Monthly Archives: August 2014
Imagine 70 elephants, some as young as 4 years and some as old as 80, living on a campus… where you can visit them and watch them in their day-to-day life… chewing on palm leaves or having a bath in the nearby pond. This magical place is Anakkotta, in Kerala, the south western state of India. The elephants are housed in a huge coconut grove and fed and taken care of by mahouts.
The elephants at Anakkotta belong to Guruvayur temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna of the Hindu pantheon. Among all the offerings made to the temple, devotees who can afford them, offer elephants too. The price tag for a medium sized young elephant would be around $ 40K, which I found out after some research… not that I have been shopping around for an elephant! 🙂
The elephants are extremely intelligent animals with legendary memory powers and have individual personalities. The elephants at Anakkotta – meaning elephant fort – are all named and answer to their names. What is more, many of them have their own fan base!
Elephants to participate in the daily rituals of the temple are picked from those living at Anakkotta. Also, temples that do not have their own elephants rent elephants from Anakkotta for their festivals. The caparisoned elephants at a temple festival are a truly wonderful sight.
Elephants have featured prominently in Indian cultures from ancient times, being irrevocably linked to their religion, myths, and history. Studies based on rock paintings have shown that domestication of elephants in India extend back to 6000 BC. Seals from the Indus Valley civilization, dated between 2500 and 1500 BC, indicate the existence of domesticated elephants at that time. Ancient literary works like the Rig Veda and the Upanishads also contain references to domesticated elephants. And elephant ivory was one of the items of trade between Indian and other civilizations around the world, since ancient times.
A baby elephant at Anakkotta
Elephants formed one of the four branches of pre-modern Indian military (elephants, chariots archers, and infantry,) and the practice spread across south-east Asia and westwards into the Mediterranean. The world’s first book on veterinary medicine, written in ancient India, deals mostly with elephants and horses, which were most important for the military capability of any kingdom.
India is home to 50% of the wild and 20% of the captive elephant populations in Asia.
Anakkotta is one of the largest elephant sanctuaries in the world. As the elephants belong to the temple, the temple management takes care of their day-to-day care. Though their food mainly consists of palm leaves, cooked rice and bananas are part of the diet as well. One of their favorites is jaggery, the unrefined cane sugar.
Elephants are very fond of the water. They get their daily baths at the pond at Anakkotta. The mahouts scrub them with coconut fiber brushes and thoroughly wash them.
During his bath, this guy has kept his trunk (his nostrils) away from the water…
However, the moment it is out of the water, the elephant with throw trunkfuls of dirt on its back. Apparently, it is to repel the insects that might be buzzing around. Whatever works for you, right? 🙂
Note: My bro says there are three things that you never tire of watching… Elephants, Trains, and the Ocean! And I’m a huge fan of all three!
29 Aug 2014
Once at an office meeting, I was pulling up my chair to the table when my colleague Boris said, ‘wait, don’t do that’. I was taken aback a bit, as I was not doing anything in particular. ‘But then, you are already married! So it’s okay’, he continued. In Russia, it is believed that if a woman sits at the corner of a table, she will not find a life partner!
Superstitions like these abound all over the world. We all know about the beliefs associated with black cats, ladders, and cracks in the road – seeing them, walking under them, stepping on them… will bring bad luck. I mean, seeing the black cats, walking under the ladder, and stepping on the cracks. Now if you step on the cat? Definitely the cat will not like it, and it will be instant bad luck for you! 🙂
How is it that different parts of the world came to share some of these beliefs is an interesting thought. At the same time, the more interesting and bizarre ones are truly unique to their places of origin.
Is there any substance to these beliefs? Only if you truly believe in them! I mean believe in them enough for it to bother you when you did something you shouldn’t have or didn’t do something that you should have. Or vice versa… or the other way around… whatever… you get my point, right? 🙂
In Ancient Britain, women believed that by carrying acorns in their pockets they will stay looking young. Maybe a result of seeing the mighty oaks continue to flourish year after year?
In 19th century England, men were advised to avoid eating lettuce if they wanted children. An idea arising in the fact that the lettuce plant doesn’t bear any fruit?
In Spain, it is believed that if you eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s eve, you will have good luck and prosperity the entire year! At the least, good for your health!
Prescribed days for doing specific things are common in all cultures. Cutting hair or trimming nails are forbidden on Tuesdays or Saturdays, depending on where you are. Visit a new baby or a sick person, set out on a journey, go to the hospital, plant crops in the field… all these have their own auspicious days.
