2005-06 India trip BLOG

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Dec 2005
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11-12 Dec 2005: 1145 AM Pasadena time

I am in front of Gate 121 about 40 mins away from the boarding time of SQ011 to Mumbai via Singapore. Anu had contemplated driving me here. It was good that I took the supershuttle. The airport - and not just the Tom Bradley terminal - were very crowded with cars backed up beyond the entrance point.

I am sitting down and can see tops (tails) of several big birds through the glass. They look like the upright tail fins of sharks looking for pray as they move to or from the runway. The strange pricing patterns of most airlines do equate them to possible sharks. Can see the mountains in the background. Am not sure which ones these are. Rarely do I get to sit at this end of the airport.

1925 Pasadena Time (have no idea what the local time is).

Its been over 6 hours on the flight now and 4 more hours before we get to Narita. There is very expensive broadband on the flight. With VPN properly set-up it would have been free. Need to get that done while I am in Pune so that on my way back could use this stuff.

They have pretty good interactive system. On the brain teasers section started the math part. I thought it would be trivial like most systems that cater to a large number of people. However, it took me some time to get the first one. It was to complete the following sequence: 1, 2, 3, 7, 22 with one these alternatives - 89, 155, 44. Don't read further without trying to solve it first. Finally I got it and said 89. To my horror, (and later surprise it said 155). My fascination quickly subsided when they gave the wrong answer for a probability question and did not have the correct alternative for a question based on Venn diagrams. Also, the analytical questions hinged a bit on general knowledge. An over all letdown. But at least they have it.

They have on-demand movies and videos, a large number of them. Watched 3 so far (you can forward through them if you are watching them like Jay reads books). "The skeleton key" has a germ and the suspense is reasonably well maintained, though you do get an inkling of some aspects of what is to come. "Batman begins" is less dark (practically) than Batman. There is some good initial philosophical content on fear taking the usual far eastern way. But it keeps on bordering on supernatural though they try to mask it with technology. "The 40 year old virgin" can be skipped.

2340 Pasadena time

Prepared plans for the Kolkata AND the Raipur talks. It helps when you can not get off the seat and there are no distractions. Should get in to that habit. Should not even have the computer on. Used the old-fashioned pad for the planning. Will need to search for some diagrams, verbiage and refernces (don't ask what else is there in a talk).

Also added "Sarkar" to my list of movies watched. Reasonably well done. Like always, there are a few weak links like why is Savtya not followed up on. I thought the balance was good in portraying Bal Thakarey as a RobinHood or as a downright hooligan. I wish the maharaj nexus had been more thoroghly exposed. I believe they are the many of a much wide-spread social evil of inaction under the name of faith.

0530 AM Singapore time. In flight SQ422 en route Mumbai

Was at Changi for about 3 hours. They have a large number of 15-min kiosks to check email. Was able to send/get email from anu, and MMLA. Only towards the end discovered the laptop kiosks where I could charge it up as well as connect with a cable. Was able to send the earlier version of the blog to Anu.

Earlier, found the "live" news inside SQ flights to be pretty stale. They said the third day washed out by rain and so I lost interest, but later clicked anyway to discover it was about the first test which had its third day 8 days back. India are doing pretty good (relatively) in the test match.

On the other flight had tried the "Singapore Sling" a cocktail they say is famous. Tasted good.

The skeleton key (2005)
Batman begins (2005)
The 40 year old virgin (2005)
Sarkar (2005)

Singapore sling

13 Dec 2005: Reached IUCAA after taking a taxi to Dadar and Shivneri's Volvo to Aundh. It was all very quick. Slept very well from midnight to 6 AM without a trace of jet lag.

Did not have an alarm clock so wrote a script on my mac: sleep for $ARGV[0] seconds, then every $ARGV[1] seconds, say "wake up". At some point will add another variable to change the voices used.

Started work by meeting various people. This is a good time to be at IUCAA as there are many visitors.

Also started what Anu later called the "janasampark mohim."

