Monday, 27 June 2016

Escape from Athabasca, A Collection of Short Stories and Poems, (A Preview)

About the Book

Escape from Athabasca, A Collection of Short Stories and Poems deals with a wide range of themes taken from everyday life. The book describes life as a complex mix of the mundane and the extraordinary. Would it be a big surprise to hear about how someone who has never flown a plane before manages to fly one with great success? While some of the stories and poems in the book deal with domestic issues others highlight the importance of friendship, risks and dangers in space travel, or even the impact of virtual game shows on young people. Just because we live secure lives far away from conflict zones, it doesn’t mean we are shielded from the possibility of a nuclear war.
The poems in this book provide a poetical rendition of a world that is sometimes offset by bereavement and at other times the comicality of a roadside barber trimming and shaving the hair of his clients unperturbed by a disturbed world that rushes by.

A free preview into the book – excerpts from the short stories and poems

Richter scale Tremors

They were woken all of a sudden when the building began to shake rather violently – there was a rumbling sound coming from nearby which reminded them of the aircraft taking off from the Sahar International Airport. Thomas, his wife, Pearl and their two kids, John, ten and Martha twelve, rushed to the balcony of the apartment on the first floor of the Sky Lark building. They had rented the entire floor of the building close to a beach in Mumbai for a whole month of as part of our summer vacation. This had been their summer break as they had wanted to spend the few days of their summer vacation away from the mad rush, dust and pollution of the Capital, Delhi. Horrified they looked at the whole building undulate and even as they watched, they saw the beach approach closer and closer. They all rushed out of the building and reached the beach just in time to see the building collapse like a pack of cards. Perplexed the Thomas family watched as the water suddenly receded from them, leaving all sorts of Marine life stranded, crabs, small fish and starfish wriggled on the exposed sand.

Parallel Worlds
    The suburban train came to a stop abruptly in the middle of nowhere, the sudden stillness and silence engulfed them like a blanket jolting all the passengers out of their slumber into a moment of shock. Paul Gartner had been brooding about Daniela before the shockwave hit the train - a girl he had loved so dearly and believed she would stick to him through thick and thin - it came as a blow to him when she calmly announced the previous morning that she was ending their live in relationship!

I wake up in the middle of the day, surprised to notice the darkness all around, the stillness overwhelms me, and then I remember the bright flash that turned the day into an inferno of blazing fires, burning everything to cinders, the heat oppressive even in the middle of the winter season! It had been as if someone had turned on a giant flash, I remember ducking back into the building, the heat searing my back, and then nothing!
   ‘I must have lost consciousness!’ I tell my other self, the one that lurks in my mind. ‘That,’ I tell him, ‘must have been a nuclear explosion.’ The news channels had been airing news about how our neighbouring country had been promising ‘a special gift that would come our way.’  I step out of the huge building only to be hit by the stench of burnt flesh; the heat hits me in the face. What I see shocks me a great deal, cars burnt to cinders, cars piled up on each other as if deliberately piled upon each other by a particularly angry child.

The Boy

He was slow, and clumsy, but he had a smile all the time.
He’d come to the front and touch me by the hand to gain attention, but I
Brushed him away, irritated at the proximity. He’d hover around all the time asking, perhaps,
To be loved and cared for, but no one gave him a chance!

Spoils of War

As the sun sinks down into the horizon, a silence descends on the field,
Broken only by the groans and cries of pain of the injured, and the last
Gasps of those preparing to go away. The sky flashes in hues of bright
Orange, pink, copper, red, and crimson - one last time before the end!

A Roadside Barber

A barber’s chair sits by the roadside, a mirror hung on the trunk of a tree,
Scissors, razors, brush and towel arranged on a table greet the curious
Eye. An intimate relationship it would be as the man on the chair points out
At a pimple on his chin.

How to purchase the book

Escape from Athabasca, A Collection of Short Stories and Poems will be available soon on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and  Flipkart. It will be available as an E-Book and a paper back.

