Cameras Don’t Float

There is a game which I played as a young kid: Two players would place their fingers at a neutral position between each other and a judge (or it could be the players alternatively as well) would start saying “Tota udd, kao udd, cycle udd” (parrot fly, crow fly, cycle fly). The idea was that you are supposed to lift your finger high if the object, bird or animal did fly but not otherwise. I hate that game.

With the lack of my previous roommate (Sharing is caring) I have been having a fairly pleasant stay in Israel. Each weekend has been an absolute treat but still I have been itching for a challenge in the beautiful outdoors. In came Finjan!

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Finjan is an excellent hiking group in Israel. Mmm! Sorry, sorry, sorry! It is originally just a pan used for preparing coffee by (spoilt) Israelis while they hike but the group appropriately appropriated the brand. Hiking here is not easy as it was in Vancouver. In Vancouver you could take buses to many wonderful hiking spots very easily. Here, especially if you want to go out during the holidays, buses do not ply due to shabbat and you need a good friend or some complicated sherut and hitchhiking maneuvers. Finjan goes to some fantastic places and lets you come along if you are quick enough with the booking; this I was for a wonderful trip this weekend.

But wait Nishant! Weren’t you supposed to finish your Europe trip writing and what about that short story? Well well! They are much bigger projects. Let me distract myself momentarily.

So this was essentially my first hike in Israel. I arrived early in the morning with half-open eyes to bus stop and was welcomed by the smell of Israeli Finjan coffee and minuscule cookies; I had been taught quite correctly, “The cake is a lie!” After a brief breakfast stop we made our way to the Golan! The Golan, a region captured from Syria in the 6 day war of 1967 is rich in water (a rather important commodity in Israel) and greenery. Now it forms an important strategic territory for Israel. As the bus journey extended longer into the morning I started missing a book to read or a piece of paper to write on; suddenly the lady in front of me started discussing India. It turned out that she was from the German embassy who had spent quite some time in Mumbai. There wasn’t another boring moment in the bus journey. Slowly the harsh desert environment slowly transformed into (essentially) lush greenery around the Sea of Galilee; the fishes multiplied, the loaves multiplied and souls walked on the water (Miracles). At least one of them did happen but let us get back to that in a minute.

We started with a short walk to Umm el Kanatir or the Mother of the Arches; it is an archaelogical site dating back to the sixth to the eighth century.

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The site gets its name from the arch that you see behind the canopy. Supposedly a tired archaeologist on a rather hot afternoon lay down in the dirty pool on the right to discover that he had a white back. It is suspected that the white material was for dying clothes back in the ages. People think that it is because of this profitable business were people here able to afford to build these intricate structures.

Whatever I say or write here will fall flat before this magical piece: Rebuilding Jewish History. Supposedly devastated by a great earthquake from the 741 AD  and yet it stands again today in parts; is it short of a miracle?

Yeshua Dray, an interior designer by day and a magician by the night with some intelligent use of technology rebuilt the structure from its ruins. It is complicated to explain why this is so important for Israel; I leave it for another another day.

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The marks on the rocks were used as an identification. Imagine this as pieces of a complicated 3-dimensional jigsaw which was to be put together; from my naive point of view an obvious challenge is that you don’t really know if there are pieces missing or what the structure is supposed to look like but I am sure that there are many more.
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The eagle, menorah and many other Jewish motifs

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Cranes don’t babies carry (or drop).

After reflecting on long broken temples back in India, I trudged back to the bus; it was time for my dose of “rush”.

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“This is a water hike, everything will get wet!”  thundered the kind Ariel. Well, of course! Doesn’t everyone already know that? Sadly I had left my change of clothes and towel back at home. Meekly borrowing a friend’s towel I changed into my swimming trunks which I wore with my hole ridden running shoes and a dirty white t-shirt; I am quite a fashion riot, ain’t I? Comfortable nevertheless we entered the eerily muddy Zaki stream, not very far from the ISIS controlled Syria. Slip, splash, boom! This was a sequence we heard through out the trip. Many bruises and pricks! The floor was lined by slippery stones and the sides were with thorny bushes. By the way such hikes are a perfectly romantic date in my opinion; connections made while the curses run wild and the bruises are tended to are probably the strongest possible bind. Sadly I don’t really curse.

