Monday, August 29, 2005

Nauti Stuff - The Sinking

The title says it all. Gazing at the dying day, as the trackless plains of Andhra Pradesh rolled past the windows of the Hyderabad-Chennai Express (or, the Hyderabad-Chennai Express rolled past the trackless plains of India, as the case may be, if you're a stickler for these things), it is hard to keep thoughts of sinking ships out of one's mind. Your is not to ask why, yours is but to do or die. Die, die, die...[extricates ice pick]

Since we have not done a list in aeons, we will do a list. Famous ships that stank. Sank. Or were otherwise tragically interrupted as they went about their maritime activities. And the nominees are
  • The Titanic - this ship unfortunately has to top the list. Hated the movie, will not say anything more about this disaster, everyone and their aunty Akhilandeswari knows everything about this. You only have to say "Tit..." and people's arms just go up and glazed look colonizes visage, as though they were Leo and Kate coochicooing on the prow.
  • The Lusitania - The world's first quadruple screw steamer, and also the first ship to exceed 30,000 tons.
    On 7 May 1915, while heading east off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland...Lusitania was torpedoed without warning by U-20 and sank within 18 minutes. ..

    ...Of those on board, 761 were rescued, while 1,198 perished. Lusitania's sinking, and the sinking of White Star's Arabic a few months later, vividly demonstrated that prior concepts of the rules of war no longer prevailed, and that unarmed merchant ships were no longer safe from attack.
    The Lusitania incident was later used by Woodrow Wilson (who was officially keeping the US out of the First World War), as a propaganda tool.
  • The Kursk disaster - The Russian Typhoon (?) class SSBN sank with all hands off the coasts of Norway and Russia in 2000. He (the Russians use the male pronoun for ships, apparently) was part of military exercises, when it is believed that leaking fuel from a torpedo ignited and caused an explosion in the forward sections. Some 23 sailors survived the explosion and flooding in the aftmost compartment, and slowly asphyxiated, as rescue attempts to reach them, first by the Russians and later by an international team, failed. RIP.
  • The Exxon Valdez incident - No loss of life this time, but a lot of fishies and birdies and other cuties paid the price for this balls up.
    Exxon Valdez was the original name of an oil tanker owned by the Exxon oil company. The ship was renamed to "Sea River Mediterranean" after the March 24, 1989 oil spill in which the tanker hit Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef and spilled between 11 million and 35 million U.S. gallons (42,000 and 132,000 m³) of crude oil that killed billions of animals: the Exxon Valdez oil spill, or the EVOS. As a result of the spill, 10% of the wildlife died and 50% of the season catch of fish were killed. The captain of the Exxon Valdez was then found guilty of negligence, and in 1991 a federal judge rejected a $1.1 billion settlement reached by Exxon, the federal government, and Alaska.
    Interestingly, the ship makes a cameo appearance in a movie.
  • The Cheat List - Here we will bunch a list of World War II sinkings and be done...
    • HMS Royal Oak - Battleship. Torpedoed in Scapa Flow by Obertleutnant Gunther Prien
    • HMS Hood - Battlecruiser. Sunk by gunfire from the German battleship Bismark, in the course of The Battle Of The Denmark Strait" on May 24, 1941. There were 1400+ crew. 3 survived.
    • The Bismarck - Followed up her brief and spectacular success (above), by proceeding to be battered by the British Home Fleet, and was finally torpedoed by the HMS Dorsetshire. About 2200 died.
    • HMS Prince Of Wales and HMS Repulse" - Sunk by Japanese aircraft within an hour of each other off the east coast of Malaya on 10 December, 1941. The question of the battleship versus the bomber was answered.
    • TODO: USS Arizona and Pearl Harbor, the whole Pacific theater shebang, IJNS Yamato and IJNS Musashi, and so on...
This post has already been too long in the making, so here it is, unfinished, unhonoured, unsung.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I Thoth I Thaw A Thweethybird

All right, very well! It has been ages since our desperate, thirsting readers were treated to a snack at the choultry. Last week was like a curate's egg. About the size of a regular chicken egg, round, offwhite, solid-yet-fragile and so on. Actually, that isn't true. Like all self-respecting layers of eggs and progenitors of hatchlings, the curate spent some time sitting on his egg. So it eventually ended up rather flat, yellowish, drippy, and mottled with little pieces of shell. So that's what last week was like.

And the disgusting egg and egglayer prelude lets us segue into the meat of this post. Not only does it let us segue into the meat of this post, it even lets us use the word segue in a sentence. Who uses segue in a sentence? We do. It is like wanting to use gargantuan, in a legitimate context. Some of use will go to any lengths, even feed an ex-colleague to a black mamba (or whatever), so that we can say "gargantuan" as the poor sod gasps his life out on the floor next to us. We're li' 'at.

We digress too much. For an urban jungle, Hyderabad seems to be exactly that. A jungle. A bunch of us go running ever so often on the banks of the Hussain Sagar, and the sheer variety of birdlife is amazing. You have your egrets, your cormorants (untrained, no politicians and/or lighthouse keepers in evidence), your ducks (not Ganguly's, yours! ha ha...), and so on. Vijay Cavale runs Indiabirds where you can see his rather fantastic pictures of various feathered fiends. Earlier this year, there was a bunch of differently plumed and hued egrets in the Sagar, a reliable source (not a little bird!) says that that's "breeding plumage" for 'em egret blokes.