Saturday, 25 June 2016


The Cable Car seen from the hotel terrace

This  time as always, the first choice for our summer holidays was Massoorie. The most compelling reason was it's closeness to Delhi NCR, being barely 290 kilometres away from Gurgaon. Unfortunately for us, we chose the wrong time of the summer season for the trip to Massoorie, 20th of June. What should have taken us not more than five hours ended up taking more than ten hours. The reason was apparently the large number of vehicles heading for this  most favoured hill stations of all! It looked as if everyone from Delhi was headed to Massoorie, though I would not blame them, for so were we, and the weather is awful in Gurgaon, what with the heatwave and the excess voltage fluctuations in the electricity supply. While no doubt, the route till Roorkee was OK, it was after Roorkee that we began facing a huge traffic jam. The problem was because of the heavy traffic, and the damaged roads from Roorkee till Dehradun. In many places the road was so badly damaged by rains that their were bottlenecks wher only one lane could pass at a single time.  Anyway we did manage to reach Dehradun by 4:30 p.m. and knew by then that we would not be able to enter Mall abroad at Massoorie because entry is closed after 4:00 p.m., and our hotel, The Hotel Hill Queen  as located on the Mall. We contacted the hotel and they told us that we would have to park at one the parking areas close to Gandhi Maidan. We breathed what became later on  a premature sigh of relief! It was about five kilometres from Mussoorie that we finally got stuck in a massive traffic jam. Thereafter, reaching Massourie became a torture as the traffic began to move at a snail's pace! To make matters worse was the fact that people driving the opposite way we're making fun of all those people who were driving towards Massoorie.

Window shopping at Mall Road

We finally managed to reach Massourie at 8:00 p.m. and then drove to the triple storied 'Government Approved' parking on the road leading to Kempty fall. We somehow got the others to get off the vehicles and then proceeded to the parking. The tariff? Well,  for the night we were charged Rs. 100/- and for the next day, morning till 10.00 a.m. another Rs.200/-. In any we were not worried about the amount, my brother and I, for we were driving two vehicles, for finally we had managed to get a parking and that was what matters the most to us. The next day I managed to wake up at five in the morning and I decided to take a walk from the hotel to the parking lot to check on the vehicles and retrieve some stuff I had forgotten in my car. The walk as a pleasant one and I managed to get a few good snaps. Finally we decided that it would be better for us to retrieve the cars from the public parking and instead, park them at the hotel. It is clear that people who are caught unawares in Massourie will have to pay dearly for parking charges, entry charges, and exorbitant Joel rates. Fortunately for us we had booked fa,idly rooms at The Hotel Hill Queen  which is a good hotel by all standards because they serve you a sumptuous breakfast and an even more grand dinner. The hotel commands one of the best views of the  Dehradun Valley, an it has some of the best terraces I have ever seen in The hotel is also strategically located almost in the middle of the Mall Road, right opposite the booking office for the rope way .

Drawing crowds to a shopping carnival, my nephew decided to wear his mask too!

Finally after parking our cars at the Hotel Hill Queen we were able relax and then after having a sumptuous meal we decided to take a stroll on Mall Road, window shopping till about eleven, and then turned in to sleep. The next day I woke up at five, took a bath and then walked all the way to Gandhi Maidaan to where the cars were parked an invigorating walk, and the  I was ready for the day. The whole day was spent on window shopping, taking photographs and just chilling out, besides, we also visited the Jawahar Aquarium where there were a few aquariums containing a few exotic fish species. On the third day we decided to visit the company garden that incidentally also houses the Wax Museum. We decided to take rickshaws instead of the cars because of the congested roads. Rickshaws can be hired for Rs. 60/- till Company Garden, one way, then there is a waiting charge of Rs. 100/- and the trip back which will cost you Rs. 60/-.It being late in the summer, there were not too many flowers too see, although the water fall and the landscaping of the garden gave the kids to run around. The Wax Museum was however a bonus! You need to pay a fee of Rs. 100/- per head,to enter the Wax Museum, this is over and above the Rs.18/- per head that you have to pay to enter the Company Garden.

Strolling down Mall Road

On returning, the ladies decided they wanted to check out the Tibetan Market so the did even though it was raining. That it kept raining. We decided to give Kempty Fall and Gun Hill a miss. We decided not to go to Kempty Fall because of the rush and overcrowded road, and as far as Gun Hill was concerned, well we had a clear view of the Dehradun Valley from the comfort of our hotel terrace!

A helping hand when it became too steep for the Rickshaw Wala

Ideally a visit to Massoorie would be about relaxing and window shopping for most, however, some of the places worth visiting include Yamuna bridge, Lal Tibba, Dhanaulti, and Bhatta fall, although the last one could be visited while returning to Delhi. We gave Dhanaulti, Lal Tibba and Kempty Fall a miss because we were apprehensive about not getting a parking spot if we took our vehicles out of the Hotel's parking lot, moreover, there was a risk that we would get stuck in the normal traffic jam while returning to Mussoorie. One thing is clear and that is that the road to Mussoorie needs to be widened in order to accommodate the extra traffic coming from Delhi and Ghaziabad.

