My Year In Pictures: 2016

Time doesn’t fly, I’m certain of that.

I’m just being honest.

It’s been a long, weary year and I was actually beginning to wonder if it was going to end at all. And I think this has been a horrible year. Not just because of what’s been happening in the world, but also—more so—because it’s been a year of disappointments, despair and facing harsh realities on a more personal level.

Nevertheless 2016 did have its moments; and here I am telling you about some of these momentary instances of happiness.

January.
I’d bought a new 70-300 and was running wild around my terrace with it. And this was the first bird I photographed with the new lens.
A beautiful Coppersmith Barbet, right here in Calcutta.

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We’d gone to visit a farm somewhere in the suburbs and I ran around with the tripod a bit. And I found this Indian Roller poised on a tree. Brilliant hues of blue and ochre, lit up by the early sun. It had either been drenched by the morning dew or had ventured to the water-body nearby—both highly unlikely—but the wet feathers add to the beauty of this portrait.

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Sometime around March when it was slowly beginning to heat up, I ran into this Commander butterfly in the backyard, and I haven’t seen one since. It was sitting on a red scarf, when photographed, and flew off soon after I took this picture.

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While gazing out of my window after a tropical summer storm one afternoon, I found this Black Drongo gazing intently back at me. This isn’t a black-and-white picture, by the way. It was dark and cloudy and seems monochrome. Besides the Black Drongo was, well, black too.

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I never meant to click this picture. Returning home one day in May, I was experimenting with my camera from the front seat of the car, wondering whether I should photograph the sky or not and was, incidentally, on Manual Focus.
This was what I shot (quite by mistake.)

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On a weekend visit to my grandma’s in another part of the city, I found this dry branch from her bonsai and these little bottle-neck flies sitting on it: upside down. I think it’s the background which is making flies look nice.

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We’d been asked to do a photography project on ‘Cityscapes’ from school and I scoured the city for something unique.
I chanced upon this scene in the suburbs of Calcutta.
And this picture contains the essence of India’s march towards modernisation. As sleek high-rises are built, the shanties in front remain; poverty remains; economic inequality remains. The poor are left all alone and forgotten.

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Around September when the festivities of India were just beginning, I found this Barn Owl outside on our portico one night. I used my in-built camera flash. I tried to capture it in flight, but in vain. Need more practice, I guess.

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Everyone goes around during Durga Puja photographing the same stuff over and over again. I tried something new—well not entirely, new. I saw something like this somewhere online—and was rewarded just last week with a first prize in a photography competition where this was my entry.

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The year was drawing to a close, and we visited some acquaintances in rural Bengal. They had a farm sort of thing, and I found this very shy lamb following its very annoyed mother everywhere around. I wonder if the mother was called Mary, by any faint chance.

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Our mandatory wildlife visit this year was to Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. Old and weary, this Indian Bison lost one horn—and his place in the pack—and was mournfully chewing away in a gloomy part of the forest.

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On one of our safaris, we drove right through a whole tribe of Grey Langurs. They were such a lively lot: chattering, munching leaves, playing around and—of course—scratching each other.
This husband was photographed consoling his despondent wife (girlfriend?) or/and picking out lice from her untidy hair.

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A wonderful way to end our last safari (and this year.) This is the tigress Chhoti Tara of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, who was supposedly crossing the tracks (as she does almost everyday) to meet her lover/husband. I won’t say this photograph is beautiful, because what is really beautiful is the tigress: regal, dignified and gravely expressive.

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Burning Bright

This is an old article, published in 2015’s school magazine. It’s actually halfway decent for what it is. (It’s mine, as usual.)
The writing here is a bit childlish, but bear with me; I was twelve when I wrote this.

(Don’t talk about this’to the guys at school, though. My article got printed bereft of most grammatical errors while others’ were replete with them.)


It was around Christmas, I remember.

