One morning when I was a child, my father came our to the lawn where I was playing with my box of wooden bricks. He picked up one of the smaller bricks, a yellow one, and said, “This brick is the house in which we live”. He picked up another, a larger, a red one. “And this brick is the village out there”. Then he took the actual box in which the bricks had come and placed it on the grass, a long way from the others. “This box is Afghanistan”, he said. “Do you understand?”
“Are you quite sure that you understand?”
“Tahir Jan,” he said, “I am showing you this because it’s an important thing. I will explain it to you. If I go into the kitchen and take a dry sponge and put it in a bowl of water, it will suck up a lot of water, won’t it?”
“But if I take the same sponge and put it in a bowl of ice, it won’t suck up anything at all. That’s because the sponge isn’t designed to suck up ice. Its structure — lots of little holes — can’t take in ice, only water.”
He sat down beside me, motioning with his hands.
“Ice is water, but just in a different form,” he said. “To make it into water — so we can suck it up easily — we need to change its form. The water is knowledge, Tahir Jan, and the sponge is your mind. When we hear information, a lot of it,” he said, “sometimes it’s too hard for us to suck up. It’s like ice. We hear it in the same way that the sponge touches the bowl of ice, but it doesn’t get inside. But as soon as you melt the ice, the water penetrates deep into the middle of the sponge. And that’s what stories do.”
My father always spoke very carefully to children so that they understood. He would pause and study the feedback, making sure what he said was getting through. I wasn’t quite sure what he was aiming at, and was rather keen to get on playing with my bricks.
“Stories are a way of melting the ice,” he said gently, “turning it into water. They are like repackaging something — changing it’s form — so that the design of the sponge can accept it.”
An excerpt from In Arabian Nights- A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams.
Five boys were sitting at the far end of the bench. They were dressed in weatherworn clothes, all caked in mud. Their leader said something fast. The others groped through their pockets and pooled their funds: six marbles, four bottle tops, a painted twig, a blunt penknife, and a few coins. The money was separated out. Three of the boys started arguing, shouting at one another. Their argument broke into a scrap. One of the older boys suddenly turned on the smallest. They fell into the dirt, punches flying. The leader pulled them apart. He handled all the coins to the youngest boy, whose shirt had been ripped in the fight, and sent him off toward the cinema.
The others began playing marbles.
I asked why only one of them was going to the cinema. The leader glanced up, his sienna eyes catching the light.
“We only have the money for one to see the matinee, Monsieur”, he said. “So we send Ahmed. We always send Ahmed.”
The leader flicked a marble into the dirt. “Because Ahmed has the best memory,” he said.
An excerpt from In Arabian Nights- A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams.
“Folks, let’s find a name for her”, I said to Hari, Lei and Tiannan as we drove out of our hotel for dinner. “Last year, we found a nice name for Hari’s. Monica! Now, let’s find one for mine.”
“Maria” “Julia” “Martha”… suggestions poured in but none felt right. After sometime, I said, “What about Alessandra?” I thought about it for sometime, “I like this name. She was nice and sweet”. Everyone agreed. “Yups, that’s a nice name”. “Ok then, Alessandra it is”. I was glad that we finally found a nice name for her :).
Earlier that evening, we checked in our hotel at Stintino in Sardinia. We had booked four single rooms. The lady at the front desk showed us the rooms. Although the rooms were nice and sea-facing, they were not together. We requested her to give us rooms near each other. She gladly agreed and showed us around.
Once the rooms were finalized, we started asking her lot of questions. “Which is a good restaurant here?” “Which are the nice spots?” “Where can we get good view of sunrise and sunsets for photography?” and many more. Although she struggled in her English, she tried her best. She patiently tried answering our queries.
She was leaving after handing us the room keys. I liked something about her. She had a very gentle and friendly demeanor, and she always had a smile. I asked her, “Senora, what is your name?”. “Alessandra”, she replied. “Grazie Alessandra :)”, I replied back.
And she is my Alessandra, always cheerful, like the Alessandra whom I had met :).
It’s been a long time wish of my mother to visit Shirdi Sai Baba. I have often heard my elders say that one cannot reach God’s altar unless He summons. Probably true! My mother’s wish remained unfulfilled for several years until few weeks back.
