Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Unable to Look Foreward...

During my travels through the length and breadth of India, in search of a good PhD position, in a scorching summer I reached IIT Ropar, Punjab six years ago. Behind me is a tributary to the River Satlaj flowing not very quietly, through Rupnagar.

Sitting in a lonely, forest bound village, today I recollect my hard travels without any hope nor enough money in pocket. Were those travels worth given the present situation? Don't know how my long cherished dream of a research career faded away! Is there a coming back? No idea. Things sometimes slip away from the grips. What's waiting for me ahead? I don't know. We don't know anything, we act as if we know everything.

May be I was born to be at where presently I am. I'm ignorant, I am a moth flying around a candle bound to perish there itself; not knowing that there is a huge dark world outside. There is a comfort associated with light that kills us eventually. Darkness is fearsome but full of adventures and gives eternal life. Let me dive into the unexplored dark world. Give me strength O Allah! Yes I see darkness is beautiful. No one see us and we don't see anyone! Am I fearful, no.It feels like exploring the universe leaving behind all the bonds with earth, the mother, broken bonds become my wings just like broken umbilical cord.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A Day Before

Royal Enfield
Reaching a scientific workshop venue 36 hours before it starts is too early for a research student! But sometimes the transport system of the country forces one to do so. On 23rd May this year I got down at the Pune Junction railway station after not getting a confirmed ticket in the only second class AC compartment of Nagercoil-Mumbai Express as waiting list number 1. The kind ticket examiner from Tirunelveli Junction gave me a ticket for sleeper class with a fine of 250 rupees but I had to use the berth allotted for railway staff. Fortunately I got a berth in the night so that my sleep was not disrupted. At the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, (IISER) Pune, I was allotted a room in the students’ hostel where the room was in the fifth floor and no attached bathroom. No electric plug suited my laptop charger and I didn’t carry a proper adapter plug with me. I did not have a book to read and no Wi-Fi internet connection was available, contrary to what was expected. It was a hell boring situation I cursed my decision not to drop the journey once my berth was confirmed rejected. This entire ill-prepared trip happened because of an 1150+ kilometer drive that just ended a day before my departure from Tirunelveli. I could not get enough time to pack my bag.

So I am here now at the end; what to do here in this unknown institute? I have been to Pune two/three times before, but never had a chance to visit places in the city. In the evening I walked up to a village near Pashan and had my dinner, because the organizers don’t provide food from next day only, and came back with a few snacks that may help me during my boring times. Had a sleep up to 11.30 am next day and went down to the reception to read the newspaper of the day in a hope that I may find something interesting to reduce the boring times. It has been long since I read a newspaper before! Alas, I found a photo news saying there is a two-day exhibition of vintage motorcycles at the Amanora City Centre of Pune which is 17 km away from IISER. I decided to go there. Two buses and an auto, I was there at the venue, right in front of the Harley-Davidson showroom where the exhibition is going on.

When I reached there, I saw a huge crowd overwhelming around something. I saw it was an old Norton-350cc. Its proud and humble owner and the crew was trying to start the bike. There is no kicker, some electronic method is used to start the bull! Not even a stand on its own! There was an external stand on which the two-wheeler can sit as if in a Western toilet. An old bloke was explaining how to operate that age-old engine. He stressed the importance of the rider’s body language.

Then I turned to the other bikes; there were so many; the names I read only in best selling travelogues or watched in old road movies. I saw some of the motorcycles that I read in Salim Ali’s autobiography, the Fall of a Sparrow, yeah he was a die-hard motorcyclist! Vintage two-wheelers in the backdrop of modern high-end Harley-Davidson bikes! The actual show was inside the building. A huge collection of them! Members of the Vintage Motorcycle Club of Pune wearing the club’s T-shirt were roaming around with pride!

Those engines fascinated me at the thought of the extend of the landscapes they have been traversing, generations by generations!  They have a really valuable service record! Happy to attend that rare event, I came out of Amanora and saw a lonely ancient Rajdoot outside the venue, waiting for its turn to enter the show!

An auto and two buses, I came back at the hostel, met Ajay, a PhD scholar in IISER Pune, staying in my neighboring room who lent me his laptop charger. He told me where I will get a Wi-Fi connection. My first thanks go to him. Next day Madura Deva and d8 came and we had a great week meeting so many wonderful people.

