trekking around bangalore

We’ve been driving out to some of those pleasant places situated roughly between 60 and 100 km from Bangalore on some Saturdays ever since the lockdown ended last year. Driving down the smooth highways is as much of a pleasure as reaching the destination, something unthinkable ten years ago.

We start out around 6:00 a.m. and stop for breakfast on the highway at a place that has outdoor seating, and the waiters are masked. We keep our masks on, except when we are actually eating. Most often, no other table is occupied, so we are social distanced anyway.

A plate of piping hot idli-sambar, or a masala dosa, with a tumbler of coffee, and we are on our way to a memorable visit to some nice dreamscape. The Deccan plateau is dotted with hills strewn with massive boulders, that make for a climb that is neither easy nor hard, but just right to give us a great workout and a sense of achievement. The view from the top is enough to make one send up a prayer of thanks for being a Bangalorean! And the cool breeze up there? Heavenly!

There are no crowds at any of them, especially as we arrive before 8:00 in the morning. And we are back home by late afternoon, before Bangalore’s awful traffic starts jamming up the roads, after a scrumptious lunch at a restaurant on the highway. We normally make a game of spotting a good eatery and predicting the quality of the fare on offer before pulling over. We have never been disappointed!

Here are some snapshots.

Thottikallu falls: Bangalore Urban district, 35 km south of Bangalore

This was our first outing. We made the mistake of starting out late in the morning, and the place was crowded. Entry to the falls was restricted so we walked along the river and peeked at the falls from a distance. Actually, just being out in the open after months of lockdown was itself exhilarating enough for nothing else to matter!

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Shivanasamudra falls: Mandya district, 133 km southwest of Bangalore

Again, beautiful but crowded place, but large enough to keep a safe distance from others who, like us, were reveling in their new freedom. Shivanasamudra is like Nandi Hills – all of us Bangaloreans treat it like our backyard and drive up whenever we feel like running away from Bangalore’s noise and air pollution.

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Antargange: Kolar district, 64 km east of Bangalore

We climbed up many flights of steps that led to a small temple complex. Behind the temples was a trekking trail to reach the caves that Antargange is famous for. The climb involved feeling for hand- and footholds to clamber up and around rocks. It was between easy and moderate, very satisfying.

We didn’t go into the caves to avoid getting into unventilated spaces. Local people selling water, bananas and cucumbers along the way told us there were no corona cases there, but we kept our masks on and kept our distance.

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Kailasagiri: Chikkaballapura district, 77 km northeast of Bangalore

We reached Kailasagiri at 8:30 a.m. We were the only people there! We thought it might be closed, as it was a public holiday for Sankranthi. We looked it up online and found it would open at half past ten.

As we sat on a low wall not sure what to do, we saw motorbikes coming out of a lane every few minutes. So we went to check out what was up the lane and ended up walking uphill for 3.5 km.

The trail opened on to a flat wide space where there was a small Anjaneya temple that housed a stone slab with a 1000-year-old carving of Anjaneya. The temple archak told us it had been dug out from under a huge anthill and consecrated. A larger temple was under construction.

From this point one could climb up the rocky hill to a fort at the top but we decided to do that another time, as the trek under an overcast sky had been fulfilling enough for one day.

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Haddinakallu: Tumkur district, 104 km west of Bangalore

We parked at the base of the hill and learned from locals that we had to leave our shoes in the car and go up the hill barefoot as they regarded the entire hill as holy. There was a tiny shrine right there near where we parked, and one more a little way up, apart from the temple right at the top.

Feeling the ancient rough granite underfoot was nice, actually, despite the occasional pointy little stones I sometimes stepped on. There were no trees, no shade at all, so it was a tiring climb to the top. The view was as spectacular as expected. We could see our parked car so far below that it seemed like we would never be able to get back to it again!

Coming down, the granite underfoot was scorching hot and we tippy-toed to the car as fast as we could. It was a very hot day. Even the cold water we had carried in thermoses didn’t slake our thirst. We stopped at a sugarcane juice gaadi a few km down the road and I felt this was perhaps what amrit, the nectar of the gods, tasted like!

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Lepakshi: Anantpur district, Andhra Pradesh, 124 km north of Bangalore

Lepakshi is just across the Karnataka-AP border. There’s a temple complex built by the Vijayanagar kings in the 15th century. It is like Hampi on a much smaller scale and has the same super-peaceful Hampi vibe.

Lepakshi is where the bird Jatayu fell when Ravana attacked him in the Ramayana. Lord Rama tried to revive him saying “Get up, bird”, which is “Lepakshi” in Telugu. There’s a huge sculpture of Jatayu and a nicely maintained park around it.

On this trip there was no trekking or rock-climbing. Just walking through the ancient temple complex, then around the Jatayu Park and the nearby Nandi Park was nice. We came across unexpected little pockets of beauty: a small lotus pond, bougainvillea in every colour along the path, clever work by ancient stone masons where they had moulded the slabs to follow the contours of the hill on which the temple was built – interesting little things like that.

