Apoorva Joshi

PhD candidate - Information and Media; Environmental Science and Policy @Michigan State University

Independent journalist -

Environment, Science, International

Vote by Special Ballot for Indian Citizens living abroad

Disclaimer: As an Indian citizen and an educated individual I understand the importance of voting in a democratic country that is currently under siege - being held hostage by corrupt officials on every level, in every department. I believe a Special Ballot vote will empower those of us who have the inclination but not the means to vote to contribute to India's holistic progress. It may not necessarily make a huge difference overnight, but give it time. The number of Indians living abroad is increasing every year and if the trend continues, the Special Ballot might someday prove to be a game changer. Personally, I believe it's more important to recognize our own individual responsibility in signing this petition rather than second guessing the system and going by "statistics". New Delhi stunned us this year by electing Arvind Kejriwal and although I may not necessarily agree with his methods, I believe he is proof that India WANTS change. We want to improve but we want to see someone else pick up the jhaadoo before us.

Why not cast aside that skepticism this one time and just believe? If not in the system, in yourself?

If you are an Indian Citizen living abroad and endorse a Special Ballot for those like yourself, so you can have a say in what happens, however small or big, this petition might be worth your attention.


Vote by Special Ballot for Indian Citizens living abroad Petition


Petition Background (Preamble):

Shri V.S. Sampath,
Chief Election Commissioner of India
Nirvachan Sadan, New Delhi

Dear Sir,

We the concerned citizens of India currently living abroad for work/study, with this letter we would like convey our modest concerns regarding the possibility of voting for Indian citizens living abroad.

Thanks to the the “Representation of the people (Amendment) Act – 2010” - which allows the eligible Non-Resident Indian (NRI) citizens to vote in India, However they have to be physically present in their respective constituency on Elections day to cast their vote.

As you are aware that there are millions of Indian citizens living abroad [out of which even if we assume about 20% would like to travel to India in day/week of general elections, The current flights/transport system would not be sufficient transport millions of passengers to India for General Elections. Also, it is a costly affair considering the travel charges and hence most of the citizens living abroad feel discouraged to utilize their vote.

Media statement in February 2011 by Honorable Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, mentioned as follows “that online voting and postal balloting would not be available now. It is up to the Election Commission to decide on these” [ref: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/article1155815.ece]

Hence, we request Election Commission to decide on the “Special Ballot Postal/Online Voting” options for the eligible Indian citizens residing in abroad at the earliest, which encourages the millions of Indian citizens to participate in the elections and also adds more value to our democratic setup.

Sir, also it is worth noting down here that the countries such as Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Philippines and the United Kingdom etc have already has “postal ballot” for their citizens abroad. Below are links for reference [which are available on public domain]



We are proud that ours is the largest democratic nation in the world; please extend the feasible voting option for the citizens of our great nation.

Pravasi Bharat

Copy to:
The President of India
The Prime Minister of India
The Leader of Opposition, Loksabha
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs


We, the undersigned, Request the Election Commission of India to introduce special ballot for the Indian Citizens living abroad.

Complex Problems and Their Simple Solutions - overdue introspection and acceptance

It’s rather strange how the human mind, and by that I mean my own mind, keeps amazing me time and again. No, I’m not trying to lead with hinting at what a genius I think I am- quite the contrary actually.

I was in this never-before-known lull phase up until this morning; heck, I’d go far enough to say I was down till this evening. Then suddenly, a couple of hours ago, the storm passed. Or at least I think I did.

All these days I had been complaining far too much for my own comfort. I wouldn’t say I’ve always been a very contented and satisfied person but unemployment and near-bankruptcy made me, as the title of my last post would suggest, a borderline pessimist.

I’ve been aware enough to use the word “borderline”. I think there’s a core element embedded somewhere in my brain that basically doubles as a control switch. If the incoming voltage crosses the limit, this control switch gets tripped automatically. Then it’s like I’m ‘in a state of war’ with myself. It’s like three people live inside me – a borderline pessimist, a realist and an optimist.

So when the controls switch trips, my emergency response system is activated almost immediately. The onslaught of negativity and frustration that signals the beginning of a storm becomes something that I am relatively prepared for.

I expect things to get out of hand, to second guess myself and I would definitely expect mood swings and self-isolation. Good thing I expected all that because a lot more than just those things happened. It was like a toxin was sneaking through my circulation system, quietly spreading its lethal contents in my body.

Boy, am I glad that the antidote, that switch, was already in place and functioning. It was like I had been vaccinated to the joblessness virus already.

Now the main question is - what happened?

What happened in a couple of hours that undid the effects of an entire month?

The truth is – I am not sure. If I had to take a guess and give you a one-word answer, I’d say “acceptance” is what happened. I think I was finally able to break free of the tight grip that Negativity had over me.
That said, don’t go about picturing a phoenix-like image just yet.

It’s not like I am now a worry-free living creature with no care in the world about having no job or having to switch to a thrifty lifestyle. This isn’t magic and I’m not a fictitious character in one of JK Rowling’s books. 
So I wouldn’t trust the onset of ‘reality with a hint of optimism’ so soon in the transition phase. It will probably come and go for a while. But as I see it, once it’s begun, the rest will follow through.

I guess the trick to emerging from this deep, dark well has always been acceptance. It makes complete sense now and from previous experience, acceptance has always been the key for me to move on. For some reason, I never imagined something so obvious to be the key to this problem.

A few days ago, I was on the phone, having a very normal conversation. As breezily as ever, the voice on the other line said, “What fun is life without some struggle, right? Redemption wouldn't be so thrilling without the struggle.” 
Now even though that's not news to me, I probably just needed someone to crisply phrase something that should be obvious and slip it into a conversation without making a big deal about it.

I’m not someone who “shares my problems” with every other person. I have very few close friends by choice. I have never endorsed the concept of being a very social and public person, having a thousand friends and calling them all by “BFFs”. I cannot relate to that mentality.

I choose to have very few close friends – people who I care about unconditionally and will go out of my way for. Some of these people know me intensively, others know me well enough to confirm this – I never ask for help. I’m what they call “khuddaar” in Hindi.

Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I was really not on my game during this whole crazy loony phase. That means I actually did tell some people close to me about what was messing with my head. To me, that’s a big deal. To the world, no one gives a damn and I am totally cool with that.

The two or three people that knew what was going on with me, did their absolute best to console, support and encourage me. I am now and will be forever more, grateful to them.

But the one line that finally resonated through my brain, came from someone who wasn’t on the confidante list.

The miracle worker’s identity shall remain protected. I can tell you, though, that she is a woman of substance with a pure, clean and large heart. A lady who knows what it means to struggle and what redemption feels like. Someone who is honest, caring and continues to work tirelessly for those around her without a thought for herself. An inspiration in her own right.

Yeah life’s got its issues but I’m thinking – I must have something right somewhere down the road to here, to be blessed with a family so complete and strong that I never get de-energized.

These people in my life are major contributors to today’s acceptance. Never before have I appreciated the role that people play in one’s life, as I have over these last two years.

People who knew the teenage me well remember how much I hated the ‘cheesyness’ of people and the hoopla about relationships. Some horrible experiences and a lot of learning, growing up and maturing later, that opinion is now drastically different.

I believe people I hold close to my heart have all played a part, however big or small, in shaping the person I turned out to be today. I’ve learned what to do and what not to do from these people and my interactions with them. I’ve understood which relationships matter. I’ve survived heartache and lost friendships.

Look at this this way – it’s like life is a long process of weeding out the bad stuff to end up with the best of the lot in every category.

Survival of the fittest comes to mind here. I’ve met and known literally thousands of people over the last 24 years. Some stayed longer than others, some were closer, some earned immediate ‘dislikes’. But those who stand with me today, have themselves reached here through a rigorous screening process of their own.

I think our minds unconsciously screen people at every step – weeding out the bad and keeping the good. So ultimately, what we end up with is a circle of the best, closest and toughest friends and family members.
That’s just a theory at this point but it makes sense to me. If I were an anthropologist, I’d explore it further. But I’m an environmental scientist/journalist. (So if anyone ever does study it, I’ll write a story on it. Ha!)

Can you believe I hated the ‘cheesyness of people’? This whole write-up reeks of it!
Ready for some more?

Acceptance is going to be good, I think. A negative and frustrated approach or attitude just clogs my mind and severely hampers productivity. With a mind that is no longer claustrophobic and polluted, I can breathe easy again and set out to find work with a better attitude.

I can complain however much I want. Truth is, at the end of the day, I know too well that my genetic and mental framework do not believe in the idea of ‘giving up’.

In fact, I’m someone who never has just one plan. (Yeah I know plans don’t always work out – all the more reason to have multiple ideas.) I always have a back-up plan.

And this whole chaos of thoughts in my head is precisely why I said my mind never ceases to amaze me of its potential to store and process information. (I don’t really approve of generalizations hence the reference to my own mind as opposed to all of mankind.)

Now, because I have already written 1,337 words, and before I end up writing another ‘thesis-length’ piece, I’d suggest you go back to doing something other than wasting time reading my musings.
Rest assured, if you still want to waste time, I will be back here sooner than later for as long as I remain unemployed. J

Borderline Pessimist - what a simple break in chronology can do.

