Thursday, December 11, 2008

Life is Not Always Like This

Can commitment and support make tragedy feel a little less tragic? Read this story and tell me what strikes you about it apart from the obvious..
CHENNAI: Nirmala Shankar got married on November 30. She had everything on her — the make-up, wedding sari, jewels and flower garlands — just like a
perfect bride. But she also had a piece of a bullet stuck to the frontal lobe on the right side of her brain. It had hit her head when the terrorists opened fire at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus on November 26, as she was waiting to catch a train to start a new life in Chennai.

Nirmala had quit her job in the HR department in Mumbai-based Edelweiss Securities to settle down in Chennai with K Shankar Narayanan, a manager with Shell India. "We first met on September 13 and the following day our families decided on the wedding plans," she says.

Eventually, the couple did keep their date, but it took a lot of doing. Four days before the wedding, while the prospective bride and her family were waiting to board the Chennai Mail at CST, Nirmala was among the 100 seriously injured in the firing.

Shot in the head, she was rushed to St George's Hospital and later JJ Hospital, Mumbai. With the hospital teeming with casualties and doctors weighed down by VIP visits and media scrutiny, her family overnight decided to move her to Chennai for better attention. Her father, Ponnudurai, who works with RBI, then brought her back to Chennai, against medical advice.

Nirmala told her family she did not want the wedding to be called off. "I met my fiance the next time in the hospital on Thursday with the injury. We decided nothing would change our wedding plans," she says.

The same day, medical tests confirmed there was shrapnel in the frontal lobe of her brain. When Nirmala's father took her reports to a neurosurgeon at Apollo Specialities, doctors confirmed she would require immediate surgery.

"But the family did not want to postpone the wedding. We had little option but to put the patient on a broad spectrum antibiotic to ensure that the infection did not spread. The injection had to be taken every 12 hours," says L Murugan, neurosurgeon, Apollo Specialities Hospital.

"I was a little scared," says Shankar. "It was raining and the doctors had told me to ensure that she didn't get her head wet. But it was the third time we were meeting and I couldn't say no to her. So we did everything as per plan, shopping included," he says, drawing her close.

Twenty-four hours later, the two families and their relatives gathered for the reception followed by the muhurtham on Sunday morning.

The next day, Shankar and Nirmala walked into the hospital for her surgery. The doctors performed a minimal access brain surgery using neuro-navigation, where they drilled into the skull with an intra-operative ultrasonogram and laser.

"It's like a GPS. We track the metal piece on the computer screen and then remove it with minimal cuts. We did see some more metal pieces scattered on the scalp but we did not remove it as they were too tiny. But she has responded well and is likely to be discharged on Wednesday," Dr Murugan says.

Now Nirmala plans to return to Mumbai for further treatment. "It's the place I grew up. It's my city and I love it. Nothing can change that. I would want to go there for my treatment and return when I am fine," she says smiling at Shankar, who nods in approval.

This is not just a story, it is very real.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Guards of Honor