And there was a Hangyo ice cream kiosk selling the creamiest kulfi, most welcome on a hot Andhra day!

Achalubetta: Bangalore Rural district, 73 km southwest of Bangalore

Acchalu is a tiny hamlet, a cluster of 15-20 little houses. We asked a couple of women how to get to the top of the hill behind their village and they said, “follow the electricity lines”. Perfect directions!

We climbed up nearly to the top without meeting a single soul. It was unseasonably warm, so we decided to turn back a kilometer or so shy of the hilltop.

When we passed a flat-ish part of the trail I picked up a long straight stick and tried a ‘javelin throw’, wholly inspired by Neeraj’s Olympic gold medal! As someone who used to be a javelin thrower in high school I was thrilled to watch it trace a beautiful arc and land with its point hitting the ground. And when my kid shouted, “Ma, you threw so well!” I felt a surge of podium-level joy!

When we came down to the village the women we had met earlier asked if we had enjoyed the climb. They smiled broadly when I gave them a thumbs-up and said I’d love to buy a house in Acchalu and live there.

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Makalidurga: Bangalore Rural district, 58 km north of Bangalore

We asked the young couple next door if they would like to join us with their toddler. They were thrilled at the prospect of an outing where the little one could expend some of her boundless energy.

Luckily, the first part of the trek was a walking path, minimally inclined, not strenuous at all. It was fun watching the kid exclaim over everything she had been denied in her corona-controlled young life. She kept picking up mud and letting it slip out between her fingers, enjoying its texture. She ran up and down the trekking trail, then settled down on a large rock and began to seriously build cairns!

We turned back when we reached the part where we would have to negotiate rocky paths to climb uphill.

A railway track passed through Makalidurga and a pretty red train, a long one, went by, much to the little girl’s surprise and delight.

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Avani: Kolar district, 94 km east of Bangalore

The high point of the drive to Avani was the flame-of-the-forest trees in bloom in the near distance. We got down to take a closer look at one particularly beautiful one.

The legend of the Sita temple in Avani goes back to the days of the Ramayana. It is said to be the birthplace of Lord Rama’s sons Lava and Kusha. The many temples in the complex, as I understand it, were built in the 10th century by a Kannadiga dynasty called Nolamba that I had not heard of before.

As we were there for trekking I didn’t really take in enough of the history and architecture, something that I intend to do another time. The climb was worth it, though – good exercise, good view from the hilltop.

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Madhugiri: Tumkur district, 105 km northwest of Bangalore

The fort at the top of the hill was closed because of COVID. We strolled around parts of Madhugiri town near the fort and absorbed the town vibe, watching people go about their business. The feel of a town and city are so different, so it was a nice change from Bangalore.

When we came upon this crossroad a flurry of rapidly changing images rushed through my mind, of places I had been to as a child, villages I had passed through in more recent years, places I had seen in movies, scrambled with places I had imagined in History classes at school. There was a strange but pleasant sense of déjà vu.

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SRS Hills and Kootgal: Ramnagara district, 63 km southwest of Bangalore

We set out at 6 o’clock in the morning and stopped for a breakfast of thatte idli that’s famous around Bidadi. At Ramanagara we got off the highway and drove down a State road flanked by massive ancient trees. I took the wheel on this beautiful smooth winding road that took us through many, many little villages with names that seem to encapsulate a story.

Gollachennayyana doddi. Maybe this land was once owned by a cowherd/shepherd (golla) called Chennayya?

Petekurubanahalli. Was there someone from the Kuruba community who moved to the big city (pete) and prospered and was thereafter referred to as Pete-Kuruba, and then others started referring to his village by the name of its successful son?

We reached SRS hills at about quarter past eight. Like Haddinakallu, we had to climb barefoot but it was an easy climb up roughly hewn steps to the Siddeshwara temple at the top of the hill. And the trail was completely in the shade of a metal awning that extended all the way from the bottom to the top. The view was typical Ramnagara, comfortingly familiar.

As this had been an easy climb we drove another 20 km to Kootgal. In the eighties, a trekker friend and I had gone as guides with my younger sister and her friends to Thimmappanabetta near Kootgal on a night trek. We had had to put off the trek because local people told us there were bears about at night. So we had slept in the bus stand at Kootgal and walked to Thimmappanabetta in the morning.

Kootgal – 1980s

It looked exactly the way it did then! I was glad to see the immutable Kootgal rocks standing stolidly in a world where everything changes too rapidly for my comfort. From one side we got an aerial view of the neat little village of Kootgal.

Kootgal – 1980s

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Mandaragiri: Tumkur district, 62 km northwest of Bangalore

The Jain temple was closed due to COVID. We climbed to the top of a monolithic granite hill, an easy climb. We walked through the foliage and reached a lake where there were already a lot of people.

