Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tungareshwar - The heaven of Earth

Trek to Tungareshwar

I have long been planning a trek to Tungareshwar, one of the highest mountain plateaus in Vasai Region. Me & my friend, Saju Isac, started from Vasai West by 10:00 AM on a quite Sunday morning, the second week of August. My back pack was packed with snacks, water bottles and my camera. I had the tripod with me, considering the low light in the monsoon and windy conditions up there. My friend carried the tripod.
Tungareshwar Mountains is one of the highest plateaus of the Vasai region and a tourist attraction. The best time to visit is during the monsoon. You can find the details about it here
I rode my bike through Vasai East – Sativli road. First get to the Highway intersection and cross the Highway. The narrow road ahead is the path to the base of the mountain. As I crossed the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway, I spotted hundreds of picnickers walking up the path. I parked the bike at the entrance point of mountain and started the climb.

The first few miles were crowded. Picnickers of all kind, old, frail to mothers carrying infants were walking the rocky path. Huge rocks lines the road and few adventurous youths rode their Pulsars and Suzukis. And one or two Rickshaws also plying. The first obstacle is a small river and in monsoon it swells. About thigh-high. Careful not to get my camera wet, we safely crossed it.

From there it was relatively easy except for one or two small rivulets flowing down on giant rocks. A small bridge is provided but most of the picnickers chose to cross the stream. The Rickshaws were precariously swayed when it passed the stream but the experience hands were not trembling.

After about an hour, with a couple of halting, we reached the first stop. And for most this is the end. There is a temple of Lord Shiva and few villagers selling goods ranging from “Bhoota” (Corn fried on coal) to small firing ranges. From food stalls to book stalls. And long queue for “Darshan”.

The boisterous crowd melts here. They take a few steps ahead and get themselves enough fun at a small waterfall. I saw a few people smoking pot and upon seeing my camera and tripod, they invited me to join. I graciously refused.

We started our climb on 11:00 AM. There was not a single human being in sight. Very soon we got sucked up in the overpowering silence, and we too fell silent. The only sound was that of wind blowing onto the trees. The constant whirring sound. We stopped for a couple of times for snacks but apart from that no conversation was required. Whenever I stopped for shooting, my friend set the tripod and dutifully stayed silent. An overwhelming sense of the need to remain silent and respect towards the nature.

It was almost two hours and we spotted an open space. Through that opening of jungle, we could see the far fields and villages through the haze. It was dramatic as well as refreshing. It was 1:00 PM and the climate was fast changing. The whirring sound now turned to a roar and wind was swaying the trees as if in a rainstorm. We felt tired and sat down for lunch.

We saw some village people coming up. They just walked past us without a comment. Soon after finishing lunch, we encountered another group who was coming down. We asked them how long it is and the reply was encouraging. “Just half an hour more” was the reply. We walked for another 40 minutes but nothing. I felt cramps and my weak legs were complaining. But then everything changed. Soon we engulfed in the mist and the visibility was only about a few meters. And the view from that point was breathtaking. We saw three guys washing hands and readying for their lunch on a small stream. One side was an abyss and the other was huge rocks. The stream came from the top and run through the muddy path. For a second, the wind blew away the mist and whole world was visible. The next instant, everything is covered in cloud and you couldn’t see the person standing next to you. Literally it was like being on clouds. The heaven of earth.

Rejuvenated we started once again. And another 30-35 minutes and we reached the top. The path was straight and not steep. The tree grew very short and in curvy branches. An effect of constant wind, I guess. We visited the Ashram of Sadanand Maharaj, a scene straight out of picture postcard. They provided us with a hot, black tea made from local herbs. It refreshes the body & mind. The effect was miraculous. Our tired and saggy bodies were soon revitalized. The only thing is photography is not allowed on the premises. We thanked the Guruji and started our journey back home.

It took only 2:30 hours to get down to the bottom. Once down, we felt like we have no legs! I couldn’t even get my bike started. But it was worth all the fatigue. It was an experience I never forget. Since my migration to Mumbai, about 11 years back, I never experienced that much silence. Infact I forgot what it was. I never got that much pure oxygen. I never felt that clouds before. It was worth every penny.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Two milestones!!!

