Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Thank God it wasn’t me...

Last Saturday(17th Sept,2011), some crude bombs went off in Agra, and on Sunday Sikkim and parts of North Bengal were rocked by an earthquake which measured 6.8 on the Richter Scale. A little more than a week ago it was Delhi which got rocked by an earthquake and a terrorist attack and two months ago it was Mumbai's turn. When the blasts occurred in Mumbai last July, I was there with my son at my brother's house. We received calls from friends and relatives who knew that we were there to see if we were safe. Mumbai is like a hot spot for terrorist attacks these days and every time an attack happens, I call up my brother and a close friend who stays there to check if they are fine.

I have personally closely escaped two such calamities – one a natural calamity and the other man-made and escaped unhurt.

When the terrorists attacked IISc in 2005, I was a speaker at the conference, the venue of which was attacked, as well as helping out the organizers. I got saved by walking out of the auditorium just about 2 minutes ahead of the others. In fact, one lady who was injured by a shrapnel hitting just below her eye walked out with me but then stood back to talk to her guide, Prof. Puri, who was the only slain victim in that attack. Although I had met Prof. Puri only the day before, I always remember him as a kind, extremely knowledgeable and very humble person who was almost a father-figure for his students. When I heard the shots, I thought that someone was bursting crackers and felt irritated that someone could burst such loud crackers within the institute campus and didn't quite comprehend the gravity of the situation even when a colleague came and said that there was a shootout at the auditorium. That day still stays in my memory as the most memorable and yet the most unbelievable day of my life.

Four years before this, on 26th January 2001, when I was working in Jamnagar, Gujarat was struck by an intense earthquake. At that time, my friend and I were vacationing in Mt. Abu and although we did feel the tremors over there, we didn’t realize the devastation till we reached Jamnagar two days later. We spent a couple of days outside our home in tents for fear of after-shocks and then later stayed temporarily at a hostel set-up since one of the pillars of our building had cracked and had to be repaired.

After both these incidents, I got frantic calls from my close family and friends enquiring about my safety. They were relieved to know that I am safe as I feel relief every time a natural calamity or a terrorist attack strikes the city where I have some family members or friends and I get news that they are safe. The other day as I was reading Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran where, while writing about the bombings on Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s, she writes, “This had also become a ritual, to call friends and family to make sure that they were safe, knowing that your own relief implied someone else’s death”, it struck me that how true this was for us too. It also brought to my mind Arthur Ashe’s famous quote “If I were to say, "God, why me?" about the bad things, then I should have said, "God, why me?" about the good things that happened in my life”. I guess it takes a lot of courage and some level of spirituality to be able to do that. But I am me, selfish and petty if you may call me so, and still feel relieved at the safety of my near and dear ones though I feel saddened when innocent lives are lost, especially by senseless acts of terror.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Trip to Murudeshwar

There was a time when S and I used to travel on every long weekend, even if it meant travelling every week of a month or at least every alternate week. But then our baby, G came along and we took a break from our travels. We did travel close to home and wherever we could get home-cooked food for G or could carry food but not otherwise. Now that he's 2+ and actually more mature and independent (:P) than his age, we have started travelling once again.

Our first major trip took us to Murudeshwar, a scenic beach in North coastal Karnataka about 400 kms from Bangalore. We travelled by train to Shimoga and took a taxi from there to take us to Murudeshwar. We left from Bangalore on the night of 12th August & returned early morning on 16th August.

G was super-thrilled about the entire journey. Firstly he didn't have to go to sleep at his usual 9 p.m. and secondly, he was actually going to sleep in the train !!! We were supposed to board the train at 11:30 p.m. but it arrived at our boarding station at the stroke of midnight ... so G's glee was unimaginable. We boarded the train and said our Hi's to S's friend & his family who were also accompanying us to Murudeshwar. It was quite difficult to put G to sleep because he had a lot of questions about his surroundings, so finally I just switched off the light & he automatically fell asleep. The next morning we reached Shimoga at 6 a.m. G was still fast asleep, so B (S's friend's wife) woke him up & he immediately sat up & much to everyone's amusement, said "G's going to play with sand but not put it in his hair or in his eyes". The background to this statement is ... I was preparing him mentally for the trip and since he likes to play with sand, I told him that we'll be going to a place where there'll be a huge body of water & lots of sand. And since he still refers to himself in the third person almost all his sentences begin with his own name. :)

