Life


Saw a cool sight outside our house the other day and captured it live on my new camera, the Panasonic DMC-FZ28. This camera can also capture video in HD (although the one below is a low-res version).

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2397707&dest=-1]

Not bad for a camera – eh 🙂 ? I am quite happy with it. It’s automatic setting for taking snapshots does a very good job indoors and outdoors – which is a huge improvement from my earlier Nikon pocket camera which was horrendous 100% of the time indoors. In addition, the DMC-FZ28 also allows full manual control if needed (have not played with that). One complaint is that for some strange reason, I am having blurred results with my close-ups more often than I expected. This in spite of holding the camera steady. But then perhaps I need to reduce my caffeine intake.

The video capabilities of DMC-FZ28 is quite impressive considering it is just a camera – the 18x optical zoom comes in quite handy with videos. So much so that I returned the Creative Vado I had bought (for just a toy). I think this camera beats the pants out of both Vado HD as well as Flip – I think much better picture, and way more control including an 18x optical zoom compared to say 2x or 4x. The audio of course is  unimpressive (like Vado and flip). It just picks up from the built-in mic – no external control. But after all it is still only a camera.

For “special moments” etc. I think using the camera to capture a 5 minute excerpt video, watching it and forgetting about it is much better than recording 30-40 minutes of home videos every now and then and them gathering cobwebs (it has been so for us). Anyway, that is my current thinking.

The camera is about $300 – but I had enough credit card points to get it for free. So no complaints here 🙂

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The other day as I was driving around the neighborhood I spotted the following sign at the entry of a neighboring town:
Road Sign

Red Light Photo Enforced Community – Hmmm.. that seems odd and contrived I thought. But I knew what it conveyed. In that community, at certain traffic light intersections. cameras and sensors monitored whether cars came to a full stop on a red light – exactly where they are supposed to (e.g. going over the white line is a violation). If you did not follow the law to the tee, you get a surprise in your mail a few days later. A ticket with a hefty fine, along with a photograph of your car “caught red handed”! You can even go to a website where they will have a video of you caught in the act. Obviously, I am speaking from experience 🙂 !

This was done in my town last year and everybody raised a big hue and cry because it was seen as a big money making racket for the town. For example, they installed it not in intersections which were already considered dangerous (from past accident history), but ones where they expected more crowd etc. – and ones where more affluent folks from other towns were expected to visit – i.e. better revenue stream. It was also argued that these caught more of the very minor violations (e.g. you did stop but went over the line) rather than the real dangerous, major ones as in someone clearly ignored the red light and shot through the intersection. There is also the “big brother is watching” feeling this gave to common folk. Eventually the PR was bad enough that they stopped it. But this is good business for the towns, and they can always say “hey, laws are meant to be followed”. In US, if it is good business, it is usually unstoppable.

Anyway, enough of about that, as that is the not the true intent of this post. It is instead about something far more trivial! I felt that the ordering the words red light photo enforced community read odd and seemed contrived. If one wanted to convey that in your community, stopping at red light was enforced via photo, is this how one would word it? My English isn’t super strong, and so maybe, this is fine, but it still seems odd. As I was thinking of alternate ways, I broke out into a broad smile and guffawed, because I am sure they must have thought of the another ordering and immediately rejected it as it immediately would have been appeared at FAIL blog as follows:

Road Sign Fail

Road Sign FAIL

“Photo enforced Red Light Community” – Now that reads quite funny if you think about it 🙂 !

PS: If you have not checked out FAIL Blog (http://failblog.org) you must. It is hilarious and will keep you occupied for a while!

Jeez! All hell is about to break loose!  

That is what I thought yesterday around 11 AM when  I looked out of my office where the scenery usually looks like this in early summer:

Normal

Normal

Instead, it looked like this:

Scary

Scary

Scarier

Scarier

(Note: Yes, Crappy photos I know. Besides having to shoot through tinted office building glass windows, as noted earlier, my camera sucks! But I have a new beauty that arrived today. More on that later)

 

Seemingly out of nowhere, dark clouds had gathered, ominously poised over where I was.  It looked pretty awesome and scary. Like I said, I sweared, Jeez, All hell is about to break loose!

