Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Anarchism is an ethic"

An interview with Henri Cartier-Bresson (by Charlie Rose, July 6, 2000). The interviewer is obnoxious (and reinforces all American stereotypes -- I particularly love the "-Money? -No, film." exchange). However, this is still a remarkable piece of footage. An hour long, it gives fascinating glimpses into the life, mind and times of one of the icons of twentieth century art -- even if he would never admit it.

(Incidentally, a big thumbs up to this lovely little Firefox plugin that lets you record streaming video from Google Videos, YouTube etc -- I just downloaded the full 171 MB of the HCB interview in extremely high quality.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Besur, Betal, Back!

I personally wasn't sure if it would ever happen, but Besur Betal Betar is actually back up, loud as life and twice as natural. A little prodding from DD was all it took.

My apologies to all those whom I promised, months ago, that it would be up "within a week". Please be merciful and spare my worthless life.

Ali Akbar Khan (lots of EP records and 78's among other things) and a couple of fantastic Malhars from Ajoy Singha Roy on the air today. Click here to listen, and enjoy :).

(BBB, for the uninitiated, is a streaming radio station for Hindustani Classical music.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas, folks, and a Happy New Year too.

(And in the true holiday spirit, ahem, this. Humans will be, ah, humans.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Kalindikhal - Part 9

24th July (Kalindi Base - Kalindi Pass - Rajparav) : Woke up at around 2:30 am. It was dark and bitterly cold, but the thrill of getting to the pass helped us get up and dress and pack quickly. God knows what the staff were doing all night -- we hope they slept -- but they managed to conjure up food and warm drinks all around. We started off around 4 or 4:30. Everything was bathed in an eerie blue pre-dawn glow (it was quite a bit darker than the pics suggest).

First light soon hit the surrounding peaks, turning them golden-pink.

We moved up an icy, crevassed slope between a dark, rocky outcrop and a huge white bulge.

Fresh snow made it difficult to make out the crevasses. After a bit we roped up, Vishnu leading, and moved on very cautiously. It was tough going, since we were wearing plastic mountaineering boots (and gaiters) for the first time and they're very awkward if you're not used to them (and to the weird, splayed gait needed to ensure purchase on the snow).

There's some ice-axe-anchored crevasse-testing going on in the rightmost pic.

The roping-up proved to be prudent. After some time, we found ourselves on the lip of a crevasse about a couple of feet wide. First Vishnu jumped across, then Vishnoi. Then, to complete the trio of V's, it was Vladlen's turn. As he hesitated on the edge, Happy turned to me and said "Yaar, teri guide ki bahut phat-ti hai!" ("Your guide gets really nerved out"). I was about to make a suitable retort when we looked around and found the guy had disappeared, rucksack and all, and faint shouts of "Help! Help!" were coming from the icy depths :P. Thankfully he'd jammed somewhere inside and not gone all the way in. The folks in front dug their iceaxes into the slope to hold him in place on the rope, and after fifteen minutes of mighty pushing and pulling he emerged, unhurt and surprisingly cheerful. To our eternal regret, we were so caught up in the moment that nobody took a photo.

The rest of the climb was a bit of a struggle (and my lack of conditioning showed), but we eventually made the couple of hundred metres to the pass itself, at 5947m. It was gorgeous -- there's no other word for it. Bright sunlight, blinding snow and an incredible view.

(Click on the picture, enlarge it if necessary, and scroll left to right to see it properly. It covers about 180 degrees. If I can get a 10-foot long print of this from the original file it should be a knockout.)

And here are the lot of us on top. Mukut, Abigamin and Kamet (7242, 7355 and 7756m, L to R) float over the clouds just above my head (I'm the leftmost guy).

After a few minutes on top, we decided to head down the other side to Rajparav. This involved clambering down a steep, snowy slope to a huge icefield that seemed to stretch on and on and on and finally roll over into infinity.

