Sunday, December 18, 2011


During my second year at B School, one of my profs had (probably as a punishment for not submitting some assignment) asked a bunch of us to write up who are the 5 people who have touched us the most and why. As I was cleaning my IIM A HDD, I stumbled upon this giving me some fodder for introspection.

1. My father
He taught me the value of education. He taught me what it means to stand on one’s own. He also taught me the cost of freedom. He always says , “ I’ve given you all the freedom in the world in the belief that you won’t misuse it!”.

2. Adolf Hitler

I have been inspired by his war tactics and single minded determination. He is one
person whom I probably hate the most amongst human beings without a complete lack of

3. Viktor Frankl

Among the 3 philosophers from the Austrian school of Philosophy, I am inspired by
the works of Frankl more than both Freud and Adler. His belief in love even under
the inhuman conditions of concentration camps and his will to survive even while his
parents, sister and wife were being burnt alive or gassed in the chambers speaks volumes about him. His works on existentialism have always given me new meanings in life whenever I read them

4. Paulo Coelho

If there is one person who has instilled huge optimism in me towards life, it is Paulo Coelho through his masterpiece “The Alchemist”. The motif that if we will for something strongly enough the whole universe conspires for our success has lifted me out of despair and put me in search of success with renewed vigor many a times.

5. Mahatma Gandhi

Here was yet another individual whom I loved and respected even though I did not
really identify with or support all his decisions and methodologies. I think he merited a lot of respect for his single minded devotion to chosen path of success. He taught me that end need not always justify means. Though if independence struggle was taken as a singularity then I would put Bhagat Singh or Subash Chandra Bose above Gandhi as persons who have instilled in me a deep love for our country, Gandhi gave me a benchmark in passion towards a cause.

I've changed a bit since that day 6 years back. How has it affected the list ?
Adolf Hitler is out. George Schaller is in. My views of Gandhi has changed from cynical respect to pure respect without yet being a "fanboy". Paulo Coelho just about remains in the list under competition from Sachin Tendulkar. (Close choice!)
Would be interesting to read this list 10 years, 20 years from now ! Make a list !

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I'm in Sao Paulo or Sampa for the locals. Its raining all the time thus far since I landed here in a direct EK fight from Dubai, clearly the longest haul I've done without stoppage. One cannot help wonder the efficiency of modern jet engines doing over 16 hours straight with no refuel. The temperature is temperate due to the elevation from sea level. It has been around 16-17 throughout - cold enough to not break a sweat and cover the city on foot where ever possible and warm enough not to be wearing super warm cloths.
The initial plan was to fly into Sampa and then connect to Campo Grande to head to Mato Grosso and Pantanal in search of the Jaguar. Inclement weather and logistics put paid to that plan.
So here I'm walking the street of New York of Southern Hemisphere a bit bored and a bit excited. For starters it's an intriguing city. Lot of culture, breakneck growth, crime, traffic chaos, brilliant parks, amazing restaurants and theaters and museums. Also famed for the more seedier side with it's prives, clinicas, favelas and strip clubs. It's a hotch potch for sure where immigrants from Italy, Portugal, Japan, Korea, China, Africa etc have all settled in to make Sampa their home.
I've taken to walking the city down the famous Paulista Avenue (a bit like Oxford street in London) and Brooklin (the new financial district where I'm staying).

The Estaiada Bridge over the Pinheiros river (the bridge occupies place of pride among the new marginal pinheiros financial district)

One question that pops up when one thinks of SP or Rio is safety. Once here I've realised that the whole safety question is relative. As a matter of fact so far in the areas that I've roamed, I felt more safe than even in London or Munich or even Vienna given the large number of people around even in night. I hear Rio is worse. Also downtown Sao Paulo is pretty dangerous if alone at night. But which city these days even in EU is safe when alone at night ? But I like that element of risk. Anyways Sampa is nowhere in the league of Nairobi or Dar es Salaam or Joburg. So I'm ok with the risk. I will definitely do things here that I never did in Nairobi or Joburg. There is seldom a threat to life which is omnipresent in these cities.
Will I be back ? Not to Sao Paulo per se - but I should come back for the Pantanal and then Amazon.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Epic of Mara