I saw a dog chase and catch a baby bird by its wing. The mother bird followed the dog, twittering anxiously. Without thinking, I chased the dog. The dog dropped the baby bird and dived into the undergrowth, and the baby bird flew away with its mother. Then the dog came out and hunted around for its prey and slunk away in disappointment . . . I was left with the unhappy feeling that I had intervened in something that wasn’t my business. Then I noticed that he had a collar . . .

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Avalabetta: Chikkaballapur district, 91 km north of Bangalore

We left home at 6:00 a.m. as usual and had breakfast on the way. Bright patches of flaming orange and yellow marigold fields flew past our windows every now and then, and we couldn’t resist pulling over once to admire them and take snaps.

At Avalabetta we parked the car in the area that has been recently cleared for parking cars and bikes because of it’s sudden popularity with trekkers. Then, on an impulse, we decided to stroll a little way down the narrow mud road leading to the next village. The surface was terrible but there was a rusty board saying the government planned to pave it . . . It really should get down to it asap. Villagers on motorbikes passed us every few minutes on our 2 km walk and it was obvious they were struggling to keep their balance, especially on the parts that were very much like scree, dangerously slippery.

There were little patches of wild flowers all along the edge, and tufts of lemon grass that had a definite citrus smell when I crushed a blade between my fingers.

After walking for 2 km we turned back and went to the beginning of the trail to climb the hill. It wasn’t very challenging as it was just a nicely paved road leading to the temples at the top. There was a Sunday crowd (that’s why we normally trek on Saturdays) so we kept our masks on and didn’t stay long.

At one point I stopped to ask a young couple coming down how much longer it would take to reach the top. It was a very short conversation (‘Where are you from?’ ‘Bangalore. And you?’ ‘Also Bangalore’) but the boy self-consciously inserted “we’re married.” I was astonished, but caught on fast enough to say, “Oh my, I’m not the moral police here!” They laughed loudly in relief but looked sheepish at the same time.

morning walks in bangalore

Citizens of Bangalore have been asking the government where the 20,000 crore rupees allocated for road improvement have gone.

Most have concluded that the money is being spent only on roads in the CBD, repairing and beautifying the same stretches over and over.

True.

Every morning, I walk down one of the beautiful sidewalks that stretch out in every direction from my lane, feeling selfishly grateful for the Smart City Project.

Coupled with our famed weather, mornings are wonderful, and walking 5-6 km is a cinch!

As the newspaper article only quotes disgruntled people I feel obliged to add my voice. As a satisfied citizen. I have waited for sidewalks for decades! From Los Angeles to Paris to Kuwait City to Ulsan, I have envied residents their pavements. Finally, now, it’s my turn to enjoy them!

These photos are going to be a record of this time, a time when beauty briefly returned to my part of the city, the short honeymoon phase before the BBMP, BWSSB and BESCOM will dig up these roads and sidewalks and leave their usual debris of jumbled cables, unused pipes, broken tiles and heaps of sand, cement and jelly stones interspersed with discarded paper cups and plastic water bottles left by workers.

The second picture, the one in the centre below, is of Primrose Road. This narrow lane was part of my route to work, but I always drove – even though it was less than 2 km – as there was no place to walk.

A lot of work still needs to be done. But each day brings some improvement, so I’m hopeful things will only get better.

of unicorns and other myths

How do archeologists pick up one piece of pottery, sculpture, bone or metal and build such a complicated backstory? I concede there is added input from genetics and linguistics now. Nevertheless, I’m skeptical of some of their conclusions. I’m reading Early Indians by Tony Joseph right now. Though it is an interesting and informative book, there are instances where I simply can’t accept his explanations.

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Why is this a unicorn and not the left profile of a bull or auroch with his horns perfectly aligned? The thing in front of him has to be a sort of feedbag or trough with food in it. Why on earth would anyone place a scorching hot brazier near his delicate dewlap! And if this is supposed to be a unicorn as he says, it makes even less sense. Unicorns in mythology were shy and bolted from humans; they were never domesticated or kept in mangers; they had a single long, ramrod-straight, horn that was twisted like liquorice candy. Maybe a species of Oryx – whose horns were aligned and appeared like a single horn – was mistaken for a rare animal and given a new name.

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(Photo by Sandeep Vatsa)

Below is a seal from Mohenjo-daro. They say it depicts a horned deity under a peepul tree, a worshipper kneeling before her, a ram behind the worshipper, a fish behind the ram, and seven figures standing in a line below all of them. Maybe this frieze is not about a deity at all, maybe this is just art made by the Michelangelo of that place and time.

