Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Regaining Citizenship: A traumatic experience


Hostility between India and Pakistan is on wane. Lawmakers on both sides are compelled by their own people to bury their congenital botheration. Of all these people, Gulf expatriates are most vociferous to make that happen and there is a reason for this.

In Gulf countries, both Indians and Pakistanis have been living in co-existence over few decades. Now, third generation of Indian and Pakistani nationalities is born, raised and working in Gulf. Their contact with respective motherland that began with 1-month school vacation is now restricted to gyrating on remix version of bollywood songs or eating Pakistani Kebabs.

The pace at which Indian and Pakistanis are being blended in neutral land is also reflected at increasing number of marital knots. Milieu of cosmopolitan social life in Dubai does not isolate them with the rest of the crowd. So is the case with local residency laws that consider both on par. Everything goes well as long as they stay in Gulf. However, if they were to visit in-laws, bureaucracy with archaic laws will stand in a big way. If securing visa is an ordeal, stringent conditions that come with it are nothing less than that of a humiliation. Visa restricts visit to a specific city and makes mandatory for visitor to report to police station once a week. In order to avoid this ordeal, some spouses have relinquished their original nationality and have opted for that of spouse. However, little did they realize that in their very own country, they could be treated as pariah.

One such story made me realize the importance of citizenship rights. This educated lady who was well settled in her job in dubai married Pakistani national and surrendered her Indian nationality to become Pakistani citizen. Unfortunately, marriage did not last and she wanted to revert to her original nationality. What followed was a pathetic saga of survival of a single woman caught in the web of bureaucracy. After numerous attempts at higher echelons at home and foreign ministry, she was told that only way to redeem her nationality was to secure an Indian visa, extend it over and over again so as to reside uninterrupted for 5 years. Only then, her request for Indian citizenship be considered. Imagine leaving Gulf- her only place of existence and to start life all over again in a country that is alien in all forms except her passport identity. During this period, she may have to face the ordeal of extending the validity of her Pakistani passport at the mercy of Pakistan High commission. I do not know if during these five years, she would be asked to report to police station every week.

No one knows when India Pakistan relations will be normalized like any other nations. However, until then, people who tie their matrimony with nationalities across the border must think hard before surrendering their respective citizenship.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

laborers : scum of elegant society ?


Some time ago, in a new newspaper "7 days" - a lady mentioned that all laborers in UAE should be given weekend off other than Friday. According to her, they cause too much of nuisance for people like herself who are not just subjected to ogles from these men but also cause nuisance with their foul sweaty smell and brusque behavior. I doubt if any of the laborers have even read her appeal but she got back from many readers what she deserved. An unequivocal, strong rebuke and condemnation.

Today, while at Gym on 15th floor, I saw from glass window upper torso of two laborers doing painting on exterior face of the opposite building. Curiosity made me go to window and see how they are managing it by standing at the edge of the wall. What I saw made me squirm; they were standing on two wooden planks of not more than 2ft each, positioned horizontally on scaffolding. Both were busy giving delicate touches to protruding wall, with tin of paint on one side and other hand occasionally reclining on scaffolding. The thoughts went back to the above newspaper article and I decided to put the following letter to the editor.

Quote

Dear Editor

I wish to point out the safety methods employed by/for workers who are involved in painting of high rise residential buildings – particularly in Al Nahda, Sharjah.

In one particular 16 story building in Al Nahda , I saw two workers doing the exterior painting , standing on 15th floor on wooden plank – that was merely positioned on horizontal bars of scaffolding. There was no protection whatsoever nature, He had paint brush in his hand and occasionally rest his second hand on scaffolding bar.

I do not know if this is a daredevil attitude on the part of workers or lackadaisical approach on the part of contractor. But I strongly believe that it should be mandatory for any worker who works on tall buildings should be tied by ropes, or cables attached to roof hooks.

UAE practices high level of safety standards, more so with motorists who are fined for not wearing seat belt . The same should be applicable for callous/ daredevil attitude of workers, contractors or builders.

