Remembering Tsunami after 15 years

First rays of sun were peeping in slowly. Birds had started chirping. At 6.00 AM on 26th December 2004 Port Blair the Capital city of Andaman and Nicobar Islands was waking up to a bright Saturday morning .

Balcony attached to our first floor bedroom offered a captivating sea view. The backwaters were almost like a lake- 500 meters wide. On the other end of the lake a hillock rose magnificently with scattering of small colourful houses.

We were preparing ourselves for a quiet weekend. My son used to go for a coaching class at 5 AM in a neighbouring colony. He had just returned after attending the class. Early morning tuitions were a normal practice in Andamans because the sun rise is early in this stretch of islands located on eastern flank  of the country. We were half asleep trying to catch some lost bits of sleep before start of a hectic day. 

And then it came….. a light vibration at first as if a very heavy vehicle had passed by in great speed. We turned around on our beds to see and looked out from the window as to what had passed by. No sign of any vehicle but a stronger vibration followed and then a third one shaking the bed with some force. Reality dawned on us quickly.

My wife shouted to my son in the other room “ come out it is an earthquake”. Now it was slowly unfolding itself like a python gripping it’s pray. Within a minute it was on us with full force.  The doors and windows were rattling. We started to climb down from the stairs towards the ground floor. The staircase was shaking with great force. Getting downstairs was difficult. My wife slipped and fell on the last step. We came out. The neighbours all around were coming out in their lawns. 

The vibrations were still forceful, making it difficult to stand. We had never experienced anything like this before. The gravity of the situation was slowly dawning on us. The Jetty on the seafront was gradually disintegrating and sinking in the sea. The storm water drain in front of our houses which was always empty started flooding all of a sudden. Our vehicle a Toyota Qualis which was parked outside the house started to roll backwards and forwards . It was still vibrating. But every body also thought that the worst was over and we had survived a calamity without serious damage.

After about 15 minutes the things had quietened down. We started returning  inside of our houses to marvel at the large cracks which had developed in some of the walls. A feeling of shock and numbness persisted. I thought the vibrations had something to do with our proximity to the sea. I started to think “ these seafront houses are not so safe, we should move elsewhere when other  house was available.” But the peace and tranquility was short-lived.

Our domestic help’s family staying in the quarter  came over to tell us that they were leaving  for a safer place since this place was not safe. We asked why? They said that behind our  row of houses the land had broken at some places and water was coming out. This news was startling. If the land behind us was getting flooded then where would we go because the frontage of our row of houses was on the sea. We hoped that these poor souls were just lying for the sake of enjoying the weekend elsewhere or were unnecessarily panicky.

But something ominous, something terribly strange was definitely in the air. Precisely around this time the 100 meter high Tsunami waves were striking at the Nicobar Islands and thousands of people were getting washed away . The mass watery grave unfolding a thousand miles away was perhaps sending some ominous signals through the atmosphere, which our human bodies being ultimately a part of cosmic nature system were subconsciously registering. Everyone was unusually quite.We slowly washed and got ready without talking to each other and  also packed a suitcase –in case there was another aftershock and the house crumbled then …..

I came to the balcony and looked at the waters below. Something strange was still happening. The water was moving from one side to another as if it was in a crucible, which had been violently shaken. The movement was like a pendulum. Sometimes all of a sudden the water rose so high on one side that the sea bed also could be seen. My servant told that it was sign of danger, but we were not sure as to what could be the form of danger. I thought then we should move to a safer place. 

I came down  opened the gate on the road and put ignition key in the vehicle. I sat on the driver’s seat and watched outside. My god ! I was shocked what was happening !. A thin sheet of water had silently covered the stretch between our boundary wall to the sea including the service lane, road and the park. Water level was low but the ominous and surreptitious manner in which it covered the vast stretch in seconds  was really horrifying. Let us move. I called my wife who had seen this from upstairs and was now coming down with my son. They were jointly pulling along our packed suitcase. When I turned back to look again at the water it was about 1 foot high. I asked them to get in leaving the suitcase . But they managed to bring it along somehow. Water was now hitting at the vehicle with some force.