The Contraption that you see in the enclosure is a Cinema Hall Film Projector

We planned our return trip to Gurgaon so that we could visit Bhatta Fall on the way and the Malsi Deer Park that is close to Dehradun. The road to Bhatta Fall turns sharply from the main highway, and from the spot from the turning, the water fall is one and a half kilometres from the highway. The road is quite steep though motor able, and of course it is a very narrow rad so drivers should be careful on turns that can be blind spots and they need to keep honking all the time. There is an unsaid rule in the mountains that the first preference on roads should be given to vehicles that are climbing. The locals mostly follow this rule but people coming from other states mostly ignore this rule and they try to force their way more so if they have a bigger vehicle.

A chance encounter with a dragon fly at the Company Garden

Bhatta Fall is a nice place to visit especially because it is relatively less crowded as compared to Kempty fall, and unlike Kempty fall, it is less commercialised! People enjoy dipping into the water, or standing below the water fall, I guess being pummelled by the mass of water falling from a great height might have a therapeutic effect!

At Bhatta Fall

After spending about half an hour st Bhatta Water fall, we decided to continue to Dehradun. On the way back to Dehradun we stopped at the Malsi Deer Park for half an hour. It is very easy to miss the entry to the deer park because of a total lack of indicative signage at  the deer park we were able to see quite a few species of birds, including deer and a leopard. The deer park is a neat and clean place although it could have been better if there had been more facilities like guides and if possible less of wire fences that often prevent you from taking clear snaps of the birds and animals.

At the Malsi Deer Park

We had started for Dehradun from Mussoorie at 10:00 a.m and were able to reach Gurgaon at 9:00 p.m., a good enough time considering that we had stopped frequently spending almost an hour each at Bhatta Water Fall, Malsi Deer Park, and the Bikano restaurant which is a few kilometres before Muzzafarnagar. There was hardly any traffic on the return journey and we stopped a lot of times, once even for a banana break. A note of caution to motorists would be that they should take the by-pass roads and not pass through major  towns on the way as roads going through the towns are often congested with local traffic. Major towns wile driving towards Mussoorie from Delhi include Ghaziabad, Meerut, Muzzafarnagar, Saharanpur, Roorkee, and then Dehradun. The toll roads that bypass Meerut and Muzzafarnagar offer a wonderful driving experience, except when the road passes close to hamlets and villages because you will come across assorted traffic including bullock carts and tractors trying to cross your path often forcing you to apply brakes. Also the adage of giving way to faster traffic on the right is hardly followed by other motorists. You cannot expect trucks to give way to you because they are slower and you are faster, because once the hog the right  lane, they will never give way. The buses too are driven like racing cars so one needs to keep a safe distance from them, moreover the drivers of the buses often seem to take offence if you show them your lights an honk for them to let you past. I guess drivers of commercial vehicles need to go for some more training! While speeding on the inviting toll roads it is better not to exceed a hundred kilometres an hour; there is a risk of a tyre burst when you hit speeds of more than a hundred kilometres an hour caused by friction between the tyres and the road surface. Driving early in the morning, preferably starting at five from Delhi will be a great advantage. Ideally driving time from Delhi to Mussoorie should not exceed five hours. The distance from Delhi to Mussoorie is less than three hundred kilometres.

A display of the various stages of Man's evolution at the deer park

Friday, 24 June 2016

Heading to The Victoria Station, Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Heading to The Victoria Station, Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: This photograph depicts how the past is connected to the present. I came across these decorative metal horses lined up neatly in the display space of a shop on Mall Road, Mussoorie, India. I simply had to take this snap because of the message it passes on!

Apsaras - the Indian Fairies Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Apsaras - the Indian Fairies Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: Just recently while taking a stroll in the Wax Museum in the Company Garden in Mussoorie, I came across these porcelain dolls. The way they had been arranged and the expression was worth capturing.Anyone will see that there is one doll on which the lens of the camera is focussed guess with one it is!

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Church of the Epiphany Church, Gurgaon conducts its first Ordination Service in 150 years!