A very intriguing custom from Medieval England… I’m at a total loss at guessing its possible origin. An expectant mother will make a large round cheese known as the ‘groaning cheese’ and allow it to mature for nine months. When the baby is born, the cheese will be shared among the family, keeping the rind intact. And the baby will be passed through this rind at christening to ensure a long and prosperous life. Now what would happen if the rind breaks while the cheese is being shared (would it still be good if it is stapled together?) or the mom-to-be miscalculated and the baby is too big to pass through the rind, is anybody’s guess!
I personally heard it being asserted that it brings good luck (or a variation, you will get sweets) if a bird poops on you. Aimed at making the person feel better about being pooped on, I would say. And it is taken a step further in Russia… if the bird poops on your house or car, it will bring good luck and riches. And the more birds pooping, the better! None of these say anything about birds pooping on statues, though… 🙂
From Brazil… if you place some salt in a corner of your house, it will bring you good luck.
The French believe that handing over a loaf of bread upside down will bring ill luck to both the giver and taker. Also, bread is not to be placed at the table upside down either. Think of that beautiful crust being crushed!
We all know that the colour red is considered auspicious by the Chinese. As a corollary, the colour white is associated with death and mourning, and flowers or gifts in that colour are not to be considered for any happy occasion.
While in Japan, do not stick your chopsticks straight up in your food. It is how they are placed at funerals.
Russians do not show their newborn baby to strangers till it is 40 days old, as it is believed that the baby receives it soul only by that time and it may take on another’s soul during that time. So what about the soul of the family members? Maybe the baby will be nice to them and not rob them of their soul!
Oh, this one I’m taking seriously. In Iceland, it is forbidden to knit on the doorstep in late winter as it is believed to extend the winter. Let me just catch sight of anyone knitting anywhere – not only in Iceland – in the winter and I’m grabbing that knitting and out it goes in the garbage. No way I’m risking an extended winter!
To be continued…
22 Aug 2014
A bridge that symbolizes everything that is great and eternally inspiring about a city, that stands towering high bringing joy to the beholder from far or near, at the same time functioning as a major artery of traffic connecting the city, and has contributed to the lexicon of English language… is there any other bridge in the country – no, the world – as grand as the Brooklyn Bridge?
And one of the key figures behind the construction of this great bridge was Emily Warren Roebling, the daughter in law of John Roebling who designed the bridge and started the construction. When John Roebling died of tetanus, his son Washington Roebling took over charge of the construction. Unfortunately, Washington was afflicted by caisson disease, the decompression sickness caused apparently by long hours spent under water. He became bed-ridden, his wife Emily stepped in as the ‘first woman field engineer’ and saw to the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Emily functioned as the construction supervisor and project manager for the construction. And as the only person who saw Washington Roebling in his sick bed, she was the link between him and his assistants at the work site. She gained extensive knowledge and understanding of the technologies involved, with training from her husband. She performed the chief engineer’s duties and supervised the day-to-day construction while her husband watched the bridge going up, through binoculars, from their residence at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn. According to reports, Emily Roebling was the first person to cross the bridge by carriage ahead of the official opening, carrying a rooster as a sign of victory. I found this a very interesting story and went looking for some image of the event. And see what I found!
When it was opened to the public on May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world and the tallest man-made structure in the American continent. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, and a New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
As the name implies, the Brooklyn Bridge connects the burroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York city. At present, the bridge carries 6 lanes of automobile traffic, with an elevated walkway for pedestrians and bicycles in the center.
As you can imagine, the view from the bridge is breathtaking. And it is a vantage point to observe the way the look of the New York city skyline changes to reflect the time of day. Whether in the day or night, it is something that you can keep watching!
A rather new phenomenon I noticed on the bridge is the way people have attached all sorts of things to the sides of the bridge. It used to be locks previously, following the belief that if couples put their names on a lock that is locked onto a bridge and throw down the keys into the water below, their love will be everlasting!
But these days there is all kinds of stuff being tied to the railings, including ear phones and plastic paper. Really an eyesore!
Brooklyn Bridge has featured in many books, movies and songs. Most noteworthy is ‘The Bridge’, an epic poem by Hart Crane, the well-known American poet. What a coincidence that he lived for a while at 110 Columbia Heights, the same address where the Roeblings used to live!
