Don 2

This article originally appeared on my blog http://lifeofpradeep.wordpress.com. I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.

It was a quick decision made a little after we boarded the company bus heading to Bharuch. We would watch Don 2. The back rows of the cinema hall was booked and the cinema house had taken the opportunity to hike ticket prices. We got a middle row seats for 9.45 pm show. We managed a dosa before the show by way of something to eat. As the show began, we found more colleagues from work.

Watching a movie here is an interesting experience. People are not inhibitted from whistling, passing comments loudly or clapping. Quite different from the sophisticated cinema goers to the multiplex in a city like Mumbai. But, here it’s sort of in a good way and it adds to the experience rather than subtract from it. I think if you watch a movie with opinionated Indians, you have to bear with some of their opinions as well.

The movie itself, despite the reviews I heard was very good. It was awesome. The storyline kept rolling, there was an element of mystery involved and in the end, the jigsaw puzzle is solved for us. The camera work really added in keeping that element of mystery while trying to find out how the hero managed to pull it off at all. The director (I like Farhan Akthar’s movies and believe in the auteur theory of cinema) does do us a service by not trying to force song and dance sequences where they do not fit in. I enjoyed the car chases (though not up to Hollywood quality) and the action sequences in the filmas well. The only bit of criticism that I can offer for the movie was its lacklustre sound track and that there seem to coincidentally seem too many Indians in Germany.

An Atlas of Impossible Longing – Anuradha Roy

I read a few pages of the hardbound copy of this book every morning last week. On Saturday, I finished it in a marathon reading session. It was done. I had got back to the habit of reading books, again. I had crept away from the habit citing lack of books as the problem. Then I found a library – a public library on Facebook – in Bharuch.

An Atlas of Impossible Longing is a book by Anuradha Roy. Her debut book. The story straddles several genres – reverse migration from cities, nostalgia, romance, loneliness, partition stories, a tale on generations of a family, and much more. It doesn’t work seriously towards fitting into any genre and this is what endeared me to this book at first. I read through this book in fits and starts, through early morning bus rides cutting across small villages that dot the road between Bharuch and Dahej. As industries rise up, I am reminded that it is time to close the book. It is for running this industry that the lead character in the first part of the book comes to a small town.

As the story unfolds in the later two generations, it turns to romance and towards loneliness. These aspects take up more time of the central character. The story also moves from the very simple and the very practical to the very complicated and the very romantic. In a way, it traces the generational differences between the several Indian generations into the seventies and the eighties. It explores how as we get more and more crowded we become more and more lonely and yearn for company.

These are two themes that I noticed developing through the length of the book. The author must be applauded for some very descriptive settings and for some new analogies. I would have prefered a paperback to a hard bound copy of the book. I also felt that the male characters weren’t as well-developed as the female leads. Something to work on, I guess.

I now have a copy of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi in my hands.

Closing Down of public libraries in Chembur

As a teen growing up in the suburbs of Mumbai, I had access to some very fascinating public libraries in Chembur. I didn’t read anything until my teenage years after which I didn’t have time to do anything else but reading. Many of the libraries have shut shop. The recent one is the Ramchandra’s Circulating Library at Amar Mahal which has now paved the way for yet another cycle shop.

My mom and her sisters read at the Shashi’s Three Star Library in Zerox Galli, near Chembur Railway Station. It was here I read most of my Hardy Boys collection (along with the 1 book/week I got in school). It is here I started reading Jeffrey Archer and Sidney Sheldon. He wouldn’t give me many of the other books I was interested in (like horror fiction) and this put me fairly in the pure fiction category in my reading tastes. It was also here that the librarian suggested Wodehouse to me to keep me away from Stephen King. Needless to say, I enjoyed Wodehouse. This library is now a stationary shop.

There were many other libraries too but to which I did not apply for membership and which have now closed.

There was a Five Star Circulating Library at the corner of Ambedkar Garden. This has now become part of clothes store. This had more of the books that women like and very few selections for what would today be called young adult audiences.

There was also a library on the ground floor of the municipality M ward office. This has now been converted into a Citizen Facilitation Center. The library has been moved to a smaller space near the Sai Baba Temple with a smaller but a more Marathi-centric collection.

After losing the Ramchandra’s Circulating Library at Amar Mahal, the only one in Chedda Nagar is run by a very old gentleman – he runs Ankur Circulating Library. He’s recently decreased the size of the library claiming difficulty in maintenance.