Masai Mara. The mottled plains of South-western Kenya watered by Mara and Talek rivers. Abode to the Maasai warriors. The savannahs that many believe is the cradle of mankind – making him climb down as primates from trees due to the conversion of the rainforest into grasslands. Driving the homo sapiens to walk on two limbs, develop tools to escape from ground predators and finally start agriculture.
The legend of modern Mara is it's eminence as the 8th wonder of the world. Home to multitude of animals, birds and trees. Home to the wildebeest migration across the greater mara conservancy and the Serengetti plains of Tanzania. I had never been to the Kenyan side of this vast wilderness and was very much looking forward to the same.
As the flight touched down at Nairobi we met up with co-wildlife photographers Paul McDougall from UK and Dicky & Poonam from India. After the usual round of tuskers and bush stories we were on our way to the plains across the rift valley. I was a little skeptical if Sandy is going to live through the stark nylon tented camp-in-the middle of -lion territory without running water or electricity. As it turned out, it all went like a dream !
On the way, I was wondering – What makes Mara so legendary? Who is the hero of Mara's drama? Is it large super prides of lions like the Serena pride or the Marsh pride? Is it the famous cheetah families like the Honey’s boys or the Three brothers? Is it the unfortunately fast disappearing Rhinos? Is it the stealthy Leopards with their Impala kills up the trees? Or is it the herds of Elephants sashaying across the savannahs without a care in the world ? Over the next 8 days, I’d get my answer. And the answer would humble me.
Over a million wildebeest, and half a million zebra and antelope migrate from the Masai Mara all the way to the Serengeti ecosystem. It is a perilous trek with crocodiles lurking at river crossings, predators such as lions, cheetahs and leopards a constant threat – and yet it takes place every year, year after year.

One should go across the plains into Tanzania to search for the origin of the legendary migration. In the plains of Ndutu in greater Serengetti ecosystem, come February, over 500,000 pregnant mothers give birth to their next generation. Half of them would be eaten up by predators or otherwise dead in months. Those that survives join their mothers, fathers, Zebra uncles/aunts and begin their quest for food across the Mara.
By May/June the plans of Mara gets watered by the long rains, providing enough grass for the oncoming visitors. They reach the plains by July and August completing one half of the cycle. By October/November, the herd is ready to go back the same route into the Serengetti for the next calving season and welcoming a new generation to join in this massive cycle of birth, death and regeneration.
Journey and life inherently becomes one for over a million. They fight, drink, play, run, nurse, have sex – all during the course of this epic journey of life.

Their path is littered with hurdles that lesser willed souls will surrender abjectly to. For starters there are the cheetahs that hunt the baby wildebeests mercilessly. There are lion prides that hunt babies, mothers and fathers alike – and in 100s. Vultures feed on the carcasses and pray for their death.

The migration reaches its crescendo as the herds cross rivers like Mara, Talek, Grumeti in their 1000s. Mothers lead the way across the rivers full of ferocious crocodiles that hunt down the weak, the young and the contemplative. Witnessing these crossings are nothing short of spiritual - the rush of adrenaline, the struggle of life, the timelessness of the event - all makes the viewer reach a transcendental stage.
Many of these wildebeests get eaten up – by the rapids of Mara or the crocodiles. Many get trampled upon by their own, in a mad frenzy that needs to be seen to be believed. Zoomed out, a wide angle gives you a determined herd, purposeful in it’s journey of life. Zoomed in, the tele portrays a different story. Eyes full of fear, babies frightened, mothers tense. One final kiss and nuzzle on one side of the river before the drama begins. It ends on the other side – with many actors not making it across. It is a most painful sight to see the bleating calfs and mothers separated from one another. Standing aloft on stone ledges beside the river, watching their loved ones brutally killed by crocs or drowning into the endless Mara.

In their death they finally become one with nature’s cycle once again. Providing food for the scavengers – vultures and monitor lizards, crocs and hyenas. And soon they are forgotten by the Mara plains. Till the next season.

They are, for me, the true heroes of the Mara. The ones that define the lifelines of these endless plains….

When I die do not throw the meat and bones away
But pile them up; And let them tell
By their smell
What life was worth
On this earth
What love was worth
In the end – Kamala Das

Thursday, July 07, 2011

License to Africa

I marked a decade of African experiences last week - in the most obviously unnatural way. By getting a syringe inserted into my hands as part of the Yellow fever vaccination. (Once taken, validity lasts for a decade !) So much has changed in my life across the two yellow fever shots that I became a bit philosophical as the Malayalee nurse gave me my vaccine in a government clinic in Dubai. I could smell the grasslands, taste the Ugali, drink Kilimanjaro 300 ml bottle beer and hear the ever present Hakuna matatas in that one moment. Things only a dedicated Afrophile can acknowledge. (Maybe East Africophile, if there is any such adjective ever!). I just had license shot to go and reclaim the memories.

As the old African saying in those parts go - Go back to the water holes ; you will get more than water, you will meet old friends and fading memories.

