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Dear Smokey

I brought my outdoor cat Smokey with me when I moved out to Bangalore to Udupi. This is my letter to her, which she will never read. Not only because she cannot, but because she is lost. It has been 3 months now and my eyes still grow moist when I think about her. Read about my move in this blog post

Dear Smokey,

June 6th 2022 is a day I will never forget. It was the day I lost you. I go to bed with a heavy heart every night, thinking about where you might be, and how you might be managing your food and shelter.

For two years, I watched out for you every single day in Bangalore. You were never a clingy cat, like the ones on the internet. Deep inside I like to believe that you loved me back, although it was only at meal times that you would come running towards me. This may sound like a very transactional relationship, but your presence filled so many voids in my life. Now that you are gone, there is a new void which will never be filled.

I don’t speak the feline language yet, but you were a very expressive cat right from when you were a kitten. You never hesitated to sing the song of your people, which made you very unique. You had a wide vocabulary and I was trained to understand what you wanted to say – whether it was demanding food, protesting when I squished you, complaining when I brought you indoors or being stealth when there were other cats who you wanted to hide from, in the basement. You did not have even one mean bone in your body. I have never seen you behave aggressively, unlike your mother, Lucy. 

You were also a bundle of contradictions – skittish, but adamant about wanting to be outdoors. Talkative, but unfriendly towards humans. Innocent, yet adventurous. I never held any of this against you because I knew you had feral genes. There was never a dull day with you around.

Smokey loved to stand between my feet after her food, when she was a kitten. She outgrew that phase pretty quickly though.

I don’t know if you remember your childhood days, but two years ago, when you were still a baby, your ginger sibling died of dehydration in the apartment basement. You were innocently sitting beside a stoic Lucy, watching him take shallow, difficult breaths. I came down to check on you and your siblings when I saw him in that condition. I immediately took him to the vet where he was administered drips. The doctor told me to take him home, and I stayed up all night hoping he would make it. But he didn’t. That is the day I decided to start feeding you and Lucy, because I did not want food to be a want in your lives. Lucy never misses a meal, even now. She continues to be a disciplined, albeit an aloof cat who promptly shows up in the morning and evening at her usual feeding place.

So much happened in your life in the two years I knew you. Your occasional disappearance used to freak me out. Then I got used to it. One time, you were gone for two days and I found you in the nearby street, confused. You responded to my call, which makes me believe that you were trying to find your way back. And then, you got electrocuted earlier this year.

After your stint at the hospital, Lucy and you grew apart. With this estrangement, I foolishly believed that I am all that you had in this world. I brought you along with me to Udupi hoping you could become an indoor cat where you could be safe.

There are certain protocols to be followed when relocating a cat, especially feral ones. I had done my homework and I believed I knew what I was doing. But theory is different from reality – and I just didn’t have it in me to cage you to break your will during the transition period. 

Smokey (kitten) and Lucy in May 2020
Lucy nursing Smokey – the only kitten which survived from the litter

After your disappearance from my new house in Udupi, I looked eveywhere and spoke to so many people in the neighbourhood. Most of them believed that you must have succumbed to a python or a dog attack. Now, it has been three months since your disappearance. I don’t even know if you are alive, or dead.

A large, comfortable cage which I fitted inside my car to transport Smokey to Udupi
Smokey getting cosy on her long car journey
Smokey enjoying the views of Agumbe Ghat
With large expressive eyes, Smokey had a lot of character
The Thompson twins whom Smokey was terrified of, in Bangalore

Before that fateful day of Jun 6th, you escaped twice from the new house. I was mildly amused by your ingenuity. Of course I was aware of how stressed you must be with a change in place and routine. I believe I had taken the necessary precautions for the trip and your new life by consulting your vet in Bangalore and buying cat calming products.

The second night, when you escaped by opening the sliding window which was locked, I was dumfounded by your resourcefulness. But you did not go far after you escaped. You were within the compound, so it gave me the false hope that you would hang around even if I let you out.

I wanted to tell you how you were at your best behaviour the night before you disappeared – You were quietly sitting by the window and watching the world outside. In Bangalore, every time I got you home, you would bawl your head off wanting to be let out and I would be forced to leave you downstairs, out of frustration. For a few hours that evening, you weren’t vocalising. This is my best memory of you, albeit the last one.

Smokey hated to be indoors and would bawl her head off
A video of Smokey trying to break free from my house in Udupi

When I did not find you after opening the door at 7 am, it felt like I was punched in the gut. That feeling hasn’t gone away ever since because you have not come back. 

For the first few days after your disappearance, I thought you would find your way back. I left your litter tray outside. After a few days, I went asking about you door to door. Two neighbours, about 3-4 houses away, told me that they saw you on June 9th. I was so relieved. But, you never came back. Every night, I would wake up even at the slightest sound thinking it was you. I set up CCTVs to ensure that I did not miss you