These two news items caught my eye over the last 2 days. They defy all parameters of common sense,religious convention and human rights and yet such things are increasing in many impoverished and lawless countries.Extreme ideologies seem to thrive best amidst poverty,illetracy and religion often gets hijacked by fringe lunatics seeking space in the centre.As usual women seem to be the primary sufferers

 

Somali women flogged for wearing bras

Reuters

  • Published: 00:00 October 17, 2009
     

Mogadishu () Somalia’s hardline militant group Al Shabab has publicly whipped women for wearing bras they say violate Islam by constituting a deception, north Mogadishu residents said on Friday.

The insurgent group amputated a foot and a hand each from two young men accused of robbery earlier this month. They have also banned movies, musical ringtones, dancing at wedding ceremonies and playing or watching soccer.

Residents said gunmen had been rounding up any woman seen with a firm bust and then had them publicly whipped by masked men. The women were then told to remove their bras and shake their breasts.

“Al Shabab forced us to wear their type of veil and now they order us to shake our breasts,” a resident, Halima, said.

“They first banned the former veil and introduced a hard fabric which stands stiffly on women’s chests. They are now saying that breasts should be firm naturally, or just flat.”

Officials of Al Shabab declined to comment.

Abdullah Hussain, a student in north Mogadishu, said his elder brother was thrown behind bars when he fought back a militant who humiliated their sister by asking her to remove her bra.

Men were not spared the ‘moral cleansing’. Any man caught without a beard has been publicly whipped.

“I was beaten and my hair was cut off with a pair of scissors in the street,” Hussain said.

 

AK 47 for contest winner

Kismayu:GDN 18th October

The 17 year old winner of a Quran recital and general knowledge competition organised by Al Shabaab rebels in Southern Somalia got an AK-47 gun,two hand grenades,a computer and an anti-tank mine as prizes.The runner up in the month long competition aimed at 10-25 year olds, a 22 year old, received an AK-47 and ammunition at the ceremony,where the rebels urged the parents to allow the children to learn how to handle weapons and fight. Somalia’s 18 year conflict pits Al Shabaab and Hizbul rebels against the UN-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

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Any trip to Mysore and its vicinity cannot be without developing a relationship with the mighty Kaveri,revered in the south on par with the Ganga maiyya of the northern India. For us who started the whole trip by landing at the Royal Orchid hotel situated inside the Brindavan gardens right behind the mighty wall of Krishnasagar Dam it was to be a total love affair with the sacred river.I post a photo blog of Kaveri in its various moods and of the lands that it nourishes with its bountiful waters (even now,inspite of the obstructions in its way via dams and the resultant TN/Karnataka water disputes).

The hotel Royal Orchid that provides awesome views of the Brindavan gardens.


 

This picture is taken from our hotel balcony.You can see the Brindavan gardens nestled at the foot of the mighty wall that holds back the restless (to flow on) Kaveri.


 
The water that the wall holds back.It being the monsoon season the dam was nearly full and seeing all that water it is hard to understand the wrangling between Tamilnadu and Karnataka over Kaveri water.
 

 
The water makes gentle lapping sounds on the side shown in the picture above but on the other side its is a different story.The mighty roar of the water is unbelievable and you can get an idea from this video:
 
 
We had climbed up from the hotel precincts on to the dam.Once up and busy taking pictures we were intrigued by the lack of tourists on the wall.The last time (1997) we were here it was a virtual mela on top.Then a friendly young man whizzing by on his motorbike stopped suddenly and told us to go down back to the hotel immediately as it was forbidden by security agencies to be on the dam.He and the few others who travel on it have special photo IDs that allows them to be there and that too only because their villages are in such a place that they need to use this road atop the dam to get to town and back.He also informed us that the whole area is monitored by CCTVs.Apparently about 8-10 years ago the late LTTE chief (Prabhakaran) had issued a threat against the dam and thereafter the public is not allowed. Hmm, needless to say we beat a hasty retreat and hoped like mad that no one would come looking for us after catching us on camera footage.Fingers crossed still.
 