And all I immediately thought of this (awesome, awesome) song Stormbringer by Deep Purple (ah! takes me back to my college days), – with its ominous lyrics, and pulsating hard guitar sound:

Watch/Listen to it here:

 
Note: That is a cover band. They have done an awesome, awesome job!

 Stormbringer – Deep Purple
Comin out of nowhere drivin like rain
Stormbringer dance on the thunder again.
Dark cloud gathering breaking the day
No point running cause its coming your way.

Ride the rainbow, crack the sky
Stormbringer coming, Time to die.

(chorus)
Got to keep running.
Stormbringer coming
He’s got nothing you need
He’s gonna make you bleed

Yes indeed Dark Clouds gathering breaking the day. No point running ‘Cause it was coming my way!

Epilogue:
All hell did not break loose – at least not where I was 🙂 ! For all the posturing, Stormbringer decided to take it North and East of us for that one. O’Hare airport got like 3.5 inches of rain or so in a short time due to that storm. We (at home) got nailed by a one later that day.

Oh and btw, this is how storms come about in the midwest – usually during spring. Shock and Awe. Stormbringer dance on the thunder every year, many times.

Life can be unpredictable. Most of us go through our lives in a somewhat orderly fashion consisting of our daily routines, and we also feel frustrated at the monotony. However, there are times when the routine is indeed broken. Of course, most of us may recollect only those times when the event is huge in  magnitude (positive or negative) or that the turn is to the worse.

But there is a charm when something positive comes our way, is small/trivial, but it comes when you least expect it.  In the big scheme of things, it does not amount to much, but yet it is still refreshing, invigorating. It is a tonic for life perhaps. One such little thing happened to me yesterday.

I was lazing around  at home doing nothing,  generally feeling groggy from an over-extended afternoon nap.  But certain things needed to be taken care off, and this meant I had to head out to the nearby temple. While it did take a bit of internal coaxing (since I didn’t absolutely had to do that),  it did feel to get out rather than being drowned in dullness.

(Side Note: I am certainly not a religious, pious type – so do not draw too many conclusions regarding those “duties” 😉 )

At the temple, as I was heading up the steps to the sanctum for the obligatory face-showing to the big guy, I heard the sweet strains of the sweet raga madhyamavati, delivered in a sonorous voice. Now, I knew that the temple had free concerts once a month (mostly but necessarily amateurs), although until that moment, it did not even occur to me that yesterday was one such day. Also, this sounded real good, like from  professional musicians – say from Chennai. I remember thinking “Hmm… I don’t remember seeing any ads for a professional musician concert in the neighborhood today”.  Once I went to sanctum, I could recognize the musician. He (who apparently shares my name) is  one of the sishyas of Smt. Seetha Rajan and had provided vocal support for her in a concert few weeks back. I think he is currently studying/living in the US. And he was slowly unravelling the beauty of madhyamavati in an alapana – a joy to me always.  Now, since this was a Rama temple, I knew the song that follows was most probably rAma kata sudha, a beautiful song. And for the next 20-25 minutes,  I was immersed in the beauty of one of my favorite ragas. And this was like a 1000 times more refreshing than any power nap in the afternoon. The grogginess was washed away completely. This was delightful treat – a special moment for me. Perhaps something I will remember a long time.

On the way back home, I remember thinking  as follows: If I had gone there expecting a concert, and I had heard the same madhyamavati, would I have enjoyed it as much? I certainly would have enjoyed it, but I think there is a special delight in getting a treat, one’s favorite treat when one least expects it.  I was at the temple supposedly for a few minutes with a completely different agenda.  Carnatic music,  that too quality Carnatic music, that too in a raga that I love, followed by a song I love was not something that I least expected at that time.  And that made it so much more fun.

Having a delicious cake, say your most favorite kind, at the birthday party, where you already had an expectation that “cake would be served” is one thing, but getting a piece of that delicious cake when you least expect it?

Or think of getting a gift that you always wanted, always dreamed of.  Now, if you get it on your birthday, or some anniversary, it would certainly lift your spirits, perhaps to very high level.  But let us say that instead someone surprises you with that same gift at a time when you least expect it. I am sure your spirits would be at astronomical level – would it not 🙂 ?

