Adventures of the Wayfarers

Not all those who wander are lost- J. R. R. Tolkein (The Fellowship of the Ring)

A strong odour hits my nose the moment I step out of our compartment. Is it a dead rat or a perpetual smell of a coastal fishing town? The platforms are deserted except for few fellow travelers at nine in the morning. As we move towards a hotel only a few meters away from the station, I wonder how Dr. Kalam must have wandered through these very lanes, thinking about arcane ideas; very much unlike me who is wondering how the lunches and dinners are going to fare without the absolute surety of a multi-cuisine hotel. The languorous day stretches on. We meet Dr. Kalam’s elder brother in the evening. His grandson had invited us to his house. The exhibition at his house and the gamut of his achievements and contributions increases my respect for the town.

The next evening we visit the renowned Ramathaswamy temple that is believed to have been worshiped by Lord Rama who came here to seek absolution of his sins, if any, after his war against Ravana. The four gates have been recently reconstructed indicating the four directions. There are a variety of eat out places near the temple premises, which took away any qualms I had about the availability of food.

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The town of Rameswaram is 14 km away from the farthest point of India, Dhanushkodi, which is a narrow stretch of land in the Bay of Bengal. We are lucky enough to get a Field Trip to explore the place. Our day starts with a bus ride in the sea towards Dhanushkodi and it’s for the first time that we are travelling in water on a four-wheeler. It’s amazing to see hundreds of flamingos enjoying the sea-food for their breakfast. The way is unique as for the first time we are visiting the town that was destroyed in the Cyclone of 1964. The old church, the school, the police-station.

After having our beach moments at the last point of India, we go to the Pamban bridge- the connecting link of the island of Rameswaram to the country counterparts. We are joined by a fellow wayfarer, Polina. In search of coconut water, we roam around the lower parts of the bridge. There I get to witness benevolence at its epitome. A fisherman, who owns some local boats, fetches us a couple of coconuts from his own house at our inquiry. He goes on to offer us his scooter to get some lunch. In the meanwhile, we are offered the tastiest cake we’ve ever had.

The highlight of the day is the bonus ride in the boat through the sea waters. We get to see the train passing over the narrow stretch of the rail road above the sea water. We are speechless on seeing the sight and out of words thanking him, the fisherman, for being so kind towards us strangers. We invite him to visit the train. It revives my faith in humanity and we return towards our hotel with big smiles plastered on our tanned faces.

Prashant Sharma, A Muthu Dhivakar, Dinesh Kumar and Rituja Patil- Reviving and reliving beautiful memories through SECAS Blog!

 

Tatemae and Honne

Yesterday, I read the news of a mother killing her newborn baby boy because she wanted a girl. Halted in a small village of Wadi, I came to know about this unfortunate incidence that happened in a village in Uttar Pradesh and mingled thoughts aroused in my mind. Did I consider this news to be the start of a good change? Thousands of little flowers were killed in the womb, before they even had a chance to come out in this world, just for the want of a male child. The voices of those poor creatures whose existence ended in the darkness of the wombs, who never got to see the light of the world, must definitely be echoing somewhere in the chaos of the Universe. Since the last few decades, girls have hoisted their abilities and have succeeded in forcing the society to change their views regarding them.

I remember the times when we couldn’t recollect the names of women athletes other than P T Usha and Kunjarani Devi and I marvel at the times now, when Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu are setting fine examples.

When stationed at Wadi Platform, a disheveled man had come with his daughter to visit the exhibition. His daughter was wearing simple but respectable clothes; he had also tied a scarf over her head to protect her from the blazing sun. Her name was Soni.

In that sweltering heat, when I had called that girl on the platform to conduct some activities, I had a shocking conversation with her father.

The girl was the youngest of the four siblings, the rest all being boys and her father was attentive and concerned for her. He had brought only the girl to see the exhibition. He was in a dilemma of choosing a proper school for her. The ACC project was going to earn him 1.5 crore rupees of which 60 lakhs he was planning to keep away for the education of his daughter. The rest of the earning he’d use for his boys. His every sentence oozed out the care and love he had for his daughter.

He went on saying that only daughters take care of their parents. He also cited his own example of how he left his parents to move on in life. His present was solely occupied with his daughter and that was very much evident.