And there are plenty of works about the bridge as well. The Great Bridge by David McCullough, published in 1972 and the PBS documentary film, Brooklyn Bridge, made by Ken Burns in 1981 are prominent among the lot.
By the way, the usage “If you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you” has its origin with George Parker, a master con man who managed to sell the Brooklyn Bridge, several times, to gullible customers. Apparently, he convinced them that they could make a fortune controlling the access to the bridge! Other public landmarks he managed to sell, again many times over, included Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb and the Statue of Liberty. 🙂
These days the word ‘amazing’ has lost all meaning, through overuse. But this is one case where it should be used in its true full meaning… AMAZING! And that is the most apt word to describe this great icon of this great city!
19 Aug 2014
Has it ever happened to you that you go a store to buy something… even before you enter the store, your attention is caught by the wares on display outside and you return with your hands full, delighted with your purchases, without even entering the store? No, it is not a riddle… that is what happens to me lots of times at the Strand Bookstore!
Strand Bookstore is one of the world’s largest bookstores. An independent bookstore in Manhattan, it is located at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street. Founded in 1927, on the no-more-existing Book Row (Fourth Avenue below Union Square), it sells all varieties and categories of books – new as well as used. ‘18 Miles of Books’ is their slogan, but I can’t believe it is only 18 miles…
Strand Bookstore has these rows of book stands out on the sidewalk, piled up with books on sale at heavily discounted prices. And the surprise factor runs sky high… you have no idea what or who you will find there. So as soon as I get to the store, I make a beeline for these stands. It hasn’t happened yet that I have walked away from there empty handed, most often picking up as many as I can carry! And the actual book I came to buy gets postponed to the next visit.
In addition to currently published books, Strand also deals in rare and out of print editions. Reviewers’ copies at reduced prices is another speciality of Strand.
Have you noticed perfectly matched sets of books in professional offices, television and movie sets, etc? Most likely, they came from Strand. They will put together collections according to your specifications; all you have to do is, say how many feet of books you want. Yes, it is called ‘books by the foot’! And you can either buy them or if your need is temporary, Strand will lend them to you. You can also choose from a variety of subjects including art, biography, reference, law, music, theatre and classic literature.
Though generally not a fan of the ‘gift shoppe’, I love the tote bags from Strand. Not only are they sturdy – strong enough to carry a bunch of books – they look great. And well priced too.
If you needed a particular book – doesn’t matter whether best seller or out of print – Strand would be THE place to go looking for it. If they do not have it, the likelihood is that they will be able to get it for you. And a more friendly and helpful set of people I haven’t met. Most impressive is the way the staff knows about what is and is not on the shelves, despite the huge, humungous collection in the store. When I asked whether I could take pictures in the store, I mostly expected to hear ‘No way’, but was pleasantly surprised to be told, ‘Of course’.
I used to think that the best place to work, that is if you are not a writer of some kind, 🙂 would be a library. But after many many visits to Strand Bookstore, I think I would love working there!
When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.
15 Aug 2014
The only regret I have while writing this post is that I won’t be able to see the faces of my friends when they read this… the curled lips, disdainful eyes, and the general expressions of disbelief… Still, I’ll be hearing about it, I’m sure.
Seeking and receiving advice is a part of social life. So here is some advice for my readers with two X chromosomes. (And a word of caution to my XY readers: you take this to heart and grin too much, you do so at your own peril!)
- Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.
- Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
Hit the ceiling yet? Here, read the rest of it for yourself. BTW, this advice doesn’t come from me; I have no desire to invoke a lynch mob to come after me. This is apparently advice provided by a ladies’ magazine called Housekeeping Monthly, in the 1950s. To be precise, published on May 13, 1955.
The third bullet point there, I don’t think it was intended as it sounds today!
And there is better yet to come. How about these?
- Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
- Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
And here is the full list…
The last one is my favourite… yep, ‘A good wife always knows her place’. The only disagreement could what that place actually is! 🙂
This document in various formats has been in circulation for a while. And of course, its origin has been subject to deep enquiries. And the conclusion? It’s a fake! An out and out fabrication! Reasons for such an assertion are the facts that there was no publication with the name ‘Housekeeping Monthly’ and the picture used here has been taken from the cover of a magazine named ‘John Bull’ published in 1957. Also, the text of this has been circulating for a while before it first appeared in a published format.