14 Dec 2005: It was fun talking to Mark Whittle about his exploring the Big Bang Acoustics.

Had dinner at a place called Green Park in Aundh. A recently opened restaurant, one could see how India is moving to serve the people who are ready to pay more. It has a large parking area, open spaces, air conditioned and outdoor seatings and umpteen people participate in ushering you to your seats. Someone first guides your vehicle (if you are driving) to a spot, a sipoy opens the main door, someone asks another sipoy to open another door, he does so, another person standing there directs a person to direct us to seats, where someone serves water, another takes orders, another serves food, another asks how the food is and yet another brings the bill. For a moderate meal not including drinks it came to 200 per person. This is way high if you are thinking of even the year 2000. But now it is commonplace and no one bats an eyelid.

Mark Whittle
15 Dec 2005: Had been to Anjutai's and was planning to go to a dentist (1 of 3) that they know. But the way they were speaking of dentists and teeth, did not feel like it - painful extractions, looseners and what not. They made it sound as if Indian dentists are no better. Either will go to Medinova tomorrow, or will get the cleaning done at Yavatmal (or another place in Pasadena).

Hema wanted some photography lessons, so we had gone to Vetal Tekdi (the highest point - 800 m above MSL - in Pune). Managed to catch a sunset there. The air seemed very good too.

16 Dec 2005: Visited Pulastya. As always, it is full of fun things. Saw and got a levitation toy that costs about 15 rupees. Put 2 pairs of magnets on a flat surface, insert a pencil in 2 ring magnets spaces such that the front one is just behind the first pair on the flat surface and is attracted to them, the second one is in plane with the other pair and is repelled by them. The pencil tip is made to rest on a vertical surface (piece of an old CD) and it just stays in the air as the back part is repelled by the magnets. Saw some other magnet tricks too.

Also heard that the picture book I had sent for Rutuja is now translated in to 15 languages. Due to original copyright, the English version has to be sold for 150, but the others can be sold for 15.

Arvind Gupta toys
Magnetic levitation
17 Dec 2005: As it was not possible to meet all the relatives separately, gathered them at Abhiruch aka Bhide farms on Sinhgad road. The place has not changed much since the last time I was there several years ago (Mai was there too). It is an expansive place where they serve Maharashtrian style thali with bhakri's from several different cereals. After the meal went to the aamrai where after a brief indecision (when nothing much seemed to happen) tried to play a few games. That went okay, but as expected the crowd was too mixed. But everyone had a good time in general.

Incidently, they also have rooms like a restuarant for about 600 Rs a day.

Went to ABC and got the sanskrit dictionary (Monier-Williams) that I had been looking for for some time. Got it for 800 Rs. They don't print weights on books, but I do not think it is more than 3 KG.

Monier-Williams dictionary
18 Dec 2005: Nothing but work and meetings
19 Dec 2005: Went to see the huge fruit bats in the Fal Sanshodhan Kendra behind IUCAA and adjacent to the river. They were there as I have always known then to be. It was dusk and soon many of them took wing. It looked great in the redenning sky. It was too dark to take any photographs of these strange mammals.

Went to Rama's. Had a good discussion with her parents. Prof. Gore gave copies of a few magazines including Antarnaad (ed. Bhanu Kale).

20 Dec 2005: Almost midnight, Jadavpur University Guesthouse, Kolkata

This is the longest night. Am going to feel it. There is a local railway track just next to my window (and I think there are a few mosquitos).

I had a short nap in the Pune-Mumbai-Kolkata flight which was very unlike any international or US domestic flight. There were many people checking you at various points, and they actually served a meal (which had a designer napkin and colorful paper packets) and had very courteous attendants and they gave newspapers to all which all could be explained by the fact that they were charging 250 USD for a one-way flight of 2.5 hours which is equivalent to 45 day salary of a grad student.

At the airport Asis was waiting for us. Kolkata still uses the 1950's rather spacious Ambassadors for taxis. Six of us crammed in to one such (besides the driver) and we started what was my maiden journey across the city of Joy. As the seats are designed knowing well that the passengers will most likely be Indians and will not be there for too long, they are fit to be sat in for about 5 minutes. Having to hold my laptop on the lap and with another bag prodding the back of my head, did not help very much.