Two milestones!!!
1st. Completed 100 posts!!!
2nd. On this day, few decades ago, a hapless child was born!!! Wonder who is he???
It's me Guys!! It's me...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Photographer's plight

Being a photographer, in these times, is not easy. I have experienced many stares boring into me while shooting public places. I can read the expression on their faces. “Is he planning to blow this up?” is the question that going on in their minds. I can expect them to be hostile and suspecting since we all live under the looming threat of terrorism. But what I got from the police was the most annoying thing.
I was a very active N.C.C cadet in my college days and hence always admire the military and police (to a certain extend). I always hoped to make it into the armed forces and hold a “B” certificate of NCC. So anything that is related to the armed forces, like parades, is a craze for me. That’s why I decided to get some photographs of the Independence Day ceremony in my city. It was on august 15.
So dutifully I went to the police station, Vasai Police station, to take permission for shooting tomorrow’s flag hoisting. After an hour’s wait, the Supreme Authority (I can’t read marathi, so don’t know his position on the pyramid) called me in. He asked me the purpose, my details and I gave him what I was looking for. After all it’s just a flag hoisting, nothing like I asking for permission to shoot our nuclear reactor!!
After thinking for a minute, he told me that I can take photographs, and to come next morning sharp 8:00 AM. I gleefully left him promising him a print once I am through with it.
Despite it being an off-day and insistent rain, I slung my tripod over my shoulder, got my camera fully loaded with a new roll and other necessary items. Normally I have one of my friends, who is very keen to learn the tricks, accompany me on most of my shoots. But today he too, took a leave! I reached the police station exactly at 7:45 AM, early enough to set my tripod at a good angle and get whatever required. I went directly to the office only to be told by a constable that the ceremony is over!! It was scheduled for 7:30, not 8:00 AM! He then sympathetically suggested that there is a asst. superintend office round the corner and their’s is on 8:30. I ran there and told the in-charge what I want. He told me to wait till the asst. sup comes in. He came, fully uniformed and ready to do the ceremony. I requested him and his response was a curt “No it is never recorded” ad off he went.
I stood there frustrated, holding my tripod and camera. If the parade and display of India’s latest weaponry in DELHI can be filmed, why an inconsequential flag hoisting at small-time city police station can’t allow it? What if I shoot it with my mobile camera or a simple Point & Shoot camera? Is it just that they don’t want to take any risks? Or plain inefficiency? What risks they run when they allow a photographer to take a flag’s picture along with some shiny boots and a sword? After all that’s the only time one ca see these police men polish their belts & Boots and iron their Khakis!
I still remember one of my instructors at a NCC camp. He was attached to the Madras Regiment. One of my fellow cadets wasn’t stomping hard enough. And when he saluted, he didn’t raise his knees enough to be stamped back. The Major of Army said “Go Join Police”. Since then my perception about police is that of a weak, inefficient and lazy outfit. This incident reinforced it.

Terrorism in a bipolar world - part 3

The Modus operandi
It is public knowledge that terrorists operate in very unconventional way. In a war, forces fight against each other, but in a war against terrorism, the forces are hidden among the civilians, hell, the enemy IS the civilians. Just look at how Hezbollah went about the war with Israel.
The operation starts at picking recruits. For this, Jihadi outfits heavily depend upon Madrassas, and Muslim dominated countries. Once they get their marks, next step is to turn the new recruit into a walking time bomb. Constant brain washing by describing how Muslims have to suffer all over the world, showing the most devastating effects of riots, and other atrocities against Muslims. The constant feeding of this information turns him into believing that the whole world is against him. The recruit is not allowed to ask any questions or h can’t verify the authenticity of the facts that is produced in front of him.
Next is training. Our neighboring country provides ample opportunity and logistic support for them. From these camps they learn the art of death.

The method they adopt to kill their enemies are the most disgusting and fearsome. Chopping off the head heads the list. Hanging comes second. The mode of war is Guerilla style. Hide until the opportune moment ad strike. This makes them effective and elusive.
So how can we stop this menace? What are our choices? I want to check the options that we have first. But do we have any options? Let’s see.
Long term
The government shouldn’t indulge in a vindictive head hunting and arrest & harass law abiding Muslims. This will further alienate them from the social mainstream and makes them easy prey for terrorist head hunters. We feel enraged after the wasteful killing of innocents and react with the same tenacity. That is exactly the terrorists are hoping for. They could attract more youths using this as an excuse. True, we must hunt down the culprits and in the process some innocents are bound to be harassed, but what justifies the mass arrests from a Muslim dominant area for every terror attack?
Second, the government should think about starting / supporting the Madrassas and should regulate them properly. Not a single Illegal Madrassa should be allowed. The government can recruit Mullahs & other Muslim clerics who can play a vital role in educating the youth and guiding them. The fiery fanatics should not be able to exploit the insecurity among the Muslim youth freely.
The Police force should be able to act without any bias. It is a well documented fact that during the Gujarat Riots police was abetting the rioters. The police force should be freed from the clutches of low-grade politics.
The ghetto-isation of Muslim community is dominant. Something has to be done since this is what the terrorists exploit to hide and stockpile their weapons. Former terrorists and criminals, who have surrendered, can be used as informers and their identity should be protected.
The most important thing. Politicians with a shady background shouldn’t be allowed any spectrum in politics. Technically, they can compete but I don’t think they can beat the combined might of others. Those who try to earn a few votes by inciting riots, inflammatory speeches, and offering rewards for killing should be dealt with very strict norms. When police was still investigating the role of SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) in the Mumbai Bomb Blasts, UP CM Mulayam singh Yadav gave a clean chit to the organization. He should be brought to book for abetting terrorism, interfering in police investigation and Anti-nationalist statements!
Short Term.
Most of the people I spoke to react in the same way. Attack Pakistan. Is that the answer to all our woes? If that’s true, then Israel must be the safest & happiest country. But the fact is if we defeat Pakistan, which is not that easy considering the nuclear capabilities of both the nations, there will be thousand other locations terrorist’s can choose from. America did the same mistake by attacking Taliban. Are thy any safer now? I say they are more prone to terrorist attack now. One Afghanistan gone, New Somalia, Bangladesh and others can spring up. Or like England, home grown terrorists can do it! So while trying to reveal the role Pakistan plays, we should strengthen our borders by fencing them completely to stop infiltration, and keep our youths from taking up Jihad by educating ad spreading the awareness about the pitfalls of terrorism.
The discrimination in the society must end. When the Babri Masjid was demolished, the government banned RSS, Bajrang Dal and a few other Muslim organizations. While the ban on Muslim organizations are still on, RSS & Bajrang Dal got the ban revoked. Why ban Muslim organizations when the equal culprits of hate-crime- the RSS & Bajrang Dal- are free and can do anything? What is the criteria used to ban / or allow their activities? If it is not the same yardstick, then where is the basic problem lies?

