Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shillong Chamber Choir: The Indian Train Song

About a week or two ago, I got a chance to watch and listen to the Shillong Chamber Choir, live. A pre-Christmas celebration was being held on Chowpatty Beach and we were invited. Naturally, we attended it. We have always liked the Shillong Chamber Choir and I’m a big sucker for anything North-East. This is a recording of the Indian Train song. I started recording it the moment Neil Nongkynrih, the music director, said the train song is dedicated to Mamata Banerjee (the CM of West Bengal). Just like the Incredible India! ad, this song is supposed to convey what all one experiences while on a train journey. Except for the smells one encounters through train travel, I think almost all the common sounds have found a place in his composition.

Before you go on to watch the video (apologies for the poor audio), here are some of the words you will hear being repeated through the song, along with the literal translation. One thing to keep in mind is this is a group from the North-East, Hindi is not their mother tongue and English is mostly their second language. Not only do their sing Hindi songs like pros, they have even sung some Punjabi lines in this train song...

Chai, chai: Tea, tea
Samosa: A stuffed, deep fried snack
Channa, channa: Spiced up roasted/boiled chickpeas
Mishti doi: Sweet curd (a lip-smacking dessert from Orissa, West Bengal and Bangladesh. For the record, yogurt is nothing like mishti doi)
English words:
Coffee, coffee
Cold drink
Bread omelette
Veg cutlet

I hope I haven’t missed anything. Feel free to leave a comment if you find that I have left some out. The basic gist of the Punjabi verses is, “There are some girls in the train with us. They have lipstick and powder on their face... but I can see a beard under all of that makeup!” (LOL!)

What train journey is complete without a eunuch bumming you for some change? There is the manly, nasal chant, “Aye! Chuttaa de re!” (Give some change) and “Sirf dus rupiya!” (only ten rupees). And what follows is an argument between the eunuchs and passengers who are not willing to part with small change also.
My video recording is not very clear but it ends with passengers coughing and probably farting because the girls start holding their nose and waving their hands in the air disapprovingly.

I’ll stop my commentary now – enjoy the song and their superb singing because they did what the rest of the choirs couldn’t do on this windy day on the beach – sing beautifully and clearly. And I have to add that the men in this team are awesome singers. I was impressed with the shortest guy of them all (extreme right) – sings bass like a boss!

I just found a better video of this song, albeit in a different setting (a noisy football stadium), has been recorded and uploaded by WildFilmsIndia on YouTube.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Insects that have visited my house

Not everybody has the luck, time or the means to go birding or traipsing down nature trails to get their dose of excitement. Some of us city slickers have to make do with what they got. So if that means, sighting a common bird out of the kitchen window and act as though he spotted the Bird of Paradise, so be it. The same goes with coming across interesting insects too. I mean, I have seen some really wild spiders (read as shapely, colourful, etc.) even while on my way to work but it is virtually impossible to shoot the little buggers because of their size, the situation and the lack of said equipment. This here is a list of insects I have managed to photograph at my convenience and in the confines of my home. This does not include the Citrus Butterflies I nurtured many years ago on my orange plant. They hold a separate, special space in my insect world. For now, take a look at the guests I entertained in my house...

I don't like the look in his eye...
Praying Mantis giving me 'the look'
The Praying Mantis: One insect that has always fascinated me since my Tinkle-reading days. Found this guy on the floor, eerily still. His dry-leaf colour went well with the tiles, which is why he was hardly conspicuous and made it difficult for my camera to focus on. Anyway, the moment I prodded him, he jerked to life, making me momentarily jump out of my skin (Wodehouse-style).
Click on the image to see the rest of this fella on Flickr.
Now I know that there are many type of praying mantis out there. This time, Wikipedia was only a wee bit helpful on identifying this critter. The Bantiella Fusca comes close to resembling this particular Praying Mantis.

It's a match
"I go well with your curtains"
The Curtain Insect: I am unable to identify this insect. He/She cleverly hung out near the flowers on my curtain. Notice the orange spots on its body? And how about those spots that resemble a pair of angry-looking eyes? Plus those loooong antennae...good thing this guy doesn't have to travel by bus or train. Imagine the trouble he would cause with those ticklers.
Once again, click on the image to see more on Flickr. And if you happen to know something about this six-legged, orange-spotted, goggle-eyed insect, please leave a comment.

Up CloseBrown Flower Beetle: Came across this beetle in the balcony, struggling to free himself of the dust and cobwebs around his legs and on his outer shell. I have never seen such a shiny beetle. I have always shiny beetles to tropical rainforests kind of places, you know. So this guy was a really great find. My son and I crowded around him with a glass and make-up brush, taking photographs at the same time.
Anand on Flickr, helped me identify this beetle because he had shot a superb macro of the exact same one with the Canon G12.

