Thursday, July 5, 2018

The World of Stamps

The greatest fun activity in the childhood years after playing and reading was the hobby of collecting stamps. I do not exactly remember at what age I was fascinated by stamps. The earliest recollection goes back to the early school days perhaps in Class III or IV when every mail that landed at home in an envelope with a stamp pasted drew the immediate attention. Next, the tedious process of removing it with dexterity to ensure that it does not get damaged in the process was followed. A swab of cotton dipped in water was carefully applied around the edges of the stamp till the dried glue softened and the stamp was set free eventually. Sometimes heartbreak followed as the stamp was either damaged or destroyed in the process. It would be allowed to dry and then stored in the file and finally find a place the 'Stamp Album' that I possess till date, though has seldom seen the light of the day for many years.

The hobby, I vividly remember also involved spending the precious rupee or two to buy from the stationery shops some rare stamps that were either triangular or in diamond shapes. The stamps of certain countries gave an insight about the leaders, the flora and fauna, a glimpse of the culture and historical events. One of the rare possessions was the First Day Cover( Normally issued on the day of release of the stamp) with Gandhiji's picture released in 1948 that my father handed me over. I was told that it had a value worth a few hundred rupees, but that was more of an academic interest. I was lured into buying many more First Day Covers from the Postal van that would come close to my house every day to sell the postal stationery, stamps, envelopes etc. Some of the notable collections include the First Day Cover issued by the Post and Telegraph department on the death of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963 and the first landing on the moon in 1969.

In today's digital world this pursuit is a futile one but on a personal level, I can vouch that the learnings that followed from this hobby were phenomenal. I would play the game of locating the countries on the world map and learning about their capitals and currencies with my friends and sometimes with cousins visiting us on vacations. I got into the habit of reading titbits of information related to information on the stamps from dictionaries and encyclopaedia, by making regular trips to the Delhi Public Library not far from my home.

Some of the greatest people in the world have been avid stamp collectors of their time and some notable few include King George V and Queen Elizabeth II of England, King Farouk I of Egypt, Prince Rainier III of Monaco and President Franklin D Roosevelt of USA. No surprise that it was considered to be a princely hobby. Smithsonian Institute Library in the USA, Singapore Philately Museum and National Philatelic Museum in Delhi boast of some of the biggest and rarest collections of the stamps in the world.

Stamps have now become a part of a bygone era especially in the digital world where the new norm of communications is the email, and text messages. Even the art of writing is slowly dying and digital books and Kindle have replaced the conventional books. The world of stamps will still continue to charm aficionados from across the world in times to come