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A brief rest spot

It was very interesting company and the water went very well with the heat. Suddenly I lost track of the ground beneath my feet and realised that the only way to cross the stream was to swim, that to with my shoes and my backpack on. It wasn’t that bad, at least that is what I thought; looking at the concern on my co-hikers faces for me I realised that may be it wasn’t that smooth. Well I survived. The water had made my bag very heavy. So I decided to have a look and maybe have a bite of my dry fruits. To my horror they were wet. I think I had left my bag-chain open and water had streamed into my bag as I swam. My brownie stash was now floating into the water and I could see that the fish were extremely excited. As Ariel (friend, organiser and guide) was purportedly looking the other way a few of us decided to jump from a rope hanging above. I decided to capture some excellent shots.

This is when I realised that I had left the ziplock bag guarding my camera open as well. Instead of taking out the battery I switched it on to capture:

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The fellow landed right in front of me and my camera braved the moist onslaught, sadly, for the last time. I kept on trying to switch it on and now the camera is fried. Stupidity and greed are expensive, aren’t they? Possibly, I might have been smarter if we had also played the swimming game along with the flying one as a kid!

I cleared the water out of my bag, rested my grief for later and focussed on the hike which still remained fun. A lot of slipping, splashing and swimming in the cool, softly flowing waters. It was as if I was learning how to walk again; I am not very hopeful of swimming though.

The hike ended on dry land with a distance to walk. I wanted to throw out every soggy bit from my bag in the garbage and so I reached out for my sandwiches! Surprisingly they were completely dry. If only it had switched places with my camera, I would have been so much happier. “So is life”, quipped a co-hiker.

We ate and drank as I waited for my t-shirt to dry and I got to flaunt my well-chiseled body; I might be heading to the gym this morning just so that you know. The long ride back was enlivened by some wonderful conversations and newly gained knowledge of Iraqi and Yemenite mothers serving delicacies and Gat (Gat) on Friday afternoons in the Carmel Market; something that I have to try soon. There on, I went home for some massive cleaning and mourning.

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The Sea of Galilee with Jordanian hills not so far away
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Is it a hospital or a grave? Only time will tell!

I leave you with the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoYBvPeQiFQ
I haven’t watched the video and I suggest that you do not either.

L’hitraot!

 

War and Terrorism

How to protect your borders? How do you deal with terrorists? How do you deal with your own people who are supportive of terrorists? How far will you go to protect your ‘people’? I am posting this now because many concurrent events around the world (and not far away from home either). 

These are not easy questions and people who take one side or the other are stupid! 

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2BqrpLaDVw

Sharing is Caring

I have been sharing rooms and apartments all my life. As a baby with my parents, as I grew up with my sisters and then as I grew up further with my brothers and my grandfather. I don’t remember much about the former but about the latter I remember a few things. 

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 I was terrified of the dark and hence I would clasp my sister’s hand till I fell asleep. Later as I grew out of my fear, I have fond memories of having mosquito killing competitions and singing caricatured songs through the night; they were caricatured not because we were talented song-writers but more because I wouldn’t remember the lyrics of the songs I wanted to sing. Necessity is the mother of invention. Of course some other people might not have enjoyed this as much as we did.

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Anyways, I eventually grew up and a day came when the erstwhile young hatchling had to fly out of the nest and so I did. I remember my roommate at ISI then welcomed me with open arms. Those were very strange times. A young 18 year old, just out of home with no clue about the world shares a room with his compatriot. What started with open arms ended with miffed ends and I eventually shifted to single room (or a double room with a single occupant). But to anyone who has stayed in an Indian hostel one should know that you are essentially sharing you room with the entire hostel. These were fun times, many ups and downs and in the end I was happy to get out. That is when I flew to Canada. 

The cold lands! I spent 6 years in Vancouver. The first few months in Vancouver were not exactly fun but thanks to my nice roommates and some great friends I managed to get over those dark days. I was sharing an apartment on the 15th floor by the sea shore (the view!!) with 2 Chinese folks Xiaolei and Wei and an American fellow. The Chinese folks were students in electrical engineering department and this was essentially my first introduction to another culture (not saying that India is a huge homogeneous bob). They would often be stuck with some problems in linear algebra and that got the conversation started. In those days I learnt a lot about the Chinese culture which was essentially closed to me back in India. This was also the time when I did not even know how to boil water and my talent showed in various shades, for instance almost burning down the microwave, coating the hot plate with a layer of Indian plastic and starting my own entomological garden. My roommates were kind. This is also when I discovered the wonderful thing called pasta. Boil some pasta, put in some vegetable and add chilli powder and jeera powder and some Indian spices and woaw you have a meal. Xiaolei was truly enamoured by this and I had to invent some elaboration of intermediate steps to make it more credible. He of course took it to another level and added meat to eat. I left eating meat. Anyways we became good friends and spent a decent time hiking the following summer.

