Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Banyan Tree

It stood near the pond at the end of the village, just at the intersection between two roads going towards the farms. It has been there for as long as my grandfather remembers. It is the same as it was in his childhood, he says. May be it has lost a branch here and grown another at other end, but it is as permanent as the stars and the moon in the villagers mind. With its branches spreading very wide, it looked like an old lady sitting and guarding the village or may be guiding the wandering travellers which road to take. Often many villagers mid noon or afternoons were spent there. On the way to the pond for taking bath in the summers, it would serve as a temporary shed for many. Some would rest a little to get respite from the sultry heat, others pause here a minute to have a chat with fellow beings. Village folks coming back from the farms would untie their cattle from the cart and feed them. Women after taking a bath would stop to put a little water and flowers near the base as a sign of respect. In the afternoon children would make use of the aerial roots to swing and climb the branches. Or play marbles or gilli danda under the shadow. It provided a natural habitation for many squirrels, crows and a variety of birds. In summer its branches provided a cool resting place.

(image source: google)
I was visiting the village after a long time, may be after 20 years. On the way to the farm somehow I decided to stop little under its shadow, rest a bit and absorb the feeling of nostalgia. I cleared an area of the fallen yellow leaves near its roots and sat resting my back on the trunk and closed my eyes.

How are you?

A voice asked me which awake me from my slumber.  I looked around, and expected to see any old villager who recognised me. I didn’t find anyone; expect a dog, resting at the far end at the edge of the shades.

May be I dreamed I thought to myself and closed my eyes again.

How are you? The voice asked again. I looked up in the direction of sound; thinking may be someone playing a prank on me.

Don’t worry. It’s me... the banyan tree. The voice declared.

Do you know me? I enquired, sounding a bit perplexed at the thought of a tree talking with a human.

Yes, I know you, since you were a little kid...... said the banyan tree. I also know your father and his father....all three of you have played under my different times.

Hmm. I mumbled, in acceptance of the fact.

So how did you not forget me?

I remember all. I remember all the kids who have played under me. I also remember everyone who has ever rested under my shades.

Why do you remember all? I asked.

Because I considered them as a part of me. I thought of them as my family. My family also included the crows, the squirrels and the maina who used to stay with me.

Where have you been all these years? Asked the banyan tree.

I left the village to study in the Sundarpur, a town nearby. I replied.

Then, I got a job and working there. I added.

Sundarpur, I have over heard the name of the town from travellers. Must be a big place!!! 

Hmm...much bigger than this village. I replied.

Why this place so dirty and empty. I asked. In our childhood, it used to be a happening place.

Times have changed son. The village folks also don’t come here often. The pond’s water is polluted due to the nearby factory. No one takes bath here. Villagers also don’t go to the farms anymore. Everyone work in the factory.

And the children? I enquired.

Children don’t come to play anymore.


They have stopped playing outdoors. Now everyone plays inside their own houses in a hand held machine.

Mobiles...I thought to myself.

Also it’s very hot outside during the afternoons. He added.

You also seem to have lost few branches. I asked.

I did not lose any branches. It was cut to make the road wider. The peepul tree on the banks of the pond and the neem tree just after it also have been cut. Except the old gulmohar on the other side of the pond all trees have been cut.

A light breeze passing through the leaves made a rumbling sound as if to express its sense of displeasure.

The squirrels and the crows are still there. Occasionally the storks stop to eat their catch from the pond. In winter the south bound ones stops for a night halt.

I stood up to o near the trunk. Few places the bark had dried, just waiting to fall. A squirrel hurriedly climbed up the tree. A bird flew away sensing danger from my movement. The do rising from its siesta raised it head, looked around and then made himself comfortable in its original position.

Do you miss the old days? Are you not disappointed? I asked, gently leaning against the trunk.

Yes, sometimes I do. He replied.

We all miss the old times. Don’t you miss your childhood? Have you never been disappointed?

I sighed and replied in the affirmative.

That is part of life. The important thing in life is not to live in the past but in the present. Few branches fall, few are cut but I still row new leaves. I still try to spread my arms with the aerial roots. He flowers still flourish on the tender branches. I still spread my seeds with the help of the squirrels and the birds. Whatever happens, I still do my duty.
So should you.....just like your father does. The tree added.