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Travel Blues

One has heard a lot about the Monday blues but am certain no one is familiar as yet with the Travel blues!This has nothing to do with any phobia associated with travel, but just an uneasy feeling each time one travels! For some it is the anxiety of reaching the terminal in time, for others the questionable contents in their bags that may come up for scrutiny or just any other. In my long years of travel the list keeps getting longer as I associate with more fellow travelers and hear their stories. I too have had my share of unusual travel blues which I would like to share.
I roll back a little in time. I landed at Changi Airport in Singapore and after a quick clearance picked up my baggage and hailed a taxi to reach my destination. Some pleasantries were exchanged after reaching home and I started getting ready for the night. I tore off the baggage tags and the maid promptly cleared them and dumped them down the chute.I struggled with the locks as the key refused to budge and in desperation I gave a harsh tug and the lock opened. It was a horrendous sight to see cakes of Rin and Neem soaps, Colgate toothpaste, unfamiliar looking night suits and more. My wife exclaimed ‘When did you pack these, mistaking them for the monthly provisions ‘.She continued ‘ I had told you not to pack, this ridiculous redshirt ‘and the barrage continued. Suddenly it dawned that the contents were not ours. Had the bag got exchanged at the airport? The bag appeared to be a Siamese twin of my own bag. No wonder the lock was so reluctant.To salvage the situation we hunted for the tags which for once had got rid off in a record hurry. The tags were no where to be found. It then dawned on me that the maid had just thrown the garbage down the chute. It was dark and gloomy so the search required a light. With a torch, the hunt started and fortunately did not have to go far to recover the garbage bag containing the baggage tags. I took them back home and realised that a wrong bag had been picked. I am sure the owner of the bag must have gone bonkers in search of his bag. Since it was getting late I decided to visit the airport the next day,
In the early morning hours I left with the bag for the airport and after narrating the sob story to the Security and the Customs team, I entered the airport and went to the lost baggage counter.After a brief discussion and declaration, I was allowed to look for my bag in the reclaim section. There, it stood mocking at my foolishness . An hour later, I returned victorious with my bag firmly in my possession.
I also vividly recall that when I had started to travel to foreign destinations, I was transiting through Amman, the capital of Jordan on way to Tel Aviv. The baggage had to be collected from the belt for screening. I saw that my suitcase looked as if it had been hit by a truck and it was bandaged by securing tapes. I collected it and, complained to the staff. They asked me to examine the contents and check if anything was amiss. I opened and found all belongings were there except an ordinary camera that was missing! I filled in the claim and also for a bag that would eventually have to be replaced. Almost two months later I received a pleasant surprise in form of a bank draft from the airlines as a compensation.
I am sure most readers would have had their own share of such Travel blues! One gets stronger with every such incident and learns to be more cautious. There is however no guarantee that some new surprises do not come 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Cambridge Holiday

A View from Parker’s Piece
The flight landed at Heathrow and the long queues at the immigration was the usual and familiar sight. The onset of holiday season sets off an avalanche of tourists to this sought after destination.An hour long wait and we stepped out of the terminal. A quick cup of coffee was refreshing after the long     flight.By the time we boarded the bus for Cambridge it was almost 10 pm.

The flickering lights around the airport and nearby hotels, a few cars rushing to their destination gave us company besides the few passengers who boarded and disembarked on successive stops like Luton before the final destination. A short ride brought us to the apartment where we were to spend the coming days

The chilly wind with overcast sky greeted us in the morning.The breeze was redolent with fragrance of roses and rhubarb in the neighbourhood. The eerie silence was interrupted by an occasional chirping of the birds.The vicinity of small houses with velvety green grass was soothing to eyes having seen a fiery summer back home. A lovely breakfast of freshly baked bread, blueberry jam and butter with steaming hot tea and muffins was a perfect way to start the English holiday.

A short stroll through the meadows past a small brook where the lazy cows grazed were a sight that I was eagerly awaiting to see. Later in the day a walk to the main market square a short walk away was very fulfilling.The tall spires of the Church of Our Lady and English Martyrs, Chapel of the King’s College, dot the beautiful landscape as the River Cam quietly flows through the vitals of the city with punters and small rowing boats. A number of cute bridges separates the banks of the river like the Mathematical bridge and Bridge of Sighs. More than 30 portals of great learning can be seen when going around the town or punting down the river like The King’s College, The Trinity College just to name a few. Some of the greatest brains and intellectuals have walked down the alleys for more than 800 years on the cobbled streets. It has perhaps produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other place on the earth, close to a 100!Among some of the luminaries are Lord Rayleigh, Ernst Rutherford,S Chandrashekar , Amritya Sen and Stephen Hawking who hailed from Cambridge and rose to astronomical heights in their careers 

There are a huge number of attractions for all age groups ranging from Fitzwilliam and Sedgwick And Polar museums that are mostly free.The Botanical garden provides a glimpse of some rare flora and fauna.

Mill Road has eateries from all over the world and one can find Turkish, Lebanese an Bangladeshi food with as much ease as ,Fish and Chips in any part of the city.Do not forget to have the best coffee at Fitzbillies and scones and cakes in many a bakeries in the town. 