PS: On an unrelated, but more important note, here is  hoping that snowball in Iran gathers speed and mass as it rolls, and the looney gets kicked out of office. There are of course bigger loonies there, but …

Been lazy again. So this is just a quick post in a hope to “get back into the groove” again. I realize that most of my interests wax and wane. For the last few weeks, I was consciously aware that I was not actively blogging (even during those carnatic cryptic puzzle weeks) and also remember feeling “just not interested” to do so. But now today all of a sudden the interest spiked up – for no particular reason.  But dont have anything interesting to say. So what has been happening at my end the last few weeks?

  • A trip to Far-East: Went on a rare official trip to South Korea. I almost never travel officially, and so to go to South Korea of all places  is an extremely rare situation indeed. Went to Suwon near Seoul. I was impressed by the efficiency of the country, and the achievements its people have made. Managed by with some decent vegetarian food choices for the few days I was there. There were Indian restaurants near where I was, but then my colleague wasnt interested in them 🙂 !  The pizza I had there was actually pretty good (spicy). I tried “kimchi”. Well, I can see I tried kimchi.  I guess since I was used to some western vegetarian choices, I was able to get by better (pizza, pasta, and many cakes). Breakfast was awesome – but again a western breakfast which I always like.
  • A “Cookie” for my daughter: We have a new member in the family – albeit not boy or a girl. We have pet Cinnamon Green-Cheeked Conure (a member of the parrot family). More about “Cookie”  perhaps in a later post.  “He” is adorable (we dont know the sex, you cant tell until a DNA test, but we are presuming him) in a later post. He was “hand-raised” by a breeder, and so will step on your hand/finger when you ask him to.  He is even potty trained. He is my daughter’s and by now he thinks so too. When she is around, he is itching to get to her. We (my wife and I) never thought we were “pet people” – but we certainly have warmed up to it well.
  • Super Daddy: Managed the fort with my daughter for a couple of weeks on our own when Mom was out of town. We suffered a few casualities – all in the botanical area, both inside the house and outside. My question “Oh, so that was a real plant?” did not go well when Mom returned.  Someone joked “Hey, it was either water the plants, or water the kid. I think you made the right choice”. Anyway, I think in spite of that, I have like a million brownie points in my account. This may be connected to the “droolarama” point below.
  • Amateur Singer: Sang as part of a group at the local carnatic music festival. I call this festival my “Annual Embarrassment Conference”, but this time we actually did well. Like animals at the bottom of the food-chain, we amateurs do feel “strength in numbers” and I think that could have been the reason (besides our teacher training us well). I am glad that I got to learn many beautiful songs – many in my favorite ragas. With rItigauLa, bhairavi, husEni, nIlAmbari, sahAnA, Ahiri – who can complain?
  • Mergers and Acquistions: The company I work for got acquired. They say it wont affect anything. Ha, Ha :-)! Now, where have I heard that before?  But I think I should be ok.
  • Droolarama: Have been drooling over electronic gadgets again. This time, my credit card points were exchangeable for electronics gift cards. Planning to buy a real good camera (panasonic fz28) + something else that I am still deciding.  So little money (after the camera), and so much more to buy:
    • An LCD TV for upstairs (this is the only one that is atleast somewhat need based)
    • Apple TV
    • Mac OS Leopard (yes, I am still on Tiger)
    • A 1 TB hard drive that will work with Leopard’s Time Machine.  The Apple’s Time Capsule looks like it is a big rip-off.
    • I also bought the Creative’s Vado HD video player – outside of points at Amazon (since I drooled, and since Amazon gave $50 credit on top). But I will return it now, since its low-light (actually medium-low light itself) is bad, and the camera I will be able to get via points should have HD video recording as well.  Both are not going to be like a HD camcorder – but atleast my pocket will not become too light.
    • Of course, the mother of all drools – an MacPro Notebook. I see that the 13 inch one would be $1200 come September ….