I had been posted to Andaman & Nicobar Islands about 18 months back. Our house a duplex apartment was located close to sea –a stretch of backwaters in fact. The front gate of the house opened on a service road, which was followed by a row of fern trees. After the row of trees was the main road. Across the road there was a 10 meters wide strip of land-a jogging park in fact, which had been recently named after a local hero a Kargil Martyr. The jogger’s park was the sea front also.

We started moving in the first gear and came out on the service lane. Water was now gushing like a stream . I had no time to change the gear and kept the pedal pressed in the same  gear. We had to turn left and cross the next two houses before we could  come to a major road which climbed to the hilly part which was on the back of the row of houses. Normally this required three to four minutes time but that day it looked like miles were to be crossed. We seemed to be going on and on . The engine roaring and now sound of water also forming a roar. Water rose to about three feet and soon it was flowing over the bonnet of the vehicle. The impact of the water was trying to push the vehicle off the road. Some how the vehicle kept moving. Every second I was thinking that the engine would stop. But despite the water stream the vehicle kept moving, manufacturers definitely need to be complemented. After about five minutes we reached the road which would take us to safety. We turned the vehicle and started the climb. We were now out of sea but confronted with a sea of humanity.

The narrow road ahead was filled with crowds of fleeting people. Everyone had a look of horror on his face. The crowd was surging forward but every one was looking back. They also looked at our vehicle in a strange manner specially the bonnet. Since we had to keep moving I could not get down and see what they were looking at in front of our vehicle. After some distance I got chance to get down and examined the front portion of the vehicle. It was covered with green moss which had got entangled all over. Two small fishes were also stuck up. That cleared the mystery of curios glances that the bonnet of the vehicle was attracting.

The fleeting crowds resembled a similar scene out of the famous movie Ten Commandments. Horrified faces , Roads overflowing and the sea water roaring below. The rise in water level stopped after about fifteen minutes. From the upper location we could see that water level had risen by about 15 feet near our house. It seemed to be receding thereafter.


Union Budget 2019: The taxpayers need to see the brighter aspects.

Gone are the days when Indian middle class would switch on their TV sets in late evening on the budget day and try to calculate the gains and losses against Income tax slabs applicable to respective income groups.Over the years the poor electorate specially the struggling middle class and younger generation has reconciled to the fact that it may be a decade or two before we can be prosperous and advanced like some of the richer Asian/European countries. Chasing a dream of work Visa in Western country or job in oil rich nations is the only silver lining which younger generation can look up to after years of academic hard work . The glamorous life of young men with Mercedes and Audi and glamorous parties in farm houses are for blue blooded scions of builders and land mafia only.Hence there may not be much fun in calculating  the impact of Govt budgets from the tit bits offered.

Being a reflection of the ongoing trends in the Society, today the presentation of budget ( broadcast live in almost all cases) is reminiscent of  an exercise in marketing of a new product. The bitter pills are now a days not only sugar coated but also wrapped in silver foil and sometimes touted as acts of patriotism.The customer has to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The financial statements meant for public have been traditionally  compared to Bikni which is expected to reveal everything except the vital information. The continuously emerging political challenges and fears of loss in vote banks have given rise to a trend  for financial management focussed on camouflaging the gains and losses.

Over the years in the exercise for tax management, the middle class, which bears the burden of running the economy has been blessed by the various Governments with tax gains of inconsequential nature which are much hyped and blown out of proportion.Whenever some unwelcome adjustments are to be sold to the tax payers/vote banks the total figures of jump in collection are repeatedly trumpeted, (whereas individual taxpayer is concerned only with his individual gains and losses).

In earlier times the Budgets also had liberal sprinkling of  of literary or humorous  contents when the Finance Ministers (FM) would indulge into some funny anecdotes or Urdu Shairi before pushing through some major changes in rates of certain commonly used items.The literary content seems to have gone out of fashion in favour of  patriotic/jingoist vocabulary.Blaming all the bad things on Governments of past lightens the burden on hearts of ruling classes while making the electorate feel guilty for having given reins of power to such catastrophic conglomerates .

While presenting the budget the proposals for reduction into Excise duties used to be focussed on items, such as cosmetics and bindi and kajal which the FMs thought would improve their ratings in the eyes of mothers and sisters without causing dent in revenue collections . The hike earlier traditionally used to be for favourite items of bad boys such as liquor and tobacco but these two industries have also woken up to the vulnerability and appear to be doing more philanthropic work viz. sponsoring sports events and social events. So now the taxman is back to favourite shortcut of milking the middle class while simultaneously dangling tax concessions which can generally be harnessed by honest man only after cutting out all luxuries from the domestic budget.Everyone has to tighten belts for ensuring that savings get channelised to some respectable banks and insurance companies .