 
 
The water then flows on and behind the wall to the left was the dining room of the hotel.We could see the water rushing past with an unbeliveble roar as we sat at our table.In fact the roar is a constant companion if you are staying in this hotel.It used to be the guest palace of the Maharaja of Mysore.
 
 
 
A view of the dam from the other side.
 

 
 
 
A shrine to the river .Sree Kaveri seems to be guarding the dam.The stairs on the two sides lead up to the top of the dam.In the evening a priest is at hand to help those who want to perform pooja here.
 

 
A statue of Sree Kaveri getting sprayed with the waters of Kaveri, inside Brindavan Gardens.
 
 

 
 
The waters nurture man and animal alike. Paddy sowing in full swing.
 

 
 
The Ranganathitu bird sanctuary is on the banks of the river Kaveri and because of  the many islets provides many species of migratory birds with ideal breeding grounds. It is a world within a world where the silence is broken only by the flap of birds’ wings and their calls.
 
 

 
Life on the banks of the river.
 
 
 
The intriguing round boats that are used to cross the river.I missed my ride due to lack of time.
 
 
 
Devotees visiting the Nimishambha temple throng to the river for a quick blessing of the sacred waters.
 
 
Another temple along the river.Notice the small idols including a ‘shivalinga’ on the rock and in the river waters.
 

 
 
I have posted the pictures of the river from a very small portion of its journey from source to mouth.How much more mesmerising it must be in many places along its journey,I can only wonder about.
 
EVER SINCE Pranab Mukherjee set the cat amongst the pigeons by asking ministers (Shashi Tharoor and SM Krishna) to move out of five star accomodations into state bhavans or other cheaper accomodations, the talk of cost cutting measures by and in the government has been at full throttle.

While a ‘large sized’ minister’ like Sharad Pawar refused straight away to travel by economy by pointing to his ample girth, SM Krishna told the media hounding him that he would continue to make similar arrangements ( five star) for his accomodation till the official residence has been renovated to his liking.

To try and stem all the talk about indifference in the government about tightening purse strings in times of economical downturn, Sonia Gandhi travelled to Mumbai by economy class. She earned flak for her efforts from Manohar Joshi of Shiv Sena who questioned the wisdom of such a move given the security arrangements that have to be made for VVIP’s when they decide to rub shoulders with the ‘aam aadmi’. He also raised the question of the inconvenience caused to fellow travellers due to stringent security arrangements made for the VVIPs.

Before Sonia could mull over the appropriateness of her travel, Rahul decided to travel like the rest of us, by train, to Ludhiana. The TV channels gave non stop coverage to this and many passengers on the same train were heard grumbling about the difficulties caused to them by Rahul’s decision to travel with them.The station seemed to be swarming with commandos and other security staff.

But before the train could even reach its destination has come the news of stones having been thrown at the (Shatabdi) train somewhere near Panipat. The stones thrown were of fairly large size and broke the windows of coach C 2,C 4 and C 7. Rahul was in C3 and escaped unhurt. Other passengers were not so fortunate and a few got hurt when the rocky missiles entered the coaches after shattering the thick window panes.

Given this incident, one wonders at the wisdon of ‘economy’ travel by VVIPs. It seems that such symbolic gestures increase the difficulties of ordinary people, give security forces sleepless nights and the expense is considerble. Now that the Gandhis have made their point, could they please go back to their special jets and convoys so the rest of us can get on with our travels. After all if the government is serious about cost cutting there are surely many other areas where gross financial mismanagement is rife.

 

As we drove from Mysore towards Halebidu we were still going by our travel brochure and referring to the place as Halebid.Sounds very anglicized,doesn’t it? The guide later told us that the local name Haalu beedu actually means -the destroyed city.

The drive was through lush green countryside and to a Gulf resident all that green was bounty enough.When the taxi came to a halt I wondered if we had reached.There was the usual clutter and run down chaos of a small Indian town.Trinket and picture postcard sellers swarmed momentarily but gave up quickly.Quite unlike the persistent (and annoying) hordes at tourist places in the North.
Where was the famed temple I wondered. I caught a glimpse of it from the side and it seemed like a stack of blackened stone.I felt a small sense of disappointemnt.Then the guide came along and took us inside the temple complex.The photo below captures what I saw then and was floored.That ‘stack’ of stone turned out to be an epic poem in stone. Have a look.