When my sister and brother-in-law suggested South Dakota and the Mt. Rushmore neighborhood as the destination for our family vacation this year, I was a little apprehensive. I was not too sure how much I will enjoy it. Going so far to see large faces of four political figures (albeit celebrated nation leaders) did not exactly give a “Gotta see that!” feeling in me. Besides, I was also worried if it would be a repeat of Grand Canyon, where I was total awe for about 15 minutes, but then soon was wondering Okey-Dokey. What else is here? Is there anything else besides seeing the same at sunrise, sunset, mid-noon, late-noon and late-night?

To be fair, that reaction of mine to the Grand Canyon was because we did not do the fun things like trek down to the bottom of the canyon, do white-water rafting, take horse-back rides etc. Those are hard to do on a standard family trip – at least our kind of family trips where little kids and/or senior citizens are part of the gang. Although the senior citizens definitely would not want to hold us back, on these trips you generally want to do things that all can be a part of and enjoy.

In any case, my brother-in-law assured me that there is plenty to see in and around Mt. Rushmore. I asked a couple of folks at work, and they also said that there are many interesting things to see in that area. So South Dakota it was, and I certainly hoped that what I heard was true, and it will keep me engaged for the four days we planned to stay there. Well it certainly did! And here is how…

We flew to Rapid City from Chicago reaching there early afternoon, on a very bright, and sunny day. Our accommodations were in a cabin in the woods near Deadwood, about an hour drive away. After we rented our vehicle, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed out to our cabin. All along the scenary, was quite beautiful, with green gentle rolling hills:

Our cabin was quite beautiful, situated on a hill called Strawberry Hill. The view from the front was quite nice:

First Day Evening
Our cabin pretty much had all the amenities one could want. Since we also had an expert Tamil South Indian cook with us, after a short trip to a grocery store in Deadwood, and using the minimal supplies we had wisely brought with us, we had Vatthakkuzhambu, Potato Curry, Chips, rasam (sATramudu/saatthumadhu in our lingo) for dinner that day. Yes you heard it – vattakkuzhambu in Black Hills – South Dakota! Do I need to explicitly say how good that dinner was?

In the evening, we had a deer walk by the front of cabin. We also enjoyed a beautiful sunset:

Then we relaxed in the hot-tub. Yes, the cabin also had a private hot-tub! And a fine one it was indeed. All we had to do was set the temperature, and wait it a little bit for it to be nice, hot and relaxing. Once the sun went down, the temperature cooled enough for it to be even more worthwhile.

Like I said, the cabin had all the amenities one could want. Our only complaint was that it had only one bathroom for the eight of us.

Day-2: Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, Hot Springs, Crazy Horse
Day 2, we were on our way quite early thanks to our bodies being still attuned to Chicago time zone, which is one hour ahead of South Dakota. We had planned to see quite a few places, although at that time, those were tentative plans as we did not feel obligated to push ourselves.

Day-2: Pactola Lake
On the way to Mt. Rushmore, we spotted the beautiful Pactola lake among the hills, and stopped to take a few snaps:

Day-2: Mt. Rushmore
At the famous Mt. Rushmore , we captured the four faces on our cameras from four hundred angles. The weather was quite hot, the sun hitting hard, but we still walked the “tourist friendly” trail that made a curve in front of the mountain. That was quite nice.

On our way out, we caught a few minutes of music from a Native American Rock Band. Also spent a few minutes inside the gift shop, which I noticed to be teeming with US memorabilia i.e. keeping up with the general US Government theme of Mt. Rushmore. However, what also caught my attention were several books about Native American history and culture. Some of the common words in the titles of many of those books were “betrayal”, “massacre” etc. That set me off in a pensive mood thinking as to how the Native Americans would feel about these four faces – symbols of their conquering nation, carved as a much-much-larger-than-life presence on a mountain in what used to be “their country” – to be seen for miles all over that neck of the woods. And two of those faces in particular cannot be endearing (euphemistically put) to the Native American people (a little more on this later). But I digress …

Still, Mt. Rushmore is an impressive feat – no doubt. To carve these giant faces on a mountain – the scale of the operation is still mind boggling. And of course the features on the faces, are brought out sharply, and clearly. The eyes seem lively. The sculptor Gutzon Borglum was indeed one talented man. BTW, did you know that because of the kind of rock they were carved on, the faces would be recognizable for a million years or more! I was floored when I came to know that! All in all, it was an interesting and enjoyable couple of hours.

