Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Decades worth of blog !

I know Ive not been blogging. Blame it on a full calendar day after day - oh that is just an excuse ;). So i thought - hmm - y not blog for the whole decade ?

What a decade it has been ! I know I speak like I were to speak of the man's time in this earth. But for now, its just my life upon this earth that I'm partial to !
A decade is a long time. For me four things stand out which has defined my life today and has had a lasting impression on my (then) young mind ;)

1. Passing out of NIT and joining Larsen and Toubro and within there going on to live a life of recluse in an East African island off Tanzania. What a splendid opportunity to grow, lead and work across cultures. Apart from learning to love races, places, animals and nature in all forms and fashion

2. Joining IIM A Class of 2006 - with stars in eyes and a dream that the youth in me had laid seige to, to be in the best business school in India (Some would argue in Asia Pac). Looking back if I had joined IIM B or IIM C Id still have probably had pretty much a similar life thenceforth. However, IIM A made me humbler, helped me interact with great folks (Friends and gurus) and probably made me a better, more confident and suprisingly less arrogant human being. As against my fears, I came out putting life in a bit of a perspective answering couple of key questions - how important is money, how important is being in India, how important is it to give back to the nation.

3. Joining The Firm - McKinsey was everyones dream. A dream I did not dream. I honestly thought I stood no chance. I wanted to have my time with sports which I would not sacrifice. I wanted to have my time with bed and sleep which I would not sacrifice. From whatever I had been fed of IIM A and McKinsey it was that McKinsey prefers to hire only from Top of Class and to be top of class in IIM A one has to sacrifice all interests and sleep. As I realised both these are not entirely true !
The Firm remains a place close to my heart. I made great friends, learnt a lot, made some moolah along the way and answered one additional important question - how important is family and spending time with them ?

4. The wedding - Keeping aside all romance and kinship and sense of family (which are probably more important) I got a great friend in Sandhya. We keep pulling each others legs, mostly meet during weekends only , works our ass off through the week and crib to each other about how our marriage is always at half life. (If we are married for 50 years, that would essentially mean only <25 !!). We love common things, which we knew as friends before dating - sharing a lasting passion for nature, nature conservation, trekking, mountains, forests and a liking for small pleasures of life (Travelling in double decker buses, eating roadside food, having chai watching monsoons from our balcony, listening to birds sing, smelling first rains, train travel etc etc). It has been one fun ride.

Fifth, if I were to pen down, would be my ever growing love for wild life and a growing need to do by bit to protect the planet especially the forests. Downside has been my extravagant spending on photography equipments for wildlife shooting (One of the very few luxuries that I afford apart from premium clothing!!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where the rains are born....

There is a definitive beauty of western ghats aka sahyadris that makes one go to her lap time and again. Every trek to these beautiful cloud mountains brings in new sights, smells and tastes. This time we decided to trek close to Bhimashankar in Maharashtra. And on the way back at Junner / Malshej regions. Some of the most beautiful landscapes that Ive seen outside of Kerala and Europe can be found here. Pity that not a lot of folks know the place - oh well, in a way it's good that the crowds dont know a lot of the trek trails herein. Else if will just become another Malshej or Lonavla with the city slickers on their honking cars, playing hindi bar songs at top volume, eating and throwing leftovers and plastics all over or in general making a mess of themselves and their surroundings.
We took off early morning at around 4 a.m from Mumbai. Decided to drive through the expressway rather than take the Malshej route on the onwards journey. Had hired a Tavera given that there were close to 4-5 of us. Reached Bhimashankar at around 10 after a few breaks and stayed as usual in the Blue Mormon resort. As a friend and I tried the gupt bhimshankar trail for some birds to shoot, wife and friends went to Ahupe to trek the ghats there. Next day all of us trekked the Gupt Bhima trail (A very small and easy one) followed up in afternoon a drive to Junner and Malshej.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Our report on Environmental and Energy Sustainability is out.

As we fight our way to reduce emissions, its also critical to create carbon sinks through afforestation and prevention of the largescale destruction that we are forcing upon our forests. I like to look at simple broad indicators to assess the health of pristine forests. One of which is the rate of death of free ranging tigers.
Most observations point to the alarming fact at that rate of 10 per month, we have another 10 years at best before free ranging wild tigers are wiped out from India. That would also mean huge water crisis, droughts and floods since many river sources are inside these protected forests. What a sad turn of events from a point during the time of Indira Gandhi when many felt we might win the war on tiger poaching.
Planned construction of a memorial for YSR in the midst of pristine forests is yet another knee jerk reaction. Haven't enough sacrifices been made by nature for your gods and politicians ?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Finally Toyota brings home the Fortuner !