Good libraries have also taken a beating as new bookstores like Crossword and Landmark and online spaces like Flipkart have made it easier for book lovers to purchase books rather than borrow books. The libraries that exist are not being able to get some of the latest books in circulation.

I have a growing collection of books that I am waiting to share but am not yet entirely sure how. It’s something in my head. A need for a public circulating library with an updated stock of books.

Talk by Susmita Mohanty at the American Center

It was Srinivas Laxman who forwarded me the email and invited me over since it was a public talk (video) to be held at the American Center, New Marine Lines. Given the rains and a talk about the Shuttle were not really great pull to go attend the event. At the end of the day, though, I am glad I attended the event.

Even though I was born in the ’80s and a video of the Space Shuttle Discovery lifting off with Hubble is what pushed me into space, I have never taken the trouble to sit down and get to know the Shuttle, the vehicle. Watching the last few sets of shuttle launches, space walks, pictures tweeted and shuttle landings have reduced the ignorance but I have never known about the anatomy of the shuttle, which is where Susmita started her talk today from.

Going from there she described the various activities – standing, moving, sleeping, use of the bathroom, controlling the spacecraft, bathing, spacewalking, repairing the Hubble. She tried hard to get the audience to understand how hard it is to do simple tasks inside the shuttle.

She ended her talk talking about the Virgin Galactic spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon, Bigelow Aerospace’s space hotels and lunar bases and an EADS Astrium video on space tourism.

The question and answer session was as interesting as any for a science outreach event held in Mumbai. The teens and children asked the really interesting questions – prospects of space entrepreneurship in India, shielding astronauts from cosmic rays and other effects (put by a kid as “are astronauts damaged by air from galaxies”) and prospects of Middle East in space exploration. The university kids (which included people from IIT-B and the Pratham small satellite team) remained silent. The older people asked really weird questions – showing they had selective information which they could not make sense of.

An interesting question that did not get answered was what was the mode of communication between spacewalking astronauts and the spacecraft – audio feed or radio.

The final space shuttle launch will be on July 8, 2011. The space shuttle Atlantis will fly for this mission.

Russian Cosmonaut visiting Nehru Centre

June 9, 2011 is the day when Russian cosmonaut Viktor Savinykh will be visiting the Nehru Center, Mumbai. In the morning he’ll inaugurate an exhibition on space. The exhibition will be open to the members of the public on the first floor of Nehru Planetarium till June 18, 2011.

In the evening Savinykh will talk on “50th Anniversary of the first human Space flight“. Savinykh became a cosmonaut in 1978. He’s flown in space for 252 days 17 hours and 38 minutes on three spaceflights. He flew to the Soviet Salyut 6 in 1981, Salyut 7  in 1985 and the Mir in 1988. On Salyut 7, Savinykh helped restore Salyut 7 with which ground control was lost. He, along with Vladimir Dzhanibekov manually docked with Salyut 7, replaced batteries and restored power and control to the station. 

What’s next?

This is a question that I was asked multiple times during my vacation to Kerala last month. It was perhaps a way of conversation for them but I did not really have a good answer for this one despite knowing well before hand that I would be asked this question. For the past two days, this question has returned with a vengeance and has forced me to think along a future trajectory.

My bad graduational injection means that my life needs an orbital correction. Based on various conversations I had today and yesterday, these are the options I have narrowed it down to:

1. Go to Russia and learn about rockets
Russia is a country I admire for their rocketry prowess. I love the shear volume of rockets they have and they launch every year. It is a trade that I’d love to learn and it’s best to learn from the best. I am looking at Universities that offer post-graduation courses in Aerospace Engineering/Rocketry/special machines. I learnt that admission for international students closes on June 20, 2011. I think applying for the 2012-13 academic year will give me the benefit of learning some Russian and in the meanwhile accrue some work experience.

2. Join the Armed Forces via the Short Services Commission
I’d love to be in the Engineering Core of the Armed Forces and help use space to improve India’s military prowess. This option is a bit clouded because I’m not entirely sure why I want to do it and is my father’s dream (he has not told me so openly  – but I see it in his eyes sometimes) of what I should be doing.

3. Get some job – marry and settle down
I know it makes you go eek in your guts but for some people it’s a very good option. At various points in my engineering degree, experience has made me want to do this. Complete my degree – get some job that pays well – marry and settle down. Not exactly path breaking but gives you time for hobbies like astronomy, weather man, philosophy etc.