Day-2: Custer State Park
After Mt. Rushmore, we headed south to Custer State Park, also in the Black Hills via the very windy Iron Mountain Road. This state park is Bison/Buffalo country against a beautiful backdrop of lush, green hills – a very pleasant scenary. You add roaming Bison/Buffalo herd to this, and if you have seen the Kevin Costner movie, Dances with Wolves, you will be able to relate to this scenery a lot.

We caught glimpses of Mt. Rushmore far-away at certain vantage points on the Iron Mountain Road, which while very beautiful, was very slow and very windy, and it did take some toll on some of the folks. By the time we entered Custer State Park, we were very eager to catch a Bison herd to complete the Dances with Wolves association. For a while, it seemed that we would just run out of luck, giving rise to the possibility of a disappointing and frustrating afternoon. However, soon we did spotted a huge herd far away, and after that, we also caught a couple of Bison right next to the road:

By the time, we saw those Bison next to the road, my daughter who was weak from car sickness was asleep. Later on I spotted another herd, and I saw that my daughter was awake although still lying down. I excitedly told her to look at the Bison, and without even raising her head, she replied with a deadpan voice: It is just a buffalo.

I kept silent after that 🙂 ! After all it was not like we were seeing lions, tigers and elephants!

Day-2: Hot Springs – Columbian Mammoth Dig site
We then headed to “Hot Springs”, which judging from the “marketing literature” seemed to have warm natural springs at the foot hills of some beautiful hills, with wild horses running around lush green fields. Yes the kind of heaven one would think to find only in dreams … and in marketing literature.

Hot Springs as it turns out, is the name of a town. To be fair, it does have hot springs, but that is now a giant indoor swimming pool with water slides etc. – in other words South Dakota’s version of the Wisconsin Dells. Those wild horses were part of some ranch 15-20 miles away – a wild joke on us on a blisteringly hot day.

Our only hope was what was advertised as a “Mammoth Dig”, which (supposedly I now thought) was a real dig site of Mammoth bones and fossils. By now, our interpretation of the marketing literature was leading us to suspect that this would be a mammoth disappointment. But we were luckily wrong. This dig site, around which a museum type of building is built, is indeed quite impressive. Apparently long ago, it used to some sort of a watering hole (a very very deep one) which turned out to be a death-trap for many Columbian Mammoths. The site is full of bones and fossils of Mammoths and some other animals. I forgot the number of mammoths whose bones have been identified, I think it is in the fifties (or eighties?) – and they still have not explored all of it.

Day-2: Crazy Horse
On our way back, we stopped at the Crazy Horse memorial, which is to honor an Native American Chief Crazy Horse, or as was clarified to us, the spirit of Native Americans. This is their answer to Mt. Rushmore, although it is still very much under construction. It is being managed by the family of the original sculptor (Korczak Ziolkowski), and he purposefully it not want it to be under Government management. The downside perhaps is that progress is fairly slow and it may not get done in my lifetime.

The chief is on his horse pointing at something, and one of the exhibits/material in the museum said it was as if in response to being derisively asked by the colonists and nation builders Where are your lands now? The response is Here, as far as our eyes can see (i am paraphrasing here).

By the time, we got back from Crazy Horse, and had our dinner, I was beat, even too tired to hit the Hot Tub. But that was me – others (including my daughter) certainly made good use of it. My daughter’s “journal” for that day had a complaint section, which included the entries: Too much driving. Not too many animals.

Day 3 – Cave Exploration, Wall Drug and Badlands
On day 3, once again with an early start, and we headed for Badlands, which were about a couple of hours drive from where we were staying. Our main agenda for this day was Badlands as we thought this would take most of the day, and we were also happy that we covered a lot of places on Day 1, and now we can “ease off” comfortably.

Day-3: Cave Exploration
We explored a cave on the way. I expected the caves to glitter with many crystals but it did not. Nevertheless it was quite interesting as we went quite deep down. It was amazing to see how many nooks, corners, and hidden passages were there in the cave, some with extremely precipitous drops. It was also interesting to know that that cave’s temperature remained 47F-52H throughout the year – so in the dead of the cold Dakota winter, one can find “warmth” in that cave. In summer, of course, it is on the chilly side. This is the first time I have been deep inside a cave, and while it did not match my expectations of crystalline glitter, it still was very interesting.