There are some things we would do out of passion, some for honor, some to keep us from being idle and some merely for money. Materialistic as it may sound, the fact remains that working for passion and honor alone without money enough for happiness (not greed) will slowly eat through to the very roots of that passion and honor. And, even if not for any noble reasons, should we not as a nation in our own self interest pay our uniformed men enough to sustain their selflessness and stop them from walking out on us?
Indian army was once hailed as one of the world's best trained armed forces. Men serve in the army for only one possible reason..they care so much that allowed to stand guard is their biggest honor. We read and talk about wars on Siachen, but how many of us stop to think about the army men as humans with emotions, families, and dreams ? We have gotten so used to the strife around our borders that we have begun to take too much for granted. What men once considered as honor above everything else have understandably woken up to the fact that no honor can be sustained without money.
Another pay commission, another let down. Everyone saw noticeable pay hikes (everyone: read IAS officers, etc) except our armed and paramilitary forces. Am I wrong in thinking that it should have been the other way round? Sadly enough, our bureaucrats make enough money outside their pay checks. Did the government stop to think or did people bother to question what would happen if our armed personnel began to look for underhanded ways of making a living? A mental run on all our borders leaves little room for imagination...
It is still not too late to make amends, in my opinion..the worst that has happened yet is that people are quitting the army prematurely and young blood is not even interested in joining. The NDA and the IMA which are still very difficult to be recruited into is not going to remain so for long. Last year, both these prestigious institutions saw only one third the number of applicants (not recruits) as the number of vacancies. Officers are quick to frankly point out the fundamental problem...the job is not remotely lucrative. Colonels after 27 years of experience can hope to take home a meager 25000 Rs a month. After all the tough years of sacrifice and hardship, all they ask is to be treated on par with IAS officers (although in my opinion they deserve even more), and our government thinks it is unreasonable, and our people and media were more concerned with who was going to win the elections in the USA than addressing this more important problem. I think we have trained ourselves to address an issue only when it gets out of hand and beyond the reach of a simple solution. Unfortunately this is one of those issues which have to be nipped in the bud. We simply cannot afford to have unskilled or dispassionate personnel in our BSF or in our defense forces. We will be ripped apart from every single direction and left with a country half our current size. If we want to continue having an army to fight for us, for once we civilians should fight for them, and keep their dreams and passion alive.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Day of a New Era

Its been three days now since we emphatically won the test series against Australia, but not surprisingly, the excitement has not died. Some cynics argue that the victory is not quite so special because it was on home ground, some others say that Australia came home leaving behind formidable players like Mcgrath, Warne and Gilchrist. While both statements have substance, I (and perhaps many more people) do not think the series victory was special only because we beat Australia in two games (for the Aussies it is, they have not lost so fantastically since they played Viv Richard's team). It is special to me because for the first time in years my faith in Indian cricket has been refurbished. For the first time in ages, I regret not having watched a match fully...for not being in India discussing the finer points of the game (and the politics) with my father or my friends through the night. I have been reminded why cricket is as popular a game as it is.
We did win on home ground, but the manner of victory this time was different. We still prepared spin favoring pitches, but our pace bowlers lived up to and beyond the challenge. We were playing on familiar home turf and if statistics mean anything we would have probably won the series by pluck or luck, but we still dared to try something new. We have shown the cricketing world that we have become a force that is now more difficult to deal with...Kumble and Harbhajan did their job as spinners are expected to, but Ishant and Zaheer have given us a right to expect from them too. Their mastery in producing reverse swing by the 10th over unsettled the opponents and has raised unknown fear in others, not even the Pakistani greats who invented the action would have anticipated this...from India. The signs this time are unmistakable, we will surely in future add more names to the list that started and ended with Kapil Dev. Nothing is possible without an effort, and the efforts have finally begun to show.
Indian cricket is no longer like the time when I first developed an interest in the game, it is now more worth my time. Those were days when fans were justified in switching off their TV sets after our top 4 batsmen were out (then known as the three musketeers and D'Artagnan), because no body wanted to watch our tail play. Our tail was not meant to bat or to bowl. We were widely acknowledged as the world's worst chasers because we rarely won while batting second. Any match victory could be easily attributed to any single man on the team. Winning abroad only happened in the wildest dreams of the most enthusiastic fans. Indian cricketers going for the kill did not happen even there, we not only preached but were virtuous enough to practice our doctrine of ahimsa. All this changed...somewhere, somehow...people who did notice did not understand the full impact of what they were witnessing, Because it was all eclipsed by a more interesting spectacle. The side show has finally ended and people now see what happened behind the scenes, like it so much, and wish that they had not called for the curtains to close on the side show ( I was a part of this band wagon for a brief while) . It is a paradox, but true...the man behind the show got his worth only when he bowed down and quit. I believe it all started with one man...the prince of Calcutta.
If India has today learnt to play and win as a team, it was under him. If we are today not surprised by an abroad win, rewind and remember when it was that you stopped being surprised. He was accused of being a bad captain because he apparently played the divide and rule policy. Even if it were true, it does not matter because we were winning more than usual. He was accused of favoring new young players over the old (give me a break!) and that meant he was jealous and insecure, not far sighted. He reminded his team mates that they were young blood and not old cronies and taught them to aim a blow in return for one rather than dodge them one after the other. The result, he paid for everything in not flesh and blood but in spirit. We squeezed out every last bit from the king of comebacks. Of course he was aggressive against the aussies, give him one good reason why he should'nt have been. A refresher course..Steve Waugh and team openly declared that India had only three formidable players..Sachin, Dravid and Laxman even when Saurav was the captain. In retrospect, what goes around comes around...It was the Aussies who showed Ganguly the way to go and he led India to this path of rebirth, and it hit them before anybody else. Today Harbhajan's statement that Ponting needs to go back and learn some batting is ironic...History has a strange way of repeating itself, Bhaji has proved Ganguly right, again. Ganguly has a lot to be proud of apart from his personal statistics. He created a team from a bunch of men who met regularly to play a game. He awoke the passion within his people (Its not his fault that Harbhajan and Sreesanth get carried away at times, calling people monkeys and showing monkey faces :) ) although I wonder if he did ever point out in his defense that we crossed limits only against the kangaroos and provoked people to see a reason behind that...His only fault was that he was not a born genius like Sachin, but if that is a sin, then every batsman today is doomed to hell.
We missed the dawn of cricket's new era in a plethora of controversies surrounding the king himself, but the day ahead looks long and sunny. The ride can only be more exciting with Dhoni in the drivers seat . He has shown himself to be a player and a man of character. I do not know if his gesture of asking Saurav to captain the last few overs meant as much to either of them as the rest of the cricketing world, but that gesture showed that we were about to say good bye to a man who deserved more than he got...and, got more than he deserved. As Saurav returned the cap to dhoni, I felt he was giving us a final message and I think he is right..: "The future is in good hands, this time please trust them".