Thanks and Regards

Unquote :

I do not know if this would make any difference, but I hope the laborers are accorded at least safe conditions as Dubai occupants relish the comforts of such high rise buildings provide while builders and developers enjoy the fortune.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Paheli


If I were Paheli Director, I would have ended the movie with Shahrukh Khan entering the body of Sunil Shetty thereby continuing his romance from Rani Mukherjee to Juhi Chawala. Ghosts can be devilish too; after all they are counterpart of human beings. Perhaps this would have numbed the audience but am not sure how well it would have accepted.

historical longevity


I watched Mangal Pandey yesterday. It’s not worth reviewing this movie. But it did stir some thoughts.

Both Mangal Pandey and Bhagat Singh were sketched in history books. Bhagat Singh being recent arrival on the historical scene had an advantage of being shown with physical attribute. Mangal was merely described as a daredevil soldier who was consumed as a first casualty in the spark of 1857 war of independence. If I remember correctly, history books mentioned Mangal Pandey in just one sentence that his death led to rebellion being spread like a sweeping wild fire from Kanpur, Meerut battalion to entire North India.

Now in subsequent century, when a movie was made on these two characters, Mangal Pandey was at significant advantage to Bhagat Singh in terms of hitherto unknown persona. Fantasy, characterization and imagination were in abundance for movie maker to create Mangal Pandey. Bhagat Singh was at severe disadvantage as his character details, family background was still vivid in the minds of surviving acquaintances. But at the end, in the minds of next century born generation, movie “Legend “catapults Bhagat Singh far ahead than that of movie “The Rising” does for Mangal Pandey. This is merely because one movie creates more passion than another. Its brutal truth that in order to have historical longevity, it is important to have a good script writer and director. King Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Babasaheb Ambedkar,Veer Savarkar, Subhash Chandra Bose have also met their fate - good or bad - through script writer and movie director. Others waiting for their turn are Babu Genu, Chaphekar Bandhu and Madanlal Dhingra.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rift Valley: Unfolding Cradle of Humanity


When my Kenyan friend announced of our passing through Rift valley on way to Nakuru, he expected me to have some degree of excitement. Seeing my faceless expression, he attempted to explain the historical importance of this valley for both Asia and Africa. I did not understand much but presumed it as another mountain range that we in India are familiar with. However, as we progressed our journey to Nakuru, Nyeri and onwards to Masai Mara – the staggering enormity of Rift Valley started sinking in. Later on, the more I studied about it, I realized my abysmal ignorance of the history of our wonderful planet.

Rift Valley stretches from the Dead Sea in Jordan, extends through Red Sea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique. What I saw in Kenya was only small piece of this gigantic rift. How did this Rift happen? According to Geologists, some 20 million years ago, the earth's crust weakened and tore apart creating this jagged 6,000 km long rift. While it did so, the land on either side of the rift erupted creating nearly 30 active volcanic mountains with innumerable hot springs , while the valley floor gradually sank into a low flat plain with a combination of uninhabitable desert and fertile farmland. Today’s Rift valley in Kenya covers Lakes of Baringo, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elementaita, Naivasha, and Magadi. These lakes are concentrated with high alkalinity from the surrounding volcanic rocks. Steep cliffs of valley ensure that the water is not drained adequately thereby resulting in high content of sodium carbonate due to continuous evaporation. This creates an ideal breeding ground for algae and several species of fish and with that, millions of flamingoes flock from allover. The scenery in the Rift Valley is breathtaking, the journey cruises along the highlands only to bring at the edge of the Rift valley descending it further to a green flatbed of the valley floor.

Of the above places on Kenyan Rift valley , I had an opportunity to visit Nyeri and Nakuru. Nyeri is now dilapidated garrison of colonial days but a busy town with lot of shops. One can see majestic Mount Kenya but I associate this place more with Baden Powell – founder of Scout movement, who is buried here with his wife. Nakuru is the capital of the Rift Valley province, Lake Nakuru offers one of the world's most spectacular sights of brilliant pink flamingos all over the horizon. Imagine two million flamingos stand wings to wings feasting on lake water fish alongwith tens of thousands of other birds. But a slight change in environment , they all move to another lake creating a spectacle for Bird lovers.

