I watched this lovely little documentary thrice yesterday and it got better each time. It combines two of my favourite things in life – running and trains – into a beautiful story.

“Runners are rhythm people, so are train drivers”

Black-and-white.

Black and white picture of a wire strung chair

Day 9 of the photoblogging challenge. 📷

One of the better things to have happened because of the pandemic and resultant quarantines is that, along with a bunch of fellow railway nerds, I have been rewriting and editing the vast trove of information on the IRFCA website. I am particularly proud of all the newer research and writing we’ve done on the history of the railways in India.

A bunch of us have always thought that a lot of the early history, especially around locomotives and the first lines to be laid, was apocryphal and that official sources needed to do better in establishing facts. That hasn’t happened until now, but I am hoping that with all the new material due in a couple of months time, it will change.

A view of a 6,700 metre high peak from across the valley. We had to climb to around 5,000 metres to get this angle.

Location: Spangting Range, Ladakh. Day 8 of the photoblogging challenge. 📷

Daytripping in the Himalayas.

Rest stop on the old Hindustan Tibet highway

Location: Somewhere along the upper reaches of Hindustan-Tibet Road. Day 7 of the photoblogging challenge. 📷

Om Malik on a beautiful post about imagined landscapes:

About two years ago, I was in Yellowstone. We were waiting by the side of the road waiting for two male bison to cross the snow-crusted road. The early morning sun was streaming through the thick forest of majestic trees on either side of the road.

But my mind had me holding a simple thick piece of charcoal in my hand, slowly drawing on a coarse sheet of paper. The trees became just lines – thick scratches. The road was a mere part of the background.

Reading this made me realise this: While I enjoy all kinds of photography, what makes my soul sing is landscape. The fact that I haven’t been able to do much of it in the past five months is really beginning to hit.

Leaps of Faith

At work, we design games and simulations to aid better public policy making. The games we design for such purposes are serious games and require a level of thought and participation that mostly happens when face to face in a room. As one can imagine, it has been a very challenging last few months on that front. Partly to do with our own processes and partly also to do with a reluctance to take a leap of faith and see if some of the design and testing work can be done online.

Yesterday, we finally took that leap of faith and play-tested a new game that revolves around opportunity and ethnicity.

Usually, play-test sessions are raucous, with opinions flying back and forth about design choices. The participatory discussions which follow each round are intense. Our initial reluctance to move this online came from the belief that the whole process would lose its vitality; that people would be reluctant to participate. But we were so pleasantly surprised when most of our fears turned out to be unfounded. The play progression was seamless and the discussions, while less intense, were definitely good.

Adjusting to a new reality has taken time, but I am very glad we did it. As we continue to refine the online play-test model and make it better and bigger, I am hopeful that it will unlock more doors in using games as tools for policy making.

Bisect

As usual, I am late! Day 6 of the photoblogging challenge. 📷

Who is to say that my generation’s index of culture should be yours also? Ignore those who would have you consume works of length and substance and then spend your life in consideration of and conversation on that substance. Emulation of dead modes of expression cannot be the way forward. You will find new ways to carry the flag. Perhaps being angry at famous people and collecting pictures of clothes is your generation’s intellectualism. Perhaps crying on the Internet is your generation’s fortitude. Perhaps aggregation is your generation’s creation. Perhaps the understanding of cats is worth as much as the understanding of ourselves.

— J. D. Salinger

When clouds flow like water.

Location: On the road to Kargil. Day 5 of the photoblogging challenge. 📷

Finding meditative peace in the cold of a Spitian winter. 📷

Location: Key Monastery. Day 4 of the photoblogging challenge.

Fellow volunteer and colleague at The Community Library Project, Michael Creighton writes beautifully about the role of a free library in these times:

Those of us who work in the free library movement, which is as much about bringing people together as it is about issuing books, have faced many challenges in the past few months.

Please read the whole thing. I’ve been involved in the project for a few years now and can honestly say it is possibly the important work I do, professionally or otherwise. The impact the libraries have had on the lives of its members is staggering.

As with many, many things right now, the movement needs support. If you are in India or have an Indian bank account, please consider donating. If you have friends in India, please send them to that page. If are outside India, please consider fulfilling parts of the Amazon book wishlist.

A Long-horned Orb-Weaver Spider.

Long-horned Orb-Weaver Spider

Location: Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary

A late to the party bug contribution to the August Photo Challenge on M.b 📷

One winter morning on The Brahmaputra. 📷

A boat on the banks of The Brahmaputra river

This is a kickass cover of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer by Harry Styles.

Aside: His solo work post One Direction has been really, really good.

Thinking about moving to Wordpress

Back in April, when I rebooted the blog and site, one of my motivations was to get some degree of confidence back in posting to my own space rather defaulting to elsewhere (looking at you Twitter). While I’ve regained that confidence somewhat, I haven’t posted as much as I wanted to lately. The reasons are many and they deserve a separate post which I’ve been drafting for a while.

One of the other motivations was to showcase my photography better and set up a space to start selling prints. Over the years, many folks have asked if I had prints available to which my answer has always been a casual shrug. I’ve made a few prints for friends and family, but that’s about it.

I’ve been thinking about all this for the past month and figuring out a way forward. The obvious answer is to outsource the photography bits to something like SmugMug and continue to blog here on M.b. But I am a bit of a compulsive guy and like my things in order and in one place. I want to be able to do all manner of writing and display and sell photographs under one space.

