Most Memorable Field Visits: Amlapuram

We were having a discussion in office the other day about our favourite sites to work on. That basically got me thinking and motivated me to start penning (or blogging, whatever) my all time favourite site visits. In the past I have usually blogged about current site visits. However, this series will be completely a trip down memory lane.

The first site visit that comes to my mind, is Amlapuram. Amlapuram is a small coastal town in Andhra Pradesh, known for its oil and gas industries and made popular by a Bollywood song. That is all I knew of the place when I was told I had to go do a project there. The site visit was for an expansion of an existing project and was in a remote corner of the town, far cut off from population. While now I remember the project with fondness, it was one of the worst site visits I have ever undertaken.

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Let me try and paint you a picture. The town was so small, that it had no hotels, just one lodge. The lodge thankfully had clean rooms, but no restaurant/kitchen. We had to order food from a nearby restaurant. That restaurant had a five page menu, boasting of dishes from north India, south India and Chinese! However, no matter what we ordered, even Chinese, it was always the same curry. The only way we could tell Chinese apart from Indian was because for Chinese, they used diced vegetables ! We landed up eating biryani  for seven days. It was thankfully quite delicious.

We would daily drive out of the town for about 2 hours, to our site and do our work. This was such a remote location that there was no source of food. If we wanted lunch, we would have to drive back to town. Also, the restaurant did not have a facility for packing us lunches. So basically we had the following options: a. no lunch, b. have lunch in town but lose an additional 4 hours a day just travelling, c. eat bananas for lunch. Guess which option we chose? yup, every day we would buy a big bunch of local bananas and a bottle of Mazza (a mango drink), in the morning, and that would be our lunch. This continued for seven days.

On top of that, we were in a coastal town, in summers. This meant that the average temperature was 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and humidity was over 80%, no matter what time of day. Basically what this meant was that by the end of the first day, we were already tanned and I looked as if someone had tried to write braille on my face.

The next issue we faced was language. Our Telegu (local language of Andhra Pradesh) speaking colleagues were all unavailable for this site work. So the team was comprised of people who spoke Hindi and English. Which is usually fine, except for no one, not one soul, seemed to understand either languages! not even our drivers. Though thankfully they understood the words ‘go’ and ‘stop’, but that was it! we eventually had to resort to hand gestures to communicate. Try finding directions to a government department or locating a person’s residence without knowing the language, its really fun. Not.

But then why is this trip one of my most memorable trips? All because of one day. Towards the end of our visit, it turns out was the Telegu new year. What this meant was that we couldn’t get any work done that day, since no one was available. So we decided to spend the day on the beach, with our biodiversity expert, helping him identify the biodiversity along the shore. Basically what that meant was that I spent a day collecting sea shells and watching crabs fool around. The beach was completely deserted and it was just us three for over 5 hours! Heaven!

 

After this amazingly peaceful day, we headed back, in search of proper food for a change. On our way up to the city, we noticed a small room (it was literally a room) tucked away in a corner by the road, completely obscured by the vegetation around it. But the board outside it indicated that there was food to be had. So we stopped and asked (again by hand gestures) if they had any food we could eat. Lo and behold! This small little place, with a capacity of seating six people, was serving the traditional new year’s feast! Sadly I don’t have a photograph of that. But it was by far the most amazing meal I had had in God know’s how long. Simply cooked, served on a banana leaf, the food was amazing in the affection put it into it, which in my opinion always translates into taste. more than 3.5 years down the line, when I think of that afternoon and that food, I can’t help but smile.

So yes, Amlapuram is definitely one of my favourite site visits ever.

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I woke up today with a smile

 

I woke up today with a smile;

Well rested, happy to be alive;

I have come a long way from where I began;

A long way since when I first ran;

 

I have shed some of my self- doubt, jealousy and hate;

Along with a lot of my weight;

I let go of some of my baggage;

Let go of stuff that was doing damage;

 

They say this is me growing up;

That I have finally wizened up;

All I know is that I am happier than I have ever been;

I am finally comfortable in my own skin;

 

Make no mistake; the scars are still there;

They will always be my burdens to bear;

But, today I smile and laugh as I please;

Today my heart is genuinely at peace;

 

A day may come when the doubts return;

When I once again feel that familiar burn;

But that day I will not cringe and retreat in fright;

Instead, I promise to stand tall and fight.