The second service at the Church of The Epiphany that took place on the  19th of June was an important service for the Church of The Epiphany, Civil Lines, Gurgaon, because for the first time in its hundred and fifty years of existence, it became the venue for the ordination of two deacons and one presbyter of the Church of North India, Diocese of Delhi. All the important office bearers of the Church of North India, were present on the occasion including the Rt.Revd.  Warris Masih, Bishop of the Diocese of Delhi, Revd. Mohit Hitter, Treasurer, and Revd. Kamal Mall treasurer of the Diocese. Also present were: the Rt. Revd. Collin Theodore, Revd. Dr. Paul Swaroop,  Revd. Timothy Shah,Revd. Suresh Kumar, Revd. Daman Rodgers, and Revd. Timothy Shah. The Ordination function was conducted for Deacon, Shachin Kumar so that he could be made a full-fledged Presbyter, Jacob James, and Abhay Benson to be Ordained Deacons. The Service was presided over by the Presbyter in charge, Revd. Sunil Ghazan. I have pasted below a few photographs taken on the occasion:

This is a snap of the Choir of the The Church of The Epiphany.

The three candiadates for whom the ordination took place.

The high and the mighty of the Diocese of Delhi.

After the Ordination

Confirmation sevice at The Church of The Epiphany, Gurgaon - A Glimpse

Today on the 19th of June 2016, we were blessed by the presence of the Rt.Revd. Warris Masih, Bishop of the Diocese of Delhi, (Church of North India). He Conducted the confirmation service for seventeen candidates who are aspiring to be full time members of the church. Also present on the occasion was Revd. Daman Rodgers, who happens to be my cousin brother.

The Rt. Revd. Bishop Warris Masih will also be conducting the Ordination service later in the day for three aspiring ministers of the Diocese of Delhi, an honour that has come to the Church of The Epiphany for the first time in 150 years since its consecration. This fact was mentioned by Mr. D.D.Lal one of the oldest active members of the congregation. The second service will take place at 4:30 p.m. and will conclude with a fellowship dinner. Ordinand Sachin who served the church under the Presbyter in Chanrge, Revd. Sunil Ghazan will be one of the aspiring ministers for the second service.

Mrs Poornima Lall, the Hony. Secretary of the Pasorate Committee of The Church of The Epiphany and Mrs Nathaniel, Hony. Treasurer welcomed the Confirmation Candidates into the family with garlands.

There was a special Bouquet of flowers for Revd.Sunil S.Ghazan, the Presbyter in charge of the Church of The Epiphany, Gurgaon!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Experimenting with Black and white photography and Artistic effects offered by Microsoft Word

While regular photography is run of the mill, a lot can be done with black and white photographs. What you need is a decent enough camera, I generally use a Canon DSLR, although other point or shoot cameras  and mobile phone cameras will work well enough.

Step 1: After taking the photograph, load it into your computer or laptop. Right click on the photograph, go into the properties then click on details and then enter all the information pertaining to the owner of the copyright, name of the author, title, rating, tags …etc.

Step 2: Copy paste the photograph on to a photo editing software. I like using the Microsoft Office Picture Manager software that comes bundled with your Microsoft Office software. I find the Microsoft Office Picture Manager nifty enough. Once you have pasted your photograph in the photo-editing software, you can crop the photograph; tweak the contrast, brightness, and the shadows. After you have tweaked these parameters, you can then compress the photograph as per requirements. I compressed the photographs for documents.

Step 3: For the next step, open a blank Microsoft Office document and then paste your photograph on to it.

Step 4:Double click on the photograph and then select the Correction icon. Sharpen and brighten the photograph accordingly.

Step 5: After you are done with correcting the snap for contrast and brightness, save you snap and then  double click on the snap till you open the MS Word Picture tool, select the Colour option, reduce the colour saturation and colour tone so that you get a black and white or a grey  photograph.

Step 6: Now select Artistic effects and then choose the effect you desire. For the snap shared below I chose Plastic Wrap!

I have pasted below a few snaps that I took and then converted to black and white and used filters to convert them to the desired effect.
Example 01

This is what I got after adding the filters and going through steps 3 to 7:

For the completed picture I used the paint brush effect in the Artistic Effects option in Microsoft Word.
Example 2

For the above picture, I proceeded to steps 3 to 7 since the picture pasted above has already undergone steps 1-2. The finished image is pasted below:

For the above picture I used the chalk dust option.

Example 3:

The picture above has already gone through steps 1-2 like the other snaps. For the finished snap I took the snaps through steps 3-7 and the finished product is pasted below:

For the above effect I used the Chalk Dust effect or filter in the Artistic Effects option in Microsoft Word!

Rust on Stinging Nettle Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Rust on Stinging Nettle Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: When I came across this strange growth on the stem of a bush of stinging Nettle in the mountains of Uttarakhand - India, I felt I should take a few snaps. Growth looks so odd and out of the place. Later I came to know that it is called 'Rust' and it can be found growing on stinging nettle. So much so for parasitic relationships!