We left from our hotel in Shirdi and reached the temple around 8am. I went inside to get the VIP passes. As assured, our names were found in the register and the passes were issued to us. Due to these passes, we didn’t have to wait in queue for long and in about 15 mins we were all standing in front of Sai Baba. It’s pity that one doesn’t get more than a few moments in front of Baba. Everyone is pushed out to keep the queue moving. Finally, Sai Baba beckoned my mother and us.
It was our first visit to Shirdi. I couldn’t plan much for the trip and had little idea what to expect. We reached Mumbai on a Saturday morning. My friend, Mayank, had booked a taxi for our trip to Shirdi, Shani Shinganapur and Trambakeswar (near Nasik).
On our way from Mumbai to Shirdi, we passed by at least a few hundreds devotees of Sai Baba who were walking to Shirdi. Our driver, Sriram told us that during winter months this is very common where devotees from all around Shirdi walk more than 100 kms for Sai Baba’s darshan. As per him, it gets very crowded in November and December and especially in the weekends there are lot of visitors.
Our plan of darshan was next day morning, which was a Sunday in December. Mayank could not arrange VIP passes for us. As per Sriram, during this time and without the VIP passes, we must be prepared to queue up for couple of hours for the darshan. Looking at the rush and the crowd on reaching Shirdi, I believed him.
Each morning, there’s an aarti at the temple at 4:30am which is called Kakad aarti. It is said to be very good and everyone who comes to Shirdi wishes to attend it. This results in a long queue for this aarti. It being a Saturday evening, the queue was expected to be much longer. The receptionist at our hotel suggested us to queue up from 11pm onwards. Even for normal darshan in the morning hours, he suggested a queuing time of at least 3 to4 hours. “Doesn’t sound good”, I said to myself.
Sriram offered to help. He called up one of his friends to see if he can help with the VIP passes for Kakad aarti but he couldn’t. He then said to me, “Let me call the PA of my boss. If he makes a call here, it might help”. He came back to me after sometime and said, “The PA said that it is too late for Kakad aarti as the temple’s office is closed now. He can call in the morning at 8am when the office opens. We can then go, get the passes and have darshan”. I said, “Ok, this sounds good. Please go ahead”. I wrote down our names which he then SMSed to the PA.
Earlier that evening, we had stopped on our way for a tea and a restroom break. Over the tea, Sriram told me that he is a driver of a MLA. Since the politician was out on a tour, he was driving for the rental agency. This was impressive to know that we were being chauffered by a politician’s driver :).
My mother later told me, “Baba descended in form of Sriram. When he beckons, he also creates bridges for us to cross.”
“Bhaiya, Chattarpur Mandir”, I asked an autowala who was reading newspaper sitting inside his auto. He didn’t even care to look at me and nudged his head, signaling he won’t go. “These Delhi auto walas will never change”, I said to myself as I walked to the next auto. I asked again, “Bhaiya chaloge Chattarpur Mandir”. “Haan chalunga, par meter se 10 rupaye jyada dene padenge”, replied the autowala. “Kyon? 10 rupaye kis baat ke?”, I asked. “Nahin 10 rupaye to extra dene padenge”, continued the autowala. He couldn’t convince me why he needed 10 rupees extra. Then a young school student approached and asked if he can share the auto with me. He had to go to Chattarpur Metro station which was close to the temple. I said, “Sure”. The autowala then said, “Dono ka double meter lagega”. “Sahi he! Loot macha rakhi he! Nahin jana he tumhare saath”, I told him and walked away.
Right then, another auto reached the spot. I approached and asked him. He said, “Haan chalunga. 60 rupaye lagenge”. My friend had told me that auto fare would be about 45-50 rupees. I tried bargaining to settle for 50 rupees. He then said, “Mandir ke andar jaoge? Puja karne ja rahe ho?”. I nodded yes. He continued, “Tab to aapko free me le jaunga. Baitho andar”. “Bhaiya aise nahin hota he. Sahi batao, kitna loge?”, I asked. “Arrey bhaiya baitho. Subah subah todha punya kama lunga”, continued autowala.