 -by:

Akshita Misra

 

Hunger Games: the Modern Day Gladiator Games

Disclaimer: Once again, this is something I have been sitting on for some time now, but just couldn’t find time to complete the draft. However, unfortunately in this long wait, I have managed to lose all the references I had used. Thus please keep in mind that most of what is presented here is not unique or original.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins is definitely a series that has captured the imagination of many around the world. I finally got around to reading it last year, and absolutely refused to watch the movies (I didn’t hear glowing reviews and did not want to spoil the mental imagery I had). Since then I have thought a lot about the universe Suzanne Collins set up and realised the very obvious connection the hunger games had with Rome and the Gladiator Games.

The gladiator games were formulated basically as a means of sacrificing prisoners of war through a “burial of a warrior”. The first recorded gladiator fight in Rome is reported to have been held in 264 BC in the honour of the deceased Junius Brutus. As part of that fight, three pairs of slaves had fought each other. These slaves were called “Bustuarii” which is derived from the latin expression “Bustum” which means ‘tomb’ or ‘funeral pyre’. It is reported that these Bustuarii were armed with a rectangular shield, a short sword, a helmet and greaves. The popularity of these games eventually led them to becoming a secular sport.

Some connections between the hunger games and roman gladiator games are pretty obvious, such as the use of names from Ancient Rome including Cato, Portia, Octavia, Flavia and of course, Cinna. Cinna is the name of two guys who are reported to have had connections to Julius Caesar. One was a politician involved in the assassination plot against Caesar and the other was a poet who was murdered following the assassination, after having been mistaken for the other one. Suzanne Collins is also reported to have said that Panem was supposed to be like ancient Rome, and those who have seen the movies can’t miss the similarity of the arena with the Colosseum.

Apart from this, the hunger games also resembled the gladiator games in the sense that they were games involving ‘slaves’. While yes, the hunger games did not include actual acknowledged ‘slaves’, they were picked from the 12 districts, for the purpose of entertain of the residents of the Capitol. The ones whose names were picked as part of the reaping had no right to decline, they had no rights. The games also ended only when one contestant was left standing, thus it required the ‘sacrifice’ of the other contestants, while the viewers bayed and rejoiced at their deaths. The contestants were also dressed in exotic costumes. The difference here was that while in the gladiator games, the slaves were usually dressed as barbarians, in the hunger games, it was about the absurd fashion of that universe.

The gladiator games initially originated as a means of sacrificing prisoners of war at the burial of a warrior, and to make the sacrifice less cruel, the prisoners were given a ‘chance’ of surviving by fighting. The hunger games were invented as a means of reminding the districts of their servitude and the districts ‘sacrificing’ one of their young ones. To make it seem less cruel than plain murder, it was turned into a ‘sport’ which was telecast and viewed by all. The ones who survived became celebrities, but remained enslaved to the capitol for their entire lives.

Thus it is safe to say, that while Suzanne Collins, surely painted an impressive and captivating picture, it was mostly a re-invention of the historical gladiator games!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A Review

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Over the last week, the internet has been flooded with people posing with the new Harry Potter book and posting reviews on it. Well, a seasoned HP fan myself, I couldn’t resist. Like a  lot of people, I had pre-ordered my copy of the cursed child back in May with Amazon. However, I had to spend four agonizing days waiting for the book to be delivered after it was released! I finally got the book yesterday, and now that I am done with a book, I just have to say one thing- thank you J K Rowling! thank you for keeping the universe alive! Thank you for giving us more Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny! Thank you for giving us another visit to Hogwarts!….. Just thank you !!!! Ok now that the fan girl has been put aside, fair warning, Spoilers ahead! so if you don’t want to know what happens, then stop right here.

While there were parts I loved about the story, there were parts which I wish had been done differently. First off, I knew that this book was to be in a play script format, so I didn’t go in blind. However, while I usually like a good play, I just wish this was written in the traditional novel form as were the other HP books. The reason for that is that this book introduced and centred around new characters. While the dynamic trio were back, they were not the focus of the story. I don’t know Albus or Severus, and found it very difficult to associate with their thought processes and had to make some significant leaps in understanding for it.