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Homerun!!!

This is a highly biased narrative of my first experience at a baseball game. So, baseball lovers please donot read further. Last friday evening, I went to watch a baseball match live. It was the day I was mentally relaxed after a long time, so I did go in the hopes of enjoying myself. I made one important mistake though, and that ruined my enjoyment. I believed all those who told me that baseball was like cricket. I would have probably enjoyed it if I had attended the game with an idea of watching an entirely new game. That way, I would not have made mental comparisons between the two games all the time.
Baseball is nothing like cricket except that the game also involves a bat and a ball. The game is much shorter(this match lasted 3 hours) but lacks causes for emotional outbreaks, killer strategies and mental exercises. If cricket was anything like baseball, players would never hug each other on the ground for the loss of a wicket, Shoaib Akhtar would have never invented the aeroplane dance, Muralitharan would have never been called a chucker , Mark Waugh would have never had to take money to reveal pitch information and Sachin Tendulkar would not have the distinction of being out on '90s' the most number of times.
Most of what I am talking about revolves around just one thing..the thing that put me off baseball the most. A batsman getting out has no meaning. Its not a big deal. If a person gets out once, they can just come back again and bat after a certain interval called an inning. No wonder then that emotions among audiences and players dont run high even when the 'star' batsman got out. This astros player 'Berkman' is supposedly so poplular that toys with his face were being distributed to the first 10000 entrants, but his becoming out didnot evoke as much as a sigh from the crowds!!! I tried counting the number of times I would not have switched off the TV just because Sachin was out. All those memorable moments created in cricket at the loss of wickets chased each other in my mind. Pakistanis kissing the ground, all fielders rushing to hug the bowler ,the bowlers themselves performing a variety of gimmicks and the crowds erupting into drum beats and dances. Yes, I missed that , I wanted that, and when I did not get that, I began to look down upon the game, not caring for the fact that this game was supposed to achieve different ends.
The game seemed to me to lack the need for thinking. The field is one eighth or lesser than the size of a cricket field with 9 players on it. So there is no need for field placement. The field is crowded enough to remove that necess. Neither does the captain have to strategise nor does the batsman. Its the same field setting, ball after ball after ball by both teams.Also, there is just one pitcher for each team unless he says he is tired. The guy just throws the ball with varying speeds. I thought there was no more variety until one friend told me that the ball swings a lot more than the cricket ball. Granted, but still, there is not enough variety in the type of ball, like pace, spin, swing, etc. The change in the pitch during the day and the way some bowlers exploit gives one reasons to admire cricket and scorn at baseball. Its just full toss all the time.
There were sudden bursts of enjoyment from the crowd that released them partly from the sin of appearing for an important match without banners, painted faces, masks or drums. They would all stand up and applaud whenever there was a home run, a sixer in cricket would qualify as a home run.Music would be played and an overhead to train would run across the length of its rails once.There was on epoint in the game when it started looking for certain that the Texan team would win, and that point all the texans stood up together and sang a Texan song, "The spirit of Texas". That was really fun to watch and definitely increased my enthusiasm for the game.
All said and done, in spite of the home runs and the spirit of Texas, I vote for cricket as the better game. The next time I go to watch baseball I will try watching it with less bias.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lessons Forgotten...