The young school student, who wanted to get down at the metro station, approached again. The autowala told him, “Aap mujhe 50 rupaye de dena. Ab aap dono andar baitho.” Unconvinced I sat inside, thinking I will pay him once I reach the spot.
When we reached the metro station, my co-passenger was about to pull out his wallet to pay the autowala. I said, “Bhai, it’s okay. I will pay him. I was anyways coming this way.” However, he wanted to share the fare but he didn’t have change of 25/30 rupees. He pulled out a 50 rupee note which the autowala took saying, “yeh 50 rupaye aap mujhe de do, baki aap aapas apna hisab kar lo”. I gave the boy 30 rupees and he got off.
A few minutes later we reached the temple. As I was getting down, the autowala wanted to give me 30 rupees. I said, “Nahin, rakho aap. Mujhe free me pahuchakar aap to punya kama loge, par mujhe to paap laga doge”. He then wanted to give me 10 rupees asking me to give it in the temple. I smiled and said to him, “Me aapke naam ka bhi chadawa de dunga. Thank you. Aap se mil kar acha laga”.
This entire incident left me with a very good feeling. It is a very rare experience, especially with autowalas in Delhi.
I left office early this evening because the weather looked promising for exploring Leiden through my lenses. It was cloudy the entire day. However towards the evening, sun peeked out through the clouds and the sky began to look quite dramatic. Once in the Leiden center, several things caught my attention. One of them was the Marekerk church besides a canal. The domb of the church looked beautiful which was further enhanced by the soft light from the sun playing hide-n-seek through the clouds. I took a few pictures of the church and was walking back. I then passed by a man who was squatting by the side of the road and carefully pulling out a camera from his bag. I tried to take a look at the camera and it looked like an old camera. I wasn’t sure if it was a film camera. For a moment, I thought it’s a Leica.
As I walked pass by him, we had a brief eye contact and seeing that we belong to the photography fraternity, we exchanged smiles. All the while, I was trying to figure out his camera but couldn’t! After walking for a few more yards, I turned back to see him again. I saw him pointing his camera towards the church dome and taking pictures. This surprised me as the spot where he was standing, in my opinion, was not a good spot as it didn’t provide a clear view to the church — only the dome was visible. I myself didn’t shoot the church from this spot and had walked couple of meters further.
I then took a close look in the direction in which he was taking pictures. I then realized and rushed myself there to shoot. He was actually shooting the rainbow which beautifully curved along the church dome. Given the position of the rainbow, the spot he chose was perfect. After taking pictures, I crossed him again. This time, I stopped to thank him for the beautiful shot which I would have otherwise missed.
He then said, “I’m curious to see how the picture would come. This is a film camera”. I said, “Oh ok. Interesting! You are using a film camera”. He continued, “It’s a black-n-white roll camera”. I was surprised, “Black-n-white!!!” I asked, “Any specific reasons why you are using B-n-W”? He said, “I recently bought this camera from a flee market for about 10 euros. I often buy old cameras and try them out. I also use a Canon digital camera”. I further asked, “Did you develop any pictures from this camera until now”? “Nopes. This is my first outing with it”, he said. We then greeted each other good bye and I walked away. Before leaving him, I took a picture of him with his camera. I turned back after a while and saw him taking more pictures from the same spot in the same direction.
I wished that the man’s picture comes out well. I could sense a kid-like excitement in the man when he talked about his camera and his hope for the picture of rainbow.
As I kept walking, the thought kept me occupied – “How would the rainbow look like in B-n-W?” Still intrigued by B-n-W rainbow, I edited my picture into a B-n-W picture.
Waterloo, where the famous battle of 1815 was fought between Napolean and the Allied forces, is located in present day Belgium and close to Brussels. The actual battlefield is, however, a little further away from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battle has been preserved as an European heritage and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.
The battle in 1815 had ended on June 18 with Napolean’s defeat and is considered as one of the most significant events in the history of Europe. To commemorate this important event, each year the scene of the battle is re-enacted at this site on June 18.
The battle is re-enacted by a large group of history enthusiasts who come from diverse backgrounds and different countries. The passion for history and zeal to keep it alive, is the common thread binding most of these participants. Among them are also people who pursue it as their full time vocation. When not re-enacting events, they are engaged in researching the history and disseminating their knowledge to preservers and pursuers of history like museums, educational institutions, etc. However there are also people who participate just for the adventure and to experience something different.