 

The most impressive, in the beginning, were the two Nandi Bulls that guard the two adjoining temples.I was stumped.So much evocative beauty in these two gentle giants.The carving itself is so fluid,so life like, down to the minutest detail of how a bull sort of slumps to a side when sitting in this posture. Unfortunately I was not able to click it from that side as it started raining.The carving of the bells,ropes and tassles around the Nandi’s neck are flawless and have escaped the damage inflicted on the rest of the temple.

This is a view of the main vestibule of the temple and it is awesome.I got goose bumps just standing there. I felt I could literally reach back in time and be one with all those who must have frequented it during its hey days and subsequently through the ages. Right in the middle, where a samll nandi is visible, is a circular dance floor that w as used for temple dances and it is like a mirror due to its age worn sheen.All around are the viewing stands for the audiences( lower right corner of the picture) that had steps of stone to climb on to.The edges have cavities carved out in the stone.These are the oil lamps that were lit at the time of the dance performances. What an awesome sight that must have been.I hope they organise some dance festivals there in future.The pillars of the entire temple are of varied designs…….all beautiful.There is something about age worn stone………..that warm sheen that enchants me everytime I am anywhere near it.

 
India’s ancient history,mythology,festivals…all are carved here with spellbinding effect.
Ganesha can be found in various moods here including the rare one of him in angry mood.According to the guide the trunk in that case is to the right side!
 

 
 
Almost all important dieties can be found in that part of the temple that is devoted to the spiritual part.The other half is devoted to worldly things like dancers,animals,trees etc.
 Brahma
 
 
The ‘trimoorti’- Brahma,Vishnu,Mahesh
 

 

 

The eternal lovers
 Shiva – Parvati

 
Krishna holds up Mount Govardhana
 
Lord Vishnu’s third avatar,Varaha, who appeared in the Satya Yuga 
 
 
The scenes of war from Mahabharta and Ramayana.This one shows the ‘chakravyuh’ that Abhimanyu did not know how to exit.
 

 
 
Lord Ram slays King Bali.Bali had a boon that he would acquire half the powers of who ever confronted him in order to kill him. It was because of this Ram stood behind trees to kill Bali.Look at the beautiful detail of the arrow piercing the trees…..800+ years and the picture is still so clear.
 

 
 
This picture is a bit out of focus but is the scene of Holika,the sister of the evil king,Hiranyakashipu, burning in the fire.Elsewhere,there are  beautiful scenes of people filling their ‘pichkaris'(water guns) from tubs of water to play the north Indian festival of Holi
 

 
 
Bhima slays elephants with his mace in the battle to capture Drupad,the King of Panchala.Their guru, Drona, had asked for the capture of Drupad as his tuition fees.Pandavas and Kauravas went together to this battle.
 

 
 
There are endless images in my collection. I went berserk with my camera but nothing can capture the feelings of awe and wonderment that one experiences when one stands in ancient places like this temple.The temple took many centuries to build and infact was never completed as the Hoysala kings were forced to move their kingdom due to the raids by armies of Malik Kafur.There are many portions of the temple that have incomplete carvings.It as though the workers had to move away from their labour of love and could never return again.
 

 
 
The temple was ransacked (for its wealth) by Kafur’s army sometime in early 14th century and thereafter fell into a state of neglect.
Since Hindus used to discontinue ‘pooja’ in temples once desecrated this temple fell prey not only to the initial muslim invaders but also to local vandals and the British (this is anecdotal but given the history of the stuff the British carried away,this could be entirely true) too are thought to have spirited away many of the sculptures that could be carted away. Below is my documentation of the plunder by various vandals.
 
The first place honor( in the hall of shame) goes to the Muslim armies who destroyed what they could, easily, at the lower levels.The free standing, delicate carvings at lower levels are all gone….smashed wilfully but the solid stone carvings are all there.These perhaps took too much effort to destroy.I can’t help but think that India must have been the Muslim invader’s ultimate nightmare. They were instructed by their Book/Prophet to hate idol worshipping and destroy idols.They then marched to India, to capture this bounteous land, only to encounter a veritable hot house of temples,idols and more idols. Ha!
 