Also, as a play, it was at times disjointed, and jumping across timelines and spaces, which I accept, was the whole plot in itself. But unless you were paying a lot of attention, it was easy to get lost. Another thing I felt, and I may be mistaken, is that at times, the characters which we are familiar with, such as Snape, Dumbledore, Harry and Ginny read differently. They did stuff I wouldn’t usually expect for them. Whether that be Snape’s advice to Scorpius, or Dumbledore’s portrait crying or Harry and Ginny’s conversation. At times it felt that a lot of things happened or were said not because that’s what the character would do, but that was what was required for progressing the plot.

Another quip I had, Rowling seems to have spend some time getting acquainted with the fan theories and fan fictions out there, Bellatrix and Voldemort’s child, really!!! I find that hard to swallow for a couple of reasons,

a. Voldemort does not seem like the character who would want the burdens of an heir- he wanted immortality, that somehow negates the whole need for a heir;

b. I had assumed that all the dark magic and being resurrected would have severely affected his ability to impregnate anyone. Though I can believe that he may have purely used Bellatrix for “release”. Though again, in keeping with his view on ‘weaknesses’ would he really have given in to such cravings?;

c. If Voldemort had chosen to have a child, I would have thought he would use magic to create one- perfect mastery over death (through immortality) and life (by creating life) itself.

d. in the deathly hallows, we see Bellatrix very close to the end, when Harry, Ron and Hermione are taken to the Malfoy Manor and are led to believe she was out and about (when Hermione impersonated her to take break into Gringotts), so when was this baby born and where in the world and how was she hidden!

Though yes, it makes sense that if he did choose to have a child and went about the conventional way to do it, then Bellatrix was a good choice, a pure blood devoted and powerful witch.

Unfortunately I wasn’t sold on the whole Augurey idea either, simply because it was just not given enough time for me to imbibe it. I had to Google it eventually to understand why that would be important. Another thing I was not sold on, the interaction between Delphii and Harry/Voldemort, the dialogue was just not Voldemort, he is the dark lord for crying out loud.

Also, some things never got explained, such as:

a. why did Harry start transforming back on his own?;

b. why did Albus not have flying skills considering both his parents were amazing flyers?;

c. How was Harry’s scar and related to Delphii, was it enough for her to be Voldemort’s blood to trigger it?

d. What about all that movement Hermione is referring to? the Dark side gaining strength?

e. out of curiosity, do Dementors still exist?

f. where was the blanket for so long!

g. Why did Rose react the way she did?, I find it difficult to believe that Hermione and Ron raised her that prejudiced, and that too against her first cousin or even a Malfoy for that matter.

h. Why didn’t Ginny allow her kids sweets?

Lastly, I missed some of the old characters, Neville, the other weasleys, Hagrid, the other kids, but that’s just the fan in me.

I also think this book was purely for the existing Potter lovers, for those familiar with the universe, its rules and history. I am sure the ones who just wanted to read this book without the background would be very confused.

However, not to sound as a hater, let me clarify, I did love it overall. My favourite parts were definitely the interactions between Hermione and Ron. That’s exactly how I would picture a couple who know each other so well to behave. I especially loved Hermione threatening to Skewer Ron with a quill if he asked for a break. There was no doubt, no hesitation, not even for a second did she entertain the idea that that could be a risk, or at least a risk she couldn’t threaten away. I overall loved the third and fourth act, they definitely made up for the initial  two average acts.

To sum it up, yes its not perfect, no where near that – a 7 on 10. But it is still Harry Potter, and that itself is worth more than a lot of the books out there. Its probably the last book with the fandom’s favourite trio. So if you like Harry Potter, do read it! If you have never read Harry Potter (which rock were you under?) read the rest first and then read this. Also, for those who can go, do watch the play live, I am sure if  performed well ( which I am assuming it will be) it will be amazing and heart melting.

 

Grey by E. L. James

In June 2015, E. L. James released ‘Grey’, providing the much awaited Fifty Shades of Grey rendition from the PoV of Christian Grey. I personally had access to the book for a couple of months but only got around to reading it last week, and that to just out of curiosity of how the story was narrated.

When I had read the original Trilogy, I was far from impressed, and found it an average story not worth the hype. Apparently the hype followed this latest book as well. However, if I am being completely honest, I have to say, I fortunately/ unfortunately prefer this PoV to Anna’s!