So its finally here. In what would be a strategically important move for Toyota Kirloskar in India and one that is going to make the off road pretence of CRVs and Captivas of the world take notice, the Fortuner is in India after a wait of more than 6 years.

The price at over 18 L is still out of reach of many but is clearly unercutting CRVs and Captivas and Endeavours. That is a key pricing point for SUVs in India. Sub 20 L. To that extend one might think Toyota has got it right - once again ! But hey the same one is sold in Thailand at around 13 L. I was expecting something like 15 L for this in India. Anyways as of now it remains in my dreams. But yes, if they had priced at around 12-13 L it would have been pushing my bankruptcy quite strongly ;). That would also have sent a big warning to Mahindra to get their act straight on Scorpio which though an able product is quite ageing.

Lets sit back and enjoy the drama in Indian SUV market ! For now, Im glad that Fortuner is atleast introduced albeit at a higher price than comparable markets.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trekked to Malshej ghats during the weekend. Though just trekking is not something that really perks me up, I'm always game for monsoon treks. Thankfully wifey could persuade me to go along with her for this trek. And boy, I'm glad I did. Though neither of us took our normal photography gear for fear of getting wet and carrying through some tough trek, we did put a sony cybershot in our jacket pockets - just in case. That turned out to be a boon.
Malshej is a monsoon heaven. Around 150 km from Mumbai its generally not as crowded as much hyped Lonavala (Which cannot even be remotely compared with the beauty and serenity of Malshej)
You have to avoid the easy trek routes and roadside waterfalls where legions of families will be taking bath, washing cloths (!!!) and rowdy youths drinking their Smirnoffs and Teachers, stripping to ugly underwear and dancing as if they are indeed sex-changed Lopez from Shall We Dance. We had to create our own trek route and at some stages did think of returning back due to increasing difficulties and slippery rocks without too many holds.

From photography POV, made two images with which I have started my monsoon collection. Its a major down in plans since I was planning to take a month break from work to follow the SW monsoon through Konkan, Agumbe, Valparai etc ending in Kerala !! Alasss best laid plans of men!!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Natural disasters and economic "earthquakes"

Some of our recent research is throwing up striking parallels between natural disasters like forest fires, earthquakes etc and "manmade"crisis like the economic crisis, bankruptcies of large corporates, variance of industrial output for large countries etc. These are all falling into a "power curve" something that statisticians and mathematicians have been using a lot in studying complex systems.
One symptom of such a system’s behavior is that the frequency and magnitude of outcomes can be described by a mathematical relationship called a “power law,” characterized by a short “head” of frequently occurring small events, dropping off to a long “tail” of increasingly rare but much larger ones. The latter was dealt in lucid details by folks like Nicholas Taleb in his much famous Blackswan books.
For most of us who have looked at / studied bell curves and always intuitively think of a spread as bell curve, this is quite fascinating. Quite simply, the implications is that extremely large outcomes (Call them black swans if you are a Taleb fan like me!) are more likely than in a normal bell curve.
One self serving thought I had the curve charecteristics were that for PG courses like in IIMs we should use power curve rather than bell curve for relative grading ! Even one of those IIT M quant jockeys can srew-up the grading for the rest of us in a quant paper if using a bell curve rather than a power curve for RGing ;) Hehehe. Sometimes I think Ive still not grown out of the ultra competitive kid ;)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

aala ree

Eyes that used to throw furtive glances at the sky in anticipation can rest...Monsoon has finally come to Mumbai shores ! Rains bring in plethora of memories - all sewn up across time lines.
Rain drops on through the windows as you wake up. The smell of sweet earth emanating from the moist cool breeze. Pigeons resting at the windows safe from the deluge. Slightly soggy newspapers. The sound of viper making swoosh noise at the car. Foggy windows at Grandma's mansion where paper boats were initiated on a endless journeys. New school uniforms for June reopen which soon gets messy and wet in the school bus. 3 a.m walk to canteen at IIM A in knee length water to have hot coffee. Trekking in the rainforests of Kerala with leeches all over as an 8th standard student part of WWF camps. Splashing of water drops on the historical facades of Angkor watt temples. Water bellowing through the grand roots of the trees which has eaten Ta Prohm temples. Kerala and her sex appeal. Fishermen going into deep seas with cloudy horizons in Kochi. Slushy peace of a small rural temple in Kerala where rain drops fight with the oil lamps. Dazzle of thunder all around as you hold onto fixtures in a storm inside a pipe laying barge with huge waves all around you. The rage of seas along with rains beating my small seaside cabin in Tanzania to pulp in a span of 2 hours. Coldest of rains and hailstorm in Alps while trekking in Austria. Waking up on a Sunday afternoon to have Sandy's masala chai and roadside bhujiya. Gulping buckets of Beer at Seaview, Juhu before walkign to PVR to watch random movies or lying down at the chowpatty with waves and rains drops beating you down. Going from Juhu to Borivali in double decker bus sitting in the front seat at "top floor" with front windows opened. Cheapest Brandy mixed with water from Canteen and lemon pickle to go along as a poor Mechanical engineering student. Driving my Pajero over unforgiving terrains in Africa with visibility close to nil due to the watersheets falling from heaven. Sitting with my Gujarati pilot born and bought up in Nairobi flying in a Cessna over Arusha forests/river in a storm and his profoundly comforting words," Dont worry, I won't crash land. Why ? Cause death from a mid air crash would be so much more peaceful than by those crocs down below!"