Most of us who lived in the Northern Hemisphere were freezing. In Madhya Pradesh, it was six degrees—about the same temperature as Times Square, New York, at noon. And where we were, it felt like zero degrees.

It was in the early hours of dawn; even the sun was too tired to start shining its dazzling but ineffective light upon a cold world.

The sky was dark and the only thing that kept us awake on the jeep leading into the forest was the wind mercilessly lashing against our faces. The tips of our noses were frozen, our hands chilled. Only our eyes were alive, restlessly scouring the shadows for anything in the blackness that moved.

We were in a search for the most impressive beast of all—the tiger. Far away from Calcutta, far from the din and bustle of the city. Our jeep roared through the gates and into the wonders of Pench National Park.

Our driver, Ashok, was also one of the best tiger-spotters in the country. Carefully guiding us through the maze of dirt tracks, he led us down paths that crisscrossed right into the heart of the jungle. My heart sang because I was back in the forest—the forests that were dark and deep, with the sound of cicadas and the hoots of owls. The mahua and sal trees smelt heavenly, like a more refined version of the Forest Essentials soaps at home .

At first, there was nothing but a brief scurry and a flash of nimble legs that turned off from the path our jeep purred along. “Fox,” muttered Ashok. “Perhaps we will be lucky. Sahib, the one who sees the fox sees the king, as they say in the forest.”

But nothing much happened. Dawn broke into a misty morning and puffs of air wreathed out from our mouths every time we whispered, “Milla kuch? Any call?”

Yet all we saw was a group of young spotted deer getting on with an early breakfast. On their quick legs, they sped across the track before I barely managed to get my lens uncovered, let alone take a picture. The wild boars were as frightened, like the deer, and the very sound of the jeep’s engine made them rush into safer territory; but with less grace and more of a crashing stampede. Our school at two-thirty, I thought wryly.

There were langurs on the trees above us, all making a noise and chattering among themselves in high-spirited voices and occasionally trying to make faces at us.

“What about some elephants and giraffes?” I asked in a harsh whisper.

“Idiot,” said my father. “There are no wild giraffes in India. You should have spent more time on the Discovery channel than that annoying WWE!”

I subsided into a black gloom. No giraffes, no lions, and not even a flash of grey elephants. Deer and more deer, langurs, some sad looking pea-hens, a drongo whistling angrily at us . . . it was getting colder and colder and still no sign of her.

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Sambhar deer trying out yoga.

The road curved and coiled like a snake, right into the forest. I could sense that we were getting deeper and deeper. More deer. More boar. More langurs. More thoughts about elephants and giraffes.

Ashok was quite indifferent to the sight of the deer and not even a sambhar family could cheer him up. I guessed it was because he saw these animals every single day of the year.

“Crested serpent eagle.” Ashok ground the jeep to a halt and we saw a sharp-beaked angry-eyed bird on a single, leafless bough and all I could think was how dignified it was.

Sometimes there is this imaginary debate in my mind, wondering which was more regal, the tiger or the crested eagle. This grand bird of prey sat perched upon the branch, occasionally turning its mighty, white feathered chest and ochre eyes towards the awe-struck spectators with an imperious gaze and passing us by as lousy specimens too low for him to consider.

Our jeep moved on, and the eagle turned its neck to peer at us as we slowly backed away towards another path. I suppose the eagle wasn’t too pleased about us going . He probably could have done with a few more fascinated, foolish humans.

Perhaps I had dozed off. There was such a rhythmic sway to the ride—soothing and lulled by the wind and the cicadas and the sal smell—that I let my chin drop to my chest.

“Tiger.” It was Mum. I sat up with a jolt. Everyone was on their legs in the jeep, head craning for a better view.

“Don’t move,” whispered Ashok. There were whirrs and clicks and snaps of iPad covers. Flashing an extravagant coat of gold and black, she sauntered aimlessly towards our vehicle. In the twinkling of an eye , other jeeps had arrived. There were twenty-five humans spread over three jeeps, filming and photographing. And all the while, the tigress was answering the call of nature.