I hope all the nations rise to the new challenge that they are facing. The challenge from an unknown entity. A faceless, yet a very efficient, ruthless death machine. To succeed in this un-holy war, one need perseverance, will and unorthodox methods. It is not a phenomenon where you can wipe out the threat just by using artillery and bombs, but need sweeping changes as well.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Terrorism in a bipolar world - part 2

Nationalism Vs Religion
A recent survey conducted in London has revealed startling facts. About 24% of London Muslims think the July 7 suicide bombing was justified. The most radical view came from people below 24 years! And 25% despise the freedom in the society and want to see Sharia law implemented! 33% dream of London Becomes an Islamic state one day! Details of this survey is available here.
Startling? Well, as I wrote in the first part, the way Muslims look at the world has changed. Most importantly, the youngsters are more attracted to the fanaticism and are more rigid in believes. The gap between Muslims and the Rest is growing. The bridging attempts are met with skepticism and those who try it are labeled anti-Islam. The new emerging face of Islam is of an intense, sweeping typhoon. It will progress by smashing everything in its wake. Destruction is the way. Terror is the weapon it uses to dominate.

What are the motives? Is it to establish an Islamic state? Or is it an attempt to break free from the clutches of free-world and go back to orthodox Islam? Let’s take the case of India, a long-term sufferer of Islamist militancy.
If I am correct, during the 80’s islamist terrorism started in the Kashmir valley as a freedom movement. I am not delving into the wrongs and rights of Indian government’s approach against it, since I am too small to do that. But at that time it was a Kashmiri resistance force. During the years hard core militants, mostly from outside of India emerged on the scene and the sole aim of these groups were to destroy India. Pakistan, freely, helped them with training, ammunition and money and provided haven in their territory. And the world viewed India’s claims with skepticism. For them it was a territorial dispute and nothing else; Till 9/11. Till they realize that this is not an isolated incident and their backyards are breeding ground for a new generation that hates their motherland, or adopted motherland for their believes. Suddenly there was a global wave against terrorism. In fact this helped the terrorists to gain global recognition and started a ghetto-isation of Islamic interests. First goal achieved.
Second was to spread the terror web across the globe. They recognized the difficulty of operating their usual hard-core image in the changed scenario and found new ways. Thus born the sleeper cell ideas. This was the most difficult to trace. The Jihadi has a new face. That of a boy-next-door. They act very normal, are part of your local group, engage in regular activities. Suddenly they get their orders, execute them, and go back to normalcy. The Mumbai blasts were an example.
Another aim is to spread terror and disrupt the functioning of the government machinery. I can testify for one thing that I live in perennial fear ever since the recent Mumbai blasts. Every time I see a bearded face, inadvertently my eyes go to his hands to see whether he is carrying a package. Every time I see a big package on the racks of the train, I search for a bearded, capped face. I know I am being silly but can’t help it. During the preceding days of Indian Independence day, I was contemplating about taking leave. I believe that most of my colleagues feel the same way.
As conclusion, it is everything that I mentioned at the beginning. It is to establish an Islamic rule world wide as the final motive. As a way, first to terrorize the world, dominate the society and make them submissive. Non-believers have no place in their scheme of things.
So the terrorists are winning in that perception. As Santosh Desai wrote in Times of India a few days back, if one doesn’t care about one’s own life, he can’t be stopped. Is there any way to stop the terrorist juggernaut?
[To be continued]

