Sunday, December 30, 2012


In one of my favourite scenes in the superhero movie "The Avengers" that came out earlier this year, the evil god Loki tries to threaten Iron Man by saying, "We have an army." Utterly unperturbed, Iron Man promptly replies, "We have a Hulk." For the last twenty-three years, whenever we have been threatened by cricketing armies from anywhere in the world, we could always retort in the same way as we always had our own Hulk ready to fight for us, to give us hope, and probably even lead us to a victory. Not any longer. The world didn't end in 2012, but the god of cricket definitely stepped down.

Manhattan after Sandy (Source)
Speaking of the apocalypse, the real 2012 was in no way as interesting as the movie version. Yes, the city that always gets devastated first in any disaster movie since King Kong is still recovering from hurricane Sandy, but it is still a far cry from the end of the world. There are, of course, hundreds of hurricanes in the world every year, but it's not everyday that I end up in the middle of one. Those three days without power and little contact with the outside world would be hard to forget, at least for some time to come.

The Mayan apocalypse was obviously an urban legend. The world can hardly be expected to end just because the guy making their calendar ran out of paper (or stone). However, humanity did suffer a number of setbacks in this year, be it in the deaths of people like astronaut Neil Armstrong, writer Sunil Gangopadhyay and sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, or due to inhuman crimes like the Newtown school shooting and the New Delhi bus rape case. Once again, I find my opposition to gun ownership in the USA and support for capital punishment in India justified, although I would have preferred if I had been proved wrong. On the positive side, Ajmal Kasab was finally executed, although some people said he died of dengue before he was finally hanged. Either way, it was a good riddance.

For me, the year was a mixed one, exactly like all other years. On the negative side... actually there's a lot, the least of which were my laptop's hard disk dying abruptly, and I losing my iPhone. On the positive side, I have been super busy with my research and I think I can finally see the light at the end of my Ph.D. tunnel. Whether that is daylight or the headlight of an oncoming train, only time will tell. But for the time being, the only thing that I can do is move steadily towards that light. In the process, I had to forego my annual India trip this winter, although I did manage a couple of other trips, to Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

Moth art created by Alex Hatjoullis
As the five regular readers of this blog know, I am an amateur photographer and I post my pictures on a few websites. This year, a number of these were liked by critics (which means other photographers, probably) and showcased on the homepages of the photo websites, and I was asked to write a short article for the last of those websites and even won a prize for a photo posted there. What's more, I got offers from two different people wanting to buy my photos, although I am yet to see any real money. Also, Mr. Alexander Hatjoullis, who is an artist living in the UK, created a pretty artwork based on one of my photos. As opposed to people who steal photos without informing the photographer, this gentleman actually asked for my permission before using the photo, and then sent me that limited-edition high quality digital print of his artwork which you see here.

So that's pretty much it for this year. For the time being I have my hands full with a lot of academic and non academic work, which includes reducing weight and learning to drive. You can say I have started on my resolutions even before the new year arrived. I won't make any false promises - blog posts here will be sporadic at best for the next few months to come. However, I'll try to write more posts on my Bengali blog from time to time, so that should be counted as good news if you can read Bengali. Or maybe that's bad news, depending on how you look at it. In other words, 2013 will be just like 2012, as far as I am concerned.

Except for one thing. I will not be able to see one little man play for India in a one day match again. A man who has played in more than half the matches ever played by India. A man who has scored more runs in World Cups than eight complete test playing nations. In spite of everything else that happened around the world, I'll probably remember 2012 most as the year when Sachin Tendulkar retired from one-day cricket.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Shenandoah Caverns

Underground rock formations
When we travel and see fascinating places, how much of the experience is our own?

I mean, obviously the sights and sounds that I experience are completely mine, but the thoughts that they evoke - aren't they shaped by the books that I have read and the movies that I have watched? Can I ever visit Jaisalmer and not think of Sonar Kella? Is it possible to see kash phool and not remember Pather Panchali? Similarly, when I went to see Shenandoah Caverns last Sunday and spent an hour in a real cavern for the first time in my life, at least half my mind was occupied with the experience of little Tom and Becky down in their cave, and fears of getting lost. But the other half was filled with natural wonders beyond my imagination - sights that I had not expected even after looking at pictures of underground caverns.

The "Diamond Cascade"
Not that I didn't know what to expect. The principle is simple enough - the minerals in porous rock layers get dissolved in water and then, as the water drips down into a cave one drop at a time, a little bit of water evaporates from each drop and leaves behind a small mineral deposit that grows into rock icicles over millions of years. Stalactites (the ones that hold "tightly" to the ceiling), stalagmites (the ones that "might" join the ceiling one day), flowstone and draperies are a few of the rock formations that result from such a situation.

As I have said before, I cannot fathom geological time periods. My patience is of the variety that wears thin when an egg takes too long to boil. So when I see impressive rock chandeliers and frozen waterfalls of shimmering crystals, I can hardly imagine the time Nature took to create them. It's not even a volcanic landscape - a lava plateau - that suddenly explodes in front of everyone. This work is of the slow but steady variety, and water drops falling around me in the cave were a constant reminder that Nature's masterpiece is not yet finished. The caverns may look the same to us humans ever since they were discovered, but slowly and surely, they are changing before our very eyes.

Although the Shenandoah Caverns are very small as caverns go, my words are still inadequate to describe them in full. Thankfully, there are electric lights installed that enable photography, and guided tours available that explain every feature for captioning the photographs. Therefore I will stop here and make way for a few more photographs.

Draperies and stalagmites. Everything here was formed naturally

The "Capitol Dome Stalagmite"
"Rainbow Lake," an underground reflecting pool

This translucent rock formation is called "cave bacon"