They say that adversity really teaches you a lot. Honestly, I don't know who "they" are and what the "lot" is. I am not sure if the current circumstances that constitute my life qualify as 'adversity', but I'm going to say they do. Why? Simple- this is the first time I've been in at the bottom of this particular well and the process of dealing with it is pretty daunting.
'Unemployed' is a status that I have never had to associate with myself before now. Quite naturally, the frustrations and sheer availability of time that come with being unemployed, are new to me. Both throw me off to some extent because they bring a very intimidating sense of unpredictability and an uneasy feeling of inconsistency into my very existence. I understand that change is the only constant and all of that metaphorical pseudo-comforting stuff.
I'm not saying I want every inch of my plans to work out to the T. I know better than to think that by this time but it wouldn't hurt, after all this while, to have at least some consistency.
Apart from feeling like a nomad who belongs neither to the United States nor to India, I have ambitions piling up inside my by the dozen and being jobless is kind of burying them. It's like having no outlet for a body of ambitions bursting at the seams.
Sounds a little 'rich kid who grew up in luxury' but look closer and tilt your head a little and you might just see what I do.
This is definitely not the first time in my life that I am dealing with a difficult situation. Life has been very generous with those. (Yes, I'm sure everyone thinks that. And I'm very sure that I have it way better than most will or ever did.) Even so, this particular phase is, like I said, new.
I haven't been at these depths of this well before so I don't know where the ladder is. I don't know how long the ladder is and how long it will take me to get back up so I can hoist myself out of this well.
I assume that it takes a while to find one's footing when one is scrambling for grip on a slippery, moss-covered floor. Hands flailing around, gauging the width; legs busy with the primary task of staying afloat in this chin-deep water.
Thing is, it's comparatively easy to be this third person with an aerial view of the 'person-in-the-well' and be practical about the fact that stability takes time. Problem is, when this third person herself, falls into the well - it's like telling a drowning person that it's going to be ok. You don't know that and they sure as hell don't.
This matter-of-fact attitude is helpful, yes, but it's difficult to keep it intact when fear, frustration, impatience and desperation start to squeeze their way into your thought process.
It's like an all-out attack by invasive species (thoughts) to take over the indigenous species' habitat. Tried and tested pesticides (organic or not) don't seem to get rid of these double-edged invasive thoughts. Clearly, this calls for a "new" strategy. (I'm already getting sick of that word in quotation marks.)
So what is this unknown and as-yet-imaginary strategy?
Well, if I had figured that one out, I wouldn't be sitting at my computer on a Saturday night writing this, listening to the Chennai Express soundtrack to reduce the volatile effects of reading the world news. Occupational hazard, I guess.
These last few weeks have given me plenty of time to think about stuff, for one. I'll admit that I didn't always think about the most productive things or the most important issues. I spent several hour watching absolutely ridiculous Hindi films, some wonderful films, reading 23 pages of a book I have had for a year and doing something I NEVER got to do while I was in graduate school - sleeping.
I have had the "luxury" of going to bed at whatever time I want and waking up whenever I want. I have had the opportunity to catch up with friends back home and feel, even if just for an hour, like I'm with them, at our typical hangouts, laughing animatedly about rubbish. I've read most of the articles, pages, URLs that I so lovingly dragged and dropped into the 'Bookmarks' folder. I have had time to make masoor dal, chicken kheema and pudina chutney, among other things.
The only thing that's wrong with all this available time is that aside from the intense job application period interspersed with phases of abstinence from anything "job-like", I would much rather NOT be spending my time sleeping, cooking, watching films and singing at the top of my voice.
I'm a restless breed of workaholics. And the only thing that can keep me from going mad and driving other people loony, is having work. And by work, I don't mean cleaning kitchens and bathrooms and vacuuming the house. I'm a workaholic forced to stand at the start-ling indefinitely till the pistol fires its signal and I can chase my work down that track.
And because I am not a Yash Raj Films prodigy, I cannot just wake up one day, get a guitar and start crooning on the streets of Missoula in a fake Punjabi accent to make $500 worth of rent. That only happens to Shahrukh Khan.
In film terms, here's where I am right - I have Aamir Khan's individuality and spirit from 3 idiots, Akshay Kumar's energy from the Khiladi series, Karan Johar's tear glands, Ayushman Khurana's sense of humor and Rajpal Yadav's luck from Hungama.
I don't know if my being Indian has anything to do with this insatiable urge to work but I know it has a lot to do with just being who I am. A period of 24 years is a long enough time scale for conclusive observations. Over this time period, I've realized I have been happiest when I have had work in some significant form.
I am certainly grateful to life for this long overdue lull because it let me finally do normal stuff again without feeling like I was cheating on my assignments. But having said that, I don't think I handle the concept of 'relax' very well. After a while, I have absolutely no idea as to what on earth I'm supposed to be 'doing'. Like everything else in the world of journalism, with me, even 'funemployment' has to have a deadline. (Credit to Allison Mills for coining that term)
And now, because I know I'm going to be woken up early tomorrow morning by a phone call from my mom, I'm going to sign off for tonight.
Recreational writing after ages - another advantage of being unemployed? (Borderline pessimist....)

DAH 301 to Washington-Grizzly Stadium: two years of graduate life start to finish.

I was 22 when I walked those six blocks to get to the Don Anderson Hall, room 301. School wasn't in session yet. It was that orientation week for new students and boy, did we need it. Fresh out of mother India, I was prepared to take this head on. Even so, not once did it strike me that on the very first day of orientation, we would have to venture out on a strange campus, find and interview strange people for our very first assignment. No rose petals, no bushes to beat around. They had come straight to the point. My life as a journalism graduate student had begun the moment I walked into that building.

For the two years that followed, "that" building took multiple forms - home, hideout, rescue center and therapy clinic among others. It was four floors of absolute madness. A madness that I now think was too short-lived.

In these last two years, I have probably learned more than I ever did before and not just in academic terms. I have never lived alone even though my personality isn't one to press the panic button, it was quite an experience. I had never lived in a place with less than a million people - for starters. Pune, my hometown, caters to about eight million people. Missoula, has about 60,000 people - a statistic I don't believe but I have to give state's census figures some credit. I'd believe someone if they said Missoula has like 2000 people. For perspective, the entire state of Montana crossed the one million population mark only last year. So Pune has about eight times the number of people in all of Montana. Yup, exactly.

I had never lived in a place where it snows for six months (modest). I'll admit I thoroughly enjoyed the snow - until it got to my bones and froze the life out of me. I didn't go skiing or snow-boarding or snow-shoeing because I'm not very fond of making a complete fool out of myself. And if I must, I can do that on flat land. There's something that is so beautiful about snow that it makes you want to just stand in it, knee-deep, with your snow boots and parka on, and stare at it till your eyes dry out from the cold. I remember waking up one weekend last year, looking out the door. I felt my eyes widen and my jaw drop before I turned back, ran to get my camera and started clicking like mad as if it was all a dream that was going to go *poof* any second. That is the magic of snow. It makes a 22-year-old feel like a child inside.

The first year of graduate school was like military boot camp. Tough as hell. Long nights that spilled over into the next morning so often that I had lost the ability to keep track of day, date and time. There were no weekdays, no Mondays or Thursdays or even Saturdays. It was all just one big mass, a continual time loop where everyday was a working day and there were no holidays. Oh, holidays! The ones we did have, like winter break or spring break, were more frustrating than regular days. Three times the usual work load with at least two final papers or mid-terms due at the end. I have never felt so fluctuated in my life. Yes, that's actually a physical state of being - you'll know when you're here.

Of all the classes I took, there is only one that I wish I could somehow crumple up like waste paper and throw it out of sight. Ok, I hated it. You would too if you put an obscene amount of work into something that wasn't even your major and should have been way easier than the other PhD level course you had to get through. Oh, and if after all that jazz, you got a big dull dud of a D on it. Yuck.

I will say though, that my other classes were absolutely fantastic. To be very honest, this is the first time since being in school that I have enjoyed putting myself through physical, emotional and mental conditions that were never probably never meant for human beings. Ok, I am exaggerating it - only a tad. It has been a sweet pain. I hated papers and assignments when they would actually be due but it would be weird if I didn't. The learning experience, the opportunities to have healthy group discussions, the intellectual challenges and moreover, the people - have surpassed every expectation I could have had.

This second year has been more diverse and cooler than boot camp year. Fewer credits sure helped. Having the thesis to do did not. That's balance for you. But I had a lot more going on this year. Diversity groups, international student groups, activities, lectures, presentations, interviews, dinners, festivals, the whole shebang. A lot more spice and flavor to life this year - embedded in memory for years to come.

I'd say we have all come a long way - all of us journalism grads. - since day 1. From 2am huddles to piece a story together to walking up to a stage dressed in black gowns and caps to get our awesome (did you see the others?!) hoods from our committee chairs. All of us, with our different personalities, our different 'zing' elements, are going to go out there and make those four floors proud.

First semester Master's project proposals saw scores of transformations this year and we all came into our own. Heading out to report with all the gear, finding sources, interviews, more interviews, hours and hours of tape, piecing the story, writing up a rough outline and then - close to ten drafts of a final project that we stood up and publicly defended - successfully defended.

What a process this has been! Moreover, what a month this has been. I don't care very much for birthdays but I will say this one has been spectacular.

Thesis defense, graduation, turning 24 on a snow-covered lake-front surrounded with Montana's marvelous wilderness in the company of family. Perfect? I'd love to say yes but we all know that would be untrue.

And now, with two whole years of memories and learning behind me, I stare at a "Stop" sign on the corner of a street as the background changes from bright blue sunny skies to thick grey rain clouds within minutes.
Cars go by in either direction. Birds go about their usual business. The sun tries to peep through the clouds creating an aura of heavenly light. And me? I sit and draw out plans for my future, periodically glancing sideways at the "Stop" sign.

A sign to literally stop, look left and right, wait for traffic to pass and then enter your lane of choice carefully. Pretty much what I have to do from here on. No more school. No more classes or deadline assignments or thesis drafts or dangerously high doses of coffee.

Given current market situations and general circumstances - finding a decent job is going to be nothing short of a Himalayan expedition with limited oxygen supplies and deathly cliffs and crevices that one must avoid falling off/into.

I embarked on this expedition almost exactly 10 days ago when my identity changed from being a "Master's STUDENT in environmental journalism" to a 'Journalist'. The moment when all candidates for Master's degrees stood up as the President of the University of Montana verbally conferred our degrees on us has gone down in my history. The history of who I am. And as Jim Messina so efficiently put it that rainy morning in the Washington-Grizzly Stadium, it's always about moving "on to the next".

On to the next it is. The 'student' bids adieu as the 'journalist' emerges to stretch her wings and take flight.

Thank you to the unforgettable people who have made these two years the most memorable years of my life - you know who you are and you know you have a loyal friend, student, community member and peer in me all because you have been so darned awesome. Big shout out to y'all. My credentials may have changed but I'm still me. And we will always be 'we'.

Go Griz! (We know tributes are incomplete without serious acknowledgment of the school mascot, especially because I'm sitting in bobcat country as I write this!) ;)

'Born' Identity - grad.student or human being?