A small fruit hit me on my chest and I woke up. The sun was setting. The gulmohar was just a silhouette. There was cacophony in the surroundings from the birds returning to their nest. The dog was gone. Then I realized, all along it was a dream. The tree talked to me in my dreams.

I returned home, ruminating the conversation.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Engineering in Medical Sciences

Last week was mostly spent outside of the base. Even if you do nothing, being outstation, is itself relaxing. No need to check with colleagues about the health and happiness (plant’s health and boss’s happiness😋 which are interdependent). The atmosphere in Bhubaneswar was cloudy and humid. I had to hop between two hospitals to get the opinion of specialist doctors. In recent times, frequent hospital visits have forced me to remember the basics of Zoology (The last time I was closest to a Zoology book was when Mr. Vajpayee was Indian Prime Minister, twin towers of World Trade Center were rising proudly above the New York Skyline and 11th September was just any other normal date). 

After studying chemical engineering (especially fluid dynamics / mass transfer / transport phenomena), I am able to connect the basic fundamentals of engineering in the workings of the human body. I remember, in 7th or 8th Semester during the mid-term exam, the transport phenomena professor had asked a question where we had to find after how much time a tablet will mix with body fluids in the intestines. Most of us had answered wrongly, but we were given marks for correct approach. The circulating system in our body works like a complex piping network. Most important part being heart, the lungs and the kidneys apart from the blood vessels which supplies blood to various part of the body. The heart acts as a positive displacement pump, pumping fluid across the network. The kidneys functions as a filter, which filters the blood to remove impurities and pass them to the urine. The lungs are where the carbon dioxide is removed from the blood and oxygen is enriched (application of mass transfer). Imagine, you have a clogged artery or a vein; it’s like a choked pipe line or a pipe with pinched valve. Due to the restriction in the blood vessel flow will be low, hence to some part of the body less flow will go. This is sensed by the neurons present and they signal the heart (through Brain) to pump blood more vigorously (application of Process Control). This will increase the discharge pressure of the pump and blood vessels will carry blood at the higher pressure. This, in common language, we call high BP. Now since, blood pressure is high, the kidneys functions at a higher pressure. Upstream pressure of the filters (kidneys) is high with same downstream pressure. Hence, some amount of materials which should have been retained in blood is discharged to urine in kidneys. Tests results of protein in the urine indicate performance of kidneys. High blood pressure may be a cause of under performance of kidneys but not the sole reason. The blood pressure in the vessels of the eyes are also high, which increase the size of the nerves and your eyesight may be affected. If any chokage of the blood vessel is found, (for which the heart is pressure is high), a stent is provided inside the artery / vein to increase the cross sectional area or a bypass of the clogged area is provided so that blood flows without restriction. This will ease the load on the heart and failure chances are minimized. Other methods to lower blood pressure are to give medication, which relaxes the muscle of the blood vessels so that blood flow is easy. That’s how the BP medicines work. Now a day’s whenever I come across a new medical term, I Google it and read. I am happy how an exposure to engineering fundamentals has helped me understand medical science better.

The day before coming back, I had few hours to kill. I was confused between Planetarium and Museum. A little analysis of pros and cons finally landed me in Pathani Samanta Chandrashekhar Planetorium near Achary Vihar in Bhubaneswar. The last visit to a planetarium was in June 2005 with Surya. We had visited the Birla Planetarium in Kolkata. The 30 minutes show showed concepts of big bang, our solar system, black holes, galaxies, nebulas etc.