It has been a month since I started work. It has been interesting for more than the usual reasons. Once or twice a week, we have seminars, either in house or hosted by architects/vendors or other people in the industry to talk about interesting or 'latest' things that are currently happening. One such seminar today made me lose my focus on what the speaker was saying. I was busy remembering my grade 3 science text.
This man was talking about the 'new' method of storm water harvesting..its cheap, bio degradable and aesthetic. Can you guess what he was talking about? Stripping out all the technical jargon, he was talking about planting trees! I was at first amused, on introspection aggravated. In all the pace of modern developments and the race to build more and more, we forgot how it all was before we butt in. Dont get me wrong, I am not hinting that we live in jungles, but probably this is the time we should start thinking about a more responsible and channelized mode of development. Development needs more planning, not just in terms of resources, time and finance but to see how nature can be best preserved. I know there is a lot of "green construction" these days and a lot of input from environmentalists, but I say we go a step farther. Why deplant trees and then plant new ones elsewhere? It amuses me to think that architects cannot work around existing nature. They who come up with mind blowing architecture including all shapes that god ever invented...making lives of engineers as miserable as possible, cant they put imagination to more useful uses?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An ode to Engineering - I: Brihadeeswara Temple

It was the first time I changed my ideas on grandeur,colorless beauty and progress in engineering.The jolt came when I had just turned into a civil engineer,cocksure of myself and ready to learn progressive engineering in a country whose noteworthy structures were all built in the 20th century, 1000 years after the construction of this phenomenal tribute to architecture and engineering.A visit to Tanjore,the cultural capital(some say Varnasi) of India is sure to be an invigorating experience of walking through history but on entering the Brihadeeswara temple, one would fail to imagine how this structure came to be.
This timeless piece of Dravidian architecture, declared as one of UNESCO's world heritage sites continues to baffle the enginnering world.
What is visible to the eye and available on numerous websites is it's architectural brilliance and I shall glorify that later. I was priveleged to climb restricted areas of the temple(thanks to an influencial aquaintance) along with the maratha prince(who coincidentally happened to be there that day walking a politician) who is the decendant of the kings who ruled the greatest kingdom in southern India. He enlightened us on many mysteries of the tallest temple in the world and the stories that were passed to him through generations.
The temple "vimana" visible from a few kilometres away towers to a whopping 216 ft. This huge temple was built entirely of granite, which is one of the hardest rocks on the surface of the Earth.How did
people cut these rocks when they had only soft iron tools a 1000 years ago? The Chola king Raja raja who built this temple in about 20 years moved more stone over more distance than the pharoahs who built the great pyramid of Egypt. How did he accomplish it? The perfectly spherical "shikara" or cupola on top of the vimana weighs 80 tons but nobody is still sure about whether it is a single block or whether two perfectly hemispherical blocks of 40 tons each joined perfectly. Nobody is sure how those massive solid blocks were put up there.