Angkor Watt with clouds gathering before a deluge !! (Taken in 2008 while on a Steve McCurry inspired trip to Cambodia, taken with Canon 40D, Tamaron 28-75 f2.8, Manfrotto support, worked in PS CS3)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Last frontier of Asiatic Lions - The Gir Odyssey

Gir was in my dreams for couple of years. When an opportunity presented in the form of hurriedly applied for and obtained leaves for me and Sandy, we decided to embark to the last abode of Asiatic Lions in the world - Gir Sanctuary (~170 km from Rajkot and 45 km from Veraval)

Had a quick chat with Yogendra bhai from INW (Our lion leader and go to person for all things Gir) and booked the ever reliable gypsie driver of his, Lalit bhai. Knowing my love to stay with locals as deep in the jungle as possible rather than in posh hotels, he arranged Chaman bhai's (One of the most hospitable individuals Ive met - imbibing all the fineries of the amazing Saurashtrian hospitality) farmhouse for our stay.

On March 31 me and wifey reached Sasan from Rajkot. Chaman bhai's farm was adjoining the gir forest where freqently leopards and lions roam freely at night. (We could hear them sometimes, never could see them in our search lights the couple of nights we gathered courage to venture out)

First safari the next morning yielded amazing results. We tracked a mating pair in route 1. And spent around 3 hours with them. The attack of the lioness on the lion before mating, the roars, the love making - these 3 hours gave us both memories of a lifetime. We could not stop thanking our stars for helping us witness such a rare and intimate moment in the life of these animals.

Next day was bitter sweet. While we could photograph a brother and sister (Both extremely good looking), we missed the chance of shooting 5 cubs which were sighted on another route. From our route we could see them at distance but could not go since that would have meant breaking the "route rules" at Gir (Each gypsy is supposed to stick to their assigned routes - largely this is followed to the word!)

Afternoon was again spent with the mating couple observing them spar at each other (Lion sustained a huge gash in his face). Post mating (Which this time they did behind bushes) they came out in open road and sat resting. We could observe them for an hour from as close as 15 feet. Could almost feel their breath on our body and it did send a tremble down our spines. There is nothing bigger an adrenaline rush than looking eye to eye with a male full grown Lion at 10-15 feet. It is like 500 sky diving and 1000 bungee all rolled into one !

Third day morning was on route 2. 2 and 6 are the routes which is allocated to most local tourists and hence pretty busy ones- also more noisy especially if there are rather clamorous kids in some jeeps. The morning was spent with just a single lioness sighting deep in the bushes for any good photo ops.

Went back to Chaman bhai's farm for lunch and the usual bucket of chaas (buttermilk). Took a break to download pics, process a few of them, check internet for sometime and catch up on some sleep. At 3.30 sharp we started off in Lalit bhai's gypsy for the safari. Nothing happened till around 6. We did shoot a few birds like common kingfisher, tickells blue, green pigeon etc. While on the way back we saw a gypsy full of students waiting across a water hole. We waited there along with them. After about 10 minutes a lioness appeared across the hill - slowly walking down to the waterhole behind bushes. Then we saw her brother appear lazily ambling across. They gave a brush to each other and came towards us. Passing us in front they started walking along the road. After 10 minutes, the male decided to rest right on the road in full view - that too in super golden light falling on his beautiful full maned face. At that moment, he could very well compete with the most handsome tiget Ive photographed as the most beautiful thing Ive ever shot.