The middle class should also appreciate that there is no need to be overtly distressed for the assessment procedures are set to get “Modernised” moreover nowadays for the taxpayer there is also option for subscribing to so many charities of all nature. These contributions would take care of bovines or devotees reportedly engaged in welfare of humanity.For such generosity while the taxpayer would get concessions in tax liability, it may also ensure happiness in after life for the donor taxpayers   .

The Interesting tradition of Akharas at Kumbh


On arriving at Prayagraj we also got down to our dedicated research on Akharas and tried to know as much as possible during three days of stay. Akhara in common man’s language is the wrestling arena where wrestlers try out each other’s strength in freestyle wresting and also use the guidance and facilities attached with Akhara. In context of religious congregation this translates into a group of Sadhus and Saintly persons following Lord Shiva , Vishnu and Brahma gathered under one leading personality.

The saints and ascetics  stay together and follow respective religious rituals.According to apex body Akhil Bhartiya Akhara Parishad now there are 14 Akharas which gather at Kumbh Mela. Their  entries in Mela arena are in shape of majestic processions accompanied with elephants and horses with  pomp and show. Mela authorities mark out respective areas of stay . Akharas come out in processions when they proceed for bath dressed in traditional Sadhu attire which in several cases is smearing of bodies with religious ash only.The movements and activities are meticulously organised and controlled to obviate chances of any clashes or conflict.

On talking to Dharam gurus and old friends we came to know that among the faithful the common belief is that Akhara tradition originates from 8th century BC when venerated Adi Shankaracharya organised seven major Akharas  known as   Atal, Avahan, Agni and Anand Mahanirvani, Niranjani, and Juna Akharas. It is said that the Akharas were assigned twin role of spreading and preserving religious knowledge flowing from ancient scriptures (designated as Shastradhari) and that of promoting marital arts (designated as Astradharis) to form a protective cover for religious institutions. The Akharas were reportedly conceived to act as bulwark against assault on religious institutions specially in those turbulent times when country had to face onslaughts from invading armies.

In modern times the Akharas are categorised as followers of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu  besides followers of Brahma. In the Kumbh held in 2018 an all female Akhara comprising of Sadhvis known as Pari Akhara joined the group of famous Akahras. From the  present Kumbh Akahra Parishd  has reportedly added Kinnar Akhara to cover transgender Akharas . The faithfuls who chose to stay at Mela grounds as part of religious and devotional duties are known as Kalapwasi Akhara.

Below are links to some interesting processions by famous Akharas (available on U tube ) for those readers who prefer to enjoy the winter from comfort of their quilts.

Kumbh Mela : A unique Congregation of faithful

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 4.43.48 pm                 Arrival of January coinciding with Hindi month of Magh signals commencement of Kumbh Mela at Allahabad (now known as Prayagraj) , the city of Sangam (i.e. confluence of three rivers). Rigveda the ancient scripture of Hindus in India explains the importance of Kumbh Mela in mystic terms.It is believed that whoever takes a dip at Sangam the confluence of three holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati at Prayagraj during the auspicious period secures a place in heaven in after life and one who sacrifices his body at Sangam during this period would attain salvation and would be free from cycle of life and death.

                    Kumbh Mela is held every six years at Allahabad (now named as Prayagraj). Every twelve years the Mela or fair is designated as Mahakubh (Mega Kumbh) as the configuration of planets is much more auspicious during this period.This year (2019) the Kumbh is “ardhkumbh” i.e. six yearly Kumbh but the Govt. of Uttar Pradesh and it’s Tourism Department  has made all out efforts to make it a Mega Event.The turnover of devotees is estimated to exceed 15 millions during the 60 day time span when major bathing events would be held.

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         The six auspicious days for taking holy dip are designated as Makar Sankranti (14th January),  Paush Poornima (21st January),  Mauni Amavasya (4th February), Basant Panchami (10th February), Maghi Poornima (19th February) and Mahashivratri (4th March).On every date the turnout of devotees may be exceeding several lakhs.