The sculptures that have taken the most hit are actually the scene of “samudra manthan’. You can still see the ‘rope’ in the hands of the destroyed figures.
 

 
 
The next come the local bounty seekers,perhaps, egged on by the western world’s appetite for Indian antiques. The British could have been complicit in this trade.All around the temple are empty niches like this from which stupendously beautiful idols have been taken away.Mercifully, the nearby temple of Belur has all its idols intact and one can get an idea from there of what Halebid has lost.
 

 
Finally the modern day vandals who engrave their names on anything of antiquity that they visit. On the snout of Nandi which is like a polished mirror the name of one Khan. On the rump of the magnificient beast two lovers have added their graffiti.Thankfully, according to our guide,this ‘modern’ graffiti is some decades old and now the temple is more protected.I hope this is true.
 

 
 
This is already an epic post so I shall call a halt to image uploading and let you get on with sharing my wonderful journey through a small part of India’s glorious heritage
 

Those of you who are from Chennai would probably recognise the girl in the picture below. Those who do not, need to take a look and read the post below.You are looking at the Asian U-14 chess champion.She earlier became the national champion in the U-13 category in 2008.Meet J.Saranya

[29aug_saranya.jpg]
 
 

 

Photo source: Internet

This extremely serene 14 year old is seen in the pic sitting outside a temple selling plastic and clay items with her mother. Her family was abandoned by her father about 5 years ago and nothing is known about his whereabouts.Saranya,her sister and mother eke out a meagre existence from setting up this pavement stall.

There is nothing new about poverty in our country but what caught my eye was that on the day this picture and story was published in the paper there was also a picture on top right corner of the same page of a cricketer stuffing Yuvraj’Singh’s mouth with sweets.There was something about the stark contrast between the visage of the over valued,over cheered,over paid and over the top attitude -wala Indian cricketer and the absolute serenity and dignity of the almost uncelebrated chess champ

Life has thrown no privileges her way but she seems unruffled by the inequities of the world.She goes to school,plays chess and helps her mom the rest of the time.Some local good samaritans have been helping the family but its a crying shame that in a nation where the media gloatingly reports that Dhoni made 10 million dollars last year,it is left to Saranya’s school mates to arrange for the cost of her playing trips to other cities and overseas.

Read her full story here:  www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx

The little black dress (LBD) might be the rage with the Page 3 community and might be gaining popularity amongst those who follow the trends of Page 3 people, the magazines showing us designer homes might be stressing on a minimalist approach to design and encouraging monochromatic hues but outside of the privileged India ( in Bharat) it is a color fest 365 days a year. Have a look at these (random) pictures clicked during this summer in Delhi ,NCR and Garh Mukteshwar. Color rules (and thank God for that).

1)  Decorative ware at Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar market. 

2) Ethnic bags
 

3) Seasonal fruit at the Sarojini Nagar market


4) A puppet seller’s wares at Sarojini Nagar market.
 

5) The Toll Gate at Gurgaon,NCR (National Capital region).
 

Garh Mukteshwar

1)  Traditional toys at a street market in Garh Mukteshwar.

 

 
2) Vishnu reclines.This is not the entrance to a temple but to an eating joint !!!

3) All that a worshipper of Ganga maiyya needs for the rituals.

4) More toys

5) Road side divinity

6) Luxury coach ferrying the many devotees.

7) Advertising the local cuisine

This summer, though it has been hard and long resulting in a great loss, it has also been filled with small moments of relief. This relief, when it came, came in the company of my young niece and nephews. Caught up in one’s own grief and loss it is easy to lose perspective, to forget the larger picture and to get trapped in the here and now,forgetting the cyclical nature of life.The old depart: the young are on the threshold of the adventure called life.

When the duties and formalities of us adults had been done (with ample support and help from the younger generation) there remained a huge silence and vacumn.It was on one such forlorn morning that my niece broached the topic of going for shopping. She has just finished school and is on the threshold of the magical world of college life,hostel life and a life away from the familiar. Keen to get the shopping  for her new life done she sought us adults out to accompany her.