So, we came out of the station at Shimoga & A (S's friend) who can speak Kannada, haggled with a taxi driver & we booked a Sumo for Rs. 8/- per km and charging for the journey to & fro to take us to Murudeshwar. So although the distance from Shimoga to Murudeshwar is about 200 kms, we had to pay for double the journey, but that's the usual norm & we couldn't argue with him about that. So we started off, stopped after about an hour for a quick breakfast & then continued on our journey to Murudeshwar, where we reached around 12 noon.

Murudeshwar is monopolized by the R.N. Shetty group and all the hotels over there belong to them. They have three properties RNS Residency, Naveen Beach Resort and RNS Guest House. RNS Residency is a five storey building about 5 minutes on foot from the beach and adjacent to the Murudeshwar temple. It offers a beautiful view of the beach as well as the temple. We stayed here and had a corner room overlooking their swimming pool, so we had a wonderful view of the open sea in the front, the beach on the right side and the Shiva statue inside the temple on the left. Naveen Beach Resort is right on the beach and has individual cottages. RNS Guest House, their first property in Murudeshwar is sandwiched between the temple and the RNS residency and is in a slightly rundown state. Anyway, it's wise to re-confirm your bookings before travelling because although we had booked two months in advance and they had confirmed a month later, when we reached there we were told that there was no booking in our name. They finally gave us two well-appointed rooms with amazing views but some unpleasantness could have been avoided if we had re-confirmed.

After checking into our rooms on 13th August, we freshened up and went for lunch at the Naveen Beach Resort which has a multi-cuisine non-veg restaurant. After lunch & a nap, we went to the beach for our first dip in the sea. G looooooves to play with water in the bathroom but the sea was a little fearsome for him. Both S and I love a dip in the sea and wanted to initiate G into it too but after a while we realized that he was feeling too scared and so G and I settled down on the beach to play in the sand with his sand tools while S and our friends went into the sea.

Next morning after breakfast we went to the temple. However, we did not go into the main temple. Instead we went up 18 floors by an elevator to the top of the Gopuram to see the view around and then came down and watched as fishermen returned with their catch from the sea. The sun was beating down hard on our heads by the time we finished taking a round of the temple premises and G was almost dozing off with sheer exhaustion, so we decided to go back to the hotel for lunch. RNS Residency has a vegetarian restaurant only, so we decided to feed G his staple khichdhi (without any chillies but quite tasty) over there and then go to a small eating place called Fish Land which turned out to be a boon for us fish lovers.

That evening we went for our 2nd dip in the sea & this time I went into the waters while S camped on the shores with G. Sadly though we were shooed away from the sea after about 10 mins because only that morning two people, incidentally from Bangalore, had drowned over there and the authorities didn't want to take any chances. So we came back to the hotel and decided to get into the swimming pool. Here, G was a little more comfortable and although he shrieked a little to begin with and didn't want to stay in the water for too long, he was comfortable to sit on the side with me and splash water with his feet. Strangely enough he didn't want me to swim either and cried his eyes out screaming for me to come out of the water when I went in for a swim. :)

On 15th August, we left from Murudeshwar after lunch and decided to visit the Jog Falls on our way to Shimoga. Since the monsoons have been quite generous to Karnataka this time, we saw the waterfall in its full glory. However, all our sightseeing took so long that by the time we reached the Shimoga station it was 9:30 p.m. and since our train was at 10:20 p.m., we decided to have our dinner at the railway canteen itself and board the train.

Overall, we had a very enjoyable trip though the beach is quite dirty and the tides are tricky & treacherous so it's better to watch out and heed the authorities while taking a dip in the sea. G had a great time and was reluctant to go back to the school/day care routine but well, that's life. All good things have an expiry and routine has to return.