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What if the images represent constellations? There’s Taurus (the Bull, figure with horns), Aries (the Ram) and Pisces (the Fish) lined up exactly in the order in which they appear in the night sky. The seven figures below are the seven big stars of Orion. I thought they might be Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, but the position is wrong. Besides, the seven demure damsels wouldn’t be chiseled out to look like tough men standing stiffly in a straight line.

The ‘worshipper’ could be Aldebaran, which literally means ‘the follower’ and is in the constellation of Taurus, but that would be carrying my yarn too far.

If I had to name the tapir-like squiggle below the Fish, I might say it’s Cetus, the sea-monster slain by Perseus in Greek mythology, judging by its position.

Seals with this design could be replicas of a record made by an amateur astronomer from his observation of the night sky. In which case, it is Science, not Art or Religion.

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Anyway, why are we so certain that the Indus Valley people were steeped in Religion? Weren’t they busy farming, cooking, cleaning, weaving and stitching together garments out of grass or cotton or whatever, raising kids and commuting to work and back from their fields, just as we are? What we think is their religion might’ve been their literature (their script not having been deciphered yet) or their social life, the temple serving primarily as a community centre, with pooja a small part of it, the way saying grace – which is an extant but unobserved ritual in most religions now – is only one small part of a family’s meal.

The Indus Valley people sent up prayers, for example, to the rain god to bless their crops. How is that different from the various petitions people of all faiths today send up to god on a daily basis? When we say, “God bless you” when someone sneezes it isn’t a religious thing. It’s just an utterance, to be understood in terms of social pragmatics.

Why do we patronise our ancestors like they were intellectual cretins?

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Here’s a picture of columns found at the Harappan site at Dholavira in Gujarat, India. The archeologist’s conclusion is given below the picture.

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This is a picture I took on Residency road, just outside the gates of Bangalore Club, yesterday.

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From this picture we could conclude that the BBMP, which maintains Bangalore’s infrastructure, is a Shiva-worshipping organisation that has put up these phallic symbols across the sidewalk, and while we are at it, wonder why Bangalore Club is the repository of so many animal skulls and a stuffed leopard, and what’s the connection between the phallic structures on the pavement and the skulls in the club’s foyer. Come on! These short columns – that look to me like dock pilings for tying boats to – have apparently been put there to prevent people from driving on sidewalks. So there’s a civic explanation for the columns and the ‘symbols’ have nothing to do with religion!

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crossing paths

I could hear someone talking loudly when I neared the little fitness park at the lake this morning. It sounded like a speech. No, it was more like a sermon. People were exercising on the machines as usual. Nobody seemed to be paying attention to the man. In fact, it looked like they were avoiding eye contact with him. He went on, nevertheless. As I got on the cardio-walker to get the morning stiffness out of my legs, I tried to figure out what was happening here.

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He was saying he loved to hang out at this lake whenever he came to Bangalore from Delhi, his hometown. He told us we were lucky to have the famous Bangalore climate. True, it was a beautiful June day. Then he began talking about yoga. I zoned out for a bit. When I got back to listening he had moved on to how Indians should not be divided on the basis of religion because all religions are routes to one god and all religions are about being good human beings…

He spoke in Hindi to an almost exclusively Tamilian audience, most of whom neither know Hindi nor wish to learn it! At least, that’s the impression given to the rest of India by Tamil Nadu politicians. Luckily for him, though, most Bangaloreans know some Hindi. He ended his talk with an extra-loud “Bharat mata ki…” and waited for the crowd to respond exuberantly with a “Jai!” The exercising people gazed at him in bewilderment. He smilingly cajoled his listeners into shouting “Jai!” Finally, people smiled tentatively and shouted “Jai!” after him three times as going along with him was the easier way for a bunch of sleepy people at that early hour.

A man slowly got off his machine and ambled over to the preacher. He asked in very basic Hindi, “Do you think there is a god?”

The preacher answered with a smile: “I don’t know.”

“Then why are you talking about him?” There was an edge to his voice.

People stiffened and looked warily at each other.

The preacher kept his smile in place and said, “See, we are having a discussion, we are not going to get angry.”

The man backed off a little, then muttered, “We are always being told to pray to god, to not fight. So when the rest of the world keeps progressing, we keep praying, nothing else…”

He walked off to another machine. After a while he called out to the preacher, “What happens to people when they die?”

The preacher again said “I don’t know” in his mild tone.

“Oh, shouldn’t people know where they are going when they die? You should…” He slid off his machine and bore down on the preacher.

One youngster, apparently anxious to head him off from an aggressive confrontation, called out to the man in a neutral conversational tone, “Why don’t you read some books and find out? Don’t you read?” I expected him to round on the kid but he shook his head and said “No”. He slowly looked around at all the people watching him. He seemed to be in a daze, as if he had just come out of a trance and realised what he was doing. Then he turned on his heel and walked away.