The incident left a print on my heart because this was a new experience for me. Our country is full of people who if start thinking in the same direction this guy did will channel us towards a golden era. Of that, I am sure.

Few days ago, Mumbai High Court opened the doors of the Shinganapur Temple that had remained closed for women for the last four centuries. Now that I think of it, I feel that this decision should not have been even taken to the High Court. Society should have taken the initiative years ago. I believe that those moments are not far away when girls like Soni are waiting to spread their wings towards the golden dreams their fathers envisioned.

Sanket Raut- As thoughtfully shared with the SECAS Blog Team: Nitin, Yashashree and Ritu!

Rescuing Ridleys

It was the last night of our stay in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh. After the day’s hefty mental and physical toll, like always, we headed off towards the beach as had our normal routine become for those couple of nights we stayed in the city. Sand burials and soul singing followed relaxation on the sand and contemplating life. It was a warm night, like all the other nights in Southern Summer.

As we headed back to the Hotel, wondering if we would get an auto at ten-thirty at night, our ears caught familiar calls. Kobra, Yashashree and Pinal were huddled around a beach light, calling us with smiles spilling from their faces. When we reached towards them, along with the heavy food shopping from Spencer’s, they also revealed a couple of Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings. The hatchlings were covered with sand and were the size of a few centimeters. Kobra was handling them and Yasha briefed us on how they came to encounter them on the beach.

It was pure serendipity. We had come to the beach in search of peace and how fortunate of us to see the very beings whose extrication we preach in SECAS! Those little hatchlings maneuvered around the sands, baffled by the shore lights and in doing so made intricate patterns with their front and back flippers in the sand. The usual predators were there; dogs roaming around the beach, snooping around people, searching for food. We felt extreme pleasure and relief when we settled those hatchlings down in the tender waves, bidding goodbye to those little forms who would now make their journey towards their destiny. I could see the sparkling eyes of my fellow communicators as the little ones struggled with the waves to finally go home.

Shweta Dhiman- As shared with a dreamy smile with the SECAS Blog Team: Nitin, Yashashree and Ritu!

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(Shweta Dhiman is a bizarre combo of a Computer Engineer and a Wildlife enthusiast. If there is a dog on patrol, it is sure to be cuddled and doted upon by Shweta. Gifted with a phenomenal voice, she is the musical soul of any gathering or party. Exemplar to her name, she is a good-hearted soul who considers nature her mother and nature conservation her true religion.)

A minus shapes the plus

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle – Albert Einstein

It is a fine Monday evening and we are sitting in the JOS Lab, taking a break of five minutes before the next batch arrives when a family starts entering the Lab. I am preparing my usual polite speech to the parents requesting them to stand outside the lab while we conduct their child inside when I catch Pinal’s expression. She is signaling something with her eyes. The boy is far sighted than most of us. He is differently-abled.

All the colorful pictures around the lab, all the hands- on activities and even the certificate that we are distributing suddenly starts feeling like a big joke. Can we let this child know that Science is joyful by utilizing his imagination rather than making him see it? I am scared to say anything. With other children it is easier to keep them hooked with the displays; here I don’t want to say the wrong thing and make him feel uncomfortable. I can see he is nervous too. Pinal presses my hand firmly and whispers softly, “Come on, Saumya, our real challenge is to make Science joyful for him”

I dare myself to go near him. His parents are standing there, expecting me to take a hold of the whole situation and the burden of expectation is freaking me more. I take his hand and lead him to the ‘Your Weight – Beyond Earth’ panel. His hesitation is obvious and expected. Still I trace his hands over the different weight indicators explaining him the concept of weights and how his weight on Sun is 1870 kg. There! I see a ghost of smile on his face! As I talk with him further and explain him weightlessness and how toilets are used in space, I have got him laughing. We give him candy and a toy. The ones he can taste and feel…

It is imagination and a curiosity that every child must have, Subojit Dutta had it both. When he entered the JOS he was not ready to hold my hand and when it is time to leave he is not ready to let go. He is holding on to the source that can catalyze his vivid imagination only to comprehend reality for science is beyond theory or pragmatism. Science is rather a brainchild of fact and fantasy.

