Thursday, June 21, 2007


There are few things that I love to watch on TV and Supernatural certainly does take a precedent. I quit doing everything to watch Jensen Ackles. People may find it gory, and strange seeing two good looking guys chasing strange stuff across America. Few understand the world is far stranger than what they see it everyday.

Many would deny the things they see as unreal, made up - what if smeone has really seen such stuff - maybe been so close to it that it has changed his or her entire world. It has been that way, so here is kudos to two good actors from Supernatural, including Jensen my favourite. Some info about him;

Birth name Jensen Ross Ackles
Born March 1, 1978 (1978-03-01) (age 29)
Dallas, Texas, United States
State flag Flag of United States
Notable roles Alec/X5-494 in Dark Angel
Jason Teague in Smallville
Dean Winchester in Supernatural
Eric Brady in Days of Our Lives


I usually think a lot before writing anything, but this is coming from my heart and soul. I love reading books and lately I have been reading Annals and antiques of Rajasthan By Lt. Col. James Tod who traveled and wrote about it in 1818. Simultaneously I am also reading a true story of an Indian warrior - Prithviraj Chauhan written by Chand Bardai his official court poet and biographer, its called Prithviraj Raso.

Two books that talk about war, warriors, history and what took place - each complimenting the other in their own way. One recording in a poem form the bravery of a warrior - the other giving facts and breaking the fiction of what actually took place. Comparison, information, thoughts all come together here.

Few read two different sets of books at the same time, but this is turning out to be very very interesting, I feel as if I am moving back in time when it all took place. I have to maybe just turn my head and find myself among the warriors and brave men discussed by the two authors. Two very different men, coming from different backgrounds and yet telling the same story and legend of brave men that existed in the ages gone by.

Ah! a thought maybe I amy just do my doctorate in such books , who knows. Well readers if you get a chance do read these two books - they tell you history in a way the books of today can never do it and never make it interesting.

Two volumes of each and i have almost completed one volume of each in the past one month. The love for history has continued and increased over the years for me.