The richness of Rift Valley is not just limited to nature but it is a storehouse of Human mankind history. Millions of years have filled the Rift valley from with erosion of highland sediments. This has created a secured place for the preservation of human remanants. Two-and-a-half-million-year-old cranial, tooth remains and various other fossils in Rift Valley reflect Human ape’s ability of walking on legs and using stone tools to strip meat of antelopes and horses. No wonder, Rift valley is known as "cradle of humanity" providing great insight to human evolution.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Kansai Airport : Technical Marvel, Economic Disaster


No matter how young or old one is, it is always fascinating to watch flowing river from the window of a running train. And if this train ride takes 3.5 Kms into the sea, it would be nothing else but a breathtaking experience. If one were to take a flight from Kansai airport, one can have this experience by taking a train ride from mainland Osaka bay to Kansai Airport in Japan.

If this train ride was anything spectacular, there is something more in store as you usher into magnificent super structure of Kansai International airport. The design of this airport is a masterpiece for both architecture and engineering. This four story 1.7 km building has no edges but smooth contours – in fact same contours of the roof are used to guide the flow of air in the building, thus eliminating the needs for vents inside the building. No obstructions in whatever form make a visitor navigate from anywhere. The airport resembles a bird with outstretched wings. Standing at the atrium of this airport, overseeing behemoth of glass structure is nothing but an awesome experience. Huge glass pane windows over high ceiling with abundance of natural diffused light creates an expansive openness. There are no walkways, entries, or exits like any traditional airport. At night with neon bulbs all over, this structure transforms into a magical masterpiece.

It’s hard to imagine that this structure stretching alongside 3,500 meter runway is built right over the sea supported by 900 pillars whose even height can also be adjusted by engineers. The design had its share of hiccups when the structure sunk by over 8 meters, while the initial allowance was for 5.80 meters. However, this has been corrected since then - albeit at the cost of few billion dollars. Within four months of its opening, the design also passed its decisive test when it had to endure of 6.7 Richter scale notorious Kobe earth quake whose center was just 20 kms away and killed 6,000 people on mainland.

The décor inside the airport matches the grandeur. The waiting lounge has reclining padded seats with no armrest, like a cozy first class sleeping couch. Airport has wireless internet connectivity. Overall, Kansai airport matches the hallmark of design, luxury, and comfort.

It is ironical that this engineering marvel also faces a blot of a commercial disaster. Kansai Airport concept was conceived during heady days of Japanese economy in 1980’s unfortunately economy didn’t keep its momentum. So was the case with an assumption that Kansai would become a hub for connecting traffic between Asia and other continents. But emergence of other Asian airports like Shanghai, Seoul, and Hong Kong that offered cheaper landing rates to Kansai took away the competitive edge of Kansai. The result was an abysmal underutilization with fewer airlines plying Kansai and resultant thin passenger traffic. International passenger eroded from 12 million in year 2000 to 8 million in 2003. So is the case with domestic passengers, who opted to use Osaka city airport. Although touted as 24 hour airport, after 10 pm, whatever few duty free shops present pull down their shutters to make this place look desolate despite all its grandeur.

Needles to say, Kansai airport is in financial throes. Stupendous investment of 15 billion dollars is making Kansai airport reeling under $560 million dollars per year in interest alone. With spiraling cost and interest, it is unlikely that Kansai airport would recover its cost even by 2035.
It is sad that the airport that created new benchmark in architecture, engineering is no longer a busy airport that it should have been. Nevertheless, it is still a global masterpiece construction that is basking in international glory and has been awarded as “Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium'' by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It is no wonder, Kansai Airport still ranks among the top five best airports in the world as it celebrates 11th anniversary on September 4.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Freedom in Exile : An autobiography of Dalai Lama of Tibet


I often wonder why Buddhism doesn’t profess vegetarianism when this religion is ingrained with the belief of non-violence and killing.

While reading ‘Freedom in Exile” an autobiography, I realized that Dalai Lama too faced the same dilemma when he experienced the pain of chicken while being slaughtered. He abandoned eating non vegetarian food with great resolve. My question seems to have been addressed. However after few pages, the very same Dalai Lama- after recuperating from Hepatitis – started eating non vegetarian food – albeit at the advice of doctors. A rude shock must be for those who are reading this review. But not for those, who have read this book and understood Dalai Lama as a person.