So… considering that this was done as a kind of joke, who do you think would have come up with it? A man or a woman? Maybe it was a man, fingers on keyboard, in a daydreaming mood, indulging in a fantasy… giving words to his wishful thinking! Or could be a woman making absolute fun of what some men would expect from their wives if they could just make it so! What do you think?
12 Aug 2014
The first public park, the first public secondary school, the first public library, the first State Constitution, the first regularly issued American newspaper… the first windmill, the first chocolate factory, and the first pub in the country… it will take a while to list all the firsts that belong to Boston.
The first public anti-smoking law (that too, in 1632!) was passed in Boston… the first woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. did so from the Boston University… the list seems unending.
Founded in 1630 by a group of Puritans, Boston is one of the oldest cities of the United States. Puritans were English colonists who arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries in America, dissatisfied with the church of England over the church’s tolerance of practices aligned with the catholic tradition. Boston played a key role in the American Revolution, being the scene of events like the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.
In addition to being an important port and center of trade and manufacturing, Boston is well known for its educational and cultural institutions. Above all it is an architecturally beautiful city. So when I got a chance to do a quick trip to Boston one of these recent weekends, I jumped at the chance.
The first place we stopped at was the Harvard University campus. Did I tell you that it is the country’s first college? The spacious campus with brown stone buildings impart a sense of peace and calm.
The statue of John Harvard on the campus gets constant attention from visitors, particularly young ones. They are posing one after the other for photos with the statue that it is hard to get a click in without someone clinging to the statue’s foot.
Did you notice how shiny it is? It is believed that touching the statue’s foot brings good luck. And what happens there at night? Read for yourself here.
By the way, this statue is commonly called, ‘The Statue of Three Lies’, in the sense that contrary to what is said on the base of the statue, it is not John Harvard, John Harvard is not the founder of Harvard University, and Harvard University was not founded in 1638. Read all about it in the Harvard Summer Blog.
That day, the weather had some harsh treatment in store for us… it rained for the better part of the day! Despite the rain, we managed to visit some real interesting places.
Established in 1837, the garden has an area of 24 acres, with beautiful paths and formal flower beds. The lake in the garden apparently, always have two resident swans.
A 15 minute ride on the swan boats – a special attraction of Boston – takes you around the 4-acre lake in the garden for an utterly peaceful time with picturesque views.
Though we wanted to, we did not have sufficient time to visit all the stops on the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, brick-lined route that leads through 16 historically significant sites associated with the American revolution.
The whole trail is marked by a red and gray brick path.
Any visit to Boston will not be complete without a look at the Boston Harbour, the scene of the Boston tea party, an event on December 16, 1773 where a group of patriots boarded a ship of the East India Company and threw chests of tea into the harbour, in protest against the Tea Act of May 1773. They were protesting – contrary to what many people understand today – not against taxation, but taxation without representation as the American colonies did not have a representative in the British parliament.
The dark look of the sky that day somehow suited the memories of that historical day.
Boston has so many firsts to its credit, but I want to give it a ‘best’ on my personal account. The best clam chowder – ever! It was so great I have decided to look on my bookshelves for my historic Boston cookbook, handwritten no less, to find a traditional recipe to follow.
And do you know who this is? Yes, Sam Adams, exactly like he is on the bottle! 🙂
Boston has so many things to boast of, if it wanted to, but it will never do so because then it will have to change its spelling to ‘Boaston’! Yep, that deserves all the groans that it will garner, but couldn’t help it! 😉
And much to the chagrin of Bostonians, Forbes magazine rated Boston as the 9th ‘Coolest City’ in the country! Yeah, it’s hard when you are accustomed to being first and then have to put up with being 9th!
08 Aug 2014
Never forget the time when I stepped into Beijing with the hope of exploring a foreign land and found a wondrous and modern city. So industrial-looking yet so entrenched in culture and tradition. It truly felt like a home away from home. Perhaps, due to my experience there or thanks to the many friends I made or the delicious food I got to eat while being introduced to one of my favorite dishes, the Beijing Hotpot, I don’t know what but Beijing and the Chinese culture will always remain very dear to me.
Much for my experience climbing the Great Wall of China, there were also other awe-filled moments that made me fall in love with the city. Hiking up Fragrant Hills or Xiangshan Park to see the Fall colors (even my Chinese friends envy me for this!) was one rare expedition to an exotic scenic location which is now an exquisite memory. In the awesome company of my friends, I could see the whole of Beijing city from the top of the hills. It is an “imperial garden at the foot of the Western Mountains covering 395 acres” and a natural pine-cypress forest with maple trees and other beautiful trees.