I had just returned from trekking the rift valley Mountain ranges in Ethiopia (without malarial shots I must proudly/foolishly say) and looking forward to the savannas of Kenya. The relationship of the two is as interesting and mythical as everything in Africa - to it's folklore, to it's men of death and after life, to the baobabs and to blood diamonds, and the gods. Without one the other is non existent. Without the Ethiopian high ranges blocking the rain carrying clouds to allow for watering of the grasslands of Kenya and Tanzania, they would have been more or less like the Namib desert.

Anyways, after this philosophizing, I realised that with the amount I paid for the vaccine in Dubai for the two of us, we could have gotten vaccines for our whole lives in India ! (Which is maybe another 4-5 times by the by ;)

One starts the countdown to Africa once you have had your first malarial shot which happens around a week to 10 days before the trip. I'm waiting for the shot day - to start my count down. To the promised land. To the water holes - in search of fading memories and a treasure trove of new ones to hold fast unto the next journey.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Big cat diary - India folio is up !!

Sneak peek of other galleries which are still under construction here

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Colors of Ethiopia

Let the pics do the writing ! :-) The temperate climate, higher than average African altitudes and reasonable habitat availability has made Ethiopia a land of some beautiful creatures. Though I could not even scrape the top layer of it's beauty due to paucity of time, it does motivate me to go back to the continent asap !
(Equipments : Canon 40 D, 7 D, 100-400)

Bee eater

Colobus monkey

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ethiopia diaries

Dubai to Addis, EK 723 boarding. That is when the reality hit me that I was finally going to trek the Ethiopian highlands cut in two by the enigmatic great rift valley - an area that Ive wanted to be in for long, given the legacy and natural history associated with the place.

Three things from economic point of view stuck me particularly on this trip
  • The fertile soil of the place (due to the volcanic ash) is being increasingly getting turned over to MNCs involved in flower trading by the government. This ensures less fertile land for cultivation for the local farmers
  • This has led to a double whammy. On one side the income levels of local farmers nosedives due to the poor productivity and hence they cannot afford a better lifestyle. The inflation, especially, food grain inflation is tending up leading to further erosion in buying power of local people
  • Real estate is booming everywhere around Addis. Driven by the fact that most farmers are giving up hopeless agrarian roots (unless they work for flower firms) and shifting to doing other labour in city centres. The migration has driven up housing prices and everywhere around the city you can see uprooted trees and grotesque naked mountain tops having brick buildings getting erected.
Anyways, my main agenda was to trek in the high lands surrounding the volcanic crater of Wonchi. These forests house the enigmatic Colobus monkeys. Exceptionally difficult to sight given their predominant presence on tall tree tops with few, if any visits to ground. The whole area gives you a feeling of being in an Indian hill station. Temperate climate, monsoony smell of drizzle, goats & cows, hills & huts. Me and Sandy initially decided to do the 6+ hour trek by foot. She gave up even before the trek and shifted to horse ! To be fair to her, she has done more difficult ones with me. However, the chance to be on a horse through the rather dangerous terrains was something which appealed to us. After couple of hours of arduous trek, I decided I too was getting older and not younger by the day ! We had the horse to carry our photo gear and it was natural to get on the patient animal for the rest of the way.
We did track and photograph the Colobus, the brilliant Tecazze sunbird, Ethiopian mountain thrush, comical speckled mousebird and few other endemics. Honestly, the pics don't do justice to the grandioseness of the place. The never ending mountains, quaint churches in desolate islands, colorful birds and flowers, precariously placed huts on volcano cliffs, the absolute silence of being away from motorable roads, the almost spiritual experience of being one with nature.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dubai - An Arial Mosaic

It is almost 6 months since I shifted my base to Dubai. I've been thinking of a photo shoot for some time. Getting all my equipments from India and being gifted a Canon 7 D from my wife finally pushed me to action ! The challenge however, was what to shoot ?! There are many monuments and buildings that you can click, lovely deserts in great lights, infrastructure marvels, beaches and mountains. But somehow, the output did not move the artistic mind though technically they were brilliant. That is when I had this thought that probably you need broader brush strokes to create the mosaic named Dubai. One practical way of doing this would have been to shoot from elevation to create spatial continuum. When I enquired on chartered flights to do this, I realised for the money that I'd be spending I could upgrade to some high end primes ! The cheaper alternative finally was to get into a sea plane. Checked one and realised the quality of the output will be compromised a bit due to the poor quality of glasses in the windows. But that was what was affordable and quick. Here is a sample set of output