Dalai Lama was not chosen by virtue of his religious or spiritual erudite, political lineage or his hold over masses. In fact, he was just picked up by search party at the age of two from farming family in far flung rural areas of Tibet, who proclaimed him as a reincarnation of previous Dalai Lama. This autobiography begins from the life of ordinary peasant family life in 1935 to his Noble Prize acceptance in 1989 and subsequent changing global scenario of post 2000. All along he lived like an ordinary person observing, assimilating and debating everything that has been around despite a staunch belief of his own followers that he was an ordained spiritual master. He is candid enough to confess his simplicity all through his narration.

Writing an autobiography is always a tough task. More so, when people revere you as religious and spiritual leader. Dalai Lama presents his life story in simple manner eschewing pedantic discourses and sermons. His spiritual magnanimity is evident when he espouses the intrinsic human quality more important than any religious beliefs in fact goes even to an extent of analyzing atheists. So are his views, apt and balanced- when he compares influence of western capitalism with Russian socialism and their combined effect on human mind and behavior. For those, who are not familiar with Tibetan traditions, this book reveals legacy of Tantric traditions, Kalchakra invocations. He has delved at great length ; monastic regimens, life of lamas, rigors of their training and austerity of their lifestyle, remarkably woven with his own emotional turmoil as he was taken away from his family at tender age.

Dalai Lama portrays at ease his interaction with Chau En Lau, Mao, Nehru and other world leaders .This gives readers a great insight of the political equations existed during that period .One can empathize the helplessness of Indian rulers who were touched by Tibetan atrocities yet didn’t have courage to do anything substantial for fear of their motherland’s security compulsions. It’s interesting to observe Nehru’s not so revealed behavioral approach, vividly illustrated by Dalai Lama in his shrewd astuteness. Equally interesting is the way Chinese have gone about annexing Tibet. What if India were to do in same manner for Kashmir?

In today’s era, violence and terror often are effective means to spell demands; Dalai Lama’s struggle of securing freedom for Tibet through non violence is admirable. But one wonders if his efforts would yield anything as economic might of China has already transformed the character of Tibet dramatically.

This book is soothing for those who enjoy understanding nuances of Tibet’s history, culture, Buddhist religion and spirituality. It is also enjoyable for those who have curiosity to peep into mind of great leaders who have embarked upon a path with conviction yet full of humility.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Ayuthaya: From Ruins to Glory.


Not far away from hustle bustle of modern day capital of Thailand lies a beautiful tranquil historical capital of Siam – Ayuthaya. A city that was once at the helm of power during 1350 to 1767, now stands amidst ruins. Nevertheless, these very ruins draw tourists from all over the world.

Ayuthaya is app 80 km north of Bangkok based at the confluence of Chao Phaya, Pa Sak and Lopburi Rivers. An artificial canal joins them and surrounds the town. In 1351, a Chinese man U Thong founded this city. In 1378, Ayuthaya defeated Sukothai (140 year old empire) in battle and became the capital of Thailand. In 1431, Ayuthaya defeated the Khmer kingdom of Angkor Wat. With that Ayuthaya became undisputed imperial power of Southeast Asia.

This change of power center also brought the change in Royal Image. The king of Sukothai was called a Dhammaraja - ''Lawful King''; but the king of Ayuthaya was called a Devaraja - “God King”. The tradition of Ayuthaya continues even today, with King of Thailand remains a God in the eyes of their “Praja”. Ayuthaya also continued with Khmer tradition wherein King is considered as an incarnation of a deity and therefore becomes the royal patron of Buddhist faith, as well as benefactor of all forms of creative arts. During four centuries, various kings reigned Ayuthaya. Together they made this place reknowned for Buddhist monasteries and center of arts, trade and commerce.

Ayuthaya has many temples but I would list three most important ones. Most prominent is Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the largest among all temples. Emerald Buddha Temple in Bangkok is modeled on this. This temple has 16-meter Buddha statue and believed to have been coated with 250 kg of gold only to get peeled of during Burmese aggression. Inside the compound is a courtyard with steps leading up to the main towers of the pagoda. On either side are two sitting Buddhas at over 30 meters tall. 500 smaller sitting Buddhas encircle the temple, each one representing a deceased ancestor of the royal families of Ayuthaya. Another temple, 1300 year old Wat Phra Meru temple has carved ceiling with two Buddha images. Third temple of Wat Yai Chai Mongkon houses a reclining Buddha.