I really shouldn't be writing this right now. As I sit on the 4th floor of the journalism building on campus and glance over my shoulder at the leafless trees and thick grey clouds in the background, I can't help but write. What I should be writing is my thesis. Instead, here I am, punching away at my keyboard with a look of serious concentration on my face like I have something important to say.
It's the last semester of my Master's degree. In less than 2 months, I will (fingers crossed) be graduating with a degree in journalism - something I would never have imagined even 3 years ago. Coming to graduate school seemed so obvious. Like the prescribed next step. That's not why I came here though.
I didn't know when I accepted the offer to be a journalism grad. student that I was signing an unofficial, invisible contract to have absolutely no life at all. My social and personal life has been all of non-existent these last couple of years and now is probably the worst time to be feeling awful about it.
In October last year, I remember strolling on the lawn outside my apartment in the evening fall breeze, talking to my dad on the phone. It's not very often that I have long, heartfelt conversations with him especially when he's on a different continent in a different hemisphere. During our chat, he asked where I liked to hang out in Missoula and what I did in my "free time". It hit me. I no longer had any idea of what 'free time' was. That aspect of life had completely eluded me for months and I hadn't even noticed.
I never hung out anywhere. My life was restricted to being on campus and being at home. Those were the only two places I had the time to be in. My days were desperately trying to expand themselves beyond the 24 hour limit and would more often than not, spill over into the next day, forming one giant mass of time with no clear demarcations. There were no weekends. Everyday was a working day. Everyday was a new deadline.
It may not be relevant but apparently Geminis are people who get bored very quickly and always need to have variety on their plate. And boy did I have variety. Four graduate level classes that were driving me insane. Whatever time I did get when I wasn't studying or writing, I was working with international student groups to put things together, or I was cleaning a house that would start to look uncannily like the pig-sty my mother always threatened me my room would look like someday.
Bottom line, I had NO idea about what were the 'cool' places to hang out in, in this tiny (compared to Pune) place in the most obscure corners of America. Naturally, these thoughts raced through my head while my dad was expecting an answer. I said I didn't have time to go exploring the city and didn't know what were the nice places to go have dinner or just meet friends. I said the only place I knew well enough was Walmart and that too, I hated.
My dad guffawed and said there was no way I was so caught up in things that I didn't have time to go out.
It's March now and I still haven't had time to go out. When I do, there's a nagging feeling poking me in the back of my head saying, "why are you not studying? You have all these things due tomorrow!" Every time I manage to hiss at that voice in my head and shut it up. In vain.
As graduation and thesis defence time gets closer every day, not to mention scarier, I keep thinking I've missed out on so much. I'm the girl who would jump at the chance of travelling hundreds of kilometers away to be with nature, see some wildlife, spend some quiet time in the forest. I've been living in Montana for almost two years now. Montana - one of the most fantastically beautiful places that exists on our planet. It's wide expanses of space, the mountains, the valleys, the snow, the rivers, the colour of the leaves and two of the coolest national parks ever - Glacier and Yellowstone. Ok, I'll admit I've been to Yellowstone twice but honestly, I get crabby if all I can see are geo-thermal spots instead of bears and wolves and bison!
Homesickness is probably one the worst feelings to have. I know I signed up for this. I know it was my decision and I honestly love what I do- learning what I have been for these 2 years and maybe it's because I am new to the American education system but the one reason that makes me look forward to graduating is that it puts me that many days closer to going back home.
Home, where my people, my family and friends and my animals live. Where time hasn't stopped because I moved away. Where people whose lives I am an integral part of are living regular, routine lives despite my physical absence. I think deep down, everyone who leaves their homes to study or work abroad has a secret hope that things will be exactly the same when they get back and nothing will have changed. But the only thing in the world that's consistently occurring, is change.
People change, places change, perceptions change, relationships change, street-side food shacks change, coastlines change and in this humdrum of regular life, you yourself - change. So at a time like this, when your thesis is in front of your eyes, and you miss home in all its glory and darkness, you feel like a complete alien. You are in a foreign land where people don't know you from scratch, where you have had to build relationships from their very basic foundations, where you've had to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road and the car, and where people are nice but not your own. You want to fit in. You want to make your ride as smooth as possible but suddenly, you're stuck. People back home now talk about you as 'that girl who used to live there' or 'our daughter who lives in the U.S.' or 'my friend who is abroad'. Over break when people at home introduce you to their acquaintances as someone 'who lives in America but is Indian'- you feel an astoundingly strong pain in your chest.
That pain, I figured out recently, is related to this flawed identity I now have. I don't want this dual identity. I don't like it. I want to be the same person I was before I left home to come here because honestly, the things that make me who I am have not changed in the slightest. I'm still me. I'm still my parents daughter and I still love my dog more than I ever thought I could.
And someday, hopefully soon, I would love not to have that guilty feeling inside me when I look at that dog's eyes and don't have the guts to tell her that she won't be seeing me again for a long time. For once, I would love to know that everyday, when I wake up, it'll be in my bed, in my house, my that four-legged canine impatiently licking me to get up and take her out. I'd love to come home to familiar smells of egg curry drifting down the three flights of stairs that lead up to my house and get frustrated with people who have no driving sense whatsoever. I know it's got its problems and I know they can really stress people out but nothing anywhere can beat the huge sense of relief when wheels of an aircraft touch down on a runway in your home country - that feeling when you know that you're headed back where you came from - originally.
And now, back to that thesis. The one thing that is my ticket to redemption. Proof to myself that I did what I took on.
To all those homesick graduates in the world, you are never alone. There are thousands of others like you out there. Good luck! :)

Tera Rang Aisa Chadh Gaya, Koi Aur Rang Na Chadh Sakey…

He came, he inspired, and he conquered. This summer Aamir Khan forced India to cancel all Sunday morning appointments. Generations across the country, across the world, sat glued to their television sets or their computers to find out what else is wrong with India.

In 13 episodes, Aamir Khan initiated, established and supported a movement – a movement for change – change that India and Indians had been wanting for years. He appeared on our screens and spoke to us in impeccable Hindi [and several regional languages], bringing a new issue, a new problem and a new solution to us every Sunday.

A flood of sentiments, arguments, opinions, donations, questions, monumental praise and even criticism followed every episode. India was on its feet. Her citizens were thinking, making choices, taking decisions, and waking up. Or were they?

I waited to watch the last episode depicting Satyamev Jayate’s journey so far. I waited till an hour ago. It was telecast on August 15th, 2012 in India – the day I flew out of the country to make my way back to a remote corner of the USA.

I waited because I wanted to get out of the Satyamev Jayate fever that had engulfed people around me and the atmosphere in general. Engulfed is probably too strong a word but suddenly, people were talking about rainwater harvesting, even though my neighbours were pumping water out every morning to wash their collection of cars. I waited so that I could develop a relatively unbiased perspective and because I honestly didn't have the time to watch it while I was trying to pack 46 kg of luggage. 

Meanwhile, TIME magazine featured Khan on their cover with a caption asking readers whether an actor can change a nation.

If TIME magazine had watched even one of the 13 episodes, or looked closely at their own cover photo, they probably could have seen the underlying truth. Aamir Khan is not ‘an actor’. He’s an Indian. An Indian looking to create, build, and leave behind a better India for generations to come. I don’t think anyone is that good an actor. Good enough to pull off something like Satyamev Jayate and actively, personally follow up on every issue to see it to its destination.

His eyes give him away. They are brimming with grit and determination to make things happen, to make the right things happen. His gaze holds your eyes, draws you into the episode with him, makes you weep as he wipes his tears away, and infuriates you as you learn of new atrocities. No actor can do that. Only an Indian who, in every drop of his blood, loves and feels his country can. He can. He did.

So did several before him. Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Lokmanya Tilak, Babasaheb Ambedkar, even Mahatma Gandhi invoked this level of emotion in Indians the world over. So why is he different?

Because he is not advocating radicalism or leaning towards the Left or Right. He’s standing up for reality and advocating humanity, responsibility, and practicality. His ‘fans’ aren’t extremists or non-violence practitioners. His followers are the common people who experience these issues every day and have kept quiet for years thinking no one cared, and that nothing could be done either way. From farmers to entrepreneurs, people relate to him, and feel involved in the process of making their home a better place. 

Question is, why did we need an Aamir Khan to stand up and say he would do this? Why hadn’t we done something about either of these issues ourselves? Or do we always look to Hindi cinema for solutions? We let Shah Rukh Khan teach us romance, and we wait for Aamir to debut on television to mobilize ourselves. Why?

Does it not sting you somewhere deep inside that you’re asking for a Satyamev Jayate Season 2? Is it, on some level, not embarrassing that we’d need a second season?

Is it only Aamir Khan’s moral responsibility to mobilize the country every time it falls asleep or begins to doze off? Why do we always wait till the last minute, wait for a wake-up call? Purely and simply as legal citizens of India, we are required to follow the law. Everyone from our country’s premier, politicians, lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, painters, plumbers, tailors, actors, students, housewives, is required to dutifully and honestly fulfil their individual responsibility as laid out in the Constitution of India.

We lived under foreign rule for centuries. For 65 years, we have had the legal freedom to be responsible for our own country, our own lives. Somewhere down that road, we became complacent, materialistic and insensitive. Six and a half decades down the road, do we still find it impossible to initiate problem-solving techniques ourselves and do we still feel the need for a constant wake-up call or reminder to tell us to do our job better?

I find it hard to be saying and asking all these things because: a) I have no idea if anyone is ever going to read this, b) I’m actually a staunch supporter of the sheer spirit and élan with which Aamir Khan went about creating and executing Satyamev Jayate, and c) It’s 1:28am and I haven’t slept in a long, long time so thinking objectively and clearly kind of becomes difficult.

Despite the severe sleep deprivation, I wonder why people of India continue to flood Satyamev Jayate’s pages with requests of a second season. Maybe 12 heart-breaking episodes and windows into reality weren’t enough to rattle them out of their seats and get them moving, for good.

On a very superficial level, it's great that the episodes in themselves and the follow up action got politicians and the concerned authorities moving towards a goal. A goal that should have been reached and passed decades ago. On a deeper level, the fact that in so short a period of time, so many politicians signed documents, passed bills in parliament, altered text books, made arrests, conducted raids etc. - is shameful. If that's all the time it took them to get this far, what on earth were they doing for all these years? 

13 weeks of Aamir Khan's tear-jerking telecasts drove them to the edge and transformed people into aware and patriotic citizens of India. So maybe Gandhi, Nehru, Tilak, Ambedkar etc. should have launched television shows for the impact they desired. Because we sure as hell aren't where we should, or could, have been at this point. 

It makes patriotism look like a battery-powered emotion that runs out when you overuse it in a short period of time. Then it needs to be recharged or needs a ‘second season’ of batteries to get going again. Is this why we became independent?

It took us 65 years to discuss female foeticide, child sexual abuse, domestic violence etc. on a national, public platform. Do we want to wait another 65 to discuss the next dozen issues?

If India wants to change, and I believe in my heart that it does, then why can’t we change without requesting a nudge at regular intervals? Are we not all Aamir Khans? Aren’t we all the trustees and beneficiaries of our own country? 

My dream. My India.

"Why would you still want to go back to India? Wahaan rakha hi kya hai," I am asked. Several times over. Till I finally start to feel violent.

Kyun na jaun vapas? Mera ghar nahi hai kya? Mera desh nahi hai kya? Yahaan baithke kya bas dekhti rahun ki kuch log kya haal kar rahe hain mere ghar ka? Chup chaap bahar-walon ki tarah dekh kar muh pher lu? 

Is that really that surprising or outrageous that a 23-year-old Indian girl who is finishing her Master's in the USA still wants to go back to India after accomplishing the academic goals she's aiming for?

Is it that ridiculous for me to want to go ... home?

Do people not feel ashamed to actually tell me that there's no scope for me and "people like me" in India and that I should stay put, earn a fortune and live happily ever after? I'm sorry but my mind and life are not that shallow. I function on certain principles.

Should I sit here, quietly building up a handsome bank balance while watching my country fall apart because of arrogant, corrupt politicians and senseless discrimination? Should I wait for someone else to step in and 'clean up'? Why? Is it not your home?

Koi aur aake kyun tumhari gandagi saaf karey? Khud utro usmein. Karo apni mitti ko saaf. Ghar pe bade sher bante phirte ho toh bahar jao, jagao un logon ko jo aankhein band karke jeete hain, uthao unhein, kaam par lagao. Khud kaam karo. Par nahi. Tumhein toh yahaan aake pardesi logon ke liye kaam karna zyada pasand hai. Wohi toh tumhara sapna hai. Ki kab main degree le lu aur kat lu yahaan se.

And then you'll magically transform into one of those 'NRIs' who visit India once in a few years and cover their noses with kerchiefs and wrinkle them underneath. You'll buy mineral water, complain about how many potholes there are in the roads, and how backward 'this' country is.