If you manage to go all the way up to the fortress on the peak, you become a hero and win a medal (from your friend!) 🙂 Nature was sure at its splendid best there! And yes! Another awe-inspiring experience was attending the Beijing Opera. It is traditional Chinese musical theatre where the actors are great performers. Donning colorful costumes of the Chinese kings and queens of yesteryears, they usually enact out legends and fables. The men wear painted masks with long beards and the women are nymphlike with painted faces. Enjoyed watching the performance at the Chang’an Grand Theatre while relaxing with a cup of green tea.
Of course, I also did the usual touristy stuff like checking out Tiananmen Square, going to the Forbidden City (an erstwhile palace!), strolling around the verdant summer palace, be treated to a spectacular acrobatics show (where the performers were as young as five years old!) hogging on the myriad varieties of dim sums, noodles, and congee, taking a ride along a Hutong (a type of residential locality that has narrow streets and courtyard houses; now more of a heritage structure), bargaining crazy at the innumerable flea markets like Hongqiao pearl market, Silk market, and gaping at the fancy malls at Wangfujing (Seriously, those are Some Fancy buildings!)
Now I yearn to return someday to re-explore the city and meet my old friends! 🙂
05 Aug 2014
There are some things in every one’s life that have a lasting charm… some threads that run through life, helping keep alight the joy of life even when things are not so good. Something that gets you excited about life itself. For me, it is trains. I love trains… I mean, all trains. Long distance trains, commuter trains, touristy trains… love them all. And never give up a chance to ride on one either.
I don’t know when I was bitten by the train bug. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I was not enchanted by the trains. When I was in third grade, we were doing a chapter on transportation. Teacher asked whether there was anyone in the class who had not travelled on a train. To my utter amazement, a number of hands went up. And I was thinking… where have you been living? Under some moss covered rocks? Lived thus far without a single train ride? The pity I felt for those kids was fathomless. Even at that age, a train ride was one of my favourite things.
As I grew up, I found out that there are kindred spirits all around the world. Known by various names such as railfans, rail buffs and train buffs, they form groups and go train spotting. Yes, it is a legitimate hobby, with many followers. Train photography, model trains, exploring historical railway tracks and trains, and collecting train memorabilia are some of the activities of these groups.
You have to admit… some of the old trains are a pleasure to see. And you never get bored watching a train go by. Whenever a car I’m travelling is stopped at a railway crossing, and there are groans from the rest of the party, I’m secretly thrilled though I have to hide my glee! 🙂
As fun it is to watch a train from the outside, it is equally interesting to watch it from the inside. I mean watching the people. Where else would you get such a golden opportunity to watch a microcosm of society, yourself unobserved? Some of the people are busy reading the newspaper or books, some are engrossed in prayers and rosaries, some keep yakking away to either their friends or on the phone… some even do their chores like opening the mail or doing their nails.
One thing interesting about New York trains – including the subways – is that you get to hear all kinds of languages. Sometimes when a conversation in a language I do not understand gets too loud for comfort, I have a trick to bring it under control. I pretend to be seriously listening and smiling or frowning at all the right moments. And the conversationalists begin to wonder… does this woman understand what we are talking? In no time, it is toned down and there is peace and quiet again.
Let me ask you a question. Imagine this scene… you get on a train, from a station in between, and you have a ways to go. All the window seats are taken. Some of the people have their bags and papers all spread around on the aisle seats and are sitting taking up most of the two seats. Others have kept their possessions neatly on their laps and the aisle seats are left free of any encroachments. Where would you opt to sit? Don’t you think that by that choice, you are rewarding bad behaviour? 😉
Whenever I go visiting a new place, I would find out if there are any interesting train rides around. Very often, there are. And I never let go a chance to ride on one of them. This is a train from St. Kitts, that went around the island and the old sugar cane farms, keeping the Caribbean always within sight on one side. It was wonderful!
One of the activities of the railfans is called ‘complete riding’, which is to try and ride the complete railway network of a city, state, or country. It would be an interesting activity to consider during the fall in NYC.
I cannot end this note without a shoutout to a fellow railfan… you all have seen him, laughed with him and at him. And said ‘Bazinga’ with him! Yes, I mean Sheldon Cooper from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ whose love for trains is as intense as mine!
And the only reason I do not have an elaborate train set running on the floor of my apartment is that I live in a matchbox!
01 Aug 2014