Innumerable pubs scattered all over the town is a best place to have an intellectual conversation with students and rub shoulders with the cosmopolitan crowd from all over the world.

A visit to the Market Square where the fresh produce from nearby regions like fruits,vegetables, bakery products made by locals is a pleasure beyond words for the olfactory and visual senses.Last but not the least, the most delightful aspect of the city is the cleanliness, pollution free environment and cyclists doting the city and very little traffic! A true Mecca for unhurried holidays.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Selfie Revolution

How quickly the world around us changes! I often wonder how the world where we live has become so small and how fast we can not only communicate verbally but exchange videos, pictures and even live stream with our friends and relatives virtually in any part of the world. Having been a part of this evolution like most of us, the breathtaking pace of changes in technology sometimes makes me wonder if this is for real? As a kid, my brush with photography started with a Kodak box camera that I got as a gift from a relative while still in the school. It remained a treasured possession for a long time till I first travelled to the USA in early 1981 and purchased my first colour camera. The unending love for capturing the moments while serving in the Navy, the spirit of adventure, travel around the country and the distant lands, experience the sights, smells and sounds continued unabated.

The real magic started with the smart phones when the ‘Selfies’ broke the barriers in photography and without relying on any one, one could capture the moment from an arm’s distance and much later with the improvised ‘selfie sticks’ The story of the ‘selfie’  is no less interesting as  the first reported selfie was taken by Nathan Hope in Sep 2002 and while attempting to take the selfie on a staircase tripped and landed face first and the teeth coming a close second and a wide one cm long gash on front  lip!  A lot has happened since then and being a part of the journey while working at the technology giant Ericsson at that time. I saw the entry of Sony Ericsson Z1010 mobile phone in 2003 with a ‘front facing camera’ which could be used for selfies and video calls. It has been a breathtaking pace of transition to see the new smartphones with better features appearing in the market at regular intervals, with greater clarity, improved granularity, sharper images, day/night modes and a long list.
A trek in Moneglia in Cinque Terre region of Italy
Some of the most memorable moments that I could capture by my smartphone were a journey to Cinque Terre in Italy, known for one of the most spectacular scenic beauty. My love for treks one morning took me through the winding trails up the hills in Moneigla, a small sleepy village on the Mediterranean coast.  The long climb up the mountains had a thick cover of olive trees. The lush cherries and plums, that I picked along to have one of the most memorable treks. Right behind me was the verdant deep blue Mediterranean Sea on the cusp of the mountains. Though I did manage to capture the beauty, if I had a camera smartphone like Dual In One Mobistar mobile'Selfie Camera' smartphone, to capture the 120dgree wide vision, the results would have been spectacular like capturing a ‘real moment’ to ‘Enjoy More’ for posterity.
A visit to the Galimard Perfumery at Grasse, France
The other moments like a trip to Galimard perfumery located in the world perfume capital, Grasse in France deserve a mention. The heavenly aroma of the fragrances and the process of manufacture of the perfumes was a real eye-opener. In the picture, you can see the thrill of making your own perfume in the eyes of my wife with a backdrop of the finest perfumes. Once again,  the only regret that the wide-angle coverage has been missed. Although, the essence of the place has been captured. The beautiful town of Grasse has so many perfume factories is to be seen to believe.
With Ninita Morena at the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain
Another rare moment was with a German national Ninita Morena with whom I was on a FAM trip post-Madhya Pradesh Tourism Mart 2016 that I attended. We took a selfie at the Mahakaleshwar  Jyotirlinga Temple at Ujjain. The picture tells a story of cutting across the barriers of race and religion and enjoying the moment with divinity.  Not only did Ninita visit the Sanctum Sanctorum but also relished the ‘prasad ‘ offered at the temple.
With blogger friends Manjulika and Dipanshu at Kanha Wildlife Sanctuary

I have been singularly lucky to be in the company of some blogger friends who were invited to visit a property at Kanha Wildlife Sanctuary located in Madhya Pradesh. The thrilling ride on an open jeep that streaked through the jungles on the dusty roads to spot the tiger was a memorable one. We did manage to capture the thrill but were unable to capture the tiger and her cub in the selfie!