“Droppings—to mark territory,” whispered Ashok, as he changed a lens and took another snap. Later on, I figured, he would sell them to wildlife magazines.

The tigress finished her marking and began to walk again. This time towards us.

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Tigress Baghinnala, T-17.

I was desperate to get a good photograph. After all, this was the sole reason for buying the Canon DSLR camera a few months ago—a good picture to post online, a picture worth my grit, a picture that showed the regality of the wild, and what a great mistake we are making by killing these majestic creatures.

The distance between us lessened—twenty feet! Ten feet! Five! The animal was dangerously close. I could have patted her with my bare hands. So close!

I forgot that I had a camera; that I could have told Ashok to start the engine and plow her down at forty kilometres per hour, because I was powerful—the representative of a species that had conquered the air and the seas, the moon and the planets . . . I looked into her eyes and saw a piercing flash of fire.

What fearful hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry . . . ? 

All I could do was whimper in my mind and beg forgiveness for the sins of those who could even think of killing a beast as beautiful as this.

Her gaze softened.

Perhaps she remembered her own cubs at home, pleading not to be left alone. I don’t know what transpired.

Then as suddenly as she arrived, she turned around and began to walk loftily toward the bushes. Before being enveloped by the green, she turned once again. I tried to read her expression—fear, hatred, pity? I couldn’t understand.

By the time my thoughts’d dissolved, she was gone. All that remained were three jeeps and their twenty passengers, overcome by awe.

Exodus

This is an article that got published in our school magazine last year. It’s slightly dated but it’s still pretty relevant. There are some factual inaccuracies but that’s because a lot has changed n the political landscape since I wrote this.


Please comment below about your thoughts on the issue; I’d be glad to see more fruitful debate ensue within the comments section.

All photographs are mine.


The five-hour-long train from Vienna was dull; more so since it was dawn.

I made myself snug on the seat, wrapping a warm blanket protectively over me as I sat. I tried to peer out of the window on my left, but the blackness outside—broken in a few patches in the sky by the early rays of the sun—was all that responded to my eyes as they darted from one place in the compartment to another.

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A typical Central European countryside.

I thought of  the verdant, green, windmill-dotted meadows I might have passed by if it were day; the scene would have been idyllic in every way—pale blue skies, feathery clouds, small red-roofed huts. Svelte deer would be poised nimbly on rocks in the steeper places, where the mountains coasted almost abruptly to a halt.

The man switched to English. What he said made us shudder: not in fear, but with a mixed sentiment of anticipation and insecurity.The EuroCity train suddenly screeched to a stop. We sat up, startled, as did the others in the compartment. Out of nowhere, a voice started speaking in German. It was the train driver on the microphone. Uncertainty passed through the eyes of our fellow passengers, which gave way to expressions of sheer skepticism.

The next stop, five kilometers away, would witness refugees get onto the train. They would be taken to some place in Austria where the train was scheduled to stop.

Sure enough, five minutes later, our train stopped, at what, I supposed, was maybe the least important station in all of Austria.

I peered outside. Everything was a bright golden colour, having been bathed in the  rays of the sun. And there was a crowd outside—a big one. A moment later, an assortment of men, women, teenagers, and wailing babies trooped into the compartment, distraught looks on their faces. Most of them carried huge, bulky suitcases and overloaded backpacks. The rest carried bundles of warm clothes—sweaters, mackintoshes, jackets, woolen caps, shawls, scarves—under their arms.

The German TT tried his best to be civil and shepherd them into the next compartment, apparently reserved for them. They finally marched into the section set aside for them.

The train sped onward.

I thought of Nicklesdorf, the place on the Austria-Hungary border where our bus had passed through on the day we came to Vienna from Budapest. That was just a week before. The ‘border’ was just a small parking-lot-kind-of space, with about a kilometer of fencing, perhaps less. I just a glimpse of the site as our big Dr. Richard bus cruised through the gates.