Yahi sab kehne ke liye vapas aana hai toh ek kaam karo bhai - mat aao vapas. Humein zaroorat hi nahi hai tumhari. Ek din tumhein zaroorat mehsoos hogi. Apne logon ki. APNE desh ki. Tab ban jaoge tum.. pakke NRI.

Don't come back if you can't use any of your acclaimed IVY league education and your fancy bank balances for the betterment of the land where you were made. Where the largest democratic, secular population on earth lives - happily.

Yes, we have problems. But there are still people who believe in solving problems, not getting used to them. If you have so much influence, so much attitude and power, bring it all with you. Bring it back and invest it - in YOUR country. Your home.

That feeling you get when you watch an episode of Satyamev Jayate on your big, giant flat-screen LCD television in your posh living room - capture it, retain it and transplant it - to reality.

Get up and do something about it instead of remaining a drawing room hero.

This is not some Tata Tea 'Jaago Re' campaign. It's not a 'Support Anna Hazare' campaign either. It simply says, if your dream took you somewhere else, I respect that.

My dream was and is, to fight back. To go home to my people, my land, my dharti and apply everything I've learned to a genuine effort in keeping my homeland beautiful.

Tumhara sapna tumhein mubarak ho. Par pankh ugakar yeh mat sochke baitho ki bass, ab hum mahaan ho gaye hain. 

Aur agar dil mein itni si bhi ichha ho, ki yaar mujhe apne ghar jana hai, toh ruko mat. Laut jao. Shauk se. Dil se. 

Not Nearly a Tribute

The world of conservation, in all its essence, is defined by the choices people make- whether those people are the citizens who vote, or policy makers, workers, biologists, journalists, lawyers, or the forest department staff. Fortunately for conservation, it has seen some great thinkers, dedicated workers, and remarkably talented people with a distinct charm about them and their ways.

Among the several such people I have been lucky enough to meet and share some time with, is Fateh Singh Rathore.

This is not a library collection on him and who he was with all the technical bits of information about his work for tigers and Ranthambhore, and his constant, cheerful encouragement of youngsters to contribute to the field.

This, is an account of my memories of him. My memories of "Fuddgy", of the man who had a charisma like no other, the man who was, is and for me - will always be - the real 'Tiger Man of India'.

Fat[e]hji would wake up earlier than most animals in Ranthambhore do. He would go for a walk in the morning, and on returning, would drink this ridiculous beetroot-carrot-and something else juice and I have still not figured out HOW he drank it everyday. Maybe his taste buds were still asleep then. One morning he decided to come shake our tent vigorously to scare the crap out of us. Problem was - the other two people with me in that tent would sleep through a protest rally if it passed an inch from them. I however, was up in a second. Not because I'm a light sleeper, but because when I'm in a tent/on field, I tend to be a very light sleeper because I expect every noise to come from a majestic animal that might be close by.

I poked my head of the tent and there he was- all dressed for his walk. I mumbled a "good morning" and, with his trademark style, said - "jao tayyar hokar aao. main 5min. rukunga. walk pe jana hai." [Translated, that means- "go get ready and hurry back. I will wait 5min. for you to show up. We're going for a walk."] I stared at him and was convinced he was kidding. But his next words were "4min." and I hopped out the tent, ran up, straightened myself out and marched back down, shoes and everything set to go. He liked giving me a hard time and I always played along because he was so cute. So he grilled the life out of me during that walk and when we were back at the front door, he said, without turning to look at me,"finish your college and come work here. you're no good in the city." I'm smiling even as I type this because it brings that moment back to life for me and I even remember the tone.

Story' goes on. I was on my way back to the tent when he told me to come in. I did. Maybe I shouldn't have. He made me drink that horrible vegetable juice thing and I swear to God, I have tasted pharmaceuticals that have tasted better. I shot him a look and he laughed. "It's good for you. Stop complaining. I have to drink the thing by myself everyday. Tricked you into it, didn't I?" he said, with his child-like mischievous grin. The man's energy was literally contagious.

Then one day, he returned in his Toyota Qualis looking all upset and annoyed. I was walking to the office and he spotted me just at the right time. "AJ- kya kar rahi hai? kahan bhatak rahi hai dhoop mein?" ["AJ- what are you doing? where are you wandering off to in this heat?"] I said I was headed down to the office and then I asked - "Kya hua? Ro kyun rahe ho?" ["What happened? Why are you all sad/crying?"] He pointed to the car and said the stereo stopped working.

I laughed out so loud, I think a Peacock fell out of a tree somewhere around us [by the way, we've all actually seen Peacocks literally fall out of trees while they're asleep. It is incredibly hillarious]. Anyway, he stared at me till I stopped laughing and then said, go fix the stereo! I don't know why, but I did. And it worked. And from then on, I was "radio-wali" [until he forgot about the new name and went back to calling me AJ again].

On one of my other visits, I took a crate full of 'Jamun' fruits for him. I found him sitting on his terrace and crept up behind him and placed the box next to him. Too late. He had seen me. So instead of him jumping,  he shouted out "AJ aayi!!!" while I tried to softly place the box down - and I jumped. His excitement and enthusiasm make it seem like he's no older than a 6 year old child. He opened the box, saw what was inside, turned back to look at me and said - What is this? I though you would bring me Mangoes!" I smiled at him and calmly said, "they're in the kitchen. but you cannot eat more than 1 every 2 days."
"Why?" he asked, feigning disbelief. "Because you've probably forgotten it but you're diabetic. No sweets." He put his hand to his head and went, "Oh god... She's back," he said and rolled his eyes.
Tiger Watch's Conservation Leadership Course- first batch of participants with volunteers and Fateh ji
"Yes, I am. And I will be watching how fast those Mangoes are disappearing. So don't think you can talk your way out of this one."

We have called each other so many things over those years, I've lost track. But at one point we were both trying to see who gets impatient first. He would call me 'dadi ji' and I would call him 'dada ji' and sure enough, 4 days into it and I had had enough. He, however, was cool as a cucumber - which is something considering Ranthambhore recorded a sweltering 46°C that summer.

Every time someone mentions his name, or I read it somewhere, I can only see that big broad smile on his face and those sparkling eyes. And it is only fitting that a man of so much dedication, intelligence, and charm, be remembered with fondness in our hearts and a "big, broad smile" on our faces. :)

It's still hard to believe that today is a year since he passed away but I think he always intended to hand around till all the causes he stood for were fought for in the right spirit so even though he's invisible, I believe he's still very much around. Ranthambhore's tigers have an uncanny connection with him. Even today. And I think, forever more. No one can explain this connection they share. Some things are best left unsaid, and unexplained. That's their beauty.

So here's to 'Fuddgy' - the man who put Ranthambhore on the map. The man who meant SO many different things to an array of people from all over the world, and from all age-groups. With good reason.

Cheers Fuddgy.

Bombay to Bozeman/Missoula - the journey so far.

Two huge bags of approximately 25kg slid painfully away from me on the conveyor belt as I proceeded towards the security check at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai. 31 hours later, I was in Bozeman, Montana. Most people don't know what Montana is and where it is. The only way to explain the concept of Montana to someone in India, who is not unbelievably aware of geography, is to say "Yellowstone National Park". There is a typical raising of eyebrows that is followed by a long nod of approval which all starts to become rather boring when this whole process has to be repeated a few hundred times.

I had arrived. I had broken every promise I had ever made to myself about "never going to America". I had gone through the incredibly tedious process of obtaining a student VISA and what's more, I had been granted one. At that point on the 10th of August, 2011, I had a huge loan looming over me like an evil cloud, an extremely upset Labrador at home wondering why I hadn't shown up for over a day, and a surprisingly heavy heart. My phase of introspection had begun the moment I set foot on that Lufthansa flight [which by the way, landed at the world'd most boring airport - Frankfurt].
A couple days into being the promise-breaker, I was finally seeing the silver lining that I had convinced myself, was there. If all of Montana was like Bozeman, I thought, it must be way more beautiful than I think it is. In hindsight, if I hadn't spent those first five days in Bozeman with 'the mister', I would have taken much longer to acclimatize to the situation and would have been a rather unpleasant person to be around during that time.

For the last 22 years I've been used to waking up early on the 15th of August and attending the flag-hoisting ceremony as a part of Independence Day celebrations. This year, we woke up early to shift base to Missoula, Montana. I'll admit now, I felt like a child on a road trip, and looked like one of those dogs that sit in the window of the car with their tongues hanging on one side of their face, enjoying the wind in their "hair". A couple of pit-stops later, we were finally here- in Missoula. I was still getting used to not being in India.
We spent the whole day calling people, checking out houses and freaking out about not finding me a house [the guys were fine. I was beside myself]. I was awe-struck with the campus and the fact that two 'Bobcats' walked around the 'Griz' campus and said it was better than theirs, sealed the deal for me.

Campus was indeed, an amazing expanse to explore and feel good about. Then came the best part. Don Anderson Hall. That's when it hit me, "In two years I'm going to be a journalist. I'm going to be studying here. This place is awesome!"

From day 1 of orientation itself, we've been on-the-go. I'm still trying to figure out whether it was smart to choose the 12 credit pact over the 9 credit pact but either way, I could not be happier about breaking those promises. I'm absolutely loving journalism, especially because it's environment oriented and offers such a giant scope for progress and work.
One absolute relief here is the entirety of the education system. I know most of us back home have heard this time and again but you really never know for sure until you've experienced it. We're a class of 8 people, each from a different , diverse background, with diverse interests, and with an infectious amount of energy. Our faculty is just top-notch. They're like our support pillars. Our therapists. We can bounce anything and everything off them. They're human [and that's what's so comforting] as opposed to 3 years of "faculty" who believed they were god-sent miracles. These people here, are the kind of people you want to respect effortlessly, and you do. They make you work your ass off and you love it.

I feel great being in this absolutely corner of USA that no one has ever heard of or been to because: a) it's a small, cosy place with no traffic jams, no noise, and downright beautiful, (b) because it's 2.5 hrs away from Glacier National Park, 5hrs from Yellowstone, and moreover 3.5hrs from Bozeman[!!!], (c) because this is the kind of course and place where you are required to be working 24x7 if you want to fulfil those bags of dreams piled up in that corner of your mind, (d) I would go mad in any place that didn't keep me so frightfully busy all the time.

Another completely unexpected turn of events [and there were a lot of these "events"] was finding the perfect Fall semester time-table. That means, being able to register for the classes you really want to get into and it is almost as hard to decide on just what to keep and what to chuck, as it is to try and get a hard-core scientist to talk about his research in 500 words. No matter when you arrive at a "course consensus", you are always going to be wondering if you made the right choice, especially when you do miserably on one of the assignments for a class. But two minutes later you realize just why you don't care whether it's a perfect schedule or not. You took that class because you absolutely love its content and you will not let one grade shake your faith [in what, I'm not entirely sure].

Every night though, before you head to bed, your mind reminds you how blessed you feel to be here and to have learned in less than two months, more than what you learned in a whole year before. [After this it reminds you how you have only 3 more days to go till you can sleep for more than four hours before you have to wake up and get back to your assignments again.]