The guest house seems rather remote, but perhaps the impression is just because it was late when we arrived. Its just a stone's throw away from a bustling part of the city though. Around here are many small ponds which have water all through the year. At one time this was true of many more parts of the city. But urbanization has seen many of them being filled and built over (and some are likely to have dried off).

21 Dec 2005: Took a walk in the morning as the city was waking up. Just outside the University gate they had posted the daily newspaper on the wall and many people were reading it. I was reminded of the public library in Praabhani. Overall people seem very cultured. I had assumed that I will see a lot of bongness (typical faces etc.) but that was unfounded. I guess the movies over depict the typical, or make something feel typical.

The talks were okay. There was not too much interaction from the students. Somnath gave a talk gearded very much for the students.

The food was in a box and amazingly did not have a fish, and also was almost north indian. While the hosts pardoned themself for the spiciness of the food, it was in fact sweet. Nothing healthy about it :-(

We walked back to the guest house after the talks. It was about 4 KM and longer than what I had thought, but it was good. We will go out to Park street for dinner now.

22 Dec 2005: I (and Sajith and Laxmikant and Abhishek and Arman) went to College street using the car Asis had arranged. We started with the coffee house which is a landmark and has maintained its old-fashioned decor from the times of yore. It did look rustik. The rest of college street wasn't much impressive though. It was mostly footpathside built bookshops selling the typical prep. exam kind of books.

Later, at Oxford on Park street bought Satyajit Ray's book "our films, their films". Had selected several more (Feluda, short stories by Ravindranath, a byomkesh bakshi book). But I kept them back when I was told that didn't give discount. Clearly this is a "post street" phenomenon also seen at popular in Pune.

Also bought some Ravindra sangeet and a few VCDs at "Music India". Its very expensive and so left out many pieces I had selected (many Ray movies included). It was not easy to find a place to eat (without being a majorly drinking place). Found Cinnamon and it turned out to be good (but Rs. 40 for each nan!).

A waiter there was clearly south indian, and I knew this was the moment I was waiting for: India has been playing the third test match with Sri Lanka, and since Sourav Ganguly has been dropped, there was no way we could dare ask a Bong what is happening in the match since they could start by lynching us. The best answer we could expect was total ignorance of which country was playing whaich country at what game. I was given the predictable but good news of the Indian victory in a rather hushed tone.

The taxi (or its driver) did not mind taking in all five of us and we were at our respective guest houses by 11.

23 Dec 2005: 8-10 PM A2/36 2810 Howrah-Mumbai mail

This morning after Ajit mentioned Dakshineshwar, I felt like going there (and to Belur math). Based on what I was told I counted on leaving at 1030 after Tarun's talk on CMB etc. (it was good. I learnt a few things and remembered that we need to review the GA stuff) and get back before Sajith's talk at 1230 (which was fine, but clearly more things need to be done to separate QSOs at different z's besides using the few magnitudes). I was dissuaded by being told that Dakshineshwar is beyond Howrah and I should just leave early and go there on my way to the station. I planned to take a taxi, but Asis arranged for a car (an Ambassador - as most cars in Kolkata are - ancient as the city) along with Souvik Banerjee, a first year stats student to go along. He worships Arnold and works on longitudinal statistics which seems like time series stuff and we may want to adapt it to our transients problem. We will be collaborating on that.