The ingeniousness of bygone engineers is evident from the way they could accomplish these seemingly impossible tasks. Using rudimentary hand tools, men chisseled holes trough the rocks along the required path. Having done this, wooden blocks were hammered into these holes and water was poured continously for a period over these wooden blocks. As water seeped through the wood, the blocks slowly expanded propagating a crack along the path until the pressure was sufficient to break it open! For many decades the presence of the massive cupola at that height baffled engineers until the descendant prince revealed a family story that believed the stones to have been pulled along an inclined ramp from a distance of about 6 miles all the way to the apex of the temple by elephants using a roller arrangement. The legend was immediately put to test and the test revealed more astonishing scientific facts. Firstly, elephants were made to drag 80 tons of stone placed on an arrangement of circular logs. The elephants could not drag them...they did it with ease once every single piece of log was perfectly circular in cross section! And remains of a 1000 year old mud ramp was found exactly in line with the temple vimana on it's western side ,directly oppposite the temple entrance in the east.!Nobody knows why the "shikara" never casts a shadow on the Earth.
Nobody ceases to wonder how this structure stands and will forever continue to stand(say experts, not me)even though there is absolutely no mortar/lime/adhesive that holds one block of stone to the
next. Adjacent stones were alternately cut into concave and convex patterns and the sheer simplicity and accuracy of this technique hold the stones together! The central temple is a tribute to all geometric aspects of a structure that would lend it stability. The square base (symbloising Brahma) porgressively narrows to be capped by a regular octagonal storey(representing Vishnu) topped by a sphere, a symbol of perfection , a tribute to the Lord Shiva. I was lucky to have been allowed to walk through a barred passage at the top within the temple. I was lucky because I could see how the octagon was balanced by the square. This passage was created because, at this level of the temple, the structure has two layers of walls sloping symmetrically towards each other and the extra thickness of the inner layer helps balance the additional angles and slopes created by an octagon without any oddities! This vimana was built in the center of a huge rectangular complex. The top of the cupola is off by only 2cms from the center of this plot. This accuracy is remarkable and probably impossible in the 21st century with all modern technology. No wonder, this was the only temple that I have visited that has a separate sanctum for it's engineer...How much has engineering really progressed over the last 1000 years?
The obviously amazing aspects of the temple...The shiva linga is the grandest in existence, 25 ft in circumference and 11 feet high and the nandi, carved from single stone is 13 feet high and 16 feet long.
The fresco paintings by the Cholas on the ceilings remain colorful and beautiful to date.

Every inch of granite on the walls, both interior and exterior are carved with pictures and forms stories narrating the king's rule. The name of even the most insignificant donor to the temple's construction is carved on it's walls. This temple is not only a storehouse of Chola architecture, but additions were made by the Pandyas and the Marathas who ruled Tanjore in later centuries. The corridor I walked through portrays on it's walls the oldest and most accurate version of all 108 bharatanatyam poses of the Lord Nataraja. It also contains the only portrait ever made of one of the greatest rulers of Southern India, Raja Raja Chola...his head bowed in submission to his teacher...the engineer.

