Saturday, November 26, 2011

Elephants at Dubare

We visited Dubare Elephant Park, Coorg recently. The park is run by the Government of Karnataka and is on the banks of the Cauvery. You take a short boat ride (ETT - 3 minutes) from one end of the bank to the camp for Rs. 20 a head.
(click on the images below for a bigger picture)

The elephants for the famous Mysore Dassara celebrations used to be trained here. Elephants were also trained for to take part in logging operations - something that's now done by machines, forcing the elephants to take iVRS and spending their time here. 

The trip was slightly disappointing due to the promise-delivery difference. For example, they charge for "elephant bathing" - but you'd be disappointed if you thought they'll give you a chance to do that. They just allow you to see it. But you'll bump into people telling you with a proud smile that they bathed the elephants, lopped coconut shells and all. Maybe it's dependent on the crowd. To be fair their website doesn't claim that you can bathe the elephants but the guys at the counter do.

Similarly "elephant feeding" doesn't mean you get to feed them. You just get to see the cart-loads they gulp down. The obedient elephants won't even accept a banana from you if you don't go through the keeper! The best part is that the bananas are given by the department themselves for you to feed - only to be rejected by the elephant. Didn't the elephants like us? Anyway, we ended up gulping the bananas down. The elephant rides had a waiting queue of at least 45 minutes and we didn't have that kind of time. So we spent about 1.5 hours and exited.

On the bright side, the trip gave us a great chance to see elephants up-close. As in, cageless touch-feel distance.

And also enough to wonder at Mother nature's design. As in:

1) The elephant's trunk contains 100,000 individual muscles (not skeletal muscles). Damn! Damn! Yes, two damns! And the trunk is sensitive enough to pick up a pin. You bet. With 100,000 muscles.

2) The trunk can hold about 8 litres of water at once.

3) They have a total of 26 teeth (not two! - the tusks are like the human incisors) and unlike humans, they have about 6 cycles of dentition. 

4) They weigh about about 3000 kgs; 150 kgs of food and 80 litres of water a day keeps an elephant the giant it is.

5) They sleep for just about two hours a day. Why? Because they spend about 18 hours a day looking for and chomping their veggies.

6) To supplement their diet, they dig up soil for salt and minerals. Entire hills have been carved out due to this action! More about that here.

7) The skin feels tough to touch (the word pachyderm means thick skin) but it has so many nerve endings that it makes it sensitive enough to detect even a fly sitting on it. The pink coloration that you see in the snap below is due to depigmentation - characteristic of Asian elephants.

8) Elephants don't perspire. So they use their ears as fans which cools the blood near the ears by as much as 6 degrees Celsius which is then circulated to the rest of  the body

9)  They swim well but cannot jump or gallop; They need to have at least one foot on the ground.
10) They have a gestation period of 22 months. And here i was thinking 9 months was tough. 

11) They live in matriarchal groups led by (mostly) the oldest/largest female

So much for one animal. Great Mother Nature. What also amazes me is the courage of that first human group to have thought to domesticate this great animal.

...and oh, the wonders of the internet. There's a page that gives you tips on keeping your very own pet elephant! Best part:

Prevent the elephant from getting chilly after a shower

Facts and figures given above pertain to the Indian Asian Elephant (elephas maximus indicus). For difference between the African and Asian elephant see here. They even belong to different genera ! (loxodonta and elephas for African and Asian respectively. That seemed surprising to me as a layman but Wikipedia also says that there are no hard and fast rules for genus classification. Before this gets any more confusing, am going to stop.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


ऒम् नमो भगवते रुद्राय !

We were blessed to be at Tiruvannamalai last month. Here are six pictures taken - was quite happy with the images coming from a cellphone!

The verses are those of the Arunachala Pancharatnam composed by Sri Ramana Himself. Have tried a loose translation - apologies for mistakes, if any. See here for more detail.

करुणापूर्णे सुधाब्धे कबलितघनविश्वरूप किरणावल्या
अरुणाचल परमात्मनरुणो भव चित्तकञसुविकासाय || 1 ||

O, one who is overflowing with compassion!
 O, ocean of nectar! By whose rays the dense universe is swallowed.
O Supreme Self Arunachala! Be thou the sun that fully blossoms my mind lotus!

त्वय्यरुणाचल सर्वम् भूत्वास्थित्वा प्रलीनमेतच्चित्रम्
हृद्यहमित्यात्मतया नृत्यसि भोः ते वदन्ति हृदयन्नाम || 2 ||

In you, O Arunachala, does this picture come into being, exists and is destroyed.
The Self-essence in the form of ‘I’ are you who dances in the heart!
They say ‘heart’ is your name. 


अहमिति कुतः आयातीत्यन्विष्यान्तः प्रविष्टयात्यमलधिया
अवगम्यस्वम्रूपम् शाम्यत्यरुणाचल त्वयि नदीवब्धौ || 3 ||

A very pure mind having entered within by inquiring “From where does this ‘I’ come”, and having known one’s own Self, becomes still.
In you, O Arunachala, like a river in the ocean!