We left around 3 PM after the first authentic Bong meal of the trip. They brought plain rice - sumptious portions of it - and a slice of lemon. Soon some ghee was brought too and Som who was next to me immediately started working on it. I feared the worst. But soon something akin to micro- bhaji (not bhaaji) came. It was like a mixture of marinated pieces of possibly cucumber and fried semi-crouton sized pieces of dried daal mixture. Som, who had a better hang of the style as well as the language was wise enough at this point to ask about other courses. I was relieved to learn that it included maach. Cauliflower-potato bhaaji was soon followed by an entire fish about 7 inches long (of course with all the bones). And before we could devour it came a 2-inch cube of another variety - soft and with a delicious texture (but worse bones). Rice and zol flowed continuously. I was too full and busy then to want another fish helping and never got a second chance. Chutney (sweet! made of pineapple) followed and so did rabdi. Plastic bowls with hot water were a novel idea (to me) in a pangat setting. There was a gulabjamun which I skipped. What was missing was mishti-dahi. I would have enjoyed the dahi part. Nevertheless, it was an excellent meal and certainly the best of this trip.

The journey was arduous. Roads narrowed by traffic meant that it took us about 100 minutes to navigate the 20 odd km. All the while Souvik warned me to leave early since I did not know what a beast Howrah station can be (he was under the impression that the train leaves at 7 in stead of 7:30). He entirely ruled out going to Belur maTh. Dakshineshwar is spectacular from the outside. The color scheme and the patterned design is very different from what I have seen before. I guess that is the Bangla design. When we entered they forbid us taking any photographs inside while quickly waving a magnet over my laptop which Souvik was carrying. I skipped a beat. I hate it when they disallow photography. This is one of the laws I won't mind breaking. But Souvik was a strong bhakt who had taken dikkha and told me that it was to stop terrorists from blowing up the temple (terrorists should really have other things to blow up than the peaceful temples, but we make so much of our Gods that they become natural targets - if only we learnt to leave our Gods alone, the terrorists would too). We had to take photographs only after crossing the thresholds. One such brought us the sight of a quietly flowing Ganges. It was evening and the Vivekanand bridge was seen nearby. Not much moved. A couple of dinghies flowed along and some bhaaviks like us were meandering along. Inside was a huge mela thanks to it being kaalaashTami, but how can the real bhaktaas have time for the omnipresent and commonplace Ganges? They quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) moved in and out of the other thresholds. Got to see Belur math only from a distance as we crossed a nearby bridge.

Journey to the station was only slightly faster. On nearing the station it was rather suddenly revealed to me that there are two Howrah stations - thankfully adjacent to each other - and asked which one I would like to go to. Since the choice was not mine I declared my ignorance and Murphy sent us to the wrong one. They decide to put me on the train as I had heavy stuff (thanks Souvik!). A collie took 20 Rs. to carry on his head the heavy bag which could in principle have been pulled. Only when the train came 40 minutes later - although Souvik had been to check the charts - that we realized that the coolie had dumped us 15 bogies off. We rushed and pulled the bags there knowing well that we had enough time but not much. They helped me load the stuff and hurried away. Just outside I found Sachin Sarvate trying to find a Marathi couple. I immediately recognized that it must be him though I had not seen him before. We could chat for about 10 minutes as the train left slightly late. It would have been good to chat more, but at least we could meet.

Sachin had brought some Bangla sweets for me ("Bangla sweets" sounds so redundant!). I accepted those gleefully. being out of sorts with train journeys I assumed I won't get anything to eat (my bogie was first from the engine and would be outside the platform everywhere) and promptly proceeded to eat some of the sweets which I would normally not touch with a barnpole. And then came a pantryman asking about dinner orders and served a delicious meal (second best of the trip) for 30 Rs. - it consisted of pulav, excellent daal, rumali roTi, mataar-waal sabji, maTka dahi, mixed achaar and a water packet. The sabji and achaar were just like home. There was no paper napkin though.

Ready for a good night's sleep before reaching Raipur.

24 Dec 2005: Reached Raipur at about 10. Found Pandeyji in a short while and we were off to the guest house in his new Hyundai. The room was spacious but none of the points worked and I had to get the water heated from outside. The birds and dogs coexisted and took a few photographs. There was hardly anyone else staing at the guest house. Found an apparrently mutated mosquito in the bathroom. Had a photo-session snapping it.