It is almost 2 whole months since I first set foot on US territory and I have to say, I'm glad I did, but irrespective of everything associated with being glad, I intend to remain a non-immigrant so I can head back to where I belong - on the banks of a river, studying crocodiles with the man, or just simply, in a word, home. 

The Gharials Are Adapting?

Publication: The Times Of India Lucknow;Date: Jun 19, 2011;Section: Times City;Page: 4

Gharial hatchlings sighted in Yamuna

Faiz Rahman Siddiqui | TNN 

Kanpur: The wildlife experts have spotted nearly 46 gharial hatchlings in Yamuna river at National Chambal Sanctuary on the borders of Etawah and Auraiyya. Gharial hatchlings have been seen in this area for the first time. 

    Gharials have been declared as ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union For Conservation of Nature. A giant female gharial (around 12-15 feet long) was also sighted near the nesting site. 

    The hatchlings were noticed in the first week of June in the sand-beds after the 60-90 days of incubation period, the forest officials said. 

    Rajiv Chauhan, secretary, Society for Conservation of Nature, who is working on gharial conservation, said, “It was during a visit after being informed by the locals of Gohani Kalan village situated at the borders of Etawah and Auraiyya districts, on June 2 that I first spotted nearly 46 eggs of gharial at a nesting site on a Yamuna river bank.” 

    He added, “The villagers were surprised when they came across unusual beep sounds coming from inside the eggs and alerted us. This happens only when the eggs are about to hatch. It is a very good and positive sign for the nature lovers that for the very first time, gharials have chosen Yamuna river for breeding in India.” 

    Principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) B K Patnaik said, “It is indeed a good news for wildlife conservationists as gharial is a critically endangered specie. Going by the latest sighting of gharial hatchlings, that too in Yamuna river, their number is surely going to increase.” 

Hatchlings in Yamuna at National Chambal Sanctuary 

Can we really afford to make such statements at such at early stage in what seems to be a complete turn over from usual nesting habits? "The numbers are sure to increase"! We'd love for that to happen but how does one issue such a statement without waiting to see what actually happens?

Of the Daddy and the Daughter

Everything's gone according to plan. My VISA's been approved and I'll be leaving in some 51days. Relocating to completely different continent, a new culture, new people, new friends. One thing's never going to change though - my family. I've been wondering what to get my Dad for Father's Day today even though I genuinely believe these days are pointless. Maybe it's the sinking feeling that I won't be around my family for a significant amount of time once I'm gone or maybe it's just that today's a very emotional day. 

Paa and Maa dancing at his 50th birthday surprise party
 I thought of a lot of stuff I could get him that he could use but in the end, I decided to write him this. For there is nothing more profound than love. 

  I've never seen my paternal grandfather except for his pictures and my daddy looks just like him. I've had a very loved childhood and I'm very grateful to my parents for that. They've worked through thick and thin just to make sure things stay stable. As a rebellious teen I often fought with my father and my eternal in-your-face-line would be "you were never there". I've ever felt stupider in my life than I do now that I realize he was right there. Always. 

  So Baba : I'm not sorry for all the fighting because it only brought us closer but I am sorry for the crazy stuff I must've said to you and the several things that hurt you. You were always right there. Behind the scenes. 
 I'm fortunate enough to be doing what I love today because you always told me how you never wanted to be a C.A. but you had to take over ajoba's office due to his ill health. You didn't get to follow your passion and you didn't want us to end up doing just that. For all those mornings when you sat on the straw chair in your balcony, and I sat on your lap and pestered you to tell me stories.. and for all those stories you DID tell me, I am eternally grateful. 

  For all the times I crept into bed with you and Mumma because I was scared, and you hugged me to sleep, I love you. For the number of times you supported all the crazy things I wanted to do, for all the arguments which you let me win, all my dreams you let me chase, all the time you spared from you crazy busy days just to make sure I don't get things wrong.. for all of that, I will always respect you more and more each day. For the person you are, the honest, clean, and hard-working person that you are, I can only hope to imbibe those qualities from you on a permanent basis. 

  I can't even imagine how things are going to be in Missoula. No one to ask for back rubs, head and neck massages, or just company. I'm going to have just memories of me walking up and down your back when I was a kid because you'd say it made you feel better! What will I do when all that commerce stuff comes up? Who will I ask? Who will I scold for not eating on time or not taking medicines on time? Who'll teach me Math!? 

  I don't want to stop being daddy's little girl because all these years, it's made me feel super secure, it's made me feel like anything under the sun can happen and I can come tell you about it. Growing up is difficult and even more so without all the "laad-pyaar" and the home-ground advantage! 

  All those drives and treks and walks and the Boney M and The Carpenters songs ..and singing them loudly while sticking my head out of the car's window as you'd drive :) The times when you'd hand over the car key and say - drive and you'd sit patiently in the passenger seat :) 

  Sitting beside you all through the day ajji passed away and watching you read the Bhagwat Gita .. You don't always have to display so much strength. But I guess I'm so used to the outer strong you that if something hurts you and you go all gooey, it makes me all shaky and nervous. The morning of your birthday and dada's engagement, when you asked me to come sit next to you, I knew something was wrong. But when your eyes got moist I couldn't help hugging you and holding you. I hate it when people hurt you, take you for granted, or misbehave with you. I will probably never regret screaming at a certain famous balding client of your's [:) I know you wouldn't like me mentioning names] and throwing him out of your office for raising his voice and being arrogant with you. 

  You're too good for your own good you know and people out there aren't all as honest and good as you think them to be. Just because you know them for a long time, does not mean they're good people. Even if they're family. If they can't respect you or be cordial with you [at least], they do NOT deserve your time and effort. Stop going out of your way for people who give a damn about it. 

   They say you can judge a person by the quality of friends he has. On 1st April 2009, when ajji passed away in front of me, hardly an hour from that moment, there was literally a gang of people working in sync with me. your friends were here before any of our family members were. That's the day I realized what kind of a person you are and how pure your heart is. All of them, left everything they had to do, to be there with us. They didn't budge till you reached hours later. They wouldn't listen to us when we told them you'll reach safely and that you weren't driving. That day Daddy, my respect for you went sky high. I can only hope to be as good a person and have as many true friends. 

  When the Vento came home, you were beaming like a kid who just had a whole surprise package of all his favourite things delivered at his door step. :) Your beloved car was finally in your hands and you went about showing me all the buttons with so much pride and excitement it was super cute. 

  When Mama joked about yelling at me last night, you, out of nowhere said "Oy! No speaking to her like that! She's my girl." :) I didn't show it then but having you stand up for me even against his joke transported me to my school days when you were my shield. All the bad stuff bounced off of you and I remained protected from it all. 

  Yesterday Pushkar was telling me how I am lucky to not have seen even half the bad side of the world and believe me, I was so grateful in my heart when I said, "Yeah I haven't. And I'm glad I haven't." All through my teenage years I believed I was the one fighting off the evil and that what I was seeing, was the ultimate horridness of the world. A couple of years more and some more maturity, some more experiences made me realize, that wasn't even the tip of the ice-berg and that I've been so freakin fortunate to have had you and Maa as my protective cover! There are children with abusive parents, abusive childhoods, children who have no access to education and no exposure to the opportunities out there, children who don't have loving families! All the complaining I did as a kid, seems so useless now. 

  I see the way Ginny is around you and I feel happy about her being here with you when I go off. I know you'll take good care of her, I know you'll love her and scold her and play with her, just like you did with me when I was an enthusiastic little soul. She'll be all sad initially and she'll keep looking for me all over the house, she'll sit in a corner quietly waiting for me to show up but as the days go by, she'll get used to it. She'll have all of you here to cheer her up. All of this makes me worry about how I'm going to deal with the absence of my 3 stars.. Paa, Maa and Ginny :( 

  Just need you to know, that I'm always going to argue with you, disagree with you regarding certain things, and throw tantrums.. only because I love you :) And because, no matter how old I get, I'll always be your little girl. Always. 
Daddy and me :)

Thank you Baba.. for everything you've done for us and for everything you still are doing :) Oh and by the way, Happy Father's Day :) Cheers! ;)

Natural Skills and Scrub Jungle Ecology with Rom Whitaker

Hi all,
I thought this workshop might interest you, especially since we are camping at Rom's backyard and Rom is going to take a couple of sessions!
I have pasted the info below:
Naturalist Skills and Scrub Jungle Ecology at Rom Whitaker's - 14 to 17 July 2011
Rom Whitaker is a pioneer in reptile conservation and has been at the forefront of the field for around four decades. He founded the first snake park in India, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team, Irula Snake Catchers’ Co-operative Society among many other achievements and endeavours.
                              morning birding and tracking.jpg   Lopard at
                              Roms.jpg   on a
Rom now lives on the edge of a reserve forest about an hour away from Chennai. He has set up a small campsite to allow enthusiasts to experience Nature and also build skills in field biology. 
The Gerry Martin Project will be taking a group over to Rom’s campsite to run them through the basics in field biology. 
We will be staying in shared tents at the campsite. The bathrooms are permanent structures which have running water. 
We will explore the surrounding forest and fields learning

  - Tracking skills 
  - Mapping 
  - Outdoor skills 
  - Camera trapping 
  - Faunal Surveys
  - Biostatistic methods 
  - Reptile biology 
  - Bird watching and a lot more.
There will also be discussions and presentations addressing various interest levels and dialogues.
Russells at Hunsur.jpg   Civet at Roms.jpg   Mugger mug(email).jpg
Dates and logistics: The group will leave Bangalore early morning on 14th July and will return around 5 pm on the 17th.
To register or to know more please get in touch with Conan on +91- 9972068300 or conan@gerrymartin.in / soham@gerrymartin.in
If you're interested, I can send you the registration and payment procedure. The workshop fee would be Rs.12,000/- including travel from and back to Bangalore, and Rs.10,800/- if you commute to the location on your own.
The highlights would be learning field techniques, scrub jungle ecology and a couple of sessions by Rom himself! Also, at the end of the workshop, you will get a certificate signed by him.



Colour can mean and represent such a myriad of emotions and memories.  It can give form to so many moods, so many wordless smiles, so many shared silences, so many dreams! So many things in life come alive simply by adding colour to them.  A simple photograph, after customizing a black-and-white effect, can suddenly look beautiful. Some say, sometimes all you need, is a little colour to your life. Some say, all you need is a little life to your colour. I say, all you really need, is an eye for both, life and colour. :)

Break an egg above a frying pan and even that has two colours to it! Try adding a red sock to your pure whites in the washing machine and see the magic one sock can do to a bucket full of white clothes. :) I believe, as we get older, we forget to stop and look, and more importantly, to stop and appreciate the various colours in and around our lives. The reason children are always so full of life and enthusiasm is not because they’re biologically younger, it’s probably because their innocence too, is a massive rainbow of colours we don’t even know of! It’s because their minds are so open to everything around them, so pure and honest. As we get older, I guess the bad experiences we have, taint our innocence and we become what is thought to be “worldly wise” but in reality, we start blocking out the yellows, oranges, reds, blues, pinks, greens, purples of our lives and focus on just the blacks and whites instead. We think, having just two categories to our lives will make things easier for us to deal with but we rule out the monotony we’re introducing to our own lives.