Day-3 – Wall Drug, and a powerful book
As soon as we crossed east of Rapid City limits, after just about every farm, or every mile, we were seeing ads for Wall Drug – a big store (not anymore just a drug store) in the town of Wall, South Dakota. The ads were like “Tired? Wall Drug”, “Thirsty? Wall Drug”, “Free ice-cold water. Wall Drug”, “Giant Dinosaur. Wall Drug”, and so on. I am told, if approaching South Dakota from east, the ads start from Iowa – i.e. many hundred miles from Wall! They sure make it seem like it is the only store in South Dakota.

Wall Drug as it turns out is a maze of interconnected shops and restaurants, which is really one super store. My interest by then was only in the book shop where I bought a wonderful book. I wanted to know more about how the country was usurped from the Native Americans, and I wanted something that did not have too much rhetoric – i.e. something mainly factual to get started with. I eventually decided on this book:

Native America, Discovered and Conquered

Native America, Discovered and Conquered

And it has turned out to be an excellent decision. It is pretty much fully factual based, with material drawn from biographies, government documents, court cases and documents covering the last few centuries. It highlights the destructive, poisonous mix of greed, arrogance, downright callousness (e.g. in even recognizing that indigenous peoples had rights), which brewed within the minds of European Colonists. This was also there in the American settlers, and the early nation builders, who very much inherited that mind-set, and executed it in the conquest of America.

The central theme of the book is the “Doctrine of Discovery”, something that was common acceptable practice among Europeans (and only them as it would be revolting to the affected peoples then, and perhaps hopefully to everyone now). This “commonly accepted practice”, provided avenue for laws, which in turn led the Colonists to feel “justified” in their actions, and (laughably if it not were so pathetic) actually believe they are being fair to the very people whose rights they were usurping by those laws!!! The book starts out with these telling sentences : The New World was colonized under an international legal principle that is known today as the Doctrine of Discovery. When Europeans and Americans set out to explore and exploit new lands in the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries, they justified their governmental and property claims over these territories and over the indigenous inhabitants with the Discovery Doctrine ……. The doctrine provided, under established international law, that newly arrived Europeans immediately and automatically acquired property rights in native lands and gained governmental, political and commercial rights over the inhabitants without the knowledge nor the consent of the indigenous peoples.

The author, Robert Miller, is a professor at a law school, and is also Native American Tribal judge. He hence looks at the conquest of Native America from a legal perspective, and this is indeed eye-opening as that conquest was done from a legal perspective if you view it from the mind-set of the American nation builders. Special attention is devoted to Thomas Jefferson and the Lewis and Clark expedition. Jefferson as it turns out was quite an expert on the legal ramifications of the Doctrine of Discovery, a master at weaving it, for expanding the American territory. He used every trick in the book. And his is one of the faces on Mt. Rushmore right in the Black Hills, deep in what used to be native American country ….

Sure – it is history long past, and what is done cannot be undone. I guess the least we can do is to not shy away from it, or not be ignorant about it.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book.

Day-3: Badlands
We then headed to the Badlands, an area which looks like as if it is from an alien planet. We were expecting to get scorched there judging from the temperature the previous day, but this day, it was quite comfortable. What we instead encountered were very high winds, with gusts probably close to 50 m.p.h. That made the Badlands, seem bad bad badlands 🙂 It added to the aura of this place. You see wierd mountains, and rock formations with various colors – brown, reddish brown, pink, yellow. The rock formations themselves were quiet alien looking, and this is for miles and miles. However, the place is not completely inhabitable – there is plant life and animal life.


As we were driving through the Badlands, I couldn’t help but thinking how it would be to spend the night there and wander the weird landscape, under moonlight. It would be totally eerie – and I very much wish I could experience it. I could not do that this time, but I am sure it would like this (with the little help from my Mac using GIMP to get the moon in, and Core Image Fun House for the moonlight, and lighting artificially adjusted for a eerie, alien feel):

My daughter’s “journal” for this day included only the complaint section with the entry: Hot-tub only in the night. She had wanted to get in it when got up that morning, and I guess pretty much whenever we were in the cabin.