Meanwhile, the preacher had started singing a song in Hindi. The lyrics were on the same lines: Indians are one people, all religions lead to one god, all religions try to make their followers into good people. He was on his own trip in a happy place inside his head, where subtexts and undercurrents didn’t exist.

I left the fitness park and continued down the path to finish my walk. When I passed that point again on my way back he was still singing, and people seemed to have accepted him as a part of their lives for one morning.

Meanwhile, I thought about the other man’s questions. He was obviously fed up with god and didn’t have the patience for platitudes early on a weekday morning. But the preacher was evidently in the middle of a peak experience and had a strong urge to share it with the rest of humanity, and he happened to pick our quiet fitness park for sharing his joy and goodwill!

The paths of people unknown to each other crossing like this, unexpectedly, to create uncomfortable situations, is the stuff of sitcoms, not of an early morning walk in the park. As I walked towards my car, the moment when the man’s face registered annoyance at the preacher’s “I don’t know” stayed stuck in my mind, with the rest of us frozen in our places like a tableau on a stage.

paradise lost

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I’ve been here for nearly six weeks now and it’s starting to feel like home. Actually, Kuwait City is a lot like how Bangalore used to be. Bangalore of the seventies, the city where I wish I could live more than anywhere else in the world. Paradise lost, to borrow a phrase from Milton.

Present-day Bangalore is constantly worrying about water from the Cauvery river running out, and of having to share it with Tamil Nadu. There’s plenty of water here in Kuwait City.

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There are fountains dotting the city like in the Bangalore of my childhood. Not a single river flows through this desert land, but the government has set up desalination plants for citizens to get a plentiful supply.

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There’s plenty of space to drive on city roads. No potholes. No jams. People don’t dare run a red light. And the best part is that there’s ample free parking everywhere, the way it used to be in Bangalore.

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My husband and I go for long drives out of the city after dinner and on weekends. Going for a drive after dinner was very much a Bangalore thing to do in the seventies and eighties. The drives here have a magical quality for me, mixed as they are with nostalgia for a way of life that has been gradually stolen from me by Bangalore’s transformation into what is called an IT hub. Those days, no matter which route you took out of town to the open spaces on the outskirts of Bangalore, traffic flowed smoothly and the air smelt fresh.

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We walk a lot because it’s something we love to do, but can’t do in Bangalore any more. The sidewalks are wide, with no missing slabs or uneven bits to trip you up. And well-lit too, if you want to continue walking after dark.

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And no jostling crowds. Again, reminds me of home in the seventies, when I walked to friends’ houses, hobby classes, movie halls — just about everywhere.

I feel bad to say this, but I can’t help thinking of all that I encounter on a morning walk in Bangalore now: construction debris, thick black wires (snaking across the sidewalk, wrapped around trees and lampposts as ugly eyesores, or dangling from trees), packs of snarling stray dogs, garbage heaps, missing slabs, transformer enclosures. . . During peak hours people ride motorcycles on sidewalks to get past jams, so there is an added risk. Walking through a city should not be a dangerous obstacle course.

I don’t smell air pollution while walking here in the city. Undoubtedly, there is some from vehicular exhaust, but it doesn’t envelop and assault me like a living thing, the way it does in Bangalore. There is no smog, and visibility is therefore great.

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I understand that there are no polluting industries here as everything is imported, and the population is a fraction of Bangalore’s, but that doesn’t justify the kind of pollution we are exposed to in Bangalore. And there is practically no noise pollution here as people don’t toot their horns unnecessarily.

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Visual pollution by way of hoardings, and wires crisscrossing the sky giving Bangalore the appearance of a giant spider web (pic below), are both absent here. The street lamps therefore look beautiful (pic above), untethered to masses of black wire as they are back home (pic below).

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There’s no dearth of electricity here. Streets and buildings are well-illuminated.

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Cultural Center in Kuwait City

I am aware that a lot of fossil fuel is being burned to generate all this electricity, going by the armies of pylons and unending lines of electric cables I’ve seen on the outskirts and along highways.

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This troubles me as an earth citizen and I do wish they would think of ways to minimize wastage of electricity and fuel. But the point to note here is that the government spends its petro-dinars to give citizens basic comforts like bijli-sadak-paani (electricity-roads-water), as we say in India, and clean, safe public spaces with well-kept lawns and walkways.

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Sunset behind an army of pylons on the road to Bubiyan island

There is one thing about Kuwait that I wish would change: overuse of plastic. It happens in Bangalore too, but here it is much worse. Every vegetable you buy is bagged in one thin plastic bag, then all your items are put into big, thicker plastic bags at the checkout counter. Yesterday, the bill for my grocery shopping was only 14 KD, but I came home with eight big, thick plastic bags and eleven thin ones! One big bag held just one bottle of cooking oil and another only a bottle of salad dressing and a small can of baked beans! The clerks at the checkout counter look surprised when I try to fit my shopping into fewer bags and I have to go along with them because of the language barrier.