Friday, 1 May 2015

An Unsung Hero of India's Scientific Heritage

A rare photo of Tipu
 The scientific assembly of COSPAR 2012 concluded on July 22 at Mysore along with a lot of idea exchange with an invaluable breakthrough in the history of Indian science. One of the main contribution for science from India got its due respect when the COSPAR credited the advancements in Rocket Science to Mysore and its ruler Tipu Sultan during the scientific assembly that concluded in 2012. Although the international community acknowledges that Mysore Sultans as the fathers of war-rockets, we Indians still hesitate to give due credit to him. At a time when scientific research on the history of science is revealing India's contributions in the fields of astronomy and mathematics, this is a leap in claiming our true scientific heritage.

The painting at NASA at Wallops Islands
The whole story came into the mainstream of India after the release of the book 'Wings of Fire' by Dr. Kalam our former president. Once when Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam went to the Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Islands in East Coast, Virginia, which was a base of NASA's sounding rocket program, he saw a painting displayed prominently in the lobby there (the incidence is explained in his book, 'Wings of Fire'). The painting depicted a battle scene in which rockets are being launched against oncoming troops. Curiously, the soldiers launching the rockets were all dark-skinned, while the targets of the rockets were white-skinned troops in what appeared to be British uniforms.  Kalam took a closer look and realized that the painting was of a battle between Tipu Sultan’s army and colonial British troops on Indian soil. The heroes were Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan and the victim was Arthur Wellesley, the man who later defeated Emporer Napolean in the famous battle of Waterloo!

Territory of Tipu
Rocket Courts of Tipu Sultan in Today's Karnataka were the testing labs and innovation centers of Tipu's rockets. It came into the notice of many people that Rocket Courts are in a very pathetic situation today and the locality is in an ugly situation. As is the tradition in many issues in India, the Karnataka state archaeological department and the ASI are continuing blaming each other to escape from the responsibility of decades of neglect. The fact that the birthplace of war-rockets in the world is in Mysore is a matter of immense pride to every Indian. I think there is a need to discuss and feel the real pride about the real technological advancements of our past rather than talking about fake planet-to-planet flight services.

William Congreve, to whom modern war-rocketry is attributed to, started collection of hundreds of rockets  from the arsenals and battle fields of Mysore immediately after the Mysore Tiger was killed in the Battle of Srirangapatnam in 1799. All the rockets were taken to England and they did reverse engineering to make their own rockets which were later used in the war against USA three years after the War of Mysore, that is, in 1812. A poem written by Francis Scott Key about the war which later turned out to be the national anthem of USA, mention these rockets. The English confrontation with Indian rockets came in 1780 at the Battle of Guntur as told by historians. The closely massed, normally unflinching British troops broke and ran when the Indian Army laid down a rocket barrage in their midst. Unfortunately, a matter of pride, the Rocket Court is lying shattered in the streets of Srirangapatnam today, that place is not even a place of tourist attarction because of the slum-like nature of the locality. Serious efforts were started when Dr. Kalam was the president of India to pay the respect to Tipu Sultan by renovating the place. Even though DRDO announced a rocket museum at the Rocket Court, its not been materialized yet.

End Note: The neglect of government doesn't make Tipu a less important warrior. He is the only Indian King who fought against the Britishers directly in the battle field and martyred in the fields. We the people of India pay homage to this great warrior on the 216th anniversary of his martyrdom on 04th May. Bhagwan S. Gidwani has wrote an excellent novel titled 'The Sword of Tipu Sultan' on Tipu and his times. A historical drama based on the novel was broadcast in DD National in 1990.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Paling of Headlamp, A Simple Solution!

Whenever I drive in nights with our new second hand car, I used to face the irritating intense high beam light of the opposite car, an issue most of the Indian drivers face. Even if we convey them the irritation by changing intensity from our side, they never bothered. I could have taught them a lesson if I had a strong high beam head lamp. But unfortunately head light of Sujaii have got a yellow layer over it that reduced the light intensity considerably!

Haven't you seen a yellow layer over the headlamp of some old cars and scooters? Didn't you feel that the headlamp do not match the car look? In fact this yellow color is a good indicator of the smooth handling of the car by its owner. If you are going to purchase a used car and if you assess its value, give some marks to cars with such headlamps.

Coming to the problem, I had visited the local Hyundai show room to see if any solution is possible. They suggested a nearby shop that use some technology to sputter a layer from the lamp cover. But his solution was too expensive for me. So I started to do some internet research. I found different solutions to the problem.