That day, I really perceived what the white-haired fellow from BBC World News blabbered on about on the TV set all day.

I spotted my very first group of refugees on the border.

They formed an ugly blob of black paint upon the picturesque scenery. It was as if the crowd spoiled the beautiful sun, as it was settling for off-duty time—its day’s work done—down behind the hills that made a partial ring around the Autobahn.

A swarm of human beings, all huddled together as if they were reanimated corpses.

Most were speaking with each other. It was as if I could hear them, even through the AC and the closed windows of the bus; whispering, whimpering, whining. And I could hear the fear in their voices.

Wearing garish hues of pink and yellow, the children stamped about their mothers and fathers and uncles and aunts. The mothers and fathers and uncles and aunts flashed loud, kitschy shirts and trousers as well.

But I have to say that I was surprised; because barring the elderly, no woman wore a traditional Muslim burkha above their shoulders. All were dressed in laced tops with jeans or trousers, with gaudily colored shawls above their heads.

These people, I knew, were émigrés—wait, no, refugees—from the north African and Middle-Eastern countries like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Liberia.

Around them were half-a-dozen policemen—all with their wireless man-packs crackling; they were dressed in navy-blue uniforms. The helmets around their heads spelled “Polizei” in frightening black letters.

Today, I caught sight of another group of refugees aboard the train.I felt sorry for the refugees—homeless, most without their family, in an unfamiliar country which was as alien to them as they to it.

Then again in the Praha hlavní nádraží, the Prague Main Station, I had another encounter with refugees.

They were simply everywhere. The men were jostling in a crowd, trying to enter the room (guarded by the Policie, now) where tickets were being sold for trains to Berlin.

The women and children swarmed the floors, sitting on their backpacks, tapping away or blaring on mobile phones, working out hand-me-down jigsaw puzzles donated by kind citizens.

The people were strikingly handsome—even the women. I suppose that’s how it is in the Middle-East. The men were tanned and muscular with jet-black hair. Most women had black hair too, but with shapely faces and bodies. And the children skipped about happily, unaware of the turmoil around them.

Throughout history, people have migrated in great numbers for countless reasons. In days past, people were forced to resettle themselves as slaves, not only, say, in America but also in Russia under Catherine the Great and before the Second World War during Hitler’s slaughter towards the Jews. Indians themselves migrated in droves from both West Punjab (Pakistan) and East Bengal (Bangladesh) post-1947.

Right now the world experiences migration again. Syrians, Somalians, Eritreans—if they can’t use the land route to Europe, with the strictly guarded borders of the East European countries, they use the more dangerous sea route across the Mediterranean. Most boats—small dinghies with too many travelers—overturn. But that offers no discouragement to the rest, so we can only speculate on the extent and magnitude of the ethnic and communal battles that are the reason for this large-scale migration.

Such is their frenzy.

I’ve read that this migration is not only from war-hit countries controlled by callous military groups. Neighboring countries like Libya not only suffer from civil wars but also abject poverty, so it’s difficult for the European Union to distinguish a Libyan from a Syrian. More so, because these migrants have no specific documents with them when they cross borders.

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A meet organized by the public to collect funds for refugees.

They, I have heard, just gather enough to get onto a boat and move further off from the shores as fast as they can.

Freedom is the only thing on their minds; not food, not water, let alone documents. Only freedom and family.Most leaders of the EU have said time and again that they are and will be continuing to accept this wave of refugees from overseas, Syrian or Libyan or Timbuktoo-ian.

However, if this is the EU’s policy for acceptance, it will mean practically (and this is a conservative estimate) half of Africa will move across to Europe. Europe’s economy—which has a huge margin of development over that of Africa—will slowly and painfully bleed.

The people of Germany, Austria and most other countries welcome these people with open arms, I have seen. The EU, perhaps, wants to make amends for all the havoc its members wreaked on each other in the World Wars.