Besides temples, Chao Phraya National Museum, Chan Kasem Palace Museum and the Ayuthaya Historical Study Center depict lost glory of Ayuthaya. The Bang Pa-In Summer Palace is impressive with influence of Chinese architecture.

Ayuthaya glory days were over when Burmese army invaded in 1767. With continuous armed conflict this vibrant city became shattered and devastated. An abandoned city went into oblivion leaving only remnants of this great empire. But halo and mystic of this capital never faded with posterior generations. They always referred this place as ''the glorious old city’”. Today historical awareness and conscious efforts have revitalized Ayuthaya. Ruins at Ayuthaya no longer evoke expression of desolation, dejection but brings stream of devotees lighting incense and candles to make this place joyous and pious. Now Ayuthaya is again perceived as a blessed city with a belief that that if you are buried here in the presence of Buddha, your family will be blessed by Buddha forever.

Ayuthaya may or may not have been influenced by Ayodhya. But isn’t it ironical that during the very glory days of Ayuthaya, mogul king Babar was perhaps setting his eyes on Ayodhya in India.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Ku Chi: Nemesis of American Army in Vietnam


In current era of Iraq war, Vietnam War may have been relegated in memory. It was a battle of communist North Vietnamese with American based in south that lasted for almost 25 years. Despite having all the military might with B52 bombers, Americans fared miserably losing nearly 60,000 soldiers’ alongwith 200,000 South Vietnamese soldiers (American ally).

One place that was responsible for the nemesis of Americans was Ku Chi Tunnels, just 200 km north of Saigaon.

Ku Chi was not just tunnels but an underground city spread to 250km labyrinth with three floors beneath the soil. Army of 16,000 Goureilla used these tunnels to plot the downfall of Americans. The secret tunnels joined village to village and often passed beneath American bases. Hidden beneath they lived underground for years, getting married, giving birth, going to school. They even built hospitals where surgery was performed on causalities. They only came out at night to continue their battle against US army, attacking and disappearing, and attacking again, via camouflaged openings.

The tunnels were made in ingenious way. They dug all this with hand tools, hoes, shovels, filling reed baskets. They installed large vents so they could hear approaching planes. A small vent opened right in the middle of pale colored termite housing at the base of tree provided necessary air entry. Moreover these termite mounds were strong enough to withstand even bombardment. A smoke from dining room was taken out in tropical jungles in various criss- cross manner. Americans were flummoxed believing that it’s a smoke from burnt tree leaves that have been bombed previous day.

Was US army so naïve not to know about these tunnels? Of course not, Initially U.S. military sent in troops, but quickly realized it was a death trap for any American to go inside. Later the U.S bombed it so heavily that they made this tropical forest completely defoliated and devastated. However, even these bombardments turned out to be to be futile against the well-constructed tunnels that were built under strong hard clay soil. All Americans succeeded in creating numerous B-52 craters that are visible even today. In sheer desperation, Americans deployed "Tunnel Rats,” specially trained slimmer americans to lead an assault directly into the tunnels using chemicals and hunting dogs. The clever Guerillas foiled this by using American made shaving cream and cigarettes to confuse the dogs. If this was not enough, numerous hidden trap doors and gruesomely effective yet imaginative booby traps made sure that if any American soldier still managed to make it closer , the floor would suddenly give away to lethal pits that housed fire hardened, poison coated metal picks .

Now after two decades, the foliage and trees have grown back. Today, tourist can experience part of these tunnels. The tunnel has diameter barely enough to fit human torso. Its hot, small, creepy and dark. If one can make it to level one, that is 3.5ft High x 2feet wide fitted with every 10 feet a dim light bulb, one can pass a test of claustrophobia. Level 3 is at 30 feet under ground and I wonder if anyone can make it. Even after making it in level 1, once you surface out, you will be drenched in sweat.

It is highly unlikely that Saddam Hussein may have been to Ku Chi Tunnels, but what he did to hide from American army was perhaps just a mouthpiece of Ku Chi. if Saddam were to replicate Ku Chi in Baghdad, it would have been another catastrophe for American army in Iraq (not that they are out of it!)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Greatest Movie Characters in Bollywood of All Time



It is natural for every movie producer and his team to possess a dream of making a movie that will bring a kudos, awards, glory, and money. However, beneath all that lies a latent passionate desire to create a character that has never been existed and would go on to make a benchmark forever. Story author. Scriptwriter, Director, and actor are all are on mission to delineate the character traits, facets and present it in form that will be adored by audience.