त्यक्त्वा विषयम् बाह्यम् रुद्धप्राणेन रुद्धमनसान्तस्त्वाम्
ध्यायन्पश्यति योगी दीधितिम् अरुणाचल त्वयि महीयम् ते || 4 ||

Meditating on you after rejecting externalities by means of a restrained breath and mind, the yogi sees Light, O Arunachala!
They are exalted in you.

त्वय्यर्पितमनसा त्वाम् पश्यन् सर्वम् तवाकृतितया सततम्
भजते अनन्य प्रीत्या सा जयत्यरुणाचल त्वयि सुखे मग्नः || 5 ||

O Arunachala! Seeing you by means of a mind surrendered to you, he triumphs, O Arunachala, who always worships everything as your form with undistracted love!
He drowns in happiness in you.

श्रीमद्रमणमहार्षेर् दर्शनमरुणाचलस्य देवगिरा
पञकमार्यागितौ रत्नम् त्विदमौपनषदम् हि || 6 ||

These five verses in the Arya meter on the holy hill of Arunachala are revealed by Sri Ramana Maharishi. They are indeed Upanishadic gems.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

False Idolatory and Role Models

Blogpost summary: 8.3/10 on the rant scale.

I. Epic Stuff:
Jobs was outraged and summoned Gates from Seattle to Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters. “They met in Jobs’s conference room, where Gates found himself surrounded by ten Apple employees who were eager to watch their boss assail him,” [...]
‘You’re ripping us off!’ he shouted. ‘I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!’ ” 

Gates looked back at Jobs calmly. Everyone knew where the windows and the icons came from. “Well, Steve,” Gates responded. “I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

Jobs was someone who took other people’s ideas and changed them. But he did not like it when the same thing was done to him.
And read this for a better background (and also here)

II. i loved his presentation skills. i learnt a lot from his Stanford Speech. There are detractors (this too) but overall, i agree with what Jobs says in the speech. Jobs' tenacity, passion and legendary attention to detail are also obviously worth emulating. 

But what i cannot understand is the blind idolisation of the man by certain sections of the public and media. He clearly had his share of negatives. For example, along with his attention to detail came a nasty impatience with colleagues. 
In the coming months, many employees developed a fear of encountering Jobs while riding in the elevator, "afraid that they might not have a job when the doors opened...
(See here and here)
His arrogance and sharp tongue are probably as legendary as his products. I'm also uncomfortable with some of his personal decisions:
For two years, though already wealthy, he (Steve Jobs) denied paternity while Lisa's mother went on welfare. At one point Jobs even swore in a signed court document that he couldn't be Lisa's father because he was "sterile and infertile, and as a result thereof, did not have the physical capacity to procreate a child." He later acknowledged paternity of Lisa [...]

From what i've seen, members of his hard-core supporter group (HCSG) just don't acknowledge all this. (I guess that is why they are called 'hard-core'). What is also curious is that the HCSG also tries to justify some of his personal decisions. Take charity, for example. It is widely believed that Jobs was not particularly philanthropically inclined

Even as a non-member of the HCSG, i don't mind that Jobs didn't give. It was his money. As long as it was legally earned and taxes paid, it's none of my business to crib about his lack of giving - not counting the fact that his charity may well have been private. 

But why do we see poor justifications like this? This article almost looks like Steve Jobs' sole objective in making an iPhone was to make the world a happier place to live in! Or if an organisation made a great product, they don't have to care about philanthropy.

Also, while i don't mind Jobs' non-giving, i do mind him talking badly about those who do  give. Jobs on Gates
"Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he's more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology.

III. This entire thing serves to reinforce in myself some of what i try to follow about public role-models (PRMs):

i. They are not meant to be copied to the last atom of their personalities. It is essential to selectively emulate. A negative attribute (arrogance, aggression, cheating etc.) is negative even if it exists in famous CEO of XYZ, also a person who gives tremendously to charity.

Many of these people have double lives - a flashy testosterone-driven 'cool' life in front of the cameras and a depressed shadow life behind the scenes.They ain't all that cool when you get to know them really well.

ii. Content not Covering. Great presentation skills, looks that can kill, smart dressing, power exuding from his armpits etc: Keep all that aside. What is the life s/he's leading? What's s/he saying? There have been umpteen instances where i've come back from a presentation or talk by a PMR where he's spoken nonsense but look all around and you'll find eyes popping out of sockets among a big fan-following going ga-ga over...over what? Don't know. Just the personality, i guess.

iv. PRMs don't operate alone. They have a team working for them. Next time you hear an exceptional speech by a PRM, applaud it but consider that it may have come from a very good speech writer. So don't feel bad for yourself :)

v. Respect but do not be in jaw-dropping awe of PRM. For one, it indicates a lack of confidence in yourself as a unique human being.

vi. Be objective. You are not obliged to - and in fact, shouldn't - defend your PRM for every thing s/he thinks/says/does.

vii. A role model is not equivalent to a mentor. Getting a good mentor is one of the best things that can happen to one's life and career. A PRM is dispensable.
1. Sorry for the link loading but here's another good link.
2. For all the hoopla, look what's happening to the market share.
3. Couldn't resist another link