We completely forget to have fun. We’re suddenly career oriented youngsters who’re in a race against everything and everyone it seems. And life then, is indeed, crazy.
We suddenly forget how wonderful it felt to lie on the floor with one arm around the dog lying beside you, and the other under your head, staring up at the fan and drifting slowly off to sleep. We un-pin cartoon strip cut-outs from our soft-boards and they get quickly replaced with neatly made exam time-tables. Somehow though, those time-tables never come off. They just stay there till they’re yellow and old and torn.

Children today probably have to grow up faster than ever before. They barely have any time to live their childhood;  to jump in front of the pipe in the garden while watering the plants, to throw tantrums for new bicycles, to carve faces out of their food and be told off by parents.  It’s a dangerous thing, this trend. To keep up with time, today means – to move on from your current phase in life onto another phase, with your innocence and carefree attitude diminishing at each new step, at each new phase.  

And we wonder why children today losing their childhood at such an alarming rate. We’re constantly pulling them away from it, that’s why. We’re brainwashing them with the fear of competition, of being a winner in everything and a loser in nothing, of growing up fast so they can stand on their own feet and earn a living. What I don’t understand is, if we didn’t meddle so much and nag them to bits, is Time going to stop? Aren’t they going to grow up one day anyway? Aren’t they losing a day of their lives, as every new day that dawns, ends with a tired child falling asleep without any cartoons, any books, any sports? Why do children need Horlicks and Complan and Boost and Bournvita? Because they’re pushed to that level of neediness by the people around them. We’re the largest example of mocking the natural system. We don’t even allow growth to be natural!

And then one day, while sitting by yourself at home, while hanging like a bat from your couch, as the blood rushes to your brain, you realize all these things at once and it dawns on you how many colours you must have missed because you were busy being pushed around. It makes you remember how much you loved your life of colour and how today, after a long break, it’s back to being how it was meant to be. Colourful, bright, and meaningful. :)

So whether you see it as adding colour, or as adding life, I still believe that those who develop and appreciate their perspective for both, and above all, those who respect and nurture individuality, are doing the world a HUGE favour by being who they are. Maybe someday, the world will pause to look at the little yellow flower by the sidewalk that you never even knew was there though you walk down that path every day. Maybe you will look up at the sky to appreciate its sheer beauty someday, instead of -to call out to “god” and beg or threaten him to improve your life. Because you know, as much as people have told you, the world isn’t all that bad a place to live in. The human inhabitants though, are a completely different ball game. 


1.       Civet cats
2.       Anteater-like pangolins
3.       Bobcats
4.       Badgers
5.       Baby deer
6.       Squirrels
7.       Frogs
8.       Geese
9.       Bats
10.   Flying foxes
11.   Herons
12.   Cranes
13.   Sparrows
14.   Black beetles
15.   Turtles
16.   Pigeons
17.   Starfish
18.   Scorpions
19.   Caribou
20.   Foxes
21.   Raccoon dogs
22.   Snakes
23.   Yak parts
24.   Elephants parts
25.   Orang-utan lips
26.   Rabbit
27.   Hawks
28.   Owls
29.   Seal
30.   Hedgehogs
31.   Wild boar
32.   Armadillos
33.   Bear claws
34.   Mantjac
35.   Giant salamanders
36.   Expensive dog breeds
37.   Golden monkeys
38.   Cats
39.   Rats
40.   Sharks
41.   Crocodiles
42.   Tiger meat

Juliet,Cinderella,Rapunzel,Snow White...Me?

The stuff that dreams are made of, the stuff that has painted our history red with love, red with blood; Red - symbol of two extreme feelings. All the while when I was growing up I prayed and prayed to "God" knows who [pun intended]. I asked for my knight in shining armor and no, I wasn't one of those Cinderella or Rapunzel or Snow White kinds. I was, however, a very very lonely and misunderstood girl thrown in with a very large bunch of people at every stage of her life. Her biggest challenge was to survive all that. To blend in or not, was entirely up to her, even at the age of 3, it was her decision. What "decision" that tender mind could take, I don't remember completely but I suppose, the person I am today, is a combination of those shaky starts, and the bold steps that echoed confidence as they walked from corridor to corridor. 

Through the phases I labelled as "one of the most difficult" times of my life, I realized many-a-times that a single companion who understands you, and loves you unconditionally, is what would solve "a problem like Maria" [reference to The Sound of Music- please listen to the song "How do you solve a problem like Maria"]. 

People made movies. Movies in which love was the centre of everything. If you Google "Love", you will probably have to have a lease on your next life to combine it with your current one so that you can read all the stuff that's written or centred around Love. 

It's no wonder than that even today, Shakespeare is read across the world. Human emotions very often govern human actions and that is not necessarily always a bad thing. 

So, when, as a child, I would dream about a "picture perfect" [pun intended] life, I had no idea how that dream would modify and practicalize itself as the years passed. I wanted the best of everything that I thought I deserved and according to my calculations of good and bad behaviour, I was sure I deserved that one person whom I would love beyond eternity and vice versa. 

I went from 7th grader to a 17yr old and a few typical teenage heartbreaks later, it was time for the big stuff. I was off to college, and not just any college. I was going to be a graduate. 2007. I thought I was all grown up and that life had put me through the worst already. And by then, I had become a bitter person on the inside. I had stopped believing that all those wishes with folded hands I made silently in my balcony corner as a child, would ever come true, and with good reason. 2009 saw the worst that could ever be fit into a single year and by the 31st December of 2009, my hopes were long shattered, my battery discharged, and my heart almost non-existent. 

My mission became work and the stoic in me decided that I would "marry my work" like most people do when they're down in the dumps. My heart, till that day, had played the roles of Caesar, Brutus, Antony, and Juliet during its many trysts with the world! [;)] 

But it's funny how, during your worst time, you end up having the most sensible and feasible wishes! I never once wished for love after that. I only thought about it. A lot. I thought how things would have been different if one day, I'd be telling my kids the story of how their parents met and fell in love and stayed together forever. I wondered what would happen if my life really became happy again someday?

Less than a year later, I was staring into the eyes of the person I'm going to marry. More than a year into this divine relationship, I'm convinced that if Shakespeare or any random person who ever wished to write about, to pen his/her thoughts on love, were around, that person wouldn't have to go any further. :) 

Modesty, is a virtue, sometimes best left behind. Love, can never and in my opinion, SHOULD never, be modest. It should be full of itself, full of so much emotion that it spills over and spreads everywhere, it should be, in all its entirety, worthy of being called Love. 

Moral of the story? Wishes do come true. Children on their knees, hands folded, eyes shut in tight hope, teeth clenched should ALWAYS believe, when they grow into teenagers who're fretting about shoes, clothes, people, marks, driver's licenses, alcohol, cigarettes, peer pressure, parents' constant nagging, food, fitness.. , they really need to do just one thing- believe. Believe, that all those wishes, do come true. And sometimes, all you need to do, is just make that wish. 

Because when you absolutely least expect it, your best friend, transforms into your better half and there is not a feeling on earth that matches the satisfaction and ecstasy of having your best bud as your life partner. Just when you think life cannot possibly go any lower, it surprises the shit out of you and you're suddenly back on top. And being on top of your own life is a miraculously empowering feeling. You hold the reigns. You, and your man. For now, the word "you" , doesn't mean what it has all this while. 

No amount of psychiatric counselling or therapy, punishments, lectures, lessons, articles, photographs, experiences, can teach and INSPIRE someone to continually make efforts to be a better person with each passing day; nothing is as inspiring as Love. Nothing. 

When you know the honest to god trust that your partner invests in you, the faith and support you're getting, and the unshakable strength, motivation, and most importantly, happiness that you have, all because of the love that your "special someone" has for you, you cannot possibly ignore your own heart when it makes decisions that shock and regularly, surprise you! 

The once aggressive teenager is now a mellowing mature person who makes decisions that are way smarter than before and even though not too much time has passed between these two phases, your life's most important event has been enough to keep you happily grounded on cloud 9 :) 

Because all those times you thought your heart has been reduced to a mere speck now, are a major build up to the day you discover that what you thought was an electron sized part of your body, has suddenly jumped into your throat. And in a flash, you know, it's back. Your blood pumping organ is back. And it's doing over-time because someone somewhere, is driving it bananas! 

Because, now, you actually WILL be sitting and telling your kids about how their parents have been together right since they've been 21 :) Because your children won't need Mills and Boons. They'll have you. 
I couldn't be more grateful to two people for the happiness in me today. The man responsible for keeping my spirit and soul alive as ever, everyday; and that kid in the corner of my balcony who secretly wished for her knight in shining armor :) 

It baffles me how MANY emotions are locked up in that four lettered word. How Love supplies endless energy, strength, and patience, I have no clue but I'm glad as hell that it does. How a word that looks so small, can be so powerful, makes me wonder if there could possibly be another word anywhere in any language that could be anywhere close to the power of Love. "Hope" maybe, but even that, ties with "Faith" and Love still wins. 

All those shooting stars, those eyelashes placed carefully on your fist, those birthday candles you blew out, the days you kneeled before your god and joined your hands in prayer [irrespective of whether or not you believe/d in god], the times you made a lonely wish as you stared out your window at the rain as the drops embraced the leaves they soaked as they slid down, - all those wishes, probably go someplace where they're stored, safeguarded, and looked after till the time comes for them to be granted. 

And my Angel, practically walked up to my door, rang the bell and wrapped my wish around me in a giant hug. And in all probability, had a neon-sign maker witnessed that moment, he'd have seen "GRANTED" flashing in bright red above my head like an enormous Halo. :) 

The Times of India - Pune edition, Page 05 - "Ministry identifies critically endangered species;calls for conservation,protection "

Ministry identifies critically endangered species;calls for conservation,protection 