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            For the persons wishing to stay at Mela Ground a whole new city has come up comprising of millions of tents.The Mela grounds teeming with Sadhus of all nature also have provisions for Luxury Tented accommodation as can be seen from numerous advertisements on the web and official websites.

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Apart from Sadhus and Sanyasis of various congregations the Mela becomes alive when Akhadas or groups of holy men start arriving on their horses and camels organised as procession covered  in peculiar makeup .When an organised group proceeds for bath it is known as Shahi Snan or holy bath. All processions are showcased live on U Tube providing amazing amalgamation of ancient traditions with modern technology. For those choosing to stay in the tent city there are regular cultural events/ exhibitions. Akhadas are a unique feature of Mela (which I may take up in next blogpost).

          So what are you waiting for ? Pack your backpack and get ready for a bit of adventure and religion. UP Tourism websites would give complete insight into every thing.May be I shall meet you there for Allahabad is my birth place And Allahabad University is my alma mater.

An evening to remember with stalwarts of civil services at Nehru Museum

In January 2019 while skipping through my morning daily I came up with a news item indicating that a brilliant young person who had shone exceedingly well in the Civil Services Exams just a few years back had decided to quit, citing certain social issues as reason for disillusionment with the services.The news came as a bit of shock to me.

I have been fortunate for being a part of bureaucratic setup in a cadre which offered postings in more than one  State and Union Territories. Moreover being offspring of a civil servant, in one of the largest States in the country, I have also been witness to the all pervasive presence of civil services during my father’s service tenure. Over my formative years I had developed a feeling that Civil Services were the only option for a person who desired to be always in the main stream of events and it was the vehicle which helped growth of  those who nourished a hunger for contributing to the maximum extent in the task of doing public good

Later while being in Civil Services the perception which had persistently grown within was that Civil Services touch lives of so many of people that one can always look back with contentment about achievements in hardest postings and most challenging environment.In other words if anyone wants to be a part of process of change there was no option but to join Civil Services.In fact it was this perception which had attracted bright young men and women with diverse professional qualifications, including the young man in question to the Civil Services. However I also felt that everyone has a right to decide about his life and career matters and we can only wish good luck to the young man who has decided to quit in support of his convictions.

 My feeling of gloom was however short lived . Shortly thereafter I received a message for attending a book launch on 10th January by Mr.Suresh Prabhu a Central Minister at Nehru Museum Auditorium New Delhi.The book titled “100 ideas to Improve Governance in India ” has been authored by Mr. JK Dadoo an ex IAS from AGMUT cadre. (AGMUT stands for Arunachal, Goa Mizoram and Union Territories ). The career of the author has spanned postings offering varied experiences at senior and junior level . In fact it appears to be a true example of potential offered by Civil Services to young men and women to shine and make impact in multiple postings with extremely varied environments.His success all over his career reinforced my perception of the glorious opportunity offered by a career in Civil Services for making contribution in varied sectors all over the country .

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Mr. Dadoo who had been in Civil Services since early 80s had a background of impeccable academic credentials as alumni of St. Columbas School & St.Stephens College Delhi and one of the premium Management Schools beside periodic stints at business schools outside the country.The Civil Services no doubt offered him an ideal platform for growth. While presenting the book to readers the author has explained how the material came up from experience gained from his assignments on key posts in various sectors .

wdr0g0rru6xruildzjkna Key note address by the author

The author has shared knowledge in form of compilation of short notes suggesting reforms for varied sectors spread over topics such as taxation, commerce, technology, health sectors etc.The book touches on subjects as wide as Rationalisation of Tax rates to Development of Artificial Intelligence for face recognition.The author seems to possess exceptional ability for having been able to find time for futuristic ideas such as Use of Drones for Medical Assistance in Remote areas and Promoting Sperm Banks with Modern Technology with equal adeptness.

Having opened the book an interested reader is inclined to complete it in one sitting. As the Author has himself suggested it is also very useful piece of compilation for persons appearing for interviews in Civil Services as core issues on so may contemporary topics are discussed.While the book launch also provided excellent opportunity for interacting with stalwarts of AGMUT cadre including Mr. Shakti Sinha an Ex IAS of AGMUT cadre now at helm of Nehru Museum- another example of Civil Servants shining in varied sectors, I also felt vindicated over my perception on importance and role of Civil Services.