In restaurants, layers of thin plastic sheets are spread on the table. When the table is cleared after a meal leftovers are dumped on the topmost sheet and it is rolled into a bundle and tossed into a bin. So it’s mixed waste. In some restaurants I do see waiters separate food waste from plastic, though. There is a garbage disposal problem here, too, just like in Bangalore, but it is not as visible as it is in Bangalore.

Some people are aware of this, going by an exhibit I saw at the museum at Al Shaheed park, though  the message hasn’t percolated down to the man on the street yet.

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As I said in an earlier post, nothing grows here without effort except date palms. Petunias were planted timed to bloom during Liberation Day weekend, and they did. All over the city.

Geraniums and Oleanders are in bloom now, all carefully irrigated.

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At Al Shaheed park there is such an effort to coax Bauhinia trees to produce flowers (pic below), whereas we in Bangalore can drop a seed anywhere on our fertile soil and have it sprout a healthy little shoot and grow into a tree in no time, with practically no tending.

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But what do we do? We chop off fully grown trees to make way for flyovers of highly doubtful utility.

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Tabebuias in Cubbon Park, Bangalore

There’s one important principle that I feel the Kuwaitis have understood and adopted: maintenance. Erecting buildings, putting up fancy lights and water features is all very well, but what a wasted effort if most of the light bulbs don’t work and the paint job develops patches after one monsoon, and the water feature becomes a cesspool for mosquitoes to breed. This is what happens in Bangalore. Nothing appears neglected here, at least in the downtown area where I stay.

However, there’s one thing Bangalore and Kuwait City have in common at present: a dedicated band of Harley-Davidson worshippers!

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I hope Kuwait City continues to stay this way and I can keep coming here for a break whenever Bangalore feels too claustrophobic. This city doesn’t seem in danger of being turned into an IT hub, so it’s safe from the sort of ruinous growth that the government in Bangalore considers progress and development.

our choices – and mental health

I feel like a Grinch writing this in the festive season, but the ‘Sale!!!’ signs are getting to me, because that’s all festivals seem to be reduced to. Buy, buy, buy.

I used to think advertising was about spreading information about a product, but now I know better. It’s about keeping us discontented and hankering for more. If we get tempted by advertisements and go broke there’s no one to blame – we did have a choice, right? So, if we aren’t alert, we actually have as much choice as a child with an open cookie jar within reach!

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While on the subject of choice, look at this: everyone knows that wearing a helmet while riding a bike can protect their heads in case of an accident. But nobody in Bangalore wore helmets even when the statistics were heavily publicised. In September 2015 a law was passed to force motorcyclists to wear helmets. Though it stands to reason, people didn’t take that to mean that the pillion-rider should also wear one! So in January 2016 another law was passed to that effect. Not that it always works (pic above).

IMG_6706Now something has to be done about the helmet-less little children who ride in front of the rider (as in picture above), or squeezed in between the rider and pillion-rider! And people who carry their helmets in their hands (as in pic). 

Ideally, everything should be left to choice and common sense, but it doesn’t work. So, when push comes to shove, the government takes over and decides for us. So there’s no choice, no absolute freedom really, to break our head in a bike accident. The same thing happens with freedom of speech, freedom to live legally in a country with the right visa, and other freedoms we misuse.

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World peace. Human rights. Poverty alleviation. A government that has been voted to power in a democracy. NGOs. Philanthropists. All these words suggest that there are nice people making fair choices for humanity as a whole. Altruistic folks who want to mitigate human suffering and make the world a peaceful and equitable place. But how much choice do they have when faced with ruthless lobbies that influence government policies? Especially when the lobbyists are more important to the economy. Peaceful, contented people are not good for the economy, people who keep money in circulation are.

Think what might happen if an activist fought for our garment industry workers’ human rights in India. Or someone owning prime land in Bangalore refused to sell it to a builder with connections. They would get warning calls from unknown people, and then some. And a journalist trying to expose a business-government nexus that hurts ordinary citizens is always a sitting duck. No, these well-meaning folks don’t have much of a choice. Lobbyists always get their way because the government knows which side of its bread is buttered.

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Moving beyond the local, the US had a choice to not sell US$110 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. But then, I guess big companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing would have lost out on profits, and their employees been out of jobs. To me, this seems like a good reason for selling, apart from having the Saudis fight their proxy war against Iran in Yemen. Also, perhaps the possibility of lucrative contracts to re-build the destroyed countries, something that usually follows use of weapons of mass destruction.

Choices involving thousands of innocent lives are made based on material gains of some sort, and don’t seem to have any moral underpinnings. That’s how it seems to me, an ordinary Earth citizen, a mere observer of events. Words like ‘big business’, ‘big government’ and ‘big pharma’ make me uneasy because the choices they make can have seismic effects.