This guy made a loud whirring-buzzing
noise when aggitated
Tiny Moth
This one was the complete opposite

Then there were these two - one really large and positively the most freaky looking and sounding, while the other was tiny and so docile.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Blogger for Android

Just found this app. Hopefully more ramblings to follow. Wonder it integrates within 'Share' also...
Share via, works. Can post to blogger directly from there. Now if I could check box list and post to multiple destinations in one fell swoop...
(Added html up there, let's see if it takes that as well) the HTML tag did not work, the image didn't resize automatically to fit the column width and it didn't get published the right way up either. I can go directly to the camera mode and shoot a picture to attach to the post but there are no options to add/shorten a link, edit html (simply because there are no formatting tools available — it is a mobile version after all — and I may want to add some emphasis tags, etc. from time to time). Maybe I am asking for too much too soon.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Long stare
Originally uploaded by Flip Fantasia
I visited the WSD Shelter today with the intention to take some photographs of the volunteers with the US School kids. But when I reached one batch of children was already on its way and the next one seemed like they would come after lunch.

The second batch was going to paint a part of the wall in the shelter. Saw one of the US School representatives using a projector to complete the outlines of the artwork that the first batch could not complete. I suppose the next lot of kids must have filled them in with colour.

Once inside the kennel, it was little under-lit for my basic camera and I did not want to use the flash and irritate the dogs. There were quite a few volunteers (veterinary students) inside and Abodh was a little busy with the next batch of visitors from the US School. Didn't want to ask disturb and ask too many questions. Maybe next time, I will plan a little better and get some photographs of the dogs. One thing I must stop and say, I am amazed how clean the guys there keep the place. Given the number of dogs there and how many times the caretakers need to clean up after the dogs and keep the O.T. squeaky clean, it's a great achievement.

Meanwhile, feast your eyes on these lovely cats that were sprawled out outside the AIWA shelter, right behind the WSD kennel. I seemed to have mistimed my entry here as well. Since it was noon and probably around lunch time, so most of the cats had disappeared inside where it was cooler. Thankfully, there were still a handful outside that enjoyed all the fuss.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kitty Klawz

Kitty Klawz
Originally uploaded by Flip Fantasia
A WSD volunteer picked up this kitten and left her with us for the afternoon. The little one was quite street smart, don't know why she needed to be picked up in the first place. A little skinny but seemed in perfect health, not scared, razor sharp reflexes, quite playful and comfortable around people too.

She has gone now. All I have is some photographs (right now, uploaded just three), so click to say, Hello Kitty. ;o)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guwahati to Siliguri by Road

That's Assam to West Bengal. An overnight journey of 15 hours by road. This took place in the first week of January this year, so it was cold. I am not sure about the temperatures but it must have been around 15 deg C. and lower as the night wore on.

And no, this was not a planned trip. It was a result of fog making it difficult for the pilot to land the Kingfisher aircraft in Bagdogra airport (West Bengal). Visibility was poor so the Delhi-Bagdogra-Guwahati flight circled for a while and then finally landed in Guwahati...leaving some of us in a fix. I needed to be in Siliguri, West Bengal. Not Guwahati airport, Assam.

Obviously, the detour didn't go down too well with most of the passengers. Me included. I had a week's leave and I was not willing to lose one more day in travel. There was going to be no flight that day and nothing the following morning either. I had no idea about the trains that plied from Guwahati station or their schedule. There was much grumbling amongst some passengers -- most of whom, I assumed, were tourists heading to Darjeeling or Sikkim. Bagdogra or Siliguri are the places you go through, if you intend to visit D and S.

Kingfisher ground staff was helpful and assured us that they would arrange something. A bus or private taxis were suggested. Some were not convinced because an overnight journey on Assam's roads and national highways are not generally considered safe. Simply because of the unrest in the state because of the ULFA. But there hadn't been any critical events at that time, so I didn't really think it to be too unsafe. I confirmed that with family over the phone and agreed to hitch a ride with co-passengers in a bus. Later, we learned there was no bus. There were only private taxis. The ones that wait all day outside the airport -- like a bunch of vultures.

Some passengers opted for the return option -- return to Delhi airport. Some agreed for a flight refund and probably stayed the night in Guwahati. I had no choice, no time to waste in Assam or the patience. Private taxi, it had to be. I sat through an overnight journey from Calcutta to Siliguri in a bag-of-bolts bus and lived to tell it. This should be no different. At that time, I had failed to include certain parameters that could have made my journey miserable.

Mode of transport settled, we gave our names to the Kingfisher ground staff. They made a list. Took us outside and started negotiating with the taxi drivers. I soon realised this journey was a first for the taxi drivers themselves. I mean, go gets off at Guwahati airport and asks to be driven down to another state! Anyway, what ensued was a long wait for people to get organised into groups of four. The trouble started when everyone soon realised that the cars were Altos, Wagon Rs and such. 4-seaters. Larger vehicles are not allowed at the airport. There was just one Tata Safari, which filled up real quick. Obviously. But they also had to wait the longest. All the drivers had decided to set out together, in a line. There was safety in numbers and it helped those who didn't know the road from Guwahati to Siliguri.

By this time, I had made friends with four people who were going in my direction - Siliguri. One of the women was Nepalese, I think. I could not understand where she needed to get dropped off but I figured she would be better off with another group that room for one more person in their car. Not only did we have to make sure there were only 4 per car (excluding the driver), we needed to make sure everybody's luggage was fitting in securely.