As wife shot the video in her panasonic, I took 2 GB worth of memorable snaps. We had to leave them as the time was almost 6.30. Going back to Chaman bhai's farm we discussed the day and plans for next day with Lalit bhai. Went to the field to take bath under the water pump and then off to the machan to lie down under the sky in the field with mind full of happiness. Got down to have a sumptuous dinner and chaas as ever !! :)

The last day again proved to be unfruitful for photography as there were no lion sightings - nor any great birding opportunity. However, we saw fleeting glimpses of Jackal and two leopards - one in each safari. It was my first leopard sighting. That day morning Lalit bhai had told - today we should aim to shoot leopard. His words came close to being true twice - we saw it twice but could not photograph either time as it was too fast between the bushes for a good shot. Anyways, I was more than happy since in all the time spent in the Indian and African wilderness, I had not once spotted the beautiful leopard let alone photograph one.

As the trip came to a close, we were really sad to leave Gir - both the lions and it's amazing people, especially Lalit and Chamn bhai who were like close relatives all through the week. We caught up with "Dhamal" a performance by the small african community which thrives in the Gir forest - little known to the outside world.

As we went to Rajkot for onward trip to Mumbai and it's daily chores we were wondering when would the next opportunity be that we can be back with the kings of Gir forest and the love and hospitality of Chaman bhai and gang !!

Tips for first time visitors :

1. The road from Rajkot to Junagadh is real ossum. Junagadh to Sasan is not bad either.
2. If you are taking bus, ensure you take a GSRTC express from Rajkot to Sasan. That will save you more than an hour - it becomes a tiring and sometimes irritating journey in a non-express.
3. If you are coming by train, see if you can take a ticket to Veraval and travel back to GIr (45 km from veraval) rather than from Rajkot (160+ km from Gir)
4. Book a nice place to stay. If you are adventurous, I suggest farm houses as close to the forest as possible. You can then walk along with experienced locals at night to search for some lions ! (Or just walk in that hope - it is indeed quite thrilling and you probably are happier when you fail in the endevour). If you love local life, local food, local folklore and lots of great hospitality head to Chaman bhais !! Else you also have airconditioned swimming pooled hotels galore.
5. Get a good driver (If you are a photographer) who can maximise your sighting by collecting local intelligence regarding animal movements.
6. Tip the guides and the driver - they work overtime to get you to see and photograph your subjects. ANything from 50-150 over and above the stipulated guide fees is fine.
7. There are no ATMs of any bank. Pay in advance or check if they can accept credit card/cheques.
8. Alcohol is officially prohibited ;)
9.Understand and accept that inspite of best efforts, the guides / drivers can't make a lion appear for you ! However, in summer months 2-3 safaris should yield atleast one sighting. And in winter 5-6 should yield atleast one.

Lastly just feel blessed - you just went to the last remaining abode of the Asiatic lions. Truly the king of the jungles in these parts of the world. Lets all do whatever we can to ensure this population grows for generations to come.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Vacation at Gir

Me and Sandhya have taken a break (finally) of a week to track and photograph the remaining Asiatic lions in their final frontier Gir in Saurashtra, Gujarat. We are staying at a local farmer's house here in the forest. Sleeping at the machan in the field open to the stars, hearing the roar of lions close by, bathing under the pump in the fields and drinking bucket fulls of chaas whenever we are not photographing in the jungles..
Detailed report and pics soon...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sachin Tendulkar - Legend in my life !

I woke up today, started brushing my teeth watching Sachin score yet another century. That's when I suddenly felt a strong emotional connect with a man whom I have seen only 3-4 times and spoken to only once in my entire life. Still he felt so much a part of my life. Like a close relative. He has at various points been a guide and philosopher (unknown to him ofcourse!!) as well as being forever an inspiration in professionalism and how to lead a worthy life. Right from when I was around 8, over the past 20 odd years, he has been always close to my heart.
Right through my days of playing district leagues and Inter University through engineering and working as an engineer, through MBA and working as a consultant there had always been tid bits that I have tried to imbibe from the his life. Some of his interviews with Harsha Bhogle, I regard as masterclass in philosophy as well as being truly inspirational. Like when he said "Experience is a double edged sword. For every ball you know all possible shots, but you also know all possible ways it could go wrong and result in a catch".
I never used to keep his posters in my room, or drool over in his fan clubs. Or buy t shirts with his face. And surprisingly I was not angry at the fans who booed him at Mumbai. For me he is beyond all this. I'd be thrilled if I can do 1% of what he has done in his chosen field in my own area of work. With the same dedication and more importantly the same humility.
Thanks Sach bhau - for being there !

Monday, March 09, 2009

So what is your Paris ?