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So, is there a place for teaching children to be good girls and boys in today’s world? Believe me, I faced this dilemma all through my children’s school years. By trying to raise children to be good – as ‘good’ is generally understood – are we setting them up to be misfits or wimps and fail in today’s world? Pure 24-karat gold is too soft to be fashioned into jewellery. Lesser metals like silver, zinc or nickel have to be added to make it 22-karat, for it to be crafted into durable jewellery. I think I just hoped my kids would pick up the silver, zinc and nickel on their own in adapting to the world.

Or have we pragmatically scrapped the whole business of goodness and switched to simply teaching them consumerism? Looking around Bangalore’s shopping malls, massive hoardings and the monstrous garbage heaps all over the city, I suspect this is what is happening.

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What bothers me is that Earth Overshoot Day was on 2nd August this year, and has been coming earlier every year. That means, on 2nd August our resource consumption for this year exceeded Earth’s capacity to regenerate them! Ideally, this date should be at the end of December. It was 20th October in 2005, 21st Nov in 1995 and the third week of December in the mid-eighties.

When I look at all those cotton clothes in store windows, I wonder how much water and labour it takes to grow and pick cotton in India. It takes about 35 cotton-bolls to make a tee shirt (a boll weighs 2-6 grams, a tee shirt about 150 grams), I’m told. Why is there such a glut of clothes in the world? What happens to unsold clothes, those left over after discount sales? Actually, I find everything is in excess – like electronics, packaged foods, shoes, LED lighting in malls, cosmetics… I know people are happy to have a wide choice, and these industries generate jobs for millions of people – so is it all right for our generation to overuse Earth’s resources? And is the guiding principle of shopping greed, and not need, because it is tacitly – no, quite overtly – encouraged by our way of life?

I’m not much of an activist. All I do is follow the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra, compost part of the kitchen waste, and stick to need-based shopping, an adaptation of the Hippocratic oath, ‘first, do no harm’. And I send a bag of vegetable and fruit peelings from my kitchen to my maid’s neighbour’s cow every day; at least one cow in Bangalore gets to eat a little bit of something nutritious, rather than discarded plastic bags.

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A common sight in Bangalore despite a ban on plastic

I am aware that there are people actually doing things that make a difference in small and big ways all over the world. Vigga Swensen (Denmark) and Justin Bonsey (Australia) are two people whose initiatives I came across recently. Vigga’s is a little tricky as some people may balk at the very notion of dressing their babies in used clothes. Justin’s initiative could be adopted in cities anywhere: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-16/ditching-disposable-coffee-cups-war-on-waste/8625018

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The WHO defines mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.’

The WHO also acknowledges that ‘poor mental health is associated with rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, risks of violence, physical ill-health and human rights violations.’ We, the ordinary citizens of India, are plagued by every one of these.

Can universal mental health ever become a reality considering the individual choices we make in our daily lives, and the choices that people in government make, whether it is Kim Jong Un, Xi, Maduro, Trump, Netanyahu, Nigel Farage, or the politicians who have led India for the past seventy years? Moreover, will the economy survive the impact of contented people who will not buy expensive branded clothes to feel more confident, join pricey gyms for the ‘perfect’ body, eat at fancy restaurants to upload photos on facebook, buy the latest cell phones for bragging rights, and so on?

18-August-2018

Kudos to these people!

https://timesofindia.com/city/bengaluru/no-to-plasic-these-banks-lend-steel-cutlery-to-reduce-waste/articleshow/65447000.cms

22-August-2018

Earth Overshoot Day was on 1st August this year 😦

30-July-2019

Yesterday was Earth Overshoot Day – three days before last year’s 😦

20-Nov-2020 : Earth Overshoot Day was on 22nd Aug this year due to COVID. Good!

after ten years

Ten years have passed.

This is what I had said to Geetha Rao, a reporter with The Times of India, in Jan 2007.

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What has changed since?

The ridiculous term, eve-teasing, seems to have thankfully become an anachronism. You don’t hear people use it anymore. Indians now call it sexual harassment just as the rest of the world does.

img_5469Girls no longer seem to take the blame for ‘attracting attention.’ You hear of girls and their parents filing complaints at police stations without worrying about what their relatives and neighbours will think. It’s just an impression. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the press reports only on people who file cases. Perhaps the percentage of girls taking action has only increased a little, and maybe many still don’t file. Police records may not reflect reality.img_5470img_5470

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More parents seem to be conscious about giving sons and daughters equal opportunities, and fewer parents seem to be staying within the gender roles assigned to them by tradition, at least in Bangalore. I won’t go into the topic of honour-killings, etc. taking place all over the country.

It seems that movies glorifying guys who stalk unwilling girls and ‘win’ them in the end aren’t being made anymore. If I am right, this is major progress, considering two-three generations of boys grew up thinking stalking was a normal courtship ritual.