After lunch at Pandeyji's, we reached the lecture hall shortly after 2:30 which was the scheduled time for the talk. about 30 students and a few members of the staff. I made it informal and talked about how MSc students not principly involved in Astronomy can also find their work useful in Astronomy and could think of using their knowledge to make a carrer in a joint area. Thankfully many students asked questions. Hardly any research scholars did, and certainly none of the staff did. In fact, some of the research scholars were busy making arrangements for tea, a phenomenon that has affected many a past departments. I did have an informal discussion with Pandeyji's students.

One of Pandeyji's colleague and the head of a local school, shri. Ashok Hajra, took the ooprtunity of my presence to invite Pandeyji and another Prof. from Physics, Rakesh Agarwal (and brother of the Somesh, the mochi in Nukkad whom I met later as I was leaving Raipur) over and then we went to Girnar, the oldest restaurant in Raipur. It was pretty good.

Just before that I was able to buy a lot of metal figurines from Baster from an MP shop, as also a flute that whistles when moved. Some decorations for our living room. I wish I had more time to explore nearby areas.

The train was at 2:40 AM as I had been booked on Geetanjal (on my own request - but the time table I had found on the internet had suggested that it leaves at 11). Sudhanshu and Laxmikant were to accompany me to the station and ensure that I stayed awake. We chatted about this and that and I showed them a few tricks with computers and astronomy that would save them time in their research. The train came a short while after 3, I got a sleep of about 4 hours and the train seemed to have reached Nagpur a little early. The tracks are good now and they have not revised the time tables. As a result, this phenomemon is routine.

25 Dec 2005: X'mas was hardly like it. Neither white nor noticable. At home chatted with Ashu, kaka, kaku and Satyajeet. They were all to go to the wedding of Madhuri's cousing where she already was. Kaku cooked good food mainly for me, but then A/P also ended up eating some when they came to collect me. At Prajakta'a Charu had also arrived the same day. We settled down at their place and one by one came Arun, Amit, Akhil, Vivek-Shubhi. I was stationed there until about 6. Nanakaka D had called and indicated that they will be leaving the same day, so I decided to go with them to Yavatmal.

At 8 PM they collected me. Then they had to collect Shaila kaku. She was at someone in trimurtinagar which is near Gopalnagar. For directions they would start asking about all nagars one after the other. We went in the wrong direction very confidently from the petrol pump on N Ambazari Rd. One guy who was being asked for directions had to ask them to make up their mind as to where they actually wanted to go. Then I remembered where Gopalnagar was and proceeded to direct them. The driver was going so slowly along the Ramnagar road that I was not sure when I would reach Yavatmal. Once we left Manu's place, and go to Wardha road, he was suddenly in his elements (though his use of upper/dipper was a bit questionable at first and then a little meek).

Many people crossed the road without looking around for vehicles. On broad roads like the ring road I think it is fully justfiable. The argument goes thus: when walking across the road, you present a footprin of about 1 foot compared to the 40 feet of the road. Clearly the road is not full. A bike here and a car there is the norm at that hour. The drivers are intelligent, and clearly see you. Using the rest of 39 feet by changing direction is a trivial affair for them if they are to navigate the "inch-inch ladhawu" roads. QED.

We reached home shortly after midnight after, unlike a kilner would, I dozed a bit sitting next to the driver, and also helped turn on defogging as the driver hadn't the foggiest.

26 Dec 2005: Generally took it easy and lazed off enjoying food cooked by aai and later a 2004 Shiraz from Junnar that dada had ordered especially for me. The last few years India has been trying to make roadways into this field. It was okay. The packaging clearly needs to improve if they wish to get anywhere though. And it wasn't cheap, costing over 6 USD (equivalent).

Visited a few relatives. There is overall Aloha spirit here. You can't help but start being engulfed by it the moment you enter this 3000 ft above MSL town.

27 Dec 2005: It was the eve of Sanchit's Munj and all the relatives who had gathered for it in Yavatmal got together at the karyalay around 7. There is a lot of power-"shedding" in much of India currently. Yavatmal gets its share of 3 hours. Today it was around these hours and a singing "generator" kept us company for a good deal. Its mostly a social occasion as the batu and his parents brave out the hom while others sit together and yak. I offered my digital camera to the children who did a few experiments with it. And Hersheys.