Friday, June 08, 2007

At the doors of faith

I had seen him for the first time in a movie, with the quiet demeanor, the saintly appearance, the love of humanity and giving a helping hand to every human and animal that came along.Sai Baba, a saint loved by all. It was the actor that I had watched, who had emoted Sai's life so well that as a child, I had been deceived into believing that he was the real one. It was a long journey for me as I reached only in the year 2003. That year means a lot to me, for with that trip, I discovered that he had attained a far higher position in 1918. I got on the night bus to Shirdi at 9 pm from Western Mumbai suburb Borivali.
A very comfortable journey, but I was too excited to sleep, for I kept opening my eyes to look out of the window. The bus stopped outside Thana for a quick stop for a cuppa and a visit to the cloakroom. A good, quiet stop with the cool breeze blowing across the open air restaurant. The bus moved on. It continued at a steady pace, only stopping to drop passengers and pick some up at designated stops.I slept quiet well and opened my eyes to catch a glimpse of a road island which was a tableau of sorts with a mock jungle, and tigers. We had reached Nagpur. Shirdi was just half-an-hour away. I closed my eyes and tried to remember all the details I had read on the Net about Sai.
Born, when and where is yet unconfirmed, it is approximated to be around 1838. For any questions that referred to his parents and relatives, he always replied: "It’s been a long time". Seen for the first time at the age of 19 under a neem tree, he was enchanting everyone with his looks and habits in 1854. He disappeared for another three years and came back with a wedding party in 1858. How did he get his name? It is said that when Bhagat Malshejpati saw him get off the bullock cart near the Khandoba Mandir, he went forward and invited him saying, "Welcome Sai". He wore white clothes and always a long flowing robe like a shirt over a lungi and tied a scarf on his head in a single knot which is called a kafni.
His journey as a saint had begun, and people found solace in his words and deeds. All difficulties seemed to melt away in his presence. Jealous individuals tried to have him removed from the village and insulted, but would reach the formidable and unshakeable wall of his personality and faith. Slowly and steadily, he won all those against him, till the entire village was won over. Now, they serve him completely.
Entering Shirdi is quite a surprise. It appears completely different from what it was you have imagined it to be. Shops abound all around the main temple. They sell phulmalas, coconuts, prasad of different types, photographs, paintings, trinkets, all to do with Sai. Getting off the bus after an eight-hour journey, I trudge tiredly towards the hotel. Walking the streets after a downpour is a little difficult, since the road is kacha, and had turned to mush. The shopkeepers call out asking if you need rooms, or prasad or flowers and Sai Bhajans resound from every other shop.
The entire town has developed around the temple: The Sai is for his people and they for him.After resting a couple of hours, I walked towards the temple. Also called by its original name Lendi Baug, the temple is surrounded by monuments from Sai’s time and connected to him in one way or other. Lendi Baug was bought by Rao Bahadur in 1918 and presented to the Sai Sansthan to make a temple there. The trees in the premises have been planted by Sai himself.The mosque or Dwarka Mai was the place where he lived -- a hut covered with a tin roof to protect it from the elements. As you stand in line to take a peek inside, you can buy loban, or get some from your hometown, with sandalwood etc. to put in the dhuni, installed by iand which has been burning since then. The line moves up and you can touch the small wooden pillar which he leaned against while sitting to cook at the sigri close by.
The east of the compound also has a marked niche, where Sai kept a brick and regularly touched it. Closed and behind doors lies the cart in which he travelled and is, to my knowledge, kept there safe and never removed. Now so close to the dhuni, a square space entirely covered with steel grills on all sides, I could feel its heat and smell the loban, sandalwood, incense that was being poured by the devotees as they passed. Many collected a little bit and put them in envelopes or put it on their foreheads. Behind the dhuni lay the black earthen pot which Sai would fill with water and serve everyday to the visitors and the thirsty.
The north wall has a niche with two brass lamps and close to it lies the small stone grinder, which Sai used to grind wheat. He used this wheat flour to draw a line around Shirdi to protect it from the cholera epidemic. This line still survives, but has been covered with buildings, shops and farms and you will have to really go out of the town to catch a glimpse of it, if you are lucky. Here in the Mai, you can also touch his silver padukas and the black stone where he sat and bathed. Every noon, prasad in the form of puri, bhaji, dal or chaval is served to those present at that time, or you can also serve yourself if no one is there to do it. This place also has replicas of Sai’s horse and the tiger, which are said to have died just before Sai left for his heavenly abode. I felt it is a rare opportunity that any human being gets to be so close to such a great personality, individual and saint.
Close to this mosque lies the Chavdi. This place is where Sai is supposed to have said his prayers and meditated. Here also lies his smoking pipe and palanquin, taken out for a procession every Thursday. Sai would walk in a procession till his last days, with his close companions Tatya, Bayjabai, Chandorkar, Laxmibai and others. This is the only place where women are not allowed to enter the enclosed section. Opposite to it lies the small house with three rooms, one of which contains a dargah of Chand Bhai, the man Sai arrived with accompanying a marriage party. A quiet and completely ignored place, it is worth a visit for you will find a great collection of original pictures of Sai Baba and the wooden sandals he wore till the last days. Well, it has been quite a day, tiring yet satisfying.
All the unanswered questions about Sai were answered and knowing him through the places where he stayed and visited. I chose to rest, the remainder of the day before visiting the main temple the next day. I had just taken two days off to visit Shirdi, but it felt as if I have been for ages, for time means nothing, except when you have to reach on time for the arti.
The itinerary of the temple begins early at 5am in the morning with a Bhupali, Abhishekam at Gurusthan, 5.15 (morning) Arati, Naivedyam of butter and sugar to Baba in Samadhi Mandir, Oil offered to the lamps in Dwarkamai, 5.40 Bhajan in Saibaba Mandir, 6 am Mangal Snaan (washing) of Statue and Samadhi in Samadhi Mandir, 7 am Darshan begins in Samadhi Mandir, 9 am Naivedyam in Samadhi Mandir and Dwarkamai, 10.30 Satyanarayana Pooja, 11.30 Dhuni Pooja with rice and ghee in Dwarkamai, 12 Mid day Arti, 12.30 Naivedyam in Samadhi Mandir, Dwarkamai and Gurusthan, 4 pm Pothi (Devotional reading/Study) in Samadhi Mandir. At sunset: Dhoop (evening) Arti, 6.30 pm Naivedyam in Samadhi Mandir, Dwarkamai and Gurusthan, 8 to 9 pm Devotional Songs in Samadhi Mandir and other Cultural Programmes (if any), 10 pm Shej (night) Arti, after this, a shawl is wrapped around the statue in the Samadhi Mandir, a Rudraksha mala is put around Baba's neck, Mosquito net is hung, and a glass of water kept there. At 10.45 pm, Samadhi Mandir closes after night Arti. An entire day just goes at the temple so you will be better off, if you do sightseeing one day and visit the temple on the next day, checking out all the programmes if you want. The lifelike marble statue was put in this place in 1954. For a Sai Bhakht, this is the most beautiful sight he can see. After the gifts are offered to Sai and devotees receive prasad, they are directed to give the gifts to the Sansthan office, which will later be auctioned so the money can be used for charitable work. The temple is also his samadhi which lies right in front of the marble statue.
Sai had said: “I will stay as my devotees want me too.” Three days are the most important in the entire year at Shirdi: those of Ramnavmi (March/April), to celebrate the birth of the son of Gopal Gund, born after many years with the blessing of Sai. The second, Guru Purnima (June/July) and Vijaydashmi or Dassehra (This year on October 23), the day Sai took his samadhi.The office, at one of its windows, gives out the sacred ash and coconuts and the famous ladoos. Close to the office are the three small temples made in black stone of Lord Ganesha, Shani and Dattatraya, constructed at the behest of Sai and offer puja everyday.
The Sai Sansthan has grown over the years from just taking care of the temple to doing a lot of charitable work in and around Shirdi. After attending the arti and visiting the temple, and collecting prasad for my family and friends, I stepped out into the market close to the back of the temple. Well, here was a surprise waiting for me, for I had missed seeing the Gurusthan - the neem below which Sai was seen for the first time. Here, the new shoot of the tree has also grown to quiet a height beside the old one. I walked into the market feeling blessed. Though people were poor, they seemed satisfied. I picked up silver rings with picture of Sai, some photographs, lockets, and a small marble statue of Sai. This statue now occupies the pride of place at my table in the office, complete with a crown, shawl and garland.