Don’t get me wrong, the story obviously hasn’t changed, its just the understanding that this book has allowed into Grey’s character is much appreciated. I read some of the reviews of the book, and most of them were pretty scathing. If I remember correctly the book was criticized as being a narration of a sexual offender and James was criticized for giving Grey is a single minded focus, all he apparently can think of is sex.

I agree with these assessments, but what I am failing to understand is why this came as a shock to people. From the original trilogy its obvious that that is what Grey is !!!! someone who was abused sexually in his younger years and someone who has been conditioned to thing in a single minded manner. He doesn’t understand emotion and hasn’t been given an opportunity to develop the maturity of an adult to handle them! In this regard he is a child and the only way he knows how to engage in a relationship (barring his family) is in a sexual manner- ” This is the only way I know how”. All of this was already established in the original books, so why is it a problem now.

Grey’s introduction to adolescences and puberty was in the hands of Elena, and I agree with Anna’s assessment, she was a pedophile. Through her conditioning, Grey learned to harness his energy, focus, take out his frustrations in a particular manner. She didn’t teach him how to deal with emotions, she taught him how to control them, how to harness them, and when he couldn’t, how to let them out in a controlled manner, punish those who didn’t do as he wanted and sexually reward those who did, and in a situation where no-one could go running to the cops. She conditioned him to associate sexual satisfaction with the BDSM lifestyle and the BDSM lifestyle only. She conditioned him to associate relationship’s with sex, and not ‘more’.  If you look at it from one way, Grey remained her submissive, living the life she wanted him to, on numerous occasions having relationships with women she chose, until Ana. I also understand his need for control- its the only way  he knows how to ensure that the neither he or his loved ones get hurt and given his past, I will give him that. That’s how he shows affection. Those he doesn’t care about, he doesn’t bother with.

In keeping with this, I think James did a fantastic job of narrating the story from Grey’s perspective. She stayed true to the character she build. In the first book, that was his only mind-set! he worked, he flew, soared and fucked. His relation with women was only that- of a submissive, that’s all he cared about.

So  yes, I don’t agree with the assessment that James failed to write an accurate perception or a complex character. I will reserve that judgement for the next book, where the evolution of Grey actually happens. I think the problem lies more in the readership today, where we are stuck in the fanciful notions of a dark knight changing his ways for the princess (though it is arguable that that’s what happens in these books). Our romanticism for a seemingly dark character who is actually a gem of a person underneath it all. Girls falling for the bad guy, whether that be Edward Cullen of Christian Grey. I agree with the perception that if Grey wasn’t filthy rich this story wouldn’t be that romantic. That is true, because I don’t see it as a romance at all. No matter how you see it, fact remains, that Grey takes pleasure in the pain of others, he hits women who look like his mother, he is a controlling, stalking and intrusive man who doesn’t understand personal boundaries, he is someone who has not yet matured emotionally, doesn’t know how to handle his emotions without a whip in his hand. and this book remains faithful to that character.

So overall I will say this, the book is a good narration of the character, the story still remains weak, but that can’t be helped now and the problem lies not with the writer but in the present day perception of romance and the bad guys being actually good.

Mother Doesn’t want a dog

This is not an original poem, but I loved it so thought would share.

Mother doesn’t want a dog.

Mother says they smell,

And never sit when you say sit,

Or even when you yell.

And when you come home late at night

And there is ice and snow,

You have to go back out because The dumb dog has to go.

 

Mother doesn’t want a dog.

Mother says they shed,

And always let the strangers in

And bark at friends instead,

And do disgraceful things on rugs,

And track mud on the floor,

And flop upon your bed at night

And snore their doggy snore.

 

Mother doesn’t want a dog.

She’s making a mistake.

Because, more than a dog,

I think She will not want this snake

by- Judith Viorst

Expectations

Expectations, how crippling are you;

Giving me something to look forward to;

Making me chase dreams, only to bring them crashing down;

Am I a doll with whom you can just play around;

Raising hopes and probabilities;

Without ever mentioning the liabilities;

You won this game;

Albeit it wasn’t fair, what a shame;

So go ahead, enjoy your win;

Next time I will remember, you are a wolf in sheep’s skin.

by- Akshita Misra