Note: Pictures were not taken by me. I pulled them off the internet

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Its the Cool Way to Die


The subject of debate these days is whether you are more likely to die of tuberculosis or from lung cancer. The undisputed fact is that this classy way of making a statement,a symbol of women liberation WILL lead to death. Death it may be but atleast it is a cool way to die. And the deceased will forever be remembered as a passionate, bold and glamarous person who puffed in until he snuffed out.
I do sometimes wonder why I waste time reading news articles that quote the extraordinarily foolish thinking of my generation.Those who deign to agree that they smoke not for "cooldom" harness a strong disbelief for the fact that smoking surely kills.Even if its just people like me who strongly disapprove of smoking who read thse articles, there is enough hue and cry made these days about the murderous nature of tobacco( I do not mean the hypocritic statutory warning on cigarette covers).
A lot of interesting/shocking statistics are being thrown around everywhere by everyone.I shall not quote them all here(there are links for those interested) but would like to mention a few measures taken by some governments that caught my attention.I have indicated before that I find the idea of warnings on cigarette covers insincere. However,cigarette covers from Canada apparently have gory images of damages that are caused to internal organs!France made progress with their anti smoking measures whe they raised the prices of cigarettes by about 20 % and imposed a COMPLETE ban on public smoking(not conditional like closed room/restaurants/cafes imposed in a lot of other countries) and Bhutan is the first country to impose a complete ban on sale of all tobacco products...this is the kind of stuff that I like and approve. The fine imposed on people flouting the ban in France is 450 euros and people who donot bring smokers to law are liable to be fined 750 euros!From my previous blog, it should be evident to readers that I support heavy punishment, for I have little faith in self discipline.A whole list of less impressive measures by other governments can be found on the internet.
India is one among the countries in this list and is one that definitely should not be. Time for statistics...the projected number of deaths in India due to smoking in the year 2010(thats only two years away) is 1 milliion. Cynics who laugh that this is a service to the nation in terms of population control would definitely do greater service by shutting up.The "will be dead" will fall under the age group of 35-59, which is the most economically contributing age sector.The Indian government is trying hard...there is a public ban with a fine of 200 Rs for anyone who disregards it(I doubt many law enforcers are aware of this)...smoking scenes are banned from movies...there is more hullaboo about it's unnecessity(I personally think the cooldom did evolve from film stars, how many people try imitating Rajnikanth's "awesome" way of lighting a cigarette?)...tobacco is still the most valued cash crop.
If we are serious about preventing harm from tobacco, why are we not imposing a complete ban like Bhutan? Why do we still allow the growth of a crop that not only damages the health of people, but also make land unfit for growing anything else worthwhile?The answer is that there is big money involved...the relationship of law makers with tobacco barons...the contribution of tobacco to the economy(kill some to make money for others), etc, etc...
While people continue to die, the rest of us can atleast debate on whats right and whats wrong for we cannot take actions while we are lamed with kleptocracy, lack of self discipline and belief in the existence of a smart way to die...

Monday, March 17, 2008

मातृ देवो भव

An unadmirable growth rate of 700 percent over the last 30 years... grown from 7 reported a day to 53 reported a day and growing...children and grown ups treated alike...villages,cities,everywhere...India's fastest growing crime.

Welcome to Incredible India, a glorious civilization degenerated; a land of integrity and culture, in posters and presentations,the land where values from time immemorial are still remembered, in books।It is the country whose earliest scriptures describe women as a divine race. Even by the rules of the detestable caste system, women were not allowed to lower their status.Today, even as women are expanding their presence into every field imaginable, they are being lowered to mere objects of play by the physically stronger human species.

My outrage has been fed by the lately regular reports of foreign women being raped and murdered in my country.The anger is not directed at the fact that the victims are foreigners, but that every woman, no matter the color of her skin has a right to walk anywhere on god given land without fearing for what is not her fault, and yet has to. The foreign victims have only brought the shocking statistics to light.The fuss made by the foreign media have sparked retorts that rape rates in India are by no means the highest in the world(sexual assaults are reported in the US about every 6 minutes). I shudder to think that there are people who justify the worst crime in the world in such a crass manner!and I donot wonder that justice has not been meted out even in publicised cases like that of Jessica Lal.
Everybody knows why such crimes occur, but why do they continue to occur? Even after the victim, if alive and has answered humiliating questions, the culprits walk free sooner or later. I am not being an extreme feminist but I do believe that only extreme punishments can rein these uncontrolled acts. Anything less than capital punishment will not suffice. I am sure Christ did not think of this when he asked us to show the other cheek when slapped on one...this is what we are precisely doing. The culprits are certainly among the lowest breed of mankind, but are the adjudicators any better? I wonder how they can bear to hear about lives being ruined in this fashion and not exercise their power when they can.Atleast the knowledge that a kid who has no clue why she is suffering should melt a human heart.
These stories are told by statistics, and they do not tell half the story. The victims are put to shame more than the culprits.The family is ashamed and try to hide her than bring her justice. If they do try for justice, the media without discretion capitalize on another's misery under the pretext of reaching out to the public.I wonder,would the women have been better off if they had been murdered?
I am sorry if this article makes an extremely unpleasant reading, but these are my thoughts on these gory crimes. I wonder if people who wrote the taittiriya upanishad wrote what was or what should be when they wrote "मातृ देवो भव "

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On Planet Earth: In an Age of no civilization

It was a long way.We were two hours late and we were driving fast.The sun was mocking at us, trying to hold us static with its magical beauty even as we were speeding away from it.Only when we were rid of the sun did I realize that our destination must be enchanted, for the beautiful west side sun was just the first of many obstacles.