Day-4: Deadwood, President’s Park and Roughlock Falls
On Day 4, we took it even easier and visited the town of Deadwood, and also a President’s park. Deadwood figures in an HBO western series. The twin cities of Lead and Deadwood were notorious towns during the “Wild Wild West” days, with a lot of violence related to the gold rush. There was a lot of gold found in the Black Hills area. Even now there are lot of mining related tourist activities – although we did not partake in any.

We also visited a President’s Park which also turned out to be very interesting. They had huge busts of all the Presidents of US, and under each there was a detailed writeup of their presidency, which also had a frank and honest assessment. There was one exception to the frankness and honesty, and that was the assessment for the current President, which was entirely complimentary or at worst even-keeled, with no hints at any failures. I suspect that the owners felt that this may be the safe thing to do 😉 !

Finally, in the afternoon we saw the Roughlock waterfalls which was very nice! After that we headed back for dinner and preparation for returning back to Chicago, the next day.

Conclusion
All in all it was a very interesting and enjoyable trip. I am glad I went there and I should thank my sister and brother-in-law for suggesting the place (and planning our itinerary). Considering my trepidation earlier about spending 3-4 days there, I think we could have spent one more day, as I felt we missed out on Devil’s Tower in nearby Wyoming 🙂 !!

This is another entry about a favorite Carnatic Music raga of mine, although it is quite different from earlier ones. This is more from a personal side and is really inspired by one particular rendition of a song in that raga, and the special place it has in my life. The raga is jujAvanti (also known as dwijAvanti), and the song (krithi) is muttusvAmi dIkshitars cEtah SrI bAlakrishNam, and that special rendition is by the late Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (SSI).

The krithi is on Lord Krishna, especially little Krishna. The lyrics and meaning (see here) are in typical Dikshitar mould – i.e. flowery Sanskrit woven exquisitely in general praise of the deity. However, I find that the raga jujAvanti is woven magically here to make it seem like a perfect lullaby – even though the words don’t necessarily convey that. In Carnatic Music, lullabies are typically in nIlAmbari (another wonderful raga). But to me, here, jujAvanti seems to set the lullaby mood perfectly. Perhaps, the reason is due this little “story” behind this interpretation.

I must have listened to that particular rendition by SSI a 100 times or more it seems, as it was a very frequent request of my little one to listen to when she wanted go to sleep. She did not always require music to go to sleep, but at times she wanted it, and it was almost always this song, and this particular rendition. I have tried lobbying for a soothing nIlambari, a serene SahAna, or a joyous kAnaDa/rItigauLa. I have even tried a different rendition of the same song by the same artist i.e. SSI! But nope – she wanted only this one. I would play it, and she would lie quietly listening to it, almost in a trance, and soon doze off. Sometimes, when she would take took a bit longer to go to sleep, and the song would end. She would ask for the song to be repeated.

Many a times I have lied next to her waited till she fell asleep – listening to this song, completely mesmerized by it as I am sure she was too. Many a times, I have noticed that she had fallen asleep in the middle of the song. Even though other urgent duties beckoned me then, the serenity that had set in my mind, and in the room as it seemed, was so enveloping that I cringed to disturb it even an iota. I would wait till the end of the song (I especially liked the kalpanaswara part), and wait a few more minutes savoring the peaceful feeling it left in me.

This indeed is our song. My daughter is a bit older now, and the times she requests music at bed-time has dropped significantly, but when the occasion arises, she does fall back to her old-faithful cEtah SrIbAlakrishNam.

Ok, here is the krithi part of the song, that special rendition by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer:

I really adore the kalpanaswara part – meditative, magical, intoxicating – you name it! Hence I present it as a separate audio file:

I don’t know who the violinist is ( is it Lalgudi Jayaraman?), but what a magnificent job! Sometimes contrasting the tune by playing a different note, or same note in higher octave, sometimes matching in lower octave for a extra touch of serenity. The mrdangist (don’t know who again), is also excellent matching the mood. All in all a simply magnificent team effort!

Now for the technicals.
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