And just last week, outside the flat windows, as one dissolutely plied the toothbrush in the oral cavity and gazed out over the unfolding morning scene in customary why-me-why-now-Suzanna fashion, out of the blue, a brace of Indian grey hornbills (ocyceros birostris) showed up in the neem (azadirachta indica) tree. It felt like a dream, as they flitted around in the dappled sunlight, as birds are wont to in literary works. None of the neighbours (homo sapiens) seem to have noticed them, and the passing cockroaches (periplaneta americana) motored on and took no heed. Even the Irrawady dolphins (oracella brevirostris) and the blue whales (balaenoptera musculus) scarcely raised a waterspout. Which is well and proper. Would've been one helluva of weirdass dolphin or blue whale to catch a glimpse of an Indian grey hornbill. Having used many scientific names in a paragraph (in case you didn't notice)...

A very good place to see birds, if you're in Bangalore, is to get out of Bangalore. Drive sou' sou' west, towards the Biligiri Ranganna Hills. You will pass through several wetlands, where impeccably feathered and improbably named jacanas wade through the marshes, and fill you with joy (the sight of Nature's variety and beauty), and perplexity ("How do I pronounce jacana?"). When you get to BR Hills, if you're very lucky, you will get to see an Asiatic paradise flycatcher and be amazed. "How did an Asiatic birdie make it into India without passport, visa, and bottle of Scotch for Customs?", you will wonder. Perhaps not. Certainly, you'll get goosebumps from seeing this creature.

The point of this diatribe is, there are many beautiful things in the world, outside of well designed Java applications.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

We Were There

Extended break from blogging, thanks to an interminable week in Bombay. New Bombay, to be precise. Vashi-Mahape-Nerul to be more precise. In the manner of Alistair MacLean narrating H.M.S. Ulysses, we will describe the week:

Monday, a.m.: "Hey, those hills look so pretty in the rain, don't they? The mist, and the little cataracts tumbling off the Sahyadris. Its so pretty. I'm glad for the clouds, otherwise it would've been beastly hot and humid."

Monday, p.m.: "Ah, the smell of wet earth, and green growing things, and that wonderful feeling of moist things squelching as we walk over the verdure. I hope it stays this way for the rest of the week, love the rains in India, can't get enough of it."

Tuesday, a.m.: "Though it stopped last night, it seems to have started up again just now. Looks a bit heavy too. And the sky has that dull, metallic, grey look to it. Wish I'd thought of some way to waterproof the laptop backpack. Hope it doesn't rain too much. It'll probably stop by the time we have to leave the office."

Tuesday, early afternoon: "Hey, look at these Bombay locals machaan, they're ready to run home scared of a little rain. Ha ha ha."

"Its still raining, machaan."

Tuesday, a little later: "Did that guy just say that he was up to his chest in water outside the office gate?"

Tuesday, evening: "Oh well, if these wusses are all heading home, we might as well too. Its still raining, so lets not walk in the rain with the laptops. We'll call the hotel guy and ask him to send a car."

"Hey, the hotel guy says his car is in Chembur, and he'll send it over as soon as it gets to the hotel. That's not too bad, maybe 45 minutes or 1 hour of waiting?"

"Hmm...why again are we walking in the rain, sharing a borrowed umbrella, trying to catch a company bus that is clearly going to burst at the seams before it leaves?"

[Outside the office gates]: "Holy Fuck! Was that Maruti 800 really up to its roof in water??...Mommeeee!"

[In downtown Vashi]: "The hotel is only 1 k.m. away, we can easily wade through the knee-deep sludge and get there. If you go into a manhole, I'll scream, and vice versa."

Tuesday, night: "Shit. This stupid room doesn't have a fan. Only airconditioning. No TV. No phones. No cellphones. No radio. No power. What are we gonna do?"

Tuesday, 11 p.m.: "Its still raining, machaan. Do you think we'll be able to finish tomorrow and go home on Thursday?"

Wednesday, 2 a.m.: "Its still raining, machaan."

Wednesday, 8 a.m.: "Its still raining, machaan."

Wednesday, noon: "Its still raining, machaan. WTF. I think I saw something slimy crawl out of yesterdays clothes lying in the bathroom. Apparently everyone else on yesterday's bus reached home at 5 a.m. Things must be bad. Remind me never to rave about the rain again."

Wednesday, evening: "Ah, finally. Its stopped. Good thing we bought those umbrellas. They'll be really useful, now that the rains have stopped."

Thursday, a.m.: "Atleast we made it to the office. Where is everyone else? Slackers!"

Thursday, evening: "Phew! Done here. Do you think we'll be able to make it to the airport in time for the flight tomorrow? Do you think the airport exists? Do planes exist? What are planes? Hasn't civilization dissolved into a blob and flowed into Mahim Creek over the last two days?"

Friday, 4 a.m.: "Hey, its raining again. Hopefully we'll be able to take off."

Friday, 6 a.m. [Sakinaka] : "Was that really a bicycle in that tree?"

Friday, 8 a.m.: "Huzzah! Out of Bombay. Is it raining in Hyderabad?"

The rains have been horrendous in Bombay.