That's our advance party of porters in the right two pics, and the thin lines cutting across the icefield (enlarge the middle picture) are crevasses. We plodded on and on across this white desert, sinking in ankle to waist-deep with every step. It was also pretty hot, and we ran out of water, and had to refill our bottles from a shallow puddle of meltwater a couple of inches deep. The road to Rajparav lay along the right side of the icefield, but as the sun rose higher and higher the surface became more and more soft and treacherous. So we decided to pitch camp a little earlier than planned, just below the lip of the icefield straight ahead. There was no way to walk down, so we had to rappel down the ice. This was great fun -- we rammed a couple of iceaxes into the ground and anchored two ropes to them (the main rappel line, and a safety rope). There was a small snag -- the safety rope was too short, so Mahavir and Gagan Singh stood on a little ledge where the safety rope ended and unhooked the rapeller from it when he got there, so that he could climb down the last few metres on the main line alone. Vishnoi and I had rappelled before (down a three-storey wall of our hostel in IITK :)), so we went last, along with Vishnu, eschewing the whole safety rope business and trusting the main line alone.

Here's the rappelling scene -- the middle third of the picture is ice. Vishnu, the last man down, tied his rope to an ice screw which he had to do some fancy ice-climbing to recover later.

Little meltwaterfalls trickled down the rocks below the lip of the icefield, and we clambered past these channels to get to camp...

... where much fooling around was done.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Justice. Wheeeeee!

From Rediff:
The Delhi High Court has convicted Manu Sharma under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for the murder of model Jessica Lal.

Justices R S Sodhi and P K Bhasin also found Vikas Yadav and Amarjeet Singh Gill alias Tony guilty of conspiracy and destruction of evidence. They have been convicted under Section 201 of IPC.

The court declared that Manu Sharma, son of a senior Haryana Congress leader, had actually fired the shot that killed Jessica.
And this rather poignant excerpt from an interview with Jessica's late father:
Is it true that Manu Sharma's parents visited your home and apologised to you?

Yes, this is true. On December 25, 1999 we heard a knock at 11 in the morning. I opened the door and saw a couple. The man said: 'You don't know me but could we come in?' I asked them to come in. Then he asked me if my wife could join us. I called my wife.

He then introduced himself as the father of the accused and said he and his wife wanted to call on us, but did not have the courage to do so. For 15 minutes there was no conversation. Then they got up to go. My wife noticed they had left behind some flowers. So she asked Mrs Sharma about them. Mrs Sharma said these flowers were meant for Jessica. We accepted the flowers and placed them on her grave the next day.

PS: Back. Will post.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

When all are one and one is all

The crummy old sound system, the new Bose, the crowded audi, the riotous Egyptian/ballroom dancing/crawling behind the band, the weird noises from the music club at night, the corny songs, the smashhit songs, the catcalls... it's good to know at least some of that still lives on.

It was a fun four years. And you rocked again this Diwali, guys.

Pegu, Harshat, Riaz et al. at Gurgaon:
Mora Sainyan (Fuzon)
Dooba Dooba (and just a bit of Smoke on the Water :P)

... and Biplab, Dipanjan et al. at Pittsburgh:
Maa Rewa

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cow Poetry

Distant Hills

The distant hills call to me.
Their rolling waves seduce my heart.
Oh, how I want to graze in their lush valleys.
Oh, how I want to run down their green slopes.
Alas, I cannot.

Damn the electric fence!
Damn the electric fence!

Thank you.

(by Gary Larson in "The Far Side". The original image, showing a cow reciting the above in front of an audience of cows sitting on chairs, is not posted because of this. This post is dedicated to the Diabolic Dancer, who introduced me to

Monday, October 16, 2006

Har soz mein har saaz mein maujood hai tu

Yeh zameen jab na thi, yeh jahaan jab na tha
Chaand suraj na the, aasmaan jab na tha
Raaz-e-haq bhi kisi par ayaan jab na tha
Jab na tha kuchh yahaan, tha magar tu hi tu.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Kalindikhal - Part 8

23rd July (Suralaya Glacier to Kalindi Base): Great views in the morning:

Today, after some clambering...