Pune: The ministry of environment and forests has come up with a list of critically endangered species of India,which includes,birds,mammals,reptiles and amphibians.The ministry has called for conservation and protection of these species.
The ministry has observed that conservation efforts are often focused on large animals like the tiger and elephant,however,there are a host of species that do not rank very high on the conservation totem pole,although they are under great threat and are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
According to Dr Erach Bharucha,environmental scientist,the population of smaller species is dwindling.Also,there is not enough data to understand their declining population.
Some of these endangered birds and amphibians are also found in Maharashtra.
Out of the five listed bird species,three are found in Maharashtra.The Jerdons Courser is a nocturnal bird and belongs to the scrub jungle which is under extreme threat because of clearing of scrub jungle,creation of new pastures,growing of dryland crops,plantations of exotic trees,quarrying and the construction of the Telugu-Ganga canal and illegal trapping.It is endemic to Andhra Pradesh,however,19th century records attribute its presence in the neighbouring areas of Maharashtra.
The Forest Owlet is found in south Madhya Pradesh,in north-west Maharashtra and north-central Maharashtra.After 113 long years,the owlet was rediscovered in 1997.Their habitat is the dry deciduous forest and the major threat in logging operations,burning and cutting of trees.
The White-bellied Heron is an extremely rare bird found in five or six sites in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh,one or two sites in Bhutan and a few in Myanmar.Their habitat are rivers with sand or gravel bars or inland lakes.Unfortunately,loss and degradation of lowland forest and wetlands are the major threat.
It is also alarming to note that out of the nine species of vultures found across India,the population of three species have declined by 99 per cent.And this is due to the use of painkiller diclofenac for veterinary purposes.
The Bengal Florican, a rare Bustard species,is native to three countries Cambodia,India and Nepal.It is found in Uttar Pradesh,Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.The ongoing conversion of the birds grassland habitat is mainly responsible for its population decline.
According to ornithologist Sharad D Apte,the major threat is the habitat loss and change in crop pattern.There has been global climate change,but scientists and experts are not sure whether it has an adverse impact on birds.
In the mammal category,the Pygmy hog,the worlds smallest wild pig with the adult weighing only eight kg,needs relatively undisturbed tall terai grasslands,now restricted to only a single remnant population in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary and its buffer reserves.The main threats are loss and degradation of grasslands,dry-season burning,livestock grazing,afforestation of grasslands and hunting.
The Gharial, the most uniquely evolved crocodilian in the world,is also in the critically endangered list.Sadly,their dire condition reflects the tragedy of rivers.They live in clean rivers with sand banks.They are found in Uttar Pardesh,Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.And a small non-breeding populations exists in Son,Gandak,Hoogly and Ghagra rivers.The combined effect of dams,barrages,change in river course,pollution,sand-mining,riparian agriculture has led to their loss.
The Leatherback turtles and Four-toed river terrapin (turtle) are both critically endangered.Leatherback turtles weigh as much as 900 kg and are found in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic,Pacific and Indian oceans.Unfortunately,their decline can be attributed to high sea fishing operations,harvesting of eggs and destruction of nests.
The omnivorous diet of the Four-toed river terrapin makes them an essential part of the efficient clean-up systems of aquatic habitats.They are found in Bangladesh,Cambodia,India,Indonesia,Malaysia.The major threats are use of flesh for medicinal purposes,and demand for eggs.
The Gliding Frog,endemic to the Western ghats,are found in the Indira Gandhi National Park and surrounding areas of Anamalai hills,Tamil Nadu presently.The threats include conversion of forested areas for timber and non-timber plantations and timber extraction activities.
Bhau Katdare,who works extensively on turtle conservation in Maharashtra,said that there is a rise in human population and people are negligent towards nature.Habitat destruction is the major threat for different species.They do not have sufficient space and food, he added.


Critically endangered is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN Red List to wild species 

Critically endangered means that the natural population of a species has decreased,or will decrease by 80 per cent within three generations and all the available evidence indicates an extremely high risk of its extinction in the wild 



y Himalayan Quail 

y Pink-headed Duck 

y Siberian Crane 

y Sociable Lapwing 

y Spoon-billed Sandpiper 


y Andaman Whitetoothed Shrew 

y Jenkins Shrew 

y Nicobar Shrew 

y Large Rock-rat 

y Malabar Civet 

y Namdapha Flying Squirrel 


y Knifetooth Sawfish 

y Ganges Shark 

y Pondicherry Shark 

y Largetooth Sawfish 

y Deccan Labeo 


y Hawksbill Turtle 

y Red-crowned Roof Turtle 


The Siberian crane (left) and the Gharial are on the list of critically endangered species 

Baaraat : the procession

Baaraat : The Procession
There’s a rhythmic beat of drums floating across, weaving its way through the by lanes of our colony, turning and dancing with the breeze that transports this soulful music during the early hours of a divine Tuesday morning. The Sun is yet to reach its hottest and the winter chill makes this morning a rather fog-filled tranquil lazy one. Amidst the “morning walkers” there are bustling house-helpers scurrying around with vessels, cleaning equipment, dog chains, and a variety of utilities.
This mad almost blind rush can relate to only one thing. A Wedding. There’s a wedding set to take place during the course of the day and the family is trying its best to meet deadlines, get everything arranged perfectly for their oldest daughter is set to embark upon a new journey, a new life.
As the ladies can be seen in a flurry, the men are rather relaxed but soon, everyone around will realize that that thing about the men, it’s just a façade. In reality, their hearts are jumping up and down to finally be standing in the present.
As a viewer, all of this chaos seems rather exaggerated but with that thought, comes the realization, that every girl probably thinks like this about a wedding until her day finally arrives. At that point, she’ll probably turn a deaf eye and a blind ear to the wonkies around her J [I haven’t mixed the sensory organs up..I’m just trying to portray the sheer confusion that is, a wedding]
There are so many things to do, so many places to be at, so many people to meet, so many things to eat! I wonder, how, during all the pre-wedding running around, the couple getting married doesn’t forget the reason behind their marriage! It’s like bribing a child preparing for a tough exam with a big box of chocolates every 2minutes until the child finally forgets what he was doing in the first place!
I wonder how many people really put their ‘reason for getting married’ on a higher priority when compared with the menu, the guest list, the date, the venue, and whatever else there may be. Those weddings where everything is so red or pink are very confusing to someone like me. No doubt it all looks wonderfully done, but how come people don’t want to bring some colour into their soon to be new life? Before the wedding, everything is orange and green and yellow and blue and purple and suddenly, after it, things go red!
I’m not sure when people get married, why they do so, but I honestly think a wedding should remain something to be cherished and remembered all your life not only by you, and your spouse, but also, your family, friends, and every bloke who attended it! I’m sure the extravagance has no effect on emotions whatsoever! And as I see it, that’s the beauty of it. The fact that emotions, smiles, love, affection, are unscathed by shimmering metals and gem stones, 53 cuisines at the food counter, imported flowers and cars and a guest list that includes the world and their brother.
Whether one chooses to ‘tie the knot’ under water while scuba diving, or while climbing a mountain during a trek, or spontaneously at a family dinner, how does anything apart from the feeling matter?  Being thoughtful and extravagant are two different things although most parents will go all out on their children’s weddings especially if they’re a single child family.
Even though I never quite understood why the madness has to creep into something that is a celebration of two people uniting and their close friends and family being there to bless them.
The prospect of being able to share your life with someone who completes you is unmatched!  To be able to call someone your own, who will look out for you, look after you, and stand beside you all through, is a gift and a precious one at that. When you’re walking along the sea shore, and you turn to look behind at the impressions of your feet on the wet sand, when you see two pairs instead of one, that strengthening feeling of companionship, is heavenly! :)
To have someone to dance with even though you are the world’s worst dancer, to have a human mirror that reflects to you, who you really are; to learn how to cook things that are not Maggi or plain dal and rice, to be able to step out in the rain without an umbrella and not do it alone; ..these aren’t fairytale stories or Mills and Boons pages. They’re emotions and somehow, for me, they don’t go with the fan-fare!
A wedding is a day for the groom and his bride.. and that’s how it should be :) It’s not a day the bachelor dies. It’s not a day when a mental prison is inaugurated. It’s a day that marks the beginning of the period when you show each other off with the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” Tags :) Sometimes, it’s ok to let the good stuff prevail over the bad, especially when it’s about a very special moment in the lives of two very happy people :)

The Day of the G[raduate] R[escue] E[xpedition]

They say it's the city of dreams. The city that never sleeps. The city where people come with that ONE passion in mind. The city that either makes or breaks. In short, Mumbai.
  Now I don't qualify as someone who thinks of this city as any of the above. I admire the spirit with which is bounced right back from all the bombs that cowards have flung at it. But as a city that I'd like to call home, I just don't like it. So this, is about my day off from Pune, and evidently, my day off IN Mumbai.
  To wake up at 5am after having fallen asleep at 1am and then to board a bus to Mumbai at 6:30 in the freezing winter morning, isn't the start I would like to any day. So here I was, looking out the bus window at people, trees, bridges, water bodies, birds, garbage, cars, roads.. and strangely, I realized during this visit to Bombay, that perspectives alter not only with time, but also sometimes, with company! When you have no one but yourself to talk to, there's nothing you hesitate from saying, or keep to yourself. 
  When you are holding on to a rung hanging from the support rails of a local train compartment, and standing right at the door and looking out, you practically see Bombay go by. I have grown up visiting family there and I refuse to call it Mumbai because for me, it will always be Bombay. Having long since overcome my fear of Bombay local train travel, I comfortably hopped onto one to get to Dadar and realized, this was easy because  there was no point being afraid even if I was afraid. Because all I had, was me! There was no one who would say it's stupid to be afraid and what not. So I just chucked it and climbed on. Those 25minutes enlightened me. 
  I realized, after a long time, that just because on the outside, this city is coated with drugs and slums and garbage and bureaucracy and sky scrapers, on the inside, it's just really a 'home'. It's home to I dont even know how many people! But when one has a very fixed impression about a place, one tends to miss out on seeing the little tiny things that make it human, in totality. 
  I saw that the other day. I saw a young girl of about 6 or 7 yrs sitting on a stair with her grandfather while her grandmother looked at the two of them as the warm looking grandpa pointed to the local and the child was thrilled with his stories.. They sat there, without a care in the world, concentrating just on that moment with each other and at that point it hit me, that no matter how this city is on the outside, it's heart, is still very human. Because it's these people, that are the common people who get ignored day in and day out and they dont have to do anything spectacular to keep their feet on the ground. They're regular people with families, jobs maybe, worries, happy moments.. 
  As I smiled at the sight from my vantage point in the local train, the train had gone by almost 2 stations when I was jolted out of my engrossed memories and thoughts. I guess, when you don't go looking for examples, that's when they all come stand in front of you and practically parade around! I was in the ladies compartment, and there was an old man standing right behind me. A blind, old, poor man who relied entirely on his ears to guide him around. One hand holding the folded walking stick, and the other holding on to the railing, he stood there silently waiting for his station without having realized he was in the ladies compartment. I asked him where he wanted to get off because he was getting scarily close to the edge of the door and he said "Dadar utarna hai" so I thought I'd help him off when I get off at Dadar too. The train was now almost at Bandra and just as it pulled out, I happened to glance at the foot-over-bridge and I saw a dad throwing his son up in the air and catching him again. I saw the little kid smile and chuckle, then I saw the dad repeat his action and bring another smile on his son's face and I realized, even in this frightfully busy city, some people DO manage to enjoy the little things! Because those little things, ARE important! 
   As that father-son duo climbed slowly down the bridge, the train had covered significant ground. We were then at Dadar and just as I turned to the blind man to ask him if he needed any help, his foot touched the platform and he was on his way! Surprised at his timing and judgement, I thought, circumstances and places and sometimes, people, teach us a lot more than we give them credit for. This man was absolutely at ease with his disability and he didn't want sympathy. He had learned to master the art of  "seeing through his ears" so marvellously that I stood there, still shocked and by the time I realized I should be walking out, he was gone. 
   So as I walked across Dadar's platforms and got out on the East side and walked towards Dadar TT bus stand, I saw hundreds of people trying to make their way around each other without bumping into one another to get to their destination in a hurry. I walked with my hands in my pockets, slowly, observing and thinking and people around me, changed by the second! One second there was a lady in a pink dress next to me, and the next, there was a man carrying vegetables! I just kept walking. I didn't ask anyone how I could get to where I needed to be because this, is where I had spent so much of my time as a kid! All the buildings around had changed. The 'scar's from the bomb blasts could still be seen, and more so, imagined, but ultimately, this was a part of town I knew instinctively. I dug up those decade old memories as I clambered on and I realized, they were rather fond memories! Memories of clean beaches, of streets and lanes lined with trees on both sides like avenues, of coconut water that we would just keep drinking as kids, of those hide and seek games which had o restrictions on hiding place ranges. And it hit me, where had those memories gone? Where were my cousins now? Why was I walking alone in Bombay when half my family lives in this city? Distances exist because we let them.
  And then as I was passing a beautiful, old building, I retraced my steps and asked the security guard whether Mr. D'Costa still lived there and he said he didn't know who that was but there had only ever been one D'Costa in that building and he was no more. As the guard went off to his post, I stood with the vacuum like realization that the nice uncle who we would run into several times while we played at Shivaji park, who always smiled at us and sometimes even enthusiastically offered to show us some innovative hiding places, was no more. I don't think he'd have remembered us anyway but I had only one memory of him and now, he was gone. As kids, we were too busy to notice the realities of the world. We were too young to realize that growing old is part of the plan. And now, as I wobbled back on to the footpath, the temporary character of things hit me. Whoever said nothing is permanent, wasnt entirely wrong... I guess. 
  Some emotions I think, are permanent but the point here was, there's so much to learn from the things and people around you! Why do we always try to look so far that we miss out on seeing what's practically under our noses? Why are we so busy that we can't stop to smile at someone we run into at work or someone waiting for a bus or train at the station? Why have we forgotten how to appreciate the small aspects of life? Why does material comfort satisfy us today? Why ,, there are so many Why's! 
  While all this was happening, I even forgot about the fact that I had gone to Bombay to give an exam, the GRE. After all those thoughts, it was no wonder that I had even forgotten to call home and say the exam was over. When you spend 3 months almost under self-implicated house arrest, and then when you finally have the chance to go out and live a little, the exam seems to be an obstacle! Hence the title, Graduate Rescue Expedition :) Of course, I'm still not fond of Bombay at large but at least now, Im willing to accept, it IS human. 
  I don't think I will ever like the city very much, because frankly, I don't like too many of the people in it and having spent so much of my childhood there, I've seen it go from it was to what it is. All in all, my one day Dadar- Andheri visit taught me to go back and appreciate some stuff I'd forgotten about a long time ago :) and for that, I thank you Bombay :) 
 -" ay dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan, kaheen building kaheen traamein kaheen motor kaheen mill, milta hai yahaan sab kuch, ik milta nahi dil, insaan ka nahi kaheen naam-o-nishaan, zara hatke zara bachke, yeh hai bombay meri jaan..."