The seashore 15 floor apartment turned out too expensive to keep and hence I moved to a cheaper apartment next summer. It was again a four bedroom apartment but two vacant rooms and a friend from Iran, Javad. He was great fellow and I remember many long discussions of ethics, philosophy and such. But the most notable was the kheer incident: People who know me would know that I love cooking and I love sweets. So there was this one day when I was cooking kheer (a rice pudding). Javad often would be in the kitchen in bare minimums, singing the farsi version of Speak softly love (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQBW6G0hSrs) and cooking (of course in my absence). Anyways, so I finished preparing kheer and I asked Javad, “Would you like some kheer?” Suddenly the song stopped and big dark eyes glared at me. “Did my friends say something to you?” I was thoroughly confused and mumbled, “Kheer” pointing to the cooker. This was followed by loud guffaws; it turned out that kheer meant penis in farsi.

This was also the time when I realised that I would not have enough money for PhD applications next term and so I had to look for a cheaper place. Desperate, I moved into the first place I found. A one bedroom apartment where I would be in the living room and finally save some money. It was a shit hole to start with. For the past 6 years (this how long we had the records) this place had been occupied by Indians. I stayed there for about four and half years (by the way it is still occupied by Indians). Anyways, it was this shit hole. The entire place was crawling with disgusting insects and what not. Even the fridge had garbage (to prevent the odour from spreading?). I remember opening a drawer and almost loosing consciousness because of extremely pungent smell (Beat you H2S!). I will not disgust you with lurid details. There I began the arduous task of cleaning the apartment and brightening the interiors. I shared this place with someone in the education department and I don’t remember much more. He left in a years time and I decided to stay at UBC for my PhD.  My friend Krishna joined in. It was great having him around and we had long conversations about a great variety of topics. Cooking sessions and commonalities of all kinds formed a basis of a great friendship. It was around then a newcomer Anujit wanted a place for a few days before moving and a good friend Aniruddha also needed some transit time. So they joined in and sadly loved it. Of course this was against the rules but who cares? Well well! They loved it so much that wanted to bunk their new places and stay with us. I realised that 4 people is going to be tough and so played the party pooper showing Aniruddha the door; Anujit was new after all.

And there in comes a time I am not proud of, it is probably the only thing in my life that I regret. I was irritable for many reasons back then and I treated Anujit very poorly, being a rigid and a beastly roommate, eventually having him leave. Krishna had already left for India, still in the doldrums regarding what to do next. I am glad that Anujit is so forgiving to be still a great friend. Anyways, he was replaced by Marc: 

https://nishantchandgotia.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/the-lacey-story/

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Marc with all his curiosities is a great friend. He went through some very difficult (academic) times and I tried to lighten things at home, introducing him to what I knew of the great Indian cuisine. He in turn introduced me to the wonders of baking and often great mathematics. Gradually he really took to Indian cooking but lacked some patience. Once he was hungry and the cooker was taking too long too open. So he took off the whistle on the top by force and oh behold! He had a halo on the top of his head. No, no don’t worry! He, the cooker and the daal were all fine but there was a circle of turmeric on the ceiling.

Marc left and I was joined in by another dear friend Ankur who stayed in till the end of my stay in Vancouver. I realised here what a difference to life a like-minded person make. Far beyond me in many respects, Ankur brought some sanity to the apartment, taught me how to cook and many other things. I felt sad as I left!

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Haven’t you, o man in your 20s considered this before? I did and in the process found why Calvin’s father indeed never shared an apartment with several scantily clad female roommates. Searching for apartments in Tel Aviv wasn’t easy and by the end of things I was quite desperate and took up the first place that I could find in my budget. I was very low on money back then and had to save up enough for my trip to United states in a few months time. Well! The owner was very nice, the apartment was top-notch and I was sharing it with a pretty Israeli woman. What could be better? My friends, of course, had a field day and I, for one, thought of this as a great opportunity to learn some Hebrew if nothing else; the woman did not know any English. But instead I learnt quite quickly what happens to the best laid plans.