The food was great - very healthy and without any wastes. These days most things work on contracts. So the yajmans and their guests are free to use their time more effectively.

I was half prepared to sleep it out there, but most people started seeping out as there are many bases in town. So I returned to my own base as well.

Did remember to talk to Jay for a few seconds.

28 Dec 2005: The thread-tying ceromany proper. Did not bother to tell people my views on it as had exercised that liberty when it was my prerogative last year when after due consideration we had decided not to torment Jay through that gruelling and now cosmetic procedure powdered by the potent terminology of samskar. Instead, enjoyed the social outing. Socialising is what really happens there and that in itself is good. Talking to people - meaningful, topical, and non-redundant shop-talk, beats reading any book hands down as you have access to a bottled and properly aged organic equivalent. Of course just like there are books on this and that, people can be of this and that inclination. But obviously it takes all kinds ...

It was good talking to many people after a long time. It was fun being with the children as well as we discussed the universe and its wonders a bit, connecting it to simple math and physics. Rajasi (4), Isha (6) and Renuka (5) were also after me since I had the camera. I also got them to sing on the stage with a mike.

29 Dec 2005: More Aloha spirit and a lot of bridge - something that has been happening twice a day, almost everyday. the Americal cut-throat with a couple of variations of our own.
30 Dec 2005: First of my two talks in Yavatmal. We got to Amolakchand by about 11 for the 11:30 talk but for a long time were in Dr. Achyut Deshpande's room as the students were taken to the hall (where, I discovered later, boys sat on the floor on one side and gorls on the other, and there were a few rows of benches behind them. The OHP was on one side and I am not sure if the girls could see well) and described his new book on ecology and environmental science which he had to write though he is no expert in it (since no books that matched the syllabus were available).

The talk started soon after noon. It was clear that I would have to cover some basics. I did tell them the basics on distances and time scales etc. I asked a few simple questions too. Less than half of those got any answers. Things had anyway started on a slightly wrongish foot with an English teacher who also practices jyotish picking me up and the students starting the program with Saraswati vandan. After the talk there were a few questions, more from the boys. It was clear that more were interested in (or exposed only to) spacecrafts, satellites and so on. Clearly a better differentiation between information and knowledge is needed. A few girls approached me after the talk - not with questions, but for autographs :-) I took the Narlikar stance that they will have to earn it. At least this part of his can I manage to mimik. I gave them my email id and said that if they send me a question THEN I will reply to it and also sign it.

Clearly a few students have the potential. If this could be encouraged, handled, some of them can certainly go on to do science. It is important to keep arranging such talks. Personally, I feel that even if only one or two of the students get initiated in to thinking about astronomy, it will be great.

It was 2 by the time we got home. Rahul/Akshay had gone with me. The waiting was boring, but otherwise they enjoyed it. So many things can be done in parallel, but rarely are.

A get-together had been arranged by aai-dada gathering relatives home. Sometime after 4 the guests started arriving. It was rather fragmented as some people had already left before others arrived. The women and men sat separately. While the men talked about saving accounts in the posts and other places, the women talked about ukhane. I found myself happier with the children. Played chess with Akshay. He is agressive and has good potential.

31 Dec 2005: The Darda Engg. college talk was at 3. Did not have to make many changes from my talk the previous day. One of the students picked me up at 2:30 on a two-wheeler. The talk went well. I realised that for an uninitiated audience like this more basic examples need to be included, so did that. An example was saying that you can classify stars based on various handles like temperature, size etc. just like one can classify cars based on their fuel capacity, their milespergallon etc.

The students were more receptive than at Amolakchand, but again there were a few horrible questions e.g. what is the connection of a comet with the universe (and I am sure the student did not have a deep connection in mind e.g. seeder of life).

Again, I will be happy if a student or two have been initiated. Since there were more computer communication students, I also talked a bit more of VO, the data tsunami and all that.