In this article in 2007 I mentioned “teaching little boys about gender equality.”

In the Times of India, Bangalore dated 9th Jan 2011, I said “each child has to be raised right” with reference to another case of sexual harassment.

I’ve subsequently realised that’s easier said than done. There are so many external influences that shape a child’s character. Parents have to be alert to small changes in a child’s behaviour all the time, without making the child feel watched and controlled. They have to nip potentially dangerous behaviours in the bud by taking away the source of the behaviour, for example access to adult sites on the internet that a child might have stumbled upon. Parents do come for consultation regarding such situations. And then too, there is no guarantee that the child can be straightened out if the habit has become deeply entrenched, or personality development has been severely impacted, for example a teenaged boy who was  sexually abused in childhood.

Bringing about change in society seems a mammoth task to me as my work deals only with individuals, and my sphere of influence is limited. A sizeable proportion of the citizenry seems to believe that women shouldn’t expect to be safe if they want freedom to go out at night. However, public discourse on the topic of sexual harassment is now more open and some citizens are looking for ways to draw the attention of the government and the police to this issue. We might still get there.

unsafe in the city

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In the ­­­last post I wrote, I had inadvertently put myself in harm’s way. I was in a foreign country, I didn’t know the language and I was walking alone on a deserted road with the sun sliding rapidly towards the horizon.

https://drshyamalavatsa.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/may-god-be-with-you/

The walk would have been wonderful if I had felt safe. There was no traffic noise. The pavement was wide and even. The cool breeze and the mellow light of the setting sun added to the sense of comfort and peace that the nuns had instilled in me. It was a perfect evening. But for the silly man prattling away behind me and giving me the jitters, it would have been a perfect walk. He completely ruined the experience for me, and caused me to have nightmares for days thereafter.

Newspapers often carry stories of women being accosted or molested or having their outings and peace of mind ruined by men whose attentions they don’t want.

In my city, Bangalore, I have encountered men who stared, or violated my personal space, sometimes even completely obliterating it, by passing too close on the sidewalk for example. Last month, at the Metro station, I noticed a man standing hardly fifteen feet away, staring at me. And there was nothing wrong with my clothes either, just straight cut jeans and a long, loose, full-sleeved printed cotton shirt.

These men are known as miscreants to police, perpetrators to crime investigators, perverts to the general public, creeps to girls, and frustrated losers to married women who expect to be left alone by virtue of their mangalsutras or wedding rings. To psychiatrists they are known as people with paraphilic disorders. Some of them could be diagnosed as personality disorders, impulse-control disorders or compulsives of a sort. But the issue is not tidily sorted. Controversies exist in the mental health field about classifying and managing them.

These are men who will never understand #i will wear what I want. They will see it as a challenge. They may crack risqué jokes about it. To them, every female is fair game. Some of the worst abuses in Hindi and English probably reflect the existence of such people.

I’m aware that there are deviant, depraved and even frankly deranged people around. Just as people with anti-social personality disorder – more commonly known as psychopaths – exist and should be avoided, I believe deviants should be avoided too. They are an ineradicable section of human society regardless of country and form of government. Personally, rather than make myself vulnerable, I try to avoid places where they are likely to operate. Of course, they often strike in the most unexpected places as any Bangalore girl will tell you. I used to think there was safety in groups, but I realised later on that when a mob runs amok, groups get broken up and stampedes and free-for-alls can follow. So I don’t go to crowded places at all. Nor to deserted places. This works for me as it suits my lifestyle. But I know this cannot be a solution for everyone.

I think there is a limit to what the police can do because a large amount of security would be needed to protect vulnerable individuals in a crowd. As paraphilics show no outer signs of their intentions, and commit crimes with their bare hands, what sort of security measures are possible? The US Department of Homeland Security is apparently working on something called Project Hostile Intent to improve airport security. Maybe we need something like that.

Even when a complaint is filed, the victim is often unable to convey information clearly or identify the perpetrator; prima facie evidence is not always sufficient to implicate a perpetrator; cctv footage, when available, is not always clear; forensic evidence may be unavailable, depending on the type of paraphilic behaviour indulged in by the miscreant. And the police have to be fair to the accused and cannot assume he is guilty.

Women are trying to address this problem through various campaigns. Protest marches help raise awareness in an evolving society. They draw attention to the lack of safety in public spaces and the consequent distress women go through. Men are supporting these campaigns too. But everybody has to agree that wanting to feel safe in a city is a normal expectation, and that culture and tradition will not be eroded if women feel safe and free to go out at night. That includes ministers, cops and people who don’t see the need for the sort of freedom being sought by the campaigning groups. Maybe therein lies the rub.

Hopefully, laws will be laid down – and implemented – to check miscreants, and society will gradually change. Or rather, soon change. One day, hopefully, people will learn to live and let live, and not make value judgments about others.

(Photo by Chandrika Rao)