What could be the reason for the formation of this colored layer on the head lamp? This is the fundamental question to be asked before trying to get a solution to the problem. If you look carefully, you can see that the color change has happened only on the outer surface (mostly). Well there are many explanations for it, one or more of them may cause the color change. Long UV exposure can cause oxidation of the poly carbonate material used for manufacturing the head lamp, this can cause the color change. Over years of driving, the head lamp encounter dust and debris that pit the lamp which again is a possible candidate. Third suggestion is that some dirt and chemicals sticking on the headlamp can react with the poly carbonate to form such a yellow layer over the head lamp. What ever be the reason, the final result is a yellow layer on the headlamp that reduces the night vision considerably. We need to get rid of that, for better looks and better performance of light. This mask between our eyes and the surrounding reduces the pleasure of smooth driving.

Because of my bad experiences on the road, I did a research on removing the yellow layer effectively. Before doing the research,  The best suggestion I found from internet and experimented successfully on our car is explained as follows. The result was amazing!

In fact I could effectively force my opposite driver to dim his light in several cases. Yeah I got an edge over so many idiot drivers!

What we need for the whole job are just two things: a little tooth paste and a cotton cloth. Apply the paste on the headlamp and rub using the clothe. That's all the job is done. See the sample shots from my own experiment I did yesterday:
Problem: You have a car with you and the yellow layer is irritating you

Materials Needed: 1. Tooth Paste and 2. A Towel

Solution: See the changes and try for yourself
There are other methods to solve the problem. For instance, you can apply appropriate sand paper to rub away the top layer and then polish using some polishing powder. But the method described here is very cheap and best. The more you rub, the more clear the head lamp becomes! So try if you have this issue, or tell somebody about this.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

In The High Ranges

Journey starts from EGRL office buidling
When I started the engine at 06.30 pm on March 27, 2015 from the Equatorial Geophysical Research Laboratory (EGRL), I was doubtful if I could do the 800 kilo meters in a 15 years old Hyundai Santro, Sujaii (meaning hero in my local dialect of Malayalam) - that is how I call him, with five men. Is Sujaii healthy enough so that it can carry five heavy asses through the High Ranges of Western Ghats? The car was old enough to stop working any time, especially on the steep curvy roads of the High Ranges. Before leaving, I took my Sujaii to Amir, a young car mechanic at Seydunganallur to have a formal check up. He told that the car is fit for the journey, but there is a minor oil leak, I will have to change an elbow pipe soon after coming back. I paid him 100 rupees for the check up.

Coffee/tea time en route Theni
The men were ready with bags, water filled can and bottles, some emergency medicines and a cotton roll, a few packets of snacks and fruits, cameras and songs. After about an hour, we reached Sankaran Kovil, passed Sri Villiputhur (sounds familiar? Yes, it is the town of the famous temple, 1000 years old. The temple tower of Sri Villiputhur is adopted to be the official symbol of Tamil Nadu government), Usilampatti and finally reached Theni where we got a dormitory for night stay. On the way, we had a nice cup of tea each, and more importantly a rejuvenating pissing too. The hotel was right at the main junction in the town of Theni. There was no parking place, so we had to park it on the road side, there was enough space there.

Theni town shot from the dormitory
The main worry was that one of its side window handle had been over rotated with lots of effort by a respected fellow traveler in the beginning of our journey and the glass drifted down over time even though we close it. This gentleman kindly added another nice color to our journey by breaking the handle catch of front left door the very next day while in Munnar. My Rihla was an old bloke who would work properly only if handled properly.

The night went quiet peacefully with a lots of cockroaches celebrating human occupation  in that dormitory after so many days, or may be even weeks. We just closed our eyes, ears and noses. It was not a very bad sleep. Mosquitoes got a feast after so many days of starvation. Yeah, but with just 750 rupees for five people, we couldn't expect more. In short, it was a terrible night for me.

At the eastern side of Western Ghat
Early morning 06.00 O'clock Sujaii headed west to see the Western Ghats from distance. The color of the surroundings shifted from pale yellow in the previous evening to green. Lots of cultivation, flowers and trees appeared. The Ghats was visible at a distance far away and the curvy roads motivated the driver in me but the steep roads reduced confidence on the performance of Sujaii. He was struggling to make the hairpin curves on the ghats. 'Dear Sujaii, I gave you this name with some hope, please don't spoil your name', I told Sujaii silently! This side of the Ghats was yellowish mostly, being in the rain shadow region. But the roads were recently tarred and narrow. It gave a unique driving experience. It was less crowded so the drive was with less strain. A few new cars and SUVs passed by. I didn't see any older cars climbing the ghats. May be Sujaii is the oldest car going up that day. Sujaii has already run 1.1+ lakhs of kilometers in the last fifteen years; mostly through the cities in the plains of East coast of South India.