Arun/Chitra/Shubhi were to visit Yavatmal for the new year's eve but could not make it. Without revealing it to me, dada had arranged good fish at home. It was a quiet but good new year's eve.

1 Jan 2006: While at Asha atya's the name of Naresh Chamedia was mentioned and I remembered that Abhijeet had been to see his coin collection. It turned out that he is not just a coin collector but has all sorts of things: idols, lamps, swords etc. besides tens of thousands of old coins. He started working with his father around 1995 (10 years after his father started it) and they have gone meticulously about it. He must own stuff worth a few million rupees. But he is not a dealer and spoke at length how he is interested in setting up a world-class museum at Yavatmal with a mobile wing which would educate the masses about the wealth hidden in our culture and traditions. Its a noble goal, but it is interesting that he has not managed that yet. He says about 1.5 million Rs. will be needed (30K USD) and of course it will be pointless to sell the valueable stuff to raise that amount. He showed quiet a few moghul coins and suggested we pick up a theme and proceed accordingly. I very much agree. It is just that my collection is more of a hobby with only a little bit of money thrown in here and there. I do not see myself being able to spend a lot of time understanding what is (and what is not) valuable and purchasing stuff accordingly. He had some small metal objects which I did not think were ancient because of how shapely the circles were. Also it was not clear why they were in the collection. But most of his stuff can be well catagorised. However, much of it also lies in a small house and some in his workplace (he works on measuring scales - selling and repairing them). I was extremely impressed by the collection, very unimpressed by the way things have been kept, and a bit puzzled as to why at least a definite outline of a museum which is touted to be the goal of all this exists.

A complete contrast was the collection of another person I saw today. He collects bottles of odd shapes (a few dozen), matchboxes (a few thousand), odd things like japachya maLaa of different religions. These are not organized too well (especially the coins). At least part of the collection was in response to another. Made me think a bit about my own collections too. Coins and stamps are at least issued by countries and trace some kind of history. But this topic is worth thinking more.

2 Jan 2006: On a hunch visited a classmate of mine from 22 years ago. Have not been in regular touch with any of them for this long. It was good to pick up tidbits about several. They are in a varied set of occupations: from teachers to transporters to traders. next time should make it a point to find out more about some of them.

Did some recordings on the mac for aai. Mahimna, rudra etc. Glancing over her shoulder as she read it saw the marathi meaning of rudra that so many rever. Its just about stating that hey shankara, help us, protect us, not them and all that. Talked to aai a bit about that and how teaching that without the meaning is meaningless, and with the meaning so shallow. But it is unlikely to penetrate. :-(

Finished my stay at Yavatmal and hopped over to Nagpur.

3 Jan 2006: Dined at Shubhi's. There's always so little time in Nagpur (especially since aai-dada have moved). Caught up with happenings in general.
4 Jan 2006: Gave my only talk at Nagpur at the R S Mundle school. Wasn't very happy with the audience. It seemed that half of them were there to see their child collect some math prize, a quarter were these children getting the prizes and at least an eighth were the staff/organizers etc. I was hoping to see more youngsters sitting there, lapping it up and asking questions. Especially since there had been a preparatory session for the astro olympiad just a few days back, the absence of those children seemed to be a major organizational lapse. If not they, who? I feel its a matter of trying to do too many things simultaneously on the part of the organizers. Said so to Vivekdada who understands it quiet well.

Dined at Amit's. It was fun playing carrom with Yash.

Earlier recorded some bharuds that kaku knows well. She too wanted to do more of the sanskrit stuff, but kaka and I talked her in to doing the two 50-50.