Premiere Movie Magazine published a list of the all time 100 Greatest Movie Characters in Hollywood film history. According to them. they chose these characters who took every one of us over the rainbow, shook and stirred us and made us accept them in their true form - good or evil – so much so that we latched them for ever to make them eternal larger than life characters.

It would be interesting to delve into history of Bollywood and come out with comparable list. This job wont be easy as Bollywood is as vibrant as Hollywood when it comes to scripting of character. After all, India is less a country than a continent when it comes to diversity in terms of personality nuances.

With my limited knowledge of bollywood and my personal preferences, I attempted to list some of them who could qualify in being top 20- using the same criterian as that of movie magazine. I am aware that this list is always debatable and more so the rankings The appropriate way would be to have an opinion poll like Premier movie magazine . But there is no doubt that Gabbar Singh. Mogambo, Munnabhai and Anand would be there for sure.

Character Actor Movie
1 Gabbar Singh ....Amjad Khan........Sholay
2 Mogambo ..........Amrish Puri.........Mr India
3 Anand ................Rajesh Khanna.....Anand
4 Munnabhai ........Sanjay Datt......... Munnabhai MBBS
5 Mr India ............Anil Kapoor......... Mr India
6 Basanti.............. Hema Malini.........Sholay
7 Shahanshah ......Amitabh ................Shehanshah
8 Rama Shetty ....S. Amrapurkar..... Ardha Satya
9 Bhiku Mhatre....Manoj Bajpai......... Satya
10 Don .................Amitabh Bachchan.Don
11 Sher Khan...... Pran....................... Zanjeer
12 Kabuliwala ....Balraj Sahani...........abuliwala
13 Sikandar ........Amitabh Bachchan ..Mukkandar Ka Sikandar
14 Raju Guide .. Dev Anand............... Guide
15 Umrao Jaan ....Rekha .....................Umrao Jaan
16 Vijay Dinanath Chauhan....Amitabh. Agnipath
17 Bhuvan ... .......Amir Khan.................. Lagan
18 Guddi .............Jaya Bhaduri............... Guddi
19 Satyapriya .....Dharmendra.............. Satyakam
20 Pakeezah .......Meena Kumari........... Pakeezah


There are so more characters that I would have loved to include : Mona Darling: Bindu : Yadoon Ki Barat, Babu Rao : Paresh Rawal : Hera Pheri, Raja Babu : Govinda: Raja Babu, Bobby : Dimple Kapadia: Booby, Shakal : Ajit: Yadoon Ki Barat, Julie : Laxmi : Julie, Jijaji : Om Prakash: Chupke Chupke, Bhavani Shankar : Utpal Datt: Golmal, Devdas : Dilip Kumar: Devdas
Munna: Amir Khan: Rangeela,

Thursday, August 11, 2005

BRO: Unsung heroes of Independent India


The term martyr brings us an image of soldier dieing on battlefield. However, if one were to embark on serpentine roads of any high altitude border terrain, it does not take long to dawn upon the futility of term martyr - applicable only for wartime heroes. Here at altitude of 10,000 ft plus with steep inaccessible Himalayan Mountains on one side and deep gorge opposite; countless workers, engineers create a Herculean task of carving roads out of inhospitable and difficult terrain.

The organization that does this task without due recognition or media publicity is Border Roads Organization (BRO).

At every difficult cantilever bridge, one realizes that these bridges are not just built by mortal ingredients of steel, concrete, but also with the sweat, blood of men of the Border Roads Organization of India. And this comes with steep price beyond monetary value. In one year alone BRO loses hundreds of its valiant men to militancy, natural calamity and road accidents in difficult terrains. These men who always are in the shadow of death do posses great sense of humor. This is reflected in many warning traffic signs that admonish drivers against reckless driving. These unsung heroes who come from all parts of India, contribute their knowledge, skills and mite to the defense of their motherland.