Sometimes, I wonder, how as a civilization we have made immense progress in the field of science and technology. In some areas we are going up to the nano particles level, while in others, we are measuring distance in light years. The visit to the planetarium gives you a different perspective on life. All our happiness, sorrows, worry, concern, in fact everything, is just limited to planet earth. Whatever has happened in history, all the great men and not so significant men who were ever born were born in this planet. Our planet is just a small dot in the whole universe and if you compare our life time (65-70 years), is less than a blink of eye in the galactic scale. Let’s appreciate the fact and enjoy the impermanence of our happiness, sorrows, worry, concern as well as our lives.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Joy of planting a tree

Monsoon is here again. Although it’s raining sporadically here and the rain is not as incessant as it used to be in our childhood, but still it’s a happy respite from the heat and humidity. With the arrivals of the rain, the farmers will get busy tilling and cultivating their land. The whole process of preparing the field, sowing seeds / planting crops, weeding out, applying fertilizers, harvesting, post harvest processing will take around 4-5 months for paddy. When you see the whole process and realize the amount of hard work and dedication it requires growing and harvesting a crop, then only you will appreciate the food we eat and will hesitate to waste it. Having spent my childhood in a rural surrounding, I always loved the whole process of paddy cultivation. A paddy field was in front of my house. Before planting the crop the field is just a patch of mud. Few days after the plantation it will turn light green and within a month the hue will change to dark green. In early Autumn, you will find kashatandi (a grass with white flowers) on the edges of the field which will give you illusion of white clouds on the ground. After 3-4 months the color of the paddy field will change to light brown during the time of cultivation. Monsoons not only bring rains but also signify the start of life all around. On any random walk, you may find a tree newly sprouting leaves or a seed starting to germinate. The earliest memory of monsoons for me was looking at a corn seed germinating from the ground near my home.
Corn sapling (image source: Google)
The sight of sprouts coming out of a seed, and then developing into leaves and gradually to a self sufficient tree always fascinated me since childhood. After I moved to a ground floor five years ago, the same passion for trees resurfaced. I planted 3 mango trees, one litchi, and one guava in my back yard apart from other seasonal vegetables. In the front lawn, two bakul trees were planted (in the hope that it will provide shed for car parking during lunch break...for someone else and some other day). Few guava, mangoes and gulmohar trees have been planted in office. On Rathyatra day last week, we had planted around 70 nos. of neem and mango trees in a nearby temple. Last time I was travelling to Bhubaneswar, I bought some jamun. I had saved some seeds for trying to germinate seeds. After about 15 days of planting the seeds, sprouts have started coming out. They will need a little bit more nurturing before they can be planted independently somewhere.
The jamun seeds sprouting in my back yard.

Of course, I will not be around here to enjoy the fruits, someone else will. But are we not enjoying fruits, planted by someone else in some other place. 

Moreover, the joy of watching a seed turning into a tree and supporting life on its own is itself very rewarding. Happy monsoon and go out to plant and adopt a tree.

(I will keep updating status of the jamun sapling from time to time)

Update on 02-Sep-2018:

the saplings were planted in individual polythene bags . Each bag had a mix of soil, manure and a little sand to help water drainage. total of  20 saplings. 14 in black bag and 6 in plastic ones. 

Update on 9th January 2019

Growing up healthily... Planning to move to a sunny area

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A trek through a wonderland: SAR Pass Trek Part-III

The trek was long and so is the blog entry. Out of experience I can say that attention span and patience are two things we are losing very fast. In order to make it easier I have divided the trekking experience into three parts. The first part contains how I came across the idea of trekking, planning the tour, itinerary of the trek, few things about Kasol and my experience in the first three days in the camp. The second part is about the trek, which lasted 7 days and 6 nights, starting from the base camp till the return. The third part is about few things which should be kept in mind during planning for the trek, and some other thoughts/information. The link to all the parts are given below. 

Happy reading.

Apart from adventure and break from monotony, it was a nice opportunity to meet new people from a variety of back grounds. The lifestyle in the plains and up in the hills differ. They live a much harder life than us. People in Grahan has to walk 9 kilometres to have access to proper health care. The doctor in the primary health centre in the village hardly comes. The village school has facility for up to class 8 only. 1/3rd of the year, their village is covered in snow keeping them locked. Even in such adversity they do not complain. They have aligned their life with nature and are surviving. That's a lesson for us.

Few Tips:

  1. Do not ask your mother to help pack you bag. She will put the whole world in it.
  2. The trek is not a picnic. You need little bit of physical fitness. Since it is a group activity, the group should not suffer because of lack of your fitness.
  3. Buy a good pair of trekking shoes and practice walking before the trek.
  4. Take extra camera batteries and memory cards with you. Batteries have a tendency to discharge during cold.
  5. Pack your luggage to minimum. One set of thermals and extra pair of clothes should suffice. The back pack provided by YHAI is adequate for the purpose and you need not invest in one.
  6. Mix with locals. It will give you a new insight.