Saw Revolutionary Road this weekend (Along with Da Cunha's Pune Highway).
Rev road is a must watch ! One of the most intense old school cinema making I've seen in recent memory. If Slumdog is very good, Rev Road is excellent ! (Now that is saying a lot)

IMDB and Oscar panel might have differing view, but for me this is a timeless classic. It could be anywhere, anytime setting. A story which is riveting, a script which is tight and above all Kate in as good as performance as in The Reader.

So what is the Paris that you are waiting for ?...Do you need a Mike Shannon a.k.a John Givings to ask you those tough questions ?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Had gone for a trek at Sinhagad valley in Pune. It turned out you don't need to trek a lot to shoot the amazing number of flycatchers. In keeping with the decision of not posting too many pics here directly given the bandwidth issue faced by some blokes
So if you have tha bandwidth you can catch a few from the trek here

Good day ! (Oh what a day - ARR got his due finally ;)

Monday, February 16, 2009

To MBA or not

I often get asked by MBA aspirants on what to study, what not to study, if they should go for the MBA at all etc etc ! Recently I have figured out a quick check for the folks to come to a decision on this (It is a very rough and generic way of looking at it but honestly at the end of the day this is what it shall come to ! - my big insight 3 years post MBA!!)

So here is the big insight ! (Hehe)

A. To build your knowledge (Not for CAT - Im sure all smart folks out there can crack it) - read Mint for atleast 6-8 months before the interviews / GD

B. Again read Mint for atleast 6-8 months - If you like around 75% of what is written in there and look forward to reading it daily, you are good to go for an MBA. If you dont like even 25%, you should definitely not go for it. For all who fall in between, it is a tough call !!

Some of the stuff is a bit too technical for non Accounting/Economics majors but even engineers /others can intuitively get what is being said - just by thinking through the logic from first principles. I'm a huge fan of Mint since it's inception, unfortunately these days I dont quite get enought time to read it end to end. On a rating of 1-10, if ET is 4 and Business Standard is 6, I'd rate Mint at around 9 ! And it costs only Rs.2 !

Disclaimer : Ive nothing to do with LiveMint and in no way is this an ad for the same :))

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bharatpur pics goes live here

Hope you all like a few of them ! :)

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world...

-- Bob Thiele & George David Weiss

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spirituality and nature !

For someone not deeply religious like me, spirituality has different connotations. For me, personally, it is something which touches you deeply, makes you think about meaning of life and existence ! And some of these instances could be relatively mundane.
Few such events are listening to a Sachin Tendulkar interview with Harsha Bhogle. Or listening to a "folk-touch" song composed by A R Rahman (Ghenda Phool in Dilli 6 for example). That clearly shows, atleast for the more profound "spiritualists", that I've no clue about spirituality !

One such recent experience for me was a trip to Bharatpur with Sandy and another friend of mine, Shireen. Bharatpur is a National Park in Rajasthan (Officially it is the Keoladeo Ghana National Park). I was there last year too but due to severe drought experienced, there were not many birds or animals to see. What makes this place amazing is the vastness or it's wetlands and the absolutely mind boggling number of birds that visit this place every winter.

Sandy was coming from Mumbai and I was coming from Delhi. After meeting at Bharatpur and checking into our hotel, we went to the park. I was trying my new Benro tripods for the first time along with my trusted 40D and Canon 100-400 L IS. Sandy was shooting with her 12X zoom Panasonic. In many cases, we had to work together for shots - especially for flight shots, where she would predict with reasonably good accuracy the flight path and landing moment.

Just being in the quite park (Before the weekend tourists flooded the place - singing, dancing, wearing outrageously loud cloths and generally behaving as if it was a picnic spot) looking at the mist covered horizon where thousands of birds fly around gives you a "spiritual" high. It is as good (even better!) than seeing a Sachin Tendulkar cover drive or a listening to an intricate Rahman composition!
You also see the raw life unfolding in nature - fishes shredded to pieces, smaller birds being eaten by birds of prey, jackals hunting smaller antelopes (A jackal almost attacked me as I was lying low to click it's pic - it probably thought I was another small prey!!)

The place is also exceptionally romantic - as much as some of the Alpine EU regions that Ive trekked in. A very apt setting for Sarus cranes - the most elegant of creations that God has blessed mankind with. They mate for life and are strictly monogamous ! Even if one of a pair is dead, the other doesn't accept other mates. Valmiki is supposed to have cursed the hunter who killed one of such a pair (The famous Ma Nishada episode) which purportedly became a precursor to his writing Ramayana. Being with them, enjoying their elegance in the romantic ambience that Bharatpur is in itself a "spiritual" pinnacle ! Unfortunately, only around 20000 of them are left, thanks to modern day hunters - humans who kill it for meat and for fun! - We need many more Valmikis with a plethora of curses !!