I hope the new Mobistar  Dual in One Camera Smartphone with the powerful 120-degree vision, low light capability, better pixel resolution with enhanced 'Selfie Experience'  will empower the users not to miss out on the rare moments of our life in future

PS This post is my submission for and Mobiistar on Flipkart. and Indiblogger sponsored the contest

Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Prayer

Sunrise to  sunset the  time flies each day
  The daily chores punctuated with odd jobs stay
Not many changes to routine yet each day is new
 Resolve to walk more miles with energies renewed
Hear chirp of birds, the sound of bumble bees
  A clap of thunder, raging storms and thundering seas
The beauty of snow clad mountains and flowering trees
   Green meadows, flowing rivers and lovely retreats
So much to thank almighty for the countless treats
    Every new day brings untold joys with every heartbeat

PS- Image Kind Courtesy Google

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The World is Not Enough

A young boy aged about five craned out his little neck from the window of a moving train of a third class compartment as the steam engine bellowed out smoke and chugged ahead. After a while, he suddenly withdrew his head inside as fly ash and soot from the burnt charcoal particles entered his eyes and he cried in pain. The mother who was sitting beside cleaned the eye with the handkerchief after washing with some cold water. Within minutes the child was once again busy looking out of the window, unconcerned about the eye, gazing at the passing fields, a cluster of houses and the electricity poles as they flashed past! The kid has not changed much despite the passage of few decades the enthusiasm to peep out of the window either in a bus, train, boat, ship or a flight still unchanged! You guessed it right! The kid was none other than me.

In the initial years whilst still, at school and college, the holidays were to nearby towns of Delhi and a couple of cities scattered across the country. The changing countryside, dialects and languages, the way people dress, aromas of different foods were the first impressions that left an indelible impact in the coming years. Different cultures and languages witnessed while travelling helped in understanding the history and geography of places.

Then came the momentous day when I finished the college to take a 2-night train journey to Kochi to join the Naval Academy!  It was a defining moment for someone who had never seen the sea in life, to seek a profession full of thrill and adventure on the high seas. The stories of Captain Ahab in ' Moby Dick' and ' Fifteen Men on the Dead Man's chest.... Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum' in the legendary 'Treasure Island' by Robert Louis Stevenson were a literary confluence that shaped in pursuit of a sailor's life.The love for the sea, to see the dolphins pursuing the aircraft carrier in which I sailed, to a date with seagulls in the evening were something I miss even now!A journey to new port meant meeting the new people and learning new customs! For someone used to eating food with hands for a good twenty years, everything changed to eating by fork and spoon for every meal in the Naval Mess! There were opportunities to take a dive in the submarine and also fly onboard a helicopter that took off from the flight deck, strengthening the resolve to conquer all possible frontiers. During the vacations, I would pack my bags to head to places like Leh in the North to Shillong in the East to see how the arid mountains and the tea plantations look like! I had my wife as a willing partner in crime to travel! Just after our marriage, we headed to Kashmir and also undertook treks to Chandanwadi from Pahalgam followed with an arduous journey to Leh by road in an Army bus with a night stopover at Kargil! The Commanding Officer of the Transit Camp at Leh welcomed us informing me that I was the first officer to visit Leh after the Chief of the Naval Staff! The blazing deserts in Jaisalmer with fiery hot winds and temperatures of 47 deg C to the sultry weather of Chennai and Madurai were equally lovable. The chimes of bells in Varanasi and Dwarka, Azan from the Dargah of Chisti in Ajmer to exploring the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa paved the way for a truly secular outlook that our lovely land offers!
At Burj Khalifa in Dubai