Contact Information of Mr. Ompraksh (Camp Leader of Biskeri Thatch). He can arrange private treks.

Email ID:
Mobile No: 8894000812 / 9418432012

1. Lennin and Ajosh for some of the photographs.
2. Ridtz for the videos.
3. YHAI for the arrangements.

And above all the people of SP-29 who made it an amazing experience.

A trek through a wonderland: SAR Pass Trek Part-II

The trek was long and so is the blog entry. Out of experience I can say that attention span and patience are two things we are losing very fast. In order to make it easier I have divided the trekking experience into three parts. The first part contains how I came across the idea of trekking, planning the tour, itinerary of the trek, few things about Kasol and my experience in the first three days in the camp. The second part is about the trek, which lasted 7 days and 6 nights, starting from the base camp till the return. The third part is about few things which should be kept in mind during planning for the trek, and some other thoughts/information. The link to all the parts are given below. 


Photo Blog:

Happy reading.


Day-04: Kasol Base Camp to Grahan.
A stream between Kasol and Grahan
Finally, the day had come for which we all had waited so eagerly. The 1st good thing in the morning was that we didn't have to go for the morning exercise. And since we already had packed our back packs, we did not worry about packing. We were ready to leave for the trek at about 8:00 am. The morning did show the day for us. It was slightly overcast and later we found, it rained through out the day till Grahan. Total trek distance for the day was 9.00 kilometres. We started on the left bank of a tributary to the Parvati River. Initially the trek was gradual and we all walked at a leisurely pace. Constant drizzling made the path a little muddy and slippery but since all were high on excitement, no one really cared about the external factors. The path is through thick jungle. One can spot the occasional birds here and there, few wild horses and some domestic animals along with there caretakers. As we climbed higher, the streams were reduced to stream-lets and the snowy peaks could be seen in the distance. 

After about 3 hours of walking we reached the lunch point which was a plain spot among few trees. After the lunch the climb was steeper. We could see the pieces of clouds floating effortlessly and melting with the foliage and with each other. After walking for about and hour or so we could see the slope cultivation and wheat fields on the mountains. It was an indication that the village is not far. At around 2:30 in the afternoon we reached Grahan. It is the last village on the trek and the last mark of civilisation. Its a small village with sloped wooden roofs. Children along the way greet you with a namaste and immediately will ask "bhaiya toffee". Seeing the innocence on their faces you can help but to give each of them toffees. The camp is situated after the village ends. Camp and the village is located on the ridges of two neighbouring mountains, and is separated by a small stream. Our good Samaritan friend, Angad, helped all of us to cross the stream, except one person (guess who?). In the evening the sky had cleared out and the bright evening sun lighted the village excellently. We spent time drying our clothes around a small fire in the shop of a local. This small favour was returned by buying "sadu" (a local dish of maida and some herbs). The could had cleared and we all hoped for bright and sunny days ahead. 
Grahan, as seen from the camp site.

Day-05: Grahan to Padri
The morning greeted us with an azure sky and bright sun. Early morning sunlight made the snow tops sparkle with a golden glow of light, which was a treat to watch. It was one of the easiest day for trek. The climb was mostly easy with two major climbs in between. On the way there was a tea point where the locals sold tea, snacks, cold drinks (a bottle of pepsi was sold at double the price, yes globalisation has it's reach but comes with a price). We avoided pepsi and settled for the local neembu-paani. We reached the lunch point before noon. It was on slope and had dense trees around, making it a nice spot for taking rest. Looking towards north we could spot the SP-27 batch on their ascend to the Nagaru base camp. The lunch point is also one of the few places on the trek you can catch the mobile network (only airtel) if your stars are bright, and you have to put your mobile at a particular elevation and direction to catch the signal. Whenever it catches the signal, take your ear near the phone or else you will lose the signal. The camp leader from the Padri camp daily walked up to this point (2-3 kilometres) to have a chat with his family. At lunch break, I had this anecdote in the middle of a conversation, which I can not help but sharing.