Typically the actual battle of June 18, 1815 is re-enacted on the weekend closest to June 18 each year. This year the event started with a one hour light and sound show of pyrotechnic battle on June 18 from 10pm. This display was organized at the foot of the Lion Mound. Lion Mound was constructed between 1823 and 1826 as a memorial to the war. It is an artificial hill created by dumping earth from the battle site with a cast iron statue of a lion on top of the hill.
During the re-enactments, the participants live in camps called bivouacs. These camps are setup like they were way back in 1815 and the participants live a life like that of troops in those times. They try that each detail of the event is as accurate as possible. These camps are also open to the visitors who can get a feel of the life of soldier in those days. On June 19, these bivouacs were open for visitors between 10am to 5pm. In the evening between 6-7pm, a battle is re-enacted at the square of the village called Plancenoit.
The main battle of June 18, 1815 was re-enacted on the day of June 20 this year starting from 10am until noon. I had attended the event of June 20th only and have collected information of the previous two days through my online research and interactions with other visitors. It is said that about 70,000 people saw this battle re-enacted by about 3000 participants undeterred by the cold, windy and rainy weather that day. People of all ages, from toddlers in prams to seniors, were seen among the audience. We too were a big group of about 25 from Leuven and thanks to Tomas for organizing this trip.
The troops began moving to the battle site around 9-9:30am from their camps. They marched in battalions and it was nostalgic to see them dressed up in uniforms and carrying weapons like that in 19th century. It felt like a scene out of hollywood movie :). The battle was fought in the fields at the foot of Lion Mound. The audience could stand around the periphery of the battleground, or sit in the stands setup or place themselves at the slopes of the Lion Mound. Although we arrived well before 10am, the place was already full and the best spots already taken :(. Tomas and other seasoned photographers there had carried small stairs or stands to get a better alleviation.
The battle started sharp at 10am and continued until noon. I could not follow the battle exactly because I didn’t get a good spot to see and shoot the battle. What I understood was that they re-enacted a few important episodes from the real battle. Nevertheless it was action filled 2 hours both on and off the battle field. On the battle field there were gun shots, cannon fires, war cries, galloping horses, marching soldiers, smoke and fire. And off the battle field, there was the struggle to find spots and gaps to take pictures, bear the rain and the wind, and to sustain yourself and the camera in the big crowd :).
The battle ended around noon and the troops began returning to their bivouac. The Allied bivouac was about 800m from the battlefield and that of French was about 2 Kms. We took the easier choice and visited the Allied bivouac :). The scene at the bivouac was again straight out of some movie. I felt as if I was transported back in time and I am actually standing in one of the real army camps of 19th century. Rows of white tents were setup. Most of these tents were small and meant for a single person. I peeked inside one of them and saw bed made out of straw, blankets, wooden boxes, light lamps, etc. There were also tents which were used for dining and meeting place. These were much bigger with wooden chairs and tables in them. Fire was built outside these tents for cooking food.
All around there were different sights to be seen. Apart from male troops, one could see a good number of women and quite a few children. The women mostly ran the kitchen. Outside few tents one could see the troops sitting around the fire drinking tea/wine and discussing the battle. Outside some other tents, the troops were having their food. Some tents looked like board meeting rooms where strategies were being discussed. Some troops preferred solitude and some had already called the day off. Also one could see soldiers cleaning their guns and artillery.
Overall it was a delightful sight and the place was full of life. We spent about 1.5hrs in the camp and then left the place. We hiked for about 9 kms through the fields to board the train for Leuven at Lillois. Although we were quite tired and drained out by then, the hike through the beautiful fields with friends and fellow hikers was worth it. We missed the train for Leuven by a few minutes and had to wait for 1 hour for the next train.
So, this was the Battle of Waterloo 2010 :). An experience which I would recommend to others as well. I am looking forward to attend it again next year and I will make sure to carry stairs for a better view and more zoom for better pictures :). However thanks to Tomas for letting us use his stairs and we did rounds on his stairs to take pictures.