Fact File The temple can be visited year round though it is a little hot in summer and a little cold in winter and wet in the rains. The Dassehra festivals will begin on October 21, 2004 and continue till the 23, with the rath and palanquin yatra each of these days.Address: Shri Saibaba Sansthan, Shirdi. Tal- Rahata, Dist- Ahmednagar Pin-423 109 MS(India)It falls on Ahmednagar-Manmad State Highway No.10 at 83 Km. from Ahmednagar, and 15 Km. from Kopargaon.You can catch a bus from Mumbai. Get in touch with the private bus owners/ST Bus Stands for details of the time and expense.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Destination Antarctica

The Great White Continent and the Great White Dessert are two names of Antarctica, a land of extremes and the most inhospitable continent in the world, but you will find life here too!
The fascinating great white continent of Antarctica is located 60 degrees below S latitude. It is the most distant continent, with the nearest land being South America at a distance of 965 km and India (Goa, from where the Indian expedition generally begins) at more than 11,000 km. We left India for Frankfurt, by Lufthansa Airlines, which takes about 9 hours travel time…After having spent an entire day in Frankfurt, we took our connecting 12 hour flight to Brazil where we spent some days enjoying the Amazon jungles and then we were off to Santiago, Chile (6 hours flight) where we met our co-passengers (mainly of U.S. and German nationality) for the Antarctic expedition.
The Amazon is truly the “Lung of the world.” The green belt spreads over a 2,030,000 square mile ecosystem that includes the Amazon River and Amazon Forest (the largest and most dense rainforest in the world having about five million animal species)…It’s here where the Rio Negro flows into the muddy Amazon. For many miles, the black and white waters flow side by side in separate, clearly defined streams before they finally intermingle…Though there are a 170 odd Indian cultural groups living in the Amazon, they add up to only 2,00,000 population as of today.From Santiago, the expedition agents had organised a chartered flight (LAN Chile at 8.30 am) to Ushuaia, Argentina (arrival – 12.20 pm), (flight duration 4hrs)…Ushuaia is the primary embarking port for ships heading to Western Antarctica.The tour ended at Ushuaia pier where we found our ship – ‘The World Discoverer’ and her 100 crewmembers busy, preparing for our expedition.
Journey through the Antarctic Current
The second day was onboard, wherein experts made presentations on seabirds and the marine mammals of Antarctic waters, whilst sharing their current researches. One of the talks on ‘Plate tectonics-or how earth works’ was the most interesting of them all and is the current hot favourite of every geologist. Due to the cold Antarctic summer, the southern hemisphere circulation is meteorologically stronger than that of the Northern hemisphere and the Southern Circumpolar Westerly winds remain strong throughout the year.This creates the “Brave Westerlies” as known in sailing terminology and lying between the “roaring” 40-degree, “furious” 50-degree and the “screaming” 60-degree S latitude. While passing through these latitudes (called the Drake Passage) to reach Antarctica, one often gets seasick inspite of the several medicines, acupressure wristband and medicated patch behind the ear (the effect of apatch lasts for 3-4 days), as the sea is very rough.The Drake Passage is approximately 600 miles in length and it marks the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans…Fifteen totwenty feet (5-6 feet) waves are considered “gentle” in the Drake Passage. It is not really a recommended itinerary for the “weakhearted” (or those with “weak stomach” like me). Because of the rough sea, utmost care was taken to avoid any damage and casualties in the ship. The tables and chairs are all tightly fixed to the floor. The crockery was placed on a wet tablecloth to avoid sliding. There were handrails in the passages and toilets, without which we would have surely bruised ourselves.At times the ship would sway to such an extent, that while seated in the restaurant, one could see the ocean from one side of the window and the sky on the opposite side. The four days spent to navigate through the Drake Passage, while traveling to and returning from Antarctica, were no less than a nightmare. Sometimes during the night, the shutters of the wardrobe in our rooms (although perfectly shut) would open with a bang and all our belongings would be scattered. It was like a scene straight out of a horror film. If you happened to walk without support during a big swell in the ocean, you would definitely resemble a drunkard. On our third day we woke up to the spectacular scenery of huge tabular icebergs (almost 10-15 storey high) all around the ship. An iceberg is a floating mass of freshwater ice that breaks from the seaward end of a glacier or a polar ice sheet. Broken by winds and tide, the icebergs drift for years, gradually changing in shape, until they finally melt in warmer water, further north. They form mostly duringthe spring and summer. An iceberg can weigh from 20 lac tonnes to 4 crore tonnes. The blue colour is due to the compressed ice,which is often thousands of years old. And the blue range of sunlight is thus reflected, instead of absorbed...