Ajosh: Hey man (in his typical mallu style), are you married?
Me: No. And you?
Ajosh: Yes man (with a sigh).... for about seven years....(after a pause of about 5 seconds) Don't worry about the trek. After you get married, you will find this trek easier.

We both had a hearty laugh.

On  the way to Padri
After lunch, we rested for about two hours and some people (e.g. Neel) managed a siesta in between. The trek after lunch was a leisurely one and we reached Padri around 3.00 pm. is a large patch of grass land with a small pool of water nearby. Padra, in the local language (which is Kulvi) means grassland for grazing domestic animals. Padri, derived its name from Padra. The camp was located at the foot of a hill. From lying inside the tent you can see the majestic view of the Pin-Parvati valley, the snowy peaks and ridges. From this place one can do other smaller treks, which could be completed with in a day. The Northern Railway group which were with us for the last two days, took a different route from this place.
Camp at Padri

Day-06: Padri to Minh-Thatch
On difficulty rating, this would come as the third toughest day of the trek. The other two being the next two days in ascending order of difficulty. This day we had to cover a vertical height of about 2000 fts. The climb was hard. We had cross about two to three mountains and the small streams in between. By lunch we had covered most of the distance. The lunch point was again located near the foot of a hill with green grass around and the field was bisected by a small stream of melted snow. Far to the west the whole of the himalayan range could be seen. The final hurdle after lunch was a stiff cliff which had to be covered in a zig-zag manner. The welcome banner at the top was a landmark we were all aiming.  
Lunch Point before Minh-Thatch
Sadly when reached at the top, we had to descend and walk around 1 more kilometre to reach the base camp at Minh-Thatch. Thatch in Kulvi means a place where one can sit and have an eye around the grazing cattle and sheep. True to the definition, it was a small plain area with slopes around which was abundant with green grass. Shepherds from Grahan use this place as a stay for grazing their cattle and sheep. The camp leader (Mr. Saurav) at this camp was from Kolkata and had a vast experience of trekking in the himalayan range. On enquring about the facilities for nature's call, he bluntly replied "you are in a jungle...stay like a tiger". He even showed us the Rohtang Pass top, Lahaul Spiti valley top and Manali top from the camp. The location of the camp is at such a place, from where you can see 4 camps viz Grahan, Padri, Nagaru and Minh-Thatch itself. The stay at the camp was a good one except for the fact that the rats inside the camp made it a difficult night.

Local Ladies
To keep the memory alive, let me share another funny incident..this time from Angad.We were standing near the tents after breakfast in the morning when Angad, addressed Yamini as Jinali and wished her good morning. Yamini, on the other hand, assumed it to be an innocent mistake, replied and wished us good morning. After Yamini had left, I told Angad, about the mistake he had committed. On this Angad says promptly with his mischevious smile...."क्या यार कैसे कैसे लोग हैं ....अपना ही नाम भूल जाते हैं "...which sent all of us in a fit of laughter.

(No offence intended to Yamini, Jinali, and Angad)

Day-07: Minh-Thatch to Nagaru
Imagine a cliff having a slope of about 70 degrees. If Minh-Thatch is at the bottom of the cliff, Nagaru is at the top. The task for this day was to cover the cliff, safely. Few days prior to us, an old lady had fallen from this cliff. Luckily she survived the fall (only a fractured hand) and bravely she completed the trek also. From this place onwards we were leaving the vegetation behind and entering a cold desert. The trees gave way for wild grasses, barren and rocky patches of land. Rest of the place was covered with snow. From now onwards we trekked in a single line with girls leading. The ascent was slow but was good since it gave us ample time to relax and take breaks. In between the cliff a makeshift arrangement was made for the lunch point. You can have an idea of how high we had reached after you see the eagles flying below your height. We reached Nagaru before time. 