It Happens Only in India

Don't get me wrong. I'm characteristically, a very patriotic person but then this isn't about me. It's about some things that one wouldn't see anywhere else in the world and no, that doesn't mean the Taj Mahal. 
Thing is, the rate at which we're going, there may be a new Taj Mahal that comes up in say, Uzbekistan and it appears that will happen sooner than conservation.
[you can download this photo from the WWF website]

  I'm frankly afraid to even click on the "News" tab on Google. I really don't want to read any more Tiger death reports. I'd be very optimistic if I were to think that all those reports were about the same tiger. In the last 2 weeks, I've read about a minimum of 5 Tiger deaths. 3 in Kaziranga, 1 in Assam, 1 in Ranthambhore, and god knows how many others that go unreported!

I honestly find it a little weird that when, on one hand, so MUCH money is being poured into conserving JUST the Tiger, from so many countries, how is the ONE country with the largest wild population of the Royal Bengal Tiger, not able to keep them alive? Forget healthy and secluded.. but alive? I mean isn't that, a basic necessity? Life?
On the other hand, our government has its ambitious Project Tiger and the lesser I say about that, the better. But the point is, when we can make impromptu decisions to "relocate" Tigers from Ranthambhore to Sariska, because the latter 'ran out' of Tigers, we can't even ensure their safety? We don't do our research when we select the Tigers to be relocated, we put those animals through the immense pressure of tranquilization, load them into helicopters just outside Ranthambhore, and then fly them to Sariska and live with the notion that within months, Sariska will be choc-a-block with Tigers again! Is it just me or did all that just go waste? 
Because as I see it, the latest report about Tigers going extinct in the next 12 yrs if conservation efforts and governments don't pull up their socks [right now, stockings], may just turn out to be true. It may not be 12 years, it may end up being 16yrs. But is that why a massive proportion of the global population is trying their level best to pull India's national animal back up?

How does it not create an uproar, and I dont mean the social networking site kind, I mean an actual uproar, a revolution; when people hear of or read about or see the news about a Tiger relocated from Ranthambhore to Sariska dying? A large male in Bandhavgarh is missing, a Tigress in Bandhavgarh was run over by a speeding gypsy WITHIN the tiger reserve, a Tiger was shot dead yesterday morning by government officials in Assam because it attacked and killed 2 people [as per reports], 2 male Tiger cubs [they weren't exactly adults] were found dead near the Banas just outside Ranthambhore [please don't get technical about geography, it's not as important as the point Im trying to make].. and why just Tigers? For every Tiger that's reported dead [whatever the reason], at least 7 leopards go un-noticed. Is that fair as well?

I have utmost respect for the Leopard for I have never known  of a big cat more adaptive to changing environments. It is genuinely, the ultimate survivor. And even the ultimate survivor is falling. Why can't mankind just stop being such a proud race? Because quite honestly, we've done more harm than good to our home. We're paying for drinking water, we've got rains coming in randomly from any given minute of any given day, we've got mining leases being handed out like a buffet lunch on Sundays, we've got THE MOST diverse ecosystems imaginable for the world's 2nd most populated country and we're treating them like dog shit [sorry, but it's true]. We just drive over everything in our way. 

I do not say this because I will officially be a conservation biologist in a few years, but because I have the deepest, most pure and aggressive form of love for animals that there could be. And personally, I don't want my kids to learn about the most captivating cat species through their school history books! The mere thought scares the crap out of me! 

I am of the firm belief that if I had the opportunity, I would exterminate China, Japan and the two Koreas. That would cut off more than half the illegal wildlife trade market but unfortunately, it wont work. Africa, India, Indonesia, even Vietnam[!!], Madagascar, you name it, and the country is either the victim and/or a participant in this trade. Now is when we really need to buck up, we really need to speed up and what I call "sincere-ise" the process of conservation. There have been way too many Tigers, Leopard, Crocodiles, Snakes, Bears, Pangolins, Birds, Insects, Whales, Corals, Elephants, Gorillas, Gibbons, Monkeys, sacrificed at the gallows. We NEED to step up and take action. And very honestly, just a few productive, well planned, well thought out, and well executed, well meaning, and sustainable actions are better than a million "movements" initiated on social networking sites but zero in terms of on-ground-results. 

photo credit : Santosh Saligram

The single largest threat that so many of us know of - habitat destruction isn't that much of an "addiction" that we can't control it if we really want to, the most important words here being "really want to". I wouldn't be very gung-ho about having some weirdo bulldoze through my house and throw me out on the street because he wanted to build a shopping mall there! I'd turn around and fight. So is it that wrong for the wild animals to do just that? Im refraining from using the term "encroachment" because I don't think it sums this up. It's just a part of the problem. We've gone and multiplied faster than rabbits which is quite something by the way, and so we now have to struggle for equitable distribution of basic necessities [roti, kapda, makaan] and then, the life skills [education,employment, etc.], and then the luxuries [BMWs, Ferraris, pent-houses, 3 more houses, branded products, multiplexes, 5 star resorts, computers, junk food.. the list is endless]. 

A rather disturbing proportion of this country's population is living below poverty, an even more depressing number have no access to education, 2 meals a day, transport etc. And yet, somehow, we manage to complain about so many things! A little odd I'd say, considering we oust wild animals from their basic necessity providing areas and leave them barely ANY choice!

So I guess it's going to be a match unto death or a fight unto death between history text book publishers and conservationists/naturalists/environmentalists/the general population of the country and more importantly, the wildlife. Will we wait and watch as always, with the tele on in front of us and a bag of potato chips to dig in to, or will we get up, move our arses, and do something about it? 

God Bless You!!

The lights, the crowd, the corn being sold at every nook and corner of every street.. it's like the entire city decided to take a walk at the exact same time! 10years ago, we'd have to walk so much to feel like a true adventurer the next day. There used to be at least 15mins of a walking radius between one Ganpati mandal and another. There used to be craft and lovely figurines on display, there'd be decorations, scits and plays.. 
  Anyone with this memory of the festival of Ganesh chaturthi, would be shocked outright if he/she were to witness the exact same festival today. Select one street. Walk down the street. And you're sure to pass by at least 3 mandals if it's a by-lane, 5mandals if its a wider longer road, 7 if its a main road, and if you're as lucky as I am, 11. 
  I wonder why people in this country, and to be more specific, in this city, find it so difficult to celebrate ANY festival silently! Why is it so hard to accept that this is not what God's will was! He/She/whatever god is never wished for a decibel tribute! The fanfare about who has the biggest and best speakers in the neighbouring mandals, who has the loudest and latest songs playing, who has the prime location [blocking a main road entirely is considered prime!].. and so on.. is simply baffling! 
  Thousands and thousands of stalls, selling idols of Ganesha, decorations, music CDs, speakers on rent, and god knows what else.. [pun unintended]. For the next 10 days, there will be parades, processions, drums, horns, traffic jams, choked by-lanes, power cuts, decibel levels tearing through roofs, plastic cups, plates, half-eaten corn lining roads and lanes and every public place, public toilets will be nightmares, public transport, even more so! Worse still, the corporation strongly believes in barricading people inside their own houses for they block all entrances and exits to my entire colony so none of us can get out or in.. 10 glorious days of house arrest! Months after the festival is done with, potholes from the mandals will still remain and poor unsuspecting souls walking on roads like decent people, will twist their foot in one of them and fracture it adding to their woes. 
   Festivals, as we were taught in school, are meant to spread happiness. When did they stop being cheerful gatherings and turn into these rival competitions against fellow beings? When did they stop being happy events and turn into tormenting and traumatic times that people wish wouldnt arrive at all? When did they become the things that people dread? I never thought I'd see a day when I'd be wishing that festivals just get cancelled, or celebrations are forcefully silenced! And yet, here I am, and Im only 21. This transition from the quintessential festival of cheer, beauty, happiness, social gatherings, and peace of mind.. just became an ugly nightmare!! 
   I dont think people realize what a fool they're making of themselves when they go around piling up food in front of an idol, and when they worship the exact same idol, and then "immerse" it in hopelessly polluted water bodies! You should see people at immersions now! They practically drown the poor Almighty in plastic infested rivulets!! I dont blame Him for the floods in Ladakh and Orissa and Bihar and Delhi ... its his way of "immersing" us. 
   Anyway, all those people who strongly believe they have the insight to read "God's will" - may God Bless You!! 

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