The apsaras in the sky began their hypnotic dances leading us into a world where space and time had no meaning.Known and nameless planets,shooting stars and billions of stars made me want to get out of the car, lie on my back in the middle of the desert and watch the sky till world's end.The performers had to contend with my craning my neck up the window, but the damsels were not to be outdone. Their next attempt did slow us down. Dozens of deer, hare and javelinas ran across our paths at regular intervals causing my friend to break often.They were relentless in their pursuit. I saw them racing across skies in herds(or constellations,in the language of the learned) with men on their tracks pelting stones.
 As I got out and looked about me at our campsite, I was consumed in unearthliness.It was extremely cold, dark,silent and eerie.The propane lanterns we brought along were stuck with a bunch of co-travelers who were yet to find their way. Since we had no idea when to expect them(no outer-world communication signals), we put up the tents using the light from our car headlights.After a very late dinner(or a very early breakfast?) we tried to catch some sleep,unsuccessfully before setting out to explore this strange land.
The sun caught up with us after a night of bitter cold. With daylight came a strange excitement. As we stepped out of the campsite at Big Bend National Park, we were engulfed in fantastic views that seemed to be right out of prehistoric photographs.We were in the middle of vast stretches of nothing for miles on every side. I learned that the area of this place is 800,000 acres which is three times the size of Delhi.

We first set out on the lost mine hiking trail in Chisos Basin, which would take us to an elevation of 4400 ft above sea level. The five mile trek did not seem to be half as much as we were constantly admiring the breath taking views of mountains and deserts and..cacti(in shades of purple and pink).The higher we went the mountains seemed mightier and the deserts vaster. The sun and the wind were in perfect harmony with each other. Sitting on the rocks at the top left me with the feeling that nothing more could be desired or derived from this trip.
How wrong I was...the river was yet to prove that it was mightier than the mountains...the sun was to show its prowess again. It never ceases to amaze me that a mere ball of fire could bring such surreal beauty to everything it's glow grazes. We traveled 100 km to witness this sublime testimonial from nature. We reached the Santa Elana Canyons just before sunset and wasted not time in getting on to the canyon trail which took us by the side of the Rio Grande river up the canyon. No words nor photographs can ever sing the glory of the scene.As the sun set behind the canyons, the rocks lining them changed hue from brown to an unbelievable orange.The memory of that spectacle can bring joy to anyone who thinks there is nothing worth living for in this life.

I was reveling in more such romantic thoughts as I watched the play of colors on the sky the next morning. We were driving back through the desert,vast nothingness on all sides with the skies touching the distant horizons.It gave me the impression of being on the flat portion of a huge hemisphere.I sat watching the eastern horizon slowly change colors from dark blue to a lighter blue with shades of pink and purple to golden yellow, and the gradation of colors moving gracefully across the sky announcing the arrival of the sun.Suddenly I understood why the early Greeks so easily imagined the Earth to be surrounded by a vast transparent sphere with the sun and the planets moving on its surface and why the complicated motions of the earth,the solar system and the galaxies were much more difficult to relate to. The first theory is so obvious!

I did not realize I was out of touch with reality for two days until I was shaken out of it. The border patrol was there and asked to look at our immigration documents. We certainly did not have them. They detained us for almost three hours and cleared all but me and another friend. They had problems verifying our information with nothing more than our names to go by.The lady officer actually told us that we were going to be "taken in" and may be deported. My heart dropped like a stone...another guy came running and said he did find something on us to clear us...whew!!! I certainly did not see mountain lions or bears in the trip as people promised me, but I certainly got nearer to getting arrested than I would ever want to be!Oh, well..we were back to the present. Big Bend already seemed like a setting from an age bygone.