First day in the apartment, the lady asked for a light for her smoke. I had none and I suggested the stove. Soon the smell of weed filled the apartment and she gave me a lesson  via google translate in Israeli nationalism, why people with no grasp of Hebrew had no place in Israel. Then we argued about whether or not we needed a sofa; I was there for 4 months and there was no way I was going to shell out a dime. The apartment needed professional cleaning as well and being low on money I told her that I will pay for it next month. Next day I left for Jerusalem. It was early in the morning and as soon as I entered the kitchen I was viciously attacked by a bee and had to flee immediately. Well! Too bad. Next week when I was back I hear these loud complaints and she points out a rotten banana on the top of the fridge. I apologised and then she changed tac and started asking for the money for the cleaner. I reminded her that it was supposed to be the next month but she was adamant. In came her team of translators who tried to force me. Of course I am not your run-of-the-mill-kind; sadly neither was she!

Every night she would strut in at 3 in the night with horrible music, high heels and other female friends (who stayed over for the entire period of stay). This would of course wake me up, I would walk to her room, curse (which she sadly did not understand) and get her to shut up. But by then I would have lost my sleep. There I would lie on my bed, wide awake waiting for the morning. What can you do lying in your bed? No, no, no! That is not what I meant… So I would lie there, slowly my anger would subside and I would start thinking about things in life, philosophy and eventually return to my love, mathematics. But of course, I would not switch on the lights for that would completely kill the chances of sleep. Lying there I think I arrived at some brilliant (for me) mathematical ideas which might be useful later. Unintended consequences, huh? Touché!

Lesson: All roommates have a ‘use’! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4CEk47P8-k

Well I did not have much sleep for the four months and my clothes perennially stank of weed. I tried to return the favour by my horrible flute playing, guitar works, singing and the wonderfully sharp Indian cooking (Cough all the way to hell, you *****!). I sadly did not get much work done as a consequence and learnt grudgingly the pitfalls of a desperate measure. I also learnt that despite being flexible, I just can’t live with anyone and everyone; I too have some boundaries.

Well now providence has delivered me from the lady’s clutches and I am warm and comfortable warm in the cold US town of Providence, bracing myself for the roommate to arrive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8ZrN_pizyQ

Where The Child Dwelt

This Christmas I visiting Nazareth with a couple of friends, the place where Jesus spent his childhood. Although it is predominantly Arab town, its enthusiasm for Christmas was quite overwhelming. I enjoyed very much its food (the falafels finally taste good), the Christmas mass, the archaelogical sites nearby and the people (hitchhiking was not that hard and very pleasant). The first comment in the pictures have further details.

Photographs: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/vd6yot8oey6ibiq/AAD5nQ-kusFAsI6AgKfVNBXva?dl=0

 

 

Hanukkah

Hello people,

I come again from the holy land with morsels of everyday life; it is strange that I have been here all this while and it still feels like a stranger! I guess the place has a lot to offer and it is not very difficult for it to spring surprises at me. However one must remember that strangers, too, can be good friends.

Life in Vancouver was nice and comfortable but in many senses boring. The city had little life to offer beyond the beautiful peaks and the cold beaches; the lack of history was conspicuous. I am not yet sure how comfortable life can be here at Tel Aviv but certainly the historical corridors are always open for exploration and to a curious mind like mine it is not less than a treasure trove. I hope that after my return from Boston I will have a lot more time to explore.

So what brings me here today? Yesterday (December 14th) was the last day of an eight-day festival called the Hannukah. Two other major festivals called Yom Kippur and Sukkot have already passed me by without much of a whisper; I was too occupied finding time and space to breathe. Finally I feel settled enough to  see and hear some of what is going around. Sometime last week I was passing by a park and suddenly I saw a lot of children and a stand which can accommodate nine candles. Curious, I approached one of the adults to hear more about this, only to be offered a Sufganiyot (doughnuts filled with jelly) and a story in return. Such small things make life so much more livable.

Thousands of years ago, the last few fragments of Alexander, the Great (tormenter) still tormented the earth. One such fragment, King Antiochus IV Epiphanes banned practice of Jewish tradition, took over Jerusalem and looted and desecrated the holy temple in Jerusalem (called the second temple). At this time a small  Jewish group revolted and using guerrilla tactics retook the city and the temple. In Jewish tradition, the menorah (lamp/candle) in the temple had to be lit every night but there was only enough (undesecrated) oil for a single night. The story goes that the oil instead lasted for eight nights; the time required for the new batch of oil to be prepared. Hence the eight days of celebration, with eight candles for each day (the ninth one is for lighting the others). The stand which can accommodate nine candles is called a Hanukkiah.