The real challenge is of unlearning to actually succeed in learning was then realized. If there is any such thing as a life changing event, this is one. It made me realize the importance of what we have been doing and gave me the satisfaction of fulfilling my duty as a Science Communicator. I can never be thankful enough to SECAS for giving me one of the best moments of my life.

Saumya Saxena – As told to the SECAS Blog Team: Nitin, Yashashree and Ritu!

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(Saumya Saxena is a happy go lucky spirit whose wonderful interactions with the visitors are a source of envy for many 😉 To do or not to do is never a question for her. A Biotech Engineer by profession and a foodie by choice, she can feed you with food and wisdom when you are in depths of despair. Witty and ready with quips, she is indeed a diamond cuts diamond exemplar.)

And words are all I have…

Everyone has a different perception of perfection. In a huge country with such a diverse culture, geography and individualities, lucky are the ones who get to witness humanity, perseverance and the cruel and harsh idealities on a single platform. When I say platform, I mean it figuratively as literally too sometimes I’m (un)fortunate to get to see it. If I am told to write about a single incident that changed my life, I am not capable of citing one. In actuality, there have been instances that have inspired me and helped me mold myself so, but they have not been paradigm shifts. This process has been a gradual one. Every day I come on board and every day I get to observe the different shades of human mentality. There is much to learn when you are a quiet observant, noticing the way people talk, and read the expressions on their face when you tell them something which has made them ponder. I burgeon when a child asks questions; I get to live my childhood again through them. As one of our colleagues always stresses, everyone is gifted with something special and we can learn that ‘something’ from everybody. When we were stationed in Allahabad, I had my first interaction with specially-abled persons. As I struggled with explaining the greenhouse effect to them in sign language, I realized how hard it must be to accomplish the unfelt goals. The real challenge is many a times to tone your language, way of communicating and body language with the visitors. With children, I don’t have to modulate. I can be me and they won’t be judgmental.

In Allahabad I had another one of those experiences where I got to testimony the ingenuity of children. After explicating the occurrence of seasons to an eleven year old child, I had beatitude on beholding him explain the tilt of earth and how it happens to cause seasons to his friends from neighborhood. I felt a surge of pride when the onlookers applauded and patted him.

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I have had lively and intellectual interactions with many people and also with my fellow Science Communicators. Privileged and blessed is what I felt. The youth is India’s greatest power and we have achieved much if we let those minds ignite and set their wings on fire. For me the definition of perfection is that of thoughts, because ‘I’ originate from them. Rituja is not some person; she is not someone with flesh and bones if she is one without her thoughts. It is therefore, I say, I consider myself the luckiest because I get to choose what to think and how to be.

Rituja Patil- As voiced through the SECAS Blog Team!

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(A gleaming spectacled tweety, Rituja is the lifeline of our SECAS blog. She sweeps her magic wand on stories anecdotes shared by communicators to publish them at lightning speed. With a higher view on everything literally and figuratively she overlooks it all the ‘Sherlock’ way. She gobbles books to feed her ever popping dialog bubbles and thrives on all things sweet. Catching butterflies in a hurricane is her style of work and her geeky jargon has a major fan following.)

A Subtle Satire

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I have stopped believing in clichés. I say this in affirmation as the past two phases of my life with Science Express have made me realize that this is a platform where time and again clichés have been overruled and disdained for good by people of all sorts. One such episode in particular substantiated to this fact once again when our train got a record breaking visitation of 60,000 visitors at Anaj Mandi, Rewari – a quaint station in Haryana. ‘This place has never seen such a huge crowd ever before!’ were the exclamations from the crowd who witnessed the sea of visitors storming in and out of the train.

My duty was assigned in Coach 4- the Adaptation coach. There was a group of students listening to my explanation on the formation of artificial glaciers in Ladakh when an old lady who was standing in the front caught my eye. It was certainly obvious that she didn’t belong to that school group. As I spoke further ahead about the different adaptation practices and examples displayed in the coach it felt as if she was the keenest of them all with a seeming interest in the subject. As we reached the Landscape Management Approach exhibit she started interacting with me and the students. I listened patiently to her qualms about not getting enough water-supply to the farms and how they have adopted Agroforestry on their land. There was a strange earnestness from her part and extreme admiration from mine. She had piqued my curiosity. I couldn’t stop myself from inquiring her name. Here is an old lady, more than seventy years of age, clothed in a modest sari and a shawl and when I ask her if I can know her name she suddenly blushes. Similar to all the traditional households, it must have happened very few times that her name has been used much rather asked for.