Excerpted from Artic And Antarctic, Journeys To The Extremities Of The Earth by Urmi Popat and is published by Manas

Jan Vermeer's style

Jan Vermeer produced just 35 –36 paintings in his lifetime, but remains the most respected artists of the European tradition. Most of Vermeer’s paintings are serene, luminous interiors with just one or two figures. Vermeer grew up in Delft, Holland. He was admitted to the painters’ guild in 1653, and was thereafter allowed to sell his art. He also worked as an art dealer to supplement his income and support his wife and 11 children. WWI resulted in Vermeer losing his business. Soon after, he died of a stroke at the age of 42, leaving his family bankrupt. Vermeer’s paintings were then largely forgotten for nearly 200 years, until 1858 when a French critic began to write admiringly about Vermeer’s work.In The Geographer (left), Vermeer presents another individual in an interior. This male figure, has intense energy in comparison to the contemplative women from other compositions. The flow of light from left to right brings alive the canvas. The flow is accentuated compositionally by the massing of objects on the left. The light spills into the open area on the right, casting shadows. Vermeer adjusted his figure to provide a more active stance. A detailed study canvas revealed that the geographer had originally looked down with his dividers also pointed down.He adjusted the composition and aligned man’s face and the dividers with the flow of light. The folds of the robe serve to show an activate figure, who is dynamic.The painting accurately details the cartographic objects like the sea chart, globe, dividers, square and a cross-staff used to measure the elevation angle of the sun and stars. It is probable that Vermeer’s sophisticated presentation of these instruments was due to his association with scientist Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek. Although there is no documentary proof linking the two, they were both born in Delft in the same year. And the portrait of Leeuwenhoek closely resembles the figure in Vermeer’s geographer, it is possible that Leewenhoek served as the model.He meticulously constructed interiors with just one or two figures - usually women. This genre of paintings show the principal figure is invariably engaged in some everyday activity. Often the light enters Vermeer’s paintings from a window. He was a master at depicting the way light illuminates objects and in the rendering the details of materials. “For Vermeer, painting meant more than conveying abstract principles in a realistic form. Its very essence was built on the conviction that an artist needed a thorough understanding of the laws of natur nature to create a convincing illusion of reality. Such is the seductive beauty of his paintings that their subtle artifice often goes unnoticed.” Vermeer succeeded to give the image a sense of life through the use of light that illuminates the figures and objects in the room.Vermeer may have made use of a camera obscura (literally “dark room”) to help him conceive, although not paint, the composition. A precursor of the modern camera, it was a box with a small hole through which rays of light passed to form an inverted image on a surface opposite the hole. Images recorded with a camera obscura often show discrepancies in scale similar to those found in this painting, and some areas in clearer focus than others. Vermeer conveyed this optical effect by varying his painting technique. The apparent realism of Vermeer’s scene is a quality seventeenth-century Dutch artists often strove to achieve. It was the notion that a painting should deceive the eye with its illusionism dates back to antiquity. Vermeer modified and idealized the reality to achieve a sense of permanence and timelessness.