As all good tales should be, it too is a combination of many stories, sub-stories and rife with philosophical interpretations but I am not that well aware! What I am aware of are the many treats I had throughout the week. I had three super-warm invitation; I feel well fed and the sweet sound of children and adults singing the Hanukkah songs is still ringing in my ears. I find yet again, Israel to be closer to home than Vancouver despite such grave differences.

 

A Hanukkah Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gMTvGmpVbI (strangely I couldn’t find better versions and I don’t want to share videos from personal family gatherings that I attended) and who doesn’t want to hear an Acappella https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvbLJ-1jsrE .

One of the songs is the Ma’oz Tzur. One can see in the song how the seeds of mythology and history travel in verse down the ages (not much unlike our tradition). Here is the English translation from Wiki (Hanukkah is often translated as a dedication):

My refuge, my rock of salvation! ‘Tis pleasant to sing your praises.
Let our house of prayer be restored. And there we will offer you our thanks.
When You will have slaughtered the barking foe.
Then we will celebrate with song and psalm the altar’s dedication.

My soul was sated with misery, My strength was spent with grief.
They embittered my life with hardship, When enslaved under the rule of Egypt.
But God with his mighty power Brought out His treasured people;
While Pharaoh‘s host and followers Sank like a stone into the deep.

He brought me to His holy abode; Even there, I found no rest.
The oppressor came and exiled me, Because I served strange gods,
and drank poisonous wine. Yet scarcely had I gone into exile,
When Babylon fell and Zerubbabel took charge; Within seventy years I was saved.

The Agagite, son of Hammedatha, plotted to cut down the lofty fir;
But it proved a snare to him, and his insolence was silenced.
You raised the head of the Benjamite, but the enemy’s name You blotted out.
His numerous sons and his household You hanged upon the gallows.

The Greeks gathered against me, in days of the Hasmoneans.

They broke down the walls of my towers, and defiled all the oils.
But from the last remaining flask a miracle was wrought for the Jews.
Therefore the sages of the day ordained these eight for songs of praise.

O bare Your holy arm and hasten the time of salvation.

Wreak vengeance upon the wicked nation, On behalf of your faithful servants.
For deliverance has too long been delayed; And the evil days are endless.
O thrust the enemy into the shadows of death, and set up for us the seven shepherds.

I end now with some traditional Hanukkah fare (sorry for the poor quality of the photographs; you can hover over them to see the caption):

 

The Killing

I wrote this poem a very long time back. As I write these words I begin to question them. How may I attribute this authorship; Isn’t this piece getting ‘rewritten’ with days, hours, seconds and minutes? I am not sure; I do not understand. Irrespective, let us get back to what I was saying.

I wrote this poem a very long time back. In the present context it takes a strange hue which I did not foresee. The pen indeed is dangerous. Possibly such events are not new; it is or it is not, it is certainly not something which can be resolved by playing the blame game which many of us somehow like to indulge in; whether we are political or we are not. If we are not walking towards a resolution then why are we walking?

In any case, I somehow have mixed feelings for self-censorship and so I share this piece even though I cannot recognise it anymore.

The Killing

Do you still hear the dreadful wails?
That night they led her out as her calves watched,
She was silent for she knew
That time had come to milk the green pastures.

“Thud!” Down came the axe upon her head,
Splattered blood on the walls,
Struggled her limbs for the last breath of life,
But where was it to come from?

Some quipped that it was painless,
Others resigned to the greater good,
My eyes saw it and yet I was blind,
That fateful night when a mother died.

They relished the meat for days to come,
And when they were done,
I saw them gather around the pen,
For yet remained the calves.

Do you still hear the dreadful wails?
That day they led him out as his children watched,
He was silent for he knew
That time had come to reap the harvest of debts.

“Imbecile!” pronounced the council that day,
Burdening him for life and more,
He begged for mercy from door to door,
But where was it to come from?

Some quipped that his pains were over,
Others resigned to the nature of life,
My eyes saw it and yet I was blind,
That fateful day when a father died.

They ravished the spoils for days to come,
And when they were done,
I saw them gather around the farms,
For yet remained the children.