... we got onto a pure white river of ice with, for a change, no rocks on it. This is probably still the Chaturangi, upstream from the point where it is joined by the Sweta Glacier (I haven't found a complete map yet). Here's what it looks like down the valley...

... and up it...

... and even further up, with Kalindi Pass itself running up the centre of the picture, between the white hanging glacier and the darker rock behind it:

Chandra Parbat was off to our right:

There were little meltwater rivulets running through the glacier, which we jumped across with suitable melodrama :P

... while Vishnu and Mahavir paused to play cards on the ice at regular intervals. I presume this shows some sort of high-altitude savoir faire.

We walked up the glacier to the foot of the pass (~5700m) and pitched camp there. Walking on the ice was surprisingly easy, and not very slippery at all. The glacier had its source in a massive icesheet (coming from China?), whose size is impossible to convey in pictures. Here's an attempt:

And here's our camp right at its rightmost end, where it's all cracked up:

The seracs behind Vishnoi are pretty far beyond him, and are each at least the size of a many-storey building.

Here's a view up the pass itself. We'll be going up this slope the next morning at the crack of dawn.

We sat outside in the gathering gloom for dinner, then prepared for a very short night -- we'd have to be up at 2:30am and start out by 4:30, to get on the ice before it started growing soft and dangerous in the sun. Vishnu had earlier suggested we might not even sleep tonight ("Nobody sleeps. The kitchen runs all night"), but that plan was shelved and we did get a few hours' shuteye.

(Part 9)

Kalindikhal - Part 7

(This part was wrongly included in the Day 6 episode. Sorry about the mixup.)

22nd July (Khada Patthar to Suralaya Glacier, 6km): I started out early today, and moved ahead with Vishnu. We got onto the glacier fast. The glacier was covered with rust-coloured rock. We'd heard the name "Raktabaran" ("blood-coloured") applied to one of the ice-rivers here. It could have been this very one (Update: according to a map I've just located, it wasn't), possibly as one of the four colours of the Chaturangi (which literally translates to "four-coloured") glacier. As is no doubt evident, my glacial geography is rather weak. Vishnu had passed this way a couple of weeks ago with another team, and he scouted out the trail of markers, little piles of stones, that he'd placed then. We moved ahead at a rapid pace, and I enjoyed the feeling of being at the front for once. After a while, we caught the most fantastic view of Satopanth, gleaming blinding white only a short distance away.

Vishnu was going to guide an army expedition up the mountain right after our trek. He pointed out the route to the summit: up the snow ridge starting between the two large black horns (standing out in the middle picture).

I think something about the views of the peaks today invigorated us. I can speak for myself, at least -- normally I'm pretty slow and steady, but today I felt like racing ahead all the time.

We also passed some interesting ice mushrooms -- large flat rocks carried down by the glacier under which the ice has partially melted, leaving them perched on frozen pillars.

And then this interesting little traverse of a knife-edge ridge of ice: normally, a glacial ridge has a sheer drop to on one side and rubbly, gentle slope on the other -- one walks just below the edge on this rubbly side. For this short stretch of maybe 20 feet, both sides were sheer, slippery ice. Vishnu marched out onto this edge, balancing like a tightrope walker...

... and keeping himself perched upright God knows how, hacked out some footholds on one side with his ice-axe. This took quite some time and the rest of the party turned up as he was finishing the job. I went across first, minus pack and (throwing dignity to the winds in the light of the abysses on both sides) on all fours, putting my hands on the edge and my feet in the footholds. The rest followed in identical fashion, except of course some, or possibly all, of the porters who tightroped across (with packs) like Vishnu.

I hate being a plainsman :(.