She leaned closer and whispered in my ear, “Radhadevi.”

Then she asked “And can I know my sweet child’s name?”addressing me as her own daughter.

She came the subsequent days too, always meeting me in my duly allotted coach. I spent a good time interacting with her. She said, “I love seeing girls make rotis and it is beyond admirable to watch them handle the gears steering aircrafts up and above.”

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A cute little girl cradled in the arms of lady catches my attention at Shivpuri Station. That kid looks around the exhibition panels of Coach 5 with something that can be roughly identified as a blank glance. When I play with her she gives me a gummy smile. Her teeth were yet to come. I beam in happiness as she smiles at me and look at her mother for reciprocation of that mirth. But something seems wrong! That lady’s expression appears devoid of any emotion. She doesn’t return my smile. I go on explaining the exhibit of space occupancy by different modes of transport. There are three more girls around her- each dressed in same pattern of apparels, older than the other by a year or so. I can guess that they are her kids. As I interact with them they chirp and giggle in glee, but the whole time their mother keeps a poker face. Suddenly my mind gets anxious to hear her story. There is something which has drained all emotions from her face and heart and all I want to know is ‘What’. In an effort to get her talking, I ask, “Are these your girls?” On getting an affirmative nod, I say, “It is good that you are taking care of them. Nahitoh, Log to maar dete hai.” (People will rather have them dead.) That sentence works like a wonder and there is a smile on her face as she says, “Mar to mai rahi hu, har din.”(It is me who is dying, every day.)

Her face is now full of resentment. An emotion she veiled all this while.

Was it aimed at the society, her luck or at me? I many a times tried to comprehend. Or is it in regard to the whole shebang? I still wonder!

It reminds me of that old lady from Rewari, Anaj Mandi and I wonder what would have happened if she were the mother of those four girls.

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Divya Pandey – As vividly described to the SECAS Blog Team:  Nitin, Yashashree and Ritu!

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(Divya Pandey is an expert in quoting and writing beautiful Hindi prose. Her tales are mesmerizing and skillfully webbed to keep the listener hooked until the end and compels intellectual comprehension on their part. She can be seen interacting with toddlers and children in the coaches. A very good observant and adviser, she is the person to be sought for when needing opinions.)

Caught Up!

It is not always but most of the times that I get a feeling that Science Express is just unique in many ways.

There are not much mobile exhibitions that came to your hometown and made you feel like at home during stay wherever you come to host it.

In every other train, you sit (or hang!) and train is mobile all the way. But here you all are mobile in this train, flowing through thematic valley of dreams, aspirations, expectations and something more. The ‘exit gate’ is special in a way because it is fitted with solar panels, but always the mixed feeling on the faces of people make it something unique in the way that they don’t want to ‘exit’ from the dream valley anymore.

The moments of cherish and curiosity you see when the train is halted during its journey day and you find people standing in lines to say ‘Hi’ to our white majesty!

At the places we are stationed for the exhibition, the nashta corner is flooded with inquiries of train more than its menu.

The doleful faces of people who are making their kids understand that we are sorry that the train is not anymore with us from tomorrow.

Wherever and whenever ‘We’ all go for a trip, the entire aura gets changed and we all feel like home: be it an international border, an international railway station (Bhagat ki kothi) or a dense forest.

The most dazzling thing about the white majesty is that it glorifies everyone- Us communicators, the visitors, even the RPF guys and the volunteers!

It is very common for people to catch you red-handed with your ‘entity’. On a three- four days stations it is very normal for me to have ‘repeaters’ coming to me and replaying the whole epitome of my dialogues with ‘full- flooded’ vocabulary and imitating my ‘vocal pitch and note.’

It is true that childhood days once gone never come back but you can live your childhood again and again (Universal Truth) in Kids Zone and while juggling with kids in coaches.

Just come to my train and see the magic, the moments which can make you feel proud are here.

Come on, let’s meet…

Prashant Sharma- As shared with the SECAS Blog Team: Nitin,Yashashree and Ritu!

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