5 Jan 2006: As the train ticket did not move much from the waitlisted number of 10, took a volvo to Pune. As it left, I said bye tp A/P, A/M and Umesh who had come to see me off and immediately the bus took a wrong turn. I frst thought that it is just avoiding the traffic and will get to Amaravati road later, or will pick up some passengers near-by and then do that, but no, it kept on hurtling towards Wardha and then past it all the way to Yavatmal and stopped at Amrut garden hardly a km or two from where I was for a whole week just a couple of days earlier. After eating parathas that kaku had made, called home. They said they could have brought dinner for me. Oh well. I could not contain myself and also called kaku and A/P.
6 Jan 2006: Back in Pune, was again suddenly surrounded by a large number of astronomers. IUCAA was having its annual SAC. Had some good collaborative discussions.
7 Jan 2006: More discussions and some socializing.
8 Jan 2006: Off to Mumbai and to NOFRA. Got a bat for Jay.
9 Jan 2006: Finally a birdwalk, the fisrt and only on this trip. Went with Anandbhaiyya (after a rather brisk morning walk). Not too spectacular, but still worthwhile. Golden orioles, barbets and such. There was a longish black bird that came and sat in a tree. We were wondering what it could be. In a few seconds tens of crows arrived, started hovering above the tree trying to shoo away the bird. It did not budge thought. We stood there a few minutes, took photographs from different angles, and when that impasse seemed not to get resolved, decided to move on. It was then that we realized that may be the crows were after us and not that bird as they started following us down that Golf course. We too ignored them, but they sure dried up any more birds there were likely to be.

Vinda Karandikar became the third marathi person to get Dnyanpeeth (after Khandekar and Kusumagraj). Was able to buy Vijaya Rajadhyaksha's part I on him when we went to get a few Diwali Ank at Girgaum. His are very scholarly works besides, or as well as, the down to heaven works for children like "etu lokancha desh."

I firmly believe in supporting local economies and initiatives that are good. Thats why I always buy something at the flee market and also books from thrift shops and libraries. The Kolaba market falls in that category as well. There you have to haggle more during the bargains and have to continuously calibrate yourself. I bought several things this time and spent about 3 hours there. A Warli art canvas (205), a few colorful bags with mirrorworks - 3 small and a larger one. Their chains are unlikely to work. I was told 150+3X20. Bought them for 150. I guess should have got them for about 100. Bought magic stuff worth Rs. 100. I am happy about it though not all products look very finished. Also got some stuff from FabIndia and a couple tops from the street. An elephant (marble?) and a turltle (sandstone?) and three small figurines. Bigger "art" and "artifact" shops were costlier and had things like old locks. Couldn't get Gulkand burfee though :-(

Off to the airport around 8 PM. All taxis in Mumbai are now equiped with Compressed Natural Gas. Saw how it is pumped, how the engines are adapted to use it, how the "gas" stations are and so on. It seems far better than the gas cylinders delhites use. But it seems to lead to a fairly brisk wear and tear of the machine/engine. I do not know how useful it is in the long-term.

What has transpired in the few days that were spent in India? I liked India again. Overall. I won't hate to be back.

  • Astronomy: The scene is improving. Many opportunities can be made.
  • Computers: Its still mostly software, but some good stuff.
  • Internet: Good at places like IUCAA, okay at Atul's. Must be good in good companies.
  • Infrastructure: trains, buses, roads, planes seem to be improving. Seems strange, and I don't know how it is despite the exploding population.
  • Education: Is good. But still too much stress on exams? Too much competition.
  • News: Good coverage, but getting too jazzy?
  • People: Still superstitious. Is it increasing? There are certainly a lot of people taking advantage of the situation. But people are still warm and speak affectionately. Waking up to personal health issues.
  • Support: Almost everyone's house I went to a servent would do at least chapatis. Labour is cheap.
  • Water: Scarcer in some parts, depends still on the vagaries of nature.
  • Electricity: Huge cuts everywhere. Some say its deliberate just to wake Dabhol, Enron etc.
  • Real estate: Getting costlier, but affordable by more due to availability of loans (high rates of interest)
  • Vehicles: cars are more commonplace and clearly easier to navigate.
  • Corruption: An accepted norm, but in this short time span it wasn't clear where it affected more (and directly)
  • Globalisation: It is making more things costlier. Especially those associated with richness and culture.

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