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Terrorism in a bipolar world - part 1

1st Aug 2006, Times Of India.
An excellent article by Pritish Nandy.
The euphemisms that he talks about could not be more accurate. On this line, I too have something to jot down.
After reading this, don’t label me a fundamentalist. Or a Pseudo secularist. I am neither. Just an individual, shell shocked after seeing the destruction a misled individual can inflict upon innocent victims.
Why almost 90% terrorists are Muslims? LTTE, IRA, yes non-Islamic terrorists are there but the lion’s share of this ilk goes to that particular community. Why it is so? What do they gain by shedding innocent blood? Don’t they have any soft-feelings? Are they filled with hatred, so much so that to kill innocent children and women? Try for answers…

In the last 2 decades the average Muslim has changed a lot. The constant harassing they have to undergo in different parts, be it Gujarat Riot, or Palestine, or Iraq has caused the normal Muslim to look at the world differently. It’s an us vs them mentality. This has caused him to embrace the religion fiercely. A new generation was born there. One that put religion and Allah above everything; above one’s own life; they start to relate themselves with the plight of far flung Muslim communities. A radical approach towards everything that is not Islamic. An intolerance and arrogant mentality as spreading like a wild fire. This is the time when the Radical Mullahs and Jihadi agents make the entry. They recruit these hapless young men and turn them into death-machines by constantly brain washing them. Their poor economical and education background wasn’t helping either.
If terrorism can gain anything, it is hatred towards their own community for which they are fighting, or so they claim. If terrorism can achieve their goals, then why Palestine country is still a dream? Why Iraq is still occupied? Could the damage of Gujarat riots be undone? And WHY, Why shed innocent blood? Terrorism is the way of a coward. Those who never were brave enough to reveal his face and fight from the front. Those who recruit poor Muslim boys, brain washing him with the promise of heaven after death and a few thousand Rupees. If they can get along with foreign mercenaries, why can’t they get along with their neighbors?
The fundamentalists misinterpret the Prophet’s words and quote it for their own good. Where did Allah said to Kill innocents? To kill Women and children? They say those who don’t believe in Islam is Kafir. And Prophet said it is alright to kill Kafirs. But in prophets own words, Kafir is he who obscure the truth. He who don’t believe in Truth. Enough for misleading?
What was the intention behind the Mumbai Blasts? Or NY WTC attack? Or Spain bombings? Did they kill anyone who is RESPONSIBLE for their plight? In every atrocity that is committed by these lunatics, scores of innocents are getting killed. And governments seldom care for innocent blood.
So, this is a request to those who plan the next massacre. Please spare us. We are in no way responsible for Palestine, Gujarat, Iraq or god only knows whatever else. We want to live in peace. We want to reach our homes, to our children everyday after work. We don’t want to end up as a ripped apart body in one of those bloody explosions.

Child Labour & India

They say that the sweetest time of life is childhood. No worry, all play. True, for most of the lucky ones. But those who born into a poor home in India were not that lucky. Despite a law in place India is still home to this malaise. So an addition of couple of more industries to the existing law would make any difference? Today Indian Government decided to ban the Child Domestic Labour . Let us try to delve into this malady.
In the first place, why parents send their little ones to work in hazardous situations? I saw many young children, aged between 10 and 14 working in many a shops in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. Be it in a Hotel, a two-wheeler workshop, Zari units or works that required sheer physical effort such as building sites, mines etc. All this happens right under the nose of the authorities. By authorities, I specifically mean POLICE. So why, at the tender age, when they should be playing & studying, mingling & learning, they have to work hard and support their parents?
The first and foremost reason is financial. It is the additional income and a mouth less to feed theory that is gaining the most popularity. But how much truth does it hold? True, a minority has lost their earning member and no one else is there to take care of them or their ailing mother, younger sibling etc. They have a reason. But what about those who have to support his / her fathers alcoholism? How many of the kids had to suffer silently at their own home? 75% of the kids who work have a story to tell. That of a physical abuse, starvation, parents alcoholism etc.
Whatever the reason, however compelling it may be, no child should be allowed to work. It is the time for their development. Mentally, physically, socially. At a time when India is emerging as a force to reckon with, this should not be allowed to go on. But changing a law is not all. Strict implementation and proactive measures. The usual suspects in this game are Zari units, Hotels & bars, workshops, mines and construction works etc. These places should be checked regularly to make sure they don’t indulge in this and if found guilty should be punished severely. Only then our younger generation will be enlightened. Theirs is not a life to rot in the gutter. They are the future. Give them an opportunity.
Read this too. An article I wrote back in February