But what astonishes me most, is the case of Germany. Who will believe that this very nation meted out ruthless execution upon Jews, were the soul of the Holocaust and were the prime reason for the outbreak of the World Wars and other unspeakable disasters?

Under the iron-handed leadership of their Chancellor, Angela Merkel, Germany is—somehow—the most sought-after country, by the refugees, in the whole of Europe and the British Isles. I wonder if it is their strong economy that leads people to Germany. Jobs are for everyone. And there are so many jobs. I suppose that’s the ultimate dream for the jobless from the countries I mentioned.Is it their moral conscience to expiate their faults that drives them forward on this near-impossible quest?

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The Holocaust Memorial, Berlin.

To tell you the truth, I have no faith in the EU’s current policy.

Accepting, accepting, and accepting with so-called rules and regulations.

Some (questionably) brave leaders like Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary, have dared oppose the fierce leadership of Merkel; but I wonder if a civil war among countries that are protecting other people from other civil wars will be a good idea.

Earlier last year, David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain, said that this problem has only one solution: the savage military groups need to be cut at their roots. And I honestly share his views. Until we fight terrorism, instead of letting it rule over us, we’ll end up nowhere, and no better than what we were when we started.

Of late, Barack Obama has conducted a supposed agreement with Vladimir Putin to launch airstrikes upon the IS together.

The EU should stop having petty quibbles within itself and join these Superpowers. Only a united approach, from the world as a whole, can stop the IS.

After all, if Russia and the United States, two nations that have fought indirectly but furtively with each other in the last century, can join hands, I doubt the fact that Europe can’t.

C’est la vie

I’m not new to blogging.

I’ve had three blogs over the last few years. All have met with the same fate: irreparable failures. That’s mostly because I’m unimaginably lazy. I start strong: new aspirations, new ideas, new inspiration. Then it all fades into an inactive, unpublished-in-months  dereliction.

The first blog I had—unarguably the most successful—was a joint venture with a friend. I went around publicising it everywhere. My very own blog. My very own writing. My very own little block of space on the internet.

Then I realised it wasn’t going to work out. I wasn’t exactly the ideal PR guy, I figured. (I was still marginally better than the significant other, but still.)

Besides, I was being unfair to everyone I advertised it to. That was because I had contributed to less than one-fourth of all the posts on the blog. Busy with PR, to be honest. (Mostly laziness though.)

In my defence I can say that I was always stuck in the process of writing. There was always that little paragraph to be finished, or that photograph to be edited. But hey. We both know that is as big a lie as my Moral Science answer script.

(Moral Science is the most loathed subject in convent schools. Especially here in India. It has successfully earned cult status as a subject more annoying than 2nd Language, with a growing hater-list. And it’s a subject you just can’t seem to get rid of. The lessons are boring: toned-down school versions of Mother Teresa’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. The textbooks are boring: toned-down school versions of Mother Teresa’s sermons. The teachers are boring: toned-down school versions of Mother Teresa. And the answers during examinations are one big fraud. Like for my answer, for example, on what I should do when my best friend offers me a cigarette and if I reject it costs us our friendship but makes me a better human being,  I write the exact opposite of what I will actually  do—finish the first and ask for more—and bag my full marks.)

I honestly have nothing against Mother Teresa. She’s swell.

(Moral Science exam answer.^) Just kidding. Seriously though, she’s swell.

Sorry. I digressed from the topic. That’s something I tend to do quite often. Stop reading my blog—or future variants of the same—if you’re not fond of digression.

Anyway. My failed ex-blogs. I had one of my own until very recently. Both were catastrophes. No posts, no activity. Just another blog stagnating on the net.

Now its time to start anew. Start over. I can’t help but feel this vague sense of distaste. Another investment in futility? Let’s hope this isn’t another one.

This is the first time my first post hasn’t included a childish introduction to myself, overrun by crass teenage humour. I think that’s a sign for better things to come. (Or not.)

To a new beginning.

We’re ready to roll, folks.