So off we went, three adults and one teen to Delhi’s well known Sarojini Nagar market…..It was the hottest day of the summer and the tar was literally melting off the roads when we finally reached the market place. The normally laid back girl who seeks the comfort of the air conditioner the whole day  seemed to suddenly metamorphize into a heat loving, bargain seeking hunter…hunter of the best bargain on tops,dresses,jootis, bags and other assorted accessories.

We traipsed behind her the whole morning convinced that one of us three adults would surely collapse from the heat. We sought shade in by lanes and under shop awnings, we looked for any little ledge or step to throw ourselves down on and rub our aching feet but the teen showed no sign of being done for the day.This is a photo blog of our ardous trekking in the wake of a girl on a mission.

 

Every slipper/sandal in this shop is for Rs. 100. When we asked the shopkeeper how long would each last, pat came the reply, “100 days madam.” Full marks for a prompt and extempore marketing spiel.

I have seen many mannequins in many different places but never before have I seen limb less torsos, so elaborately dressed, hung on a closed shop shutter. You can get any of these embroidered Salwar Kameez sets for anywhere between Rs. 300-650 approx.

  If saree is more your style you can pick from these road side stalls or move up the value chain and buy a whole wedding trousseu from some shops in the inner quadrangle of the market. For guys there are T-shirts(in the back ground).All are cheap copies of reputed brands.

 One can buy any of these ‘designer ‘ bags for Rs.200.There are Pradas,Guccis,Versaces and unnamed beauties here in all sorts of materials and colors.

It is in the side lanes and cul-de sacs like this one that the best and most sought after bargains are to be found.Known as the ‘export surplus’ market it is here that the college girls and the well-heeled women from the posher areas of delhi come in search of the trendy and the in- vogue western attire. Long before the malls arrived with the phoren brands these markets were already supplying the latest European trends to desi buy
ers at mouth watering rates.It is equally popular with the expats.It is not unusal to see cars with diplomatic number plates parked in this market.The westerners usually beat even us Indians at haggling down the price of everything.
As a rule never pay anything more than Rs.125 for a top, a dress, skirt or bermuda shorts and never more than Rs.200 for a bag. This rule ofcourse is for the footpath bazaar not the shops.They have their own rates and margins.In these lanes you can find blouses from Zara,Topshop,River Island,Marks and Spencer etc and T-shirts from Puma for Rs.100-125. I got two Zara Basics tops for a grand sum of Rs. 200 !!
 

Talking of the footpath bazaar…….it is illegal actually but that doesn’t deter the hundreds of hawkers here. The NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corporation) raiding van provides the daily dose of adrelin and excitement here.Much before they enter the market the buzz spreads and all the hawkers rush at break neck speed to clear the roads and lanes.They have an ‘understanding’ ( a peculiarly Delhi phrase) with the shop wallahs who allow them to bundle their wares into the shops.
But still on every round the corporation guys do manage to catch a few hapless and less connected hawkers who then have to bundle their wares into large plastic sacks and get on to the NDMC van.I suspect after a bribe has been negotiated the same hawkers return to carry on business as usual.The entire market knows the routine,route and raid timngs of the NDMC so it is all a bit of a joke: a well orchestrated play in which each member knows the part he has to play (bribe taker,bribe giver – the tormentor and the tormented) and all is done with a surprising lack of rancour.

 

Five minutes after the NDMC van exits a lane it is business as usual and the wide lane of minutes ago begins to look like this!

We were allowed some refreshments (after much pleading) at around 2.00 P.M by the supercharged, young shopper with us and an hour later we read the riot act to her and threatened to leave without her.She frantically ran around for that ‘green ‘Kolhapuri’ that would go just right with a dress she had picked earlier. In the end the three ageing escorts won the argument and we all bundled into an oven hot car for the long ride back.

P.S: The joy with which my niece cat walked for us in all her new purchases more than made up for the scorching heat and the many miles walked.
 If you visit Delhi do visit this market.
Caution: It is super crowded on weekends.