid Blyton. In front of the house was a lawn, its air fragrant with jasmines and roses. A sand heap, left over after some construction, was an excellent playing ground. We …

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The flower that predicts

I’ve been snapping those small flowers on the roadside that one normally doesn’t notice, but which sometimes just brighten up the day, sort of feisty flowers that hold their head high above boring dried grass and nods at me when I am walking past. Some days ago, I saw a flower that reminded me of my school days, when this particular flower was much sought after while we waited for the school bus. We called it the “he loves me, he loves me not” flower. We would scour the grass and find one, and even squabble about who would get a turn at “using” it. Whoever finally got the flower would pluck off the petals one by one, chanting something like, “he loves me”, “he loves me not”, “he loves me”, “he loves me not” till all the petals were plucked off and the last statement uttered was deemed true. …

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A hot day, buttermilk, and the satisfied discards of the litter-ati

So, right in front of our car is a bus. And somewhere, way ahead, is a closed railway gate. It’s a hot day. The bus is a long-distance bus, but not of the luxury sort. The situation presents a business opportunity. Sure enough, along comes a man with a cloth bag. There are plastic straws in a plastic pouch in his shirt pocket. His bag is full of plastic pouches with buttermilk and he takes out a couple of pouches and waves them out to the passengers in the bus. Hands wave back at him. Business is brisk. Dozens of packets are sold. Some passengers even get down to buy them. The vendor walks away. And then the plastic packets start flying out of the window, sucked empty. Straws, too. They are thrown by the persons inside the bus, who do not even bother to check if anyone is passing …

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From gobbling paper books to byting ebooks

I’ve always loved books. Always read a lot through libraries, and bought a lot of books. As my father was often transferred, this sometimes ended up in a race where I would buy books and my mother would persuade me to give them away, and many of my favorite purchases (huge piles of comics, lots of other stuff including Agatha Christies, Perry Mason and Chase) would vanish between the times I would go to hostel and return for vacations at a new location where my father had next got transferred. Later, when I moved away from parental packing and disposal techniques, my collection became unwieldy enough for me to offer books free to friends and neighbors. But the overall trend has always been upwards. Last year, I moved house. As I dusted and packed shelf after shelf of books, and later dusted and unpacked them, I had to admit to …

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An excellent trip to Mysore Zoo

I’ve seen zoos when I was a kid, and also when I was taking my son around. Usually I find them somewhat interesting for the first hour or so, after which my focus shifts to finding the way out. Animals don’t always pose well enough, the enclosures smell, the write-ups are faded and unreadable, and often describing a different animal from the one in the enclosure. I therefore assumed that visiting zoos as an adult would be quite foolish. Then someone told me that Mysore zoo is the best in India, and I thought, here I am, in Mysore, let me give it a try. I was surprised at how enjoyable the trip was. I found the zoo well-planned and clean, the explanations outside the enclosure informative and written in an interesting way, and the entire path through the zoo clearly marked. For example, I saw a sign that explained …

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Monkeys and writing speculative fiction for persons outside India

I’ve not lived outside India and so I usually base any fiction I write in India (unless I am placing it on some fantasy world or a planet where I am as experienced as the reader). One tricky part of writing fiction based in India for readers outside India is to describe the surroundings here correctly without launching off into elaborate and stilted explanations, and yet with enough detail for non-Indians to feel comfortable about the world–to feel they can see, hear, smell and believe it. Writers often talk of the challenge of “writing the other”–writing assuming a culture/ race/ setting they do not belong to, in ways that are authentic enough to be accepted by persons of that culture/ race/ setting(and not sound condescending/ insensitive/ over-exotic etc.) It is quite as challenging to be part of a different culture and write about it in ways that are authentic and …

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Morning greetings from spotted owlets

In Mysore, there’s a tree I pass on my morning walks, and it is a tired-looking gnarled tree with a rather dark and big tree hollow. I have found a pair of spotted owlets on the dried branches. They stare down at me with their wise eyes. It’s a great way to start a day. I first spotted them some days ago. I stopped and watched them for a while, and they looked back solemnly. Fellow morning walkers saw I was staring at a tree and they stopped too, and peered and spotted the owlets. For some time after that, everyone was just watching them, either silently or discussing owls and other birds they had seen, and the presence of the owlets united us all in our admiration. Then others walked away, and so did I. But I stop near that tree often now, hoping to see the owls. If …

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Litter, litter everywhere

There are many awareness campaigns around us on waste management and waste segregation, because our cities seem to be bursting with all sorts of jumbled and unnecessary waste. Alert persons could have segregated it, composted off the wet waste, done appropriate recycling of dry waste to the extent possible, and many concerned citizens and activists are busy explaining which sort of waste should go in which dustbin. Segregating waste means being aware of the consequences of piled up mixed waste. It assumes a basic degree of civic sense and concern for fellow human beings, and a sense of responsibility and willingness to work. Me, I think we still haven’t got to step 1, that is, making people assume the responsibility of disposing waste properly. I’m talking of littering. I’ve seen people throw wrappers out of cars and buses, I’ve seen them throw plates of prasadam in front of temples, I’ve …

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Tree nests

A few days ago, I spotted some tree nests during my morning walk. They looked unusual, so I stood around for a while, hoping to see some birds descend and start feeding their young ones. No luck. I peered at the nest, hoping to see the opening through which the bird inside would be fed by a hard-working parent, but I couldn’t spot any opening either. I finally did what anyone with a mobile does nowadays–snapped a few pictures. Back at home, I wondered how to figure out which bird makes such nests. I tried surfing for bird nests; again, no luck. Finally, I posted the pictures on Facebook and was told that they were the nests of ants 🙁 I must admit to an initial disbelief. These nests were big, and on trees, and I’d never thought ants would climb up trees and make such (as a proportion of …

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