Nagaru, in kulvi, means where the land ends and snow starts. The camp at Nagaru is the most dangerous one. Its located at the edge of the hill. The cliff is towards the south and west side. East and North side was covered with snow. On one side there was a chance of falling from the edge, while on the other side one could slip on the ice. The biggest problem one face in Nagaru, is attending nature's call. Boys have to go down the slope and girls above the slope. A slip and fall during the activity will send you thousands feet below, straight into the lap of nature. The locals staying in the camp worship a piece of rock (nagaru baba) and thinks he controls the weather at the top of the hills.
Tent mates at Nagaru

Day-08: Nagaru to Biskeri-Thatch via Sarpass
We had to start the day early, so that we could cross sarpass before the snow starts to melt. By 4:00 am we had started walking. Like yesterday, this time also the girls led from the front. After about 2-3 hours of walking we had reached the sarpass top. All you can see here is a white sheet of snow cover everywhere and surrounded by snow peaks. Here you need sunglasses to protect you against the glare from the snow. At the top, we had a break for snacks and photography session. The rigours of the last 5 days paid off since the views were amazing. After the sarpass top we still had to cover a lot of distance. We had to walk along the slope of the mountain. Few times we slide down the snow along the slope. The walk up to the second slide was a tough one and never ending. We could see the ridge, which we had to climb, but the it seemed farther and farther away as we walked and got tired. Last part of this walk involved climbing a ridge with the help of a piece of rope. The more difficult as well as dangerous part is the walk on the edge of a ridge without any support. A fall on either side would ensure a visit to the hospital. The next slide was really a long one. All you have to do is sit on the snow and the guide will push you. After that all you can do is pray, rest of the things are governed by laws of Physics and your luck. I found myself in the unluckier side, collided with a friend and the sprained my elbow. At the end of the slide was our lunch point. The guide, who had experience in sliding, covered the whole slope in one or two slides. But for us we had to attempt sliding multiple times and then walk the rest of the distance on the snow. The lunch point was on the other side of sarpass. We all had gathered snow in our accessories and at this point it started to melt here making it an uncomfortable situation. There was one more slide after the lunch point, which landed us very close to the camp at Biskeri-Thatch. Guide told that, if there were a little more snow, we could directly have slide into the camp site. The view from the Biskeri-Thatch was an awesome one with the mountains, the river valley and some villages could be seen.

A White Desert

Camp Site at Biskeri-Thatch

The camp leader (Mr. Omprakash) at this site was a local. He was the same person who had guided us in the slide. He had a vast knowledge about all the peaks around and carries out private treks also to Kheer Ganga, Pin Parvati valleys. An intersting fact he told us about the Malana village. In the dialect spoken in Malana village (the Malana Hydopower project is here) is very different from the rest of the area. As per legends the village was inhabited by "asuras". When the local "rishis" came near the village they had a fight. The asuras losing the battle agreed for truce. As a part of the deal, asuras agreed to leave the village but wanted that their dialect stays. Hence the dialect spoken these days is different from other ones.

Day-09: Biskeri-Thatch to Bhandak-Thatch
Bhandak thatch is just the other side of a hill. The walk to Bhandak thatch was an easy one except the last climb before the camp site. At one point of time training in rappelling comes handy as one has to climb down a small cliff using ropes. We had our lunch near by a stream and witnessed a professional rivalry between two shops for selling snacks. Since majority of people went to the other shop, an old woman was quite frustrated with us. To soothe her nerves and our hunger, we decided to have some omelette and cold drinks at her shop. The trek was mostly through fields of grass and discreet the one you see in the hindi movies.
Camp Site - Bhandak Thatch

The camp site at Bhandak-Thatch is on a beautiful green slope and the valley in the front,  at the back is the mountain with snow. You can hear the sound of the stream flowing below interspersed with the chirping of birds. 

Day-10: Bhandak-Thatch to Barshani to Kasol
On the way to Barshani

The trek from Bhandak-Thatch to Barshani was more of a leisurely walk down hill rather than a trek. On the way we met people of the near by villages going to the forest to earn a living. We covered the distance with in 3 hours. Barshani is the dead end for the road from Bhuntar. Since we were leaving for Delhi the same evening, we all returned. However Ajosh and Lennin halted at Manikaran to visit the Gurdwara. After a heavy meal in Kasol we reached base camp, collected the certificates and proceeded for Bhuntar to catch the Delhi bus.