I'm to the left of the ridge, and Ajay about to cross it on the right, in the left picture. The right picture is what we'd have fallen into on the other side if we'd slipped. We had a gala time chucking pebbles into this pool after we'd crossed over.

The sheer walls of ice flanking these ridges were quite spectacular. Here's one angle on them:

Our camp was on the glacier itself, on a rock-strewn sheet of ice with a little hole for water nearby.

(Part 8)

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Ashtami, Sunnyvale, 2006

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Re brishti dhore ja, nebur pata koromcha...


"This land of rivers is a land of floods, of great movements of water and the breaking and desolating of banks: Jibanananda Das wrote of the sad green river-shores of Bengal. It has been, well into a period of living memory, a land of famine, natural and man-made. Particularly within living memory, it has been a land of conflict and uprooting and helpless suffering for millions -- more millions than ever in human history on a comparable area of the earth’s surface. (This is statistics not rhetoric.) Much in Bengal’s past is of a piece with its recent predicaments. It was that past which, not so long ago as historical time goes, refashioned a harvest festival in the light of a singular combination of myths to create the unique worship of an eminently protective, eminently affective mother-goddess. That worship has so far retained its vitality, as social though not religious ritual. (The priest is one of the most poorly-paid functionaries at Durga Puja, below the image-maker, and far below the lights technician.) Not all the canned music and electric gimmickry, appropriation by political parties and gut-level street vulgarity, has been able to dispel the latent meaning of the exercise, simply because one must enact it if one goes through the exercise at all.

Durga Puja thus articulates that peculiar vein of sentiment for which the Bengali is marked, not to say stigmatised, by the world and by himself. It can, and often does, degenerate into banal sentimentalism; it induces unproductive stances and ineffectual scruples that prevent it from asserting its place in the world, or from doing any good to oneself or others. But it proves to be a compelling legacy that makes one look at the world in unusual lights, and from time to time makes possible some unusual gift of service or insight."

(Picture of crow at Kumartuli by Amit Datta of The Telegraph, Calcutta, in a rainy September, 2005; words by Sukanta Chaudhuri in The Asian Age, in a rainy October, 1999.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kalindikhal - Part 6

20th July (Vasuki Tal): Rest day. Climbed up small slope next to the lake and did stupid things like this:

Clouds, clouds, clouds.

(I had mistakenly included some of the next day's stuff in the 21 July episode. Sorry about the mixup. It has been fixed.)

21st July (Vasuki Tal to Khada Patthar, 6km): Clear views in the morning! For once we're all cheerful :). Vasuki, Bhagirathi and a cluster of four peaks we could not identify in the distance, across the lake.

The route today involved yet another glacier crossing, and then climbed up a rocky, grassy slope to Khada Patthar ("Vertical Rock", 5456m), a grassy patch bisected by a stream. Here's Gagan Singh coming up the slope, with the glacier we'd just crossed behind him.

We dumped our packs in camp and walked up a little higher to check out the terrain beyond the surrounding ridges and to climb some boulders. Here we are being monkeymen:

Hiking boots are awful to climb in, btw.

Something about our oh-so-incredible nightlife -- evenings in camp mostly consisted of card games by torchlight, frequently simultaneously in multiple tents. Twenty-nine was immensely popular (I suck at it). Vishnoi, who assumed responsibility for teaching Vladlen the game, started with a stripped-down version and gradually introduced more complex rules as the evenings went by, until he happened to introduce some new rule that totally destroyed an exceptionally good hand held by Vladlen. "Fuck you!" screamed my venerable advisor, "There is no such rule!!! There is no such rule!!!"

Normally, we cook on treks ourselves, but this time the conditions were tough enough for us to assign the job to the porters (we took this decision after the first couple of days, and a subset of the staff pocketed extra shekels for this duty), and they did a great job, relatively speaking, for trek food is rarely palatable. The tomato/garlic soup and morning daliya were big hits.

(Part 7)