Before the breakfast!
20 km more, we saw a small kitchen attached to a big hotel in the hillside surrounded by tea plantations. Had hot dosai and chappathi for our breakfast and a cup of hot tea.Those who wanted to do one and two did so and relaxed for some time. I read a Malayalam daily news paper there probably after several months.

We have already entered the tea estates of the High Ranges. Breathtakingly scenic locations, this is a perfect place for spending holidays with family, friends or even alone! Hundreds of years before, people started cultivation of tea in Munnar and surrounding hills. There was rope ways and railways for porting tea down to west coast and to the plains of Tamil Nadu. Kannan Devan Hills may be the largest producer of tea in Munnar, they are even running a tea museum two kilometers away from the town.

Ancient Dolmens of the Mount of the Spirit
The hills of High Ranges have been occupied by human beings from very long back. Ancient graveyards called Dolmens of Marayoor (about 40 km away from Munnar), dated back to 1500 B. C., are still seen spread through out the place. A few of them could be spotted at the Mount of the Spirits in Marayoor. Moreover, paintings as old as 6500 B. C. and even more have been discovered by archaeologists. Marayoor is also famous for its invaluable sandalwood forests. For one who has no interest in this archaeology business, its a waste of time and money to go to Marayoor. As there is nothing much more than in any forest. Also, climate there is not so pleasant.

En route Marayoor, we stopped Sujaii for lunch near a small road side hotel run by a Tamil couple. There was a stream flowing behind it. We went there and had an excellent bathe. Then we had a hygenic lunch there with mouth watering fried fishes for very less prices. The hotel man gave contacts of a young man for arranging our night stay in Munnar. Except petrol, everything in Munnar seemed cheap, which is not expected in a tourist place. May be because we were there just before the season starts. Petrol was costlier than any other part of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Where we got the night stay in Munnar
Before the sun sets we came back to the hotel man and met the young chap introduced by him who had already arranged a well-furnished and newly built house adjacent to the tea estates ready for us. It was a few kilometers away from the Munnar town. 1000 rupees was a really nice rate for the facilities he gave to us. He gave hot water for drinking and bathing. In the night we took a walk through the road, the energizing fragrance of tea that emanated from a tea factory filled the air. We purchased lots of tea packets and a few other spices from a nearby factory outlet. That was a really nice night with a deep sound sleep. Morning 06.00; we left the house happily. Set out our journey to Munnar town very slowly. Driving through the curvy roads of tea estates early morning through the mist-filled High Ranges, all the window glasses open, with light music in the car; its a magical experience one should experience for himself.

The Kannan Devan Hills plantation company's tea museum is our next place to visit. It will be opened only at 09.30 am.  So we headed to Munnar town and had our grand breakfast. We reached the museum exactly on time. It is a must visit place for someone going there. There won't be many who don't have at least a cup of tea in a day. The museum is a place of immense first hand information and knowledge on tea, its history and the science and emotions attached with it. The company itself have a lot of stories to tell us.

There are so many other places, view points, dams and waterfalls in Munnar and surrounding places. Those are beautiful but not very special to have a mention here. Time runs very fast when we are with someone special or when we are engaged in something thrilling. We have to reach back to work next day morning. 400 km is not any less a distance to travel through the hills.

Sujaii started its race down hill afternoon after lunch! Sun set before reaching Pooppara town itself. Some hours of driving we reached down the plateau at Bodinayakanur. Then to Usilampatti, Tirumangalam and then through the national highway NH 7 Sujaii crossed 100 kmph. It was early morning 02.00 O'clock when we reached the institute. In the journey through hills, we had two encounters with the Kerala Police; one immediately after fueling Sujaii, I was caught for not wearing a seat belt and had to pay Rs. 100 for it. Next while returning back through the narrow hill roads, a police jeep was coming with only one head lamp on.  Sujaii proceeded its usual way thinking it was a motorcycle. But realized it was not a two wheeler after getting a heavy abuse in Malayalam. They had to go out of the road and while passing them I saw POLICE written on the jeep. Luckily there was no place for them to turn jeep. Sujaii dashed in the maximum possible speed so that even if the police manage to follow us, we could cross the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. Somewhere in the plains of Tamil Nadu, we had our dinner before finally reaching Aaraichi Mayyam, the research center!
Route Map of the Journey