I made sure the lady found a group and returned to mine -- an elderly Swedish lady (who I found out later was married to a man who had his roots in Siliguri), her daughter and a Sikkimese guy who works in Mumbai. All of us spoke mainly in English. Understood each other well. The Swedish lady, Mrs. B, took comfort in the fact that I could help with Hindi translations. My Sikkimese friend, J., knew Nepalese and Bengali too. So he could converse in Bengali with the driver. I believe Bengali and Assamese dialects are similar. Not the same. Just somewhat similar.

Anyway, all of us wanted to go to Siliguri and not Bagdogra, didn't have an agenda of going off to trek in Darjeeling or visit Gangtok, Sikkim. All four of us had family in Siliguri. Unfortunately, the entire troup was getting held up because of a few disgruntled passengers and also because the drivers were waiting for their money. Kingfisher paid each taxi. The ground staff made sure everyone got a ride. They had a list with all the names, ensured that everyone was onboard. Signed off and only then did they get off their shift.

There were passengers who thought they were going to get SUVs and be driven down in style. I never heard anybody promising such cars and I didn't really give a damn. When you live in India, you get to see the smallest car overloaded with God knows what all. Anyway, I could understand some of the concern. Unknown places, hilly region, you feel safer in a larger, stronger vehicle. I mean, even Mrs. B was not entirely convinced that her luggage would be safe in the Maruti Alto. But she soon realised that she could not stay the night in Guwahati with her daughter. No way to know how good or safe the hotels were.

At around 5pm, all the cars pushed off. I think there were about ten cars in all. Loaded with diverted passengers and luggage. January, so the sun had already set and it felt like it was 8pm! I love the cold weather so I never really felt that chilly. As the journey wore on, I had to wear my jacket. It was nice and cold! There was lots of fog too. There were stretches where all the cars had to have their hazard warning lights on, just so that every driver could know if there was a vehicle in front of him.

I could not sleep at all. Strangely, I was excited to be on a journey like this. I have always had a lousy experience while travelling to Siliguri. Flight delays, offloaded, even spent a night at the Calcutta airport, ended up travelling on days when there was curfew in Siliguri. But never had I been a journey like this. Beats waiting at an airport terminal. Plus, all of us were getting to know each other better, asking questions, telling each other where they were from, what they did, etc. Also, I wanted to keep an eye on the driver and the road. The last thing I wanted was the driver falling asleep at the wheel. This was no picnic outing.

Turned out that the drivers were really good. All very young but really close knit. They stuck together, took turns in leading the retinue, continuously on the phone to reach anybody who seemed to have broken away from the party. And most of all, none of them drank alcohol -- inspite of the cold. And nobody ate dinner at the small roadside inn we stopped off at. Our driver was worried he would feel sleepy if he ate. So they all stayed hungry....right till about 1.30 am. I think that's when we had covered a fair bit of ground and were mostly half way there...half of almost 445 Km!! They were entitled to the meal. A quick stop at a local booze cum dinner inn, some cigarettes were shared and we were on our way again. No alcohol again. Water was served in empty-rinsed-out beer bottles. :)

I realised I have not shared the route yet. I don't think this is the exact route we took but we probably took most of the highways. Unfortunately, Vodafone's roaming GPRS refused to work and the Assisted GPS on my Samsung Galaxy 3 didn't work at all. I couldn't chart our route, neither could I help with telling the driver where we were. So much for technology. And I had to make sure I had enough batter left till morning -- so that I could announce folks in Siliguri that I had arrived. For someone who relies so much on Maps, Google and Wikipedia, I was pretty much on stranded on an un-connected island.

First thing I did when I got back to Bombay, was to find out how far it is from Guwahati to Siliguri and try to identify any areas I had gone through. Unfortunately, I couldn't recognise anything. Even the driver wasn't sure of that names that night. So I am granted that bit of ignorance. It was fun, nonetheless. We reached at around 8am in the morning, after umpteen number of stops, meetings to decide which road to take, a tyre puncture and other random stops. Here is the map.

View Directions to Hotel Air View, Siliguri, West Bengal in a larger map

So the trip ended well and I felt like I had been through a super adventure, feeling like one of those Wodehouse characters who is described to be an 'explorer', one who knows many languages, has broken bread with an undocumented tribe, and shot a charging bull elephant right 'tween the eyes. No, I would never shoot an animal. Just saying. I felt that way. City boy does an overnight journey, cuts through wilderness in a little car, with three others he has just met. Broke bread with fellow drivers. That does not happen every day. And the travel companions turned out to be very friendly and interesting. This made the journey all the more enjoyable. If I were saddled with a scared tourist, a cribby couple who hailed from my part of the country or a snoot, I would have been done for. I would rather be in a car 15 hours with fat, jolly people, than with people who can't deal with the cold, a different place or worse -- be a little positive and make the whole experience that much more tolerable.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Flickr Page: Arises from Slumber

Not done anything to my Flickr page for ages...and I have been a little lazy in resizing and uploading. Here are a few of the pictures I took while I was in Siliguri this year. Click on the picture to see the rest of the photographs.


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