Doing all this on M.b seems impossible, because it was never built for such a scenario. I briefly mulled over a full blown, independent Hugo setup. I get full control of how everything looks and works, but getting a store front thing going on it is a pain. More importantly, I want to be able to blog with as little friction as possible. Wrangling markdown files via Git is not something I enjoyed doing and I doubt that’s changing any time soon.

The most obvious solution here is Wordpress. I’ve used it in the past, know how it works and it can do exactly what I want. It is also a huge rabbit hole. There’s no end to all the customisation and tinkering one can do with it and I fear that I’ll go down that road rather than develop photos and write words.

I haven’t made up mind yet, so if anyone has thoughts or ideas, I would love to hear from you.

Travels with P. In our new reality, I’ll miss doing these kinds of impulsive things. Here, we just took off one morning to Chennai, 350km away because we felt we hadn’t eaten a good fish curry meal in a while.

A festooned camel at the beach in Somnath, India

Why did Flaubert so admire the camel? Because he identified with its stoicism and ungainliness. He was touched by its sad expression and its combination of awkwardness and fatalistic resilience.

— Alain De Botton, The Art of Travel

Grandmother’s chair.

A long easy chair used by my grandmother

Requiem for all my broken 35mm cameras

Dan Bracaglia from DPReview shares all his broken down film cameras:

But perhaps the most important lesson shooting with old analog relics teaches us is to enjoy our time with the cameras we love! Baby them if you must, but not to the point of leaving them at home or in your bag.

I’ve fortunately and lucky enough to keep my father’s Zenit E from the early 1970s going strong. There have been a few shutter related mishaps—cloth shutters are notoriously fickle—but other than that, it’s been smooth sailing. It helps that the Zenit is built like a tank.

Reading about Ben Thompson’s home office setup makes me realise a couple of things. One, most of the equipment is so insanely expensive that I can’t afford it even I wanted to. Two, there really are no good guides out there on setting up affordable, low-ish budget home offices.

Nilambur

“So, you are visting Nilambur for the third time, is it?”, asks Mr. K. The accent is hard and I can imagine his tongue rolling in his mouth for a good five seconds after he finishes talking. I cannot help letting out a giggle.

“What’s so funny?” foo-unnee

“Nothing, nothing. Yes, third time in town, but first time at your nice house.”

The power is out. We are sitting in the smallish verandah hearing the rain patter down. There’s a solitary, flickering hurricane lamp doing the honour of shining light on the proceedings. It isn’t going a good job, the glass scratched and vaguely opaque. Mr. K’s face is half lit, the neatly greased hair combed all the way back. The moustache combed and dense with a slight droop at the end. But I get the sense he may not be very proud of its current grooming.

Mrs. K brings in a steaming tumbler of jeera water. One girl professed her love for me over a similar tumbler long ago. I hate what the spice does to the water.

I ask if I can take a picture of both of them. “Maybe when the power comes back”, he grunts.

A hour later, the power hasn’t come back on. I am hearing the rain drown out all other sounds. A white noise machine on steroids.

Mrs. K walks out with a giant tray containing bowls of something liquid that vaguely looks like sambar, but I am not sure. There are also dosas that look a splat of white paint. Kerala cuisine maybe refined, beautiful and amazing, but I suspect no one gave Mrs. K the memo. Later that night, I eat a pack of Krackjack biscuits to stop my stomach from rumbling a lot.

By now, there is rum. I am not sure what brand, but it is present lots of quantities in three sombus. Mr. K, looks longingly at the copper tumbler and nails the drink. Some rum glistens on his moustache.

“Good, no?” I nod. Either this is a going to be a long night or everyone is just going to fall down and sleep where they are sitting right now.

One sombu down.

There is talk about Kerala, Tamil Nadu (“only thing worthwhile are the temples”), Bangalore (“death to beer drinkers and pubs”), Mallapuram, communists, Narendra Modi, the steam engines that once paraded around in Shoranur, the benefits of red chillies in omelets, Valayar Ravi, the export of teak, the comforts of Sandak footwear, the usefulness of hair oil for one’s armpits and the “amazing smell” of Cuticura talcum powder among other things.

At least that’s what I think was discussed.

One more sombu down.

Somewhere in between, payasam was served. I don’t remember what it was made of though or how sweet it was.

I am bored by now. There is only so much one can take from what seems like an abusive and bigoted middle aged man. I curse Pico Iyer and his ideals. Get bored, he said. Boredom makes you ask good questions, he said. Boredom doesn’t give you easy answers, he said.

Two hours later, I am alone with my boredom and the rain. The sounds amplified. Its sight illuminated by the dim incandescence of a bulb that purports to be a street light. I watch as the tip of a leaf catches a drop, bends in sublime slow motion and lets it fall. Outside Mr. K’s bedroom window, a young boy is pissing.

I personally would rather do the existentially essential things in life on foot. If you live in England and your girlfriend is in Sicily, and it is clear you want to marry her, then you should walk to Sicily to propose. For these things travel by car or aeroplane is not the right thing.

— Werner Herzog, Of Walking in Ice

Kurosawa mode on Ghost of Tsushima.

From whatever little I’ve seen on YouTube and screencaps, the black and white rendering looks absolutely kickass. I am a very occasional gamer so it’s going to take me a while to get to this, but I am so looking forward to it.

Painting a dawn.