More options are yet to be considered – like being a liason officer with ISRO, going to Bhutan and settling down there, going back to my older interest of working with a museum, becoming a weatherman or becoming a sadhu and wandering in the Himalayas . I probably wouldn’t do some of these out of sheer laziness but these are thoughts that have passed through my mind as answers when relatives in Kerala asked me the question – What next?

Chai and Why: Origami and Mathematics

Chai and Why? is a public outreach effort of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Today I went to the session on “Origami and Mathematics”. This begins a series of Chai and Why? concentrated on children during the vacation season.

Today’s talk was by Vijay Arolkar and Mimansa Vahia. Before the talk, Sanjana Kapoor turned up and announced the Prithvi Theater’s Summer Workshop and the idea of having Prithvi Theater and its partners do special activities for kids during the summer. She even hung around till a few minutes into the talk.

Vijay Arolkar began the talk. He introduced his guru Prof. Natarajan who then introduced this group – Origami Mitra which met twice a month at Dadar. Few of its members were also present in the audience. Arolkar is a member of the TIFR’s Low Temperature Facility. His talk was filled with demonstrations that vowed the audience by some innovative techniques of forming basic shapes and models.

Mimansa Vahia, a PhD student in the Maths department at TIFR, took over and spoke about the axioms of origami and providing a strong theoretical basis for origami which enabled its application in mathematics. The example that stood and that got repeated throughout the day was the trisection of an angle which was made possible by origami.

The areas of application held more interest for me. Origami has formed the basis for several interesting applications like packing airbags, crumple zones in cars, camera lens, self folding sheets, folding of solar panels on a spacecraft, fitting space telescopes into compact launch vehicles etc. Origami has made available ways of packing airbags once certain parameters about its usage is known. It has been used to determine crumple zones in cars, places where the cars can fail on impact while causing minimum injury to its passengers. Its application has also enabled multiple camera lens to be replaced by a single lens having diamond shaped crystals arranged in a fashion that enables multiple reflections of the light passing through giving it the same effect that multiple optical lens do. This arrangement was arrived at using origami though the original one uses crystals. This enables camera lens miniaturisation and has been found in 2010. Self folding sheets are sheets which fold in certain ways on the passage of electric currents. The Miura fold is what has been used in the solar panels of spacecrafts.

This was followed by a hands-on paper folding experience in which we made a paper box, a fan, a speaking penguin and a toppling toy. We got to bring these home (although they didn’t let us keep the TIFR folder on which we built these models) and I even showed my brother how to make a toppling toy for himself.

A paper box made from A4 size paper. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

A fan. Credit: Pradeep Mohandas


A Talking Penguin. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas
Toppling Toy. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

This was my first experience in a hands-on workshop at Chai and Why? and I must say that it was fun. I was folding paper after a very very long time and unlike my school experience of crafts, I had a lot of fun. I hope I can attend a few meetings with Origami Mitra and re-ignite my dead crafty characteristics.

I will unfortunately miss the next two sessions of Chai and Why? called  Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star since I’ll be in Kerala.

[While looking for links, I found that the Origami article on Wikipedia has some fun links to explore and also the webpage of Robert Lang whose name continuously popped up along with a picture of him with a 5m telescope. Also many of the spacecrafts have a page where you can get instructions of how to build their paper models. HobbySpace is a good place to start in this regard.]

Visit to Shirdi

The last time I had been to Shirdi was as a 9 year old. I don’t remember much about that place and when my friend Pranav mentioned that he had plans to go there, I decided to join him. This was last Sunday. The plan was to leave on Friday night, reach there on Saturday morning, have an audience at Shirdi with Sai Baba and then head to Shani Shingnapur and then return back to Mumbai on Saturday night.

Pranav and I met at the private bus hub near Diamond Garden, Chembur to board the bus. The Dolphin Volvo bus arrived and boarded the bus and we departed at 10.45 pm. At 1.30 pm we arrived at our first stop and I woke up after trying to sleep. There were seat bugs (for want of a better name). My elbows were swollen with seat bug bite and it seemed that it was a general experience among passengers and not a particular experience with me. After a general patting down, I had a bite-less night.

We reached Shirdi at 5.55 am and we got a room that allowed us to bathe and change for Rs. 60. It was the top of someone’s home which was being lent for a daily or for bathing purposes. Since Shirdi is a holy place, it is general practice to be bathed and fresh. The room and bathroom were clean and also had a provision for hot water. The hot water was flowing through a plastic pipe generally used for electric purposes – which concerned me a bit but I used cold water.