The Border Roads Organization (BRO) was brainchild of Pandit Nehru. Launched in May 1960, it has now grown into an organization that has constructed nearly 30,000 kms of roads by cutting through rocks and created 12,000 plus meters of permanent bridges by sheer ingenuity of engineering. Today, BRO is also building airfields, hospitals in high altitude terrains. If building roads and bridges were not enough, they are engaged in clearing snow in winter and in landslides in monsoon. The daredevil spirit of BRO is admirable when they slog subzero temperatures and in conditions almost beyond human endurance to keep crucial mountain passes open throughout the year and keep the hostile border accessible to artillery support and supplies. Had it not been for BRO; Ladakh, higher peaks of Himachal, the Kashmir Valley and the dizzying heights of Sikkim may not have ever been part of India.

When next time, you travel to border areas of India and see a sign board of “ Border Road Organization “, Don’t treat this as another construction and contracting company but a spirit that imbibe “Shramen Sarvam Sadhyam” .

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mekong Delta : Blessing to Vietnam's Vastland



The simile of a river journey to a human life is always fascinating. Benign source of rivulet on the top of the mountain to ‘a nascent innocent baby’ ; bubbling gushing streams hitting the plains to ‘a youthful exuberance ‘, meandering curvatures in tumultuous terrain to ‘uncertain midlife crisis ‘. Extending this corollary, merging of river to sea would tantamount to the death of a human being. However, I often wondered how this end would be like. Does River embrace an ocean the same way an enlightened person after leading fulfilling cherished life would do or Would there be a violent struggle of river to abdicate her identity much the same way a mortal human being would do so by desperately clutching to life only to succumb against his will? Much to my chagrin, the answer turned out to be later when I visited Mekong Delta in South Vietnam – a place 80 kilometers away from Ho Chi Minh City.

The sight of Mekong River with all her gusto and brute force carrying with her enormity of eroded soil was astounding. Spiraling muddy brown alluvial water taking with her everything that comes in her grasp can make any aqua-phobic person go weak in his knees. Amidst all those undercurrents, navigating in a small wooden motorboat guarded by no more than few tires can be anything but threatening. However, this choppy ride turn into sedate harmony as one enters one of many tributaries of river Mekong. The place turns into pristine Venice with a magnificent woven web of canals interspersed by numerous islands. You can see every hub of activity such as markets, stores, shipyards, repair shops conducted on its banks with tiny islands connected with bamboo bridges.

Mekong Delta is a place that brings Mekong river originated from tranquil Himalayan mountain top of east of Tibet to South China Sea . One spare day in Ho Chi Minh city is enough to be part of this sprawling delta created by this tenth largest river in the world . On way to Mekong Delta , one can see a familiar sight of conical hats wearing farmers with their buffaloes harvesting rain soaked rice paddies.

People on these Mekong islands depend their livelihood on making products from their abundant natural resources like coconut candy from fresh grounded coconut s, banana nut wine and souvenirs made from bamboo and coconut shells. Another noticeable product is a large bottle of whisky soaked with Cobra; it seems this potent drink is panacea for lack of libido and all sorts of illness. The additional bonus comes by entertaining tourists with Vietnamese music and fruits. Houses are built on the edge of the canals - often with the help of every part of coconut tree - have a cage like bamboo structure beneath their homes on these waterways to house fishes. As the fishes grew, they sell the whole batch to city traders and start with new ones. The islands are connected with delicate bamboo bridges called ''Cau Khi'' or monkey bridges.

It is interesting for any outsider to be in the company of all tropical fruits such as Pineapple, Grapefruits, Mangustan, Rambutan, Longan, Papaya, Guava, Jackfruit, and Banana. With a short life span, most of these fruits neither can be picked green nor can be stored for long. Best way to enjoy these fruits is to be there while they ripe over trees. We were lucky to grab Longan. Food at Mekong delta can be a treat. Fried elephant ear fish with cucumber and mint wrapped on flimsy rice paper make Mekong rolls, they are to be savored with local Soya based sauce and it tastes Yummy ! A local lass prepares these rolls except putting in your mouth.
Mekong delta water tracts have done wonders to Vietnam in terms of fertility. Just outside delta, vast lands have all drenched in water making it rich land for rice. Local people refer them as “co bay thang canh'', meaning the land is so large that the cranes can stretch their wings as they fly. Today, this region is one of Vietnam's highest producers of rice crops, vegetables, and fruits.

If one were to visit Ho Chi Minh City, one must not miss Mekong delta. For me. It definitely fueled my interest to visit Sunderban and Amazon delta.