As the life took another turn a plunge in the corporate world paved the way for a journey to the lands I had only dreamt of. Journeys to the mystical land of Jesus in Israel and Bethlem, floating on the Dead Sea, climbing the World Trade Centre( prior to 9/11), Burj Khalifa, and the Petronas Towers gave a real power of enjoying the spectacular distant vision. Skiing down the slopes in Jungfrau on the Swiss Alps, appreciating the beauty of Mona Lisa in Louvre, David by Michelangelo at Florence, a Papal audience in the Vatican are some of the memorable events among many that opened the mind to make every journey unique.
Antibes in the French Riviera

The beauty of the French and Italian Riviera on the coasts of Mediterranean with the deep blue sea kissing the coastline, watching the whales in action at Kaikoura and dolphins in Akaroa in New Zealand, tasting the pizzas by going all the way to Naples, bring back the childlike curiosity to keep exploring this beautiful world forever!
At Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps

The inspiration for travel keeps the urge to know and learn more with every passing year.It only keeps getting stronger with the passage of time as no matter how much you travel, ' The World is Not Enough' to see, learn and conquer.

PS: This is my submission for the Lufthansa( and Indiblogger sponsored blog contest


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Save Every Drop

The heat was unbearable as I sweated profusely looking at my other oarsmen in the boat. I still remember the time vividly as if it was yesterday. I along with five more trainees at the Naval Academy in Cochin was on a 10-day sailing regatta/camp from Kochi to Quilon( Kollam now!), a distance of 138 km one way. Every night we would halt somewhere en route by coming alongside the shore. There were 8 Whaler( boats) with a crew of six trainees in each equipped with oars and sails, maps, compass, a stove and some ration with a bottle of water which could be used for covering the designated route every day. It was a training of endurance and stamina and the test of nerves. Every day, the most scarce commodity was undoubted, the water bottle which had to last the day! How every drop mattered I learned by facing the nature 's adversity, especially rowing the boat for 6 to 8 hours in strong sunshine and opening sails later in the afternoon as the wind picked up!

The importance of water for our existence does not need any elaboration! Over the years as I moved around, I realized that most of us take the availability of water for granted as have seldom faced any real-life situation of the paucity of water. The degradation of nature, pollution of lakes, rivers and wells or for that most of the sources of water has now created an alarming situation.
The next generation will have to suffer if the trend is not reversed.

It is never too late if the charity begins at home. Some very easy things that can help in saving water are :
1. Try to take a bath using a bucket of water or less instead of the shower.
2. Do not fill up a glass of water if the entire amount is not to be consumed. In case, one is not able to use the entire amount either cover the glass for reuse later or else pour it on a plant.
3.The leaky taps, pipes or other sources of water must be repaired to avoid the wastage
4. When using the flush, try not to empty the cistern every time unless it is essential
5. Turn off the tap when shaving or cleaning teeth and use only when required

It is estimated that two third of the world's population will be in a grip of water scarcity by 2025!
Alternative sources of energy have to be available to the populace as in the USA alone, half the fresh water is used by the thermoelectric power plants for generation of electricity. The situation is no different in other parts of the world.
Of the available fresh water around the world, 68% is trapped in glaciers and only 30% is in the ground.

In a country like ours, there is an urgent need to cleanse the rivers which are a major source of water for all purpose. In the northeast and south where the rainfall is higher compared to the rest of the country efficient rainwater harvesting methods can help in a big way to channelise them to water deficit regions. In Israel, when the snow melts in Golan Heights in the north, the streams of water are collected in catchment areas to be used for irrigation by drip technology

As the technology keeps bringing in greater and efficient methods with every passing year, the commercial desalination of the sea water as adopted in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait could provide relief to some extent but in the meanwhile, the need of the hour is to use water with discretion and conserve in all possible manner. A beautiful illustration of this is in the following video, an initiative by  Livpure, #CuttingPani


If you agree to support the initiatives to save water do sign the petition on the link
PS: This is my post for Livepure/ Indiblogger initiative