Pranav led the way to the samadhi. There is as usual a very long line. The early hour and some smart maneuvering meant that we could make some time and only had to wait for about an hour and a half. The serpentine line went through a hall, down a flight of steps, up another flight of steps and suddenly we were inside the samadhi. When you reach in, the first thing that strikes you is how Hindu the place is for someone who had practised both Hinduism and Islam. Second was the amount of gold the place had for the man who believed in simplicity. We then went to some adjoining centers which were places where Sai Baba stayed, prayed, cooked etc. We then went to the shrine of a person who worked with Sai Baba and began the search for a jeep that would take us to Shani Shingnapur.

It is an interesting experience to discuss travel plans sitting inside a temple. We planned here on whether to go to Shani Shingnapur after breakfast or not. The decision was to head to Shani Shingnapur, a temple dedicated to Shani, the god Saturn, without breakfast. Pranav had been going on about this temple since the day we decided to head to Shirdi. He told me about the idea behind wearing orange clothes and a wet body while entering the temple and had even suggested I carry my orange clothes with me. He then helpfully pointed out that the orange clothes were available there on rent.

Pranav described the experience in the jeep best by comparing it with NASCAR. We joked that the drivers were more of an expert in reminding people about God than a priest in the temple. Pranav got the jolt of his life when the jeep passed in front of the temple. People wearing ordinary clothes were walking into the temple. A passenger in the front seat seemed equally jolted and asked about it to the driver. The driver explained that the Government thought it was a waste of time for devotees to be following rituals and decided to do away with it. So it was that we visited the temple without Pranav’s “orange clothes and wet body”.

The temple here is much simpler. The God is represented by a black rock on which devotees offer mustard oil which is poured on the rock. Some brought small plastic packets of oil, some small plastic bottles of oil and some even brought a cannister of oil! At the exit, we found a medical camp being conducted by the doctors from Ahmednagar Govt. Civil Hospital. This was my first round of blood donation. After a round of weight checks and jotting down personal details I was asked to press a “Squeeze-me” ball for about 5 mins to drive out a packet of blood. For my squeezing, I got a certificate, a unique identification number and a medal.

I felt a bit tired on the way back where I and Pranav had to be squeezed in with an older gentleman from Kolkata. On return to Shirdi, we had lunch (a much needed one) and took our bus back to Mumbai. This bus too suffered with lack of passengers. Efforts to revive passenger count by waiting for a hour and a half at Nashik failed and so the bus left following an internal revolt by passengers. We reached Mumbai an hour later than we would have.

Swimming Pool in Chembur

I have been around in Chembur since 1992 or so. Since then, the town has changed a lot. The municipal swimming facility in Chembur, now called General Arun Kumar Vaidya Swimming Pool. This was part of the overall naming and renaming exercise undertaken by the right-wing Shiv Sena which swept into power in 1994 in the state of Maharashtra. I do not recollect what this pool was called before being named so.

My experience in this swimming pool has not been great. When I tried to learn swimming here as a kid my skin got discolored and as a result I lost interest in swimming. From then on, I have passed in front of the pool several times without caring to learn its proper name (something I am interested in but not of importance since people just call it Swimming Pool). Hence for a very long time, this pool and its activities didn’t have my interest.

Recently, there was a news report in the local newspaper, Mumbai Mirror reported that there was a danger that the pool may be handed over to private parties through improper channels. The pool has apparently not been used for the past two years and the municipal corporation is spending approximately Rs. 16 lakhs. The picture is murky and RTI activists are digging for information.

This revived an interest in swimming and also revived an urge to spread the word about what was happening to this public space. The first thing to do was to find out what it is called. The above report swaps the names of the two pools at Chembur and Kandivali. The one at Chembur is called the General  Arunkumar Vaidya taran talav. An interest arose in learning more about the General and I reached the Bharat Rakshak website and found the information I was looking for.

The General has served India during the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971 and as Chief of Army Staff he planned Operation Bluestar. Like Indira Gandhi who ordered the Operation, the General was also assassinated for his role in the Operation in Pune in 1986. The General was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra and the Padma Vibhushan.

Interestingly, in the early 2000s, a Sikh businessman operated his hotel out of the premises when the swimming pool was in the name of the General. I am not sure if he knew about the General or his role in the Operation. The hotel did not have good food and so even that didn’t provide me a reason to go there. It inevitably closed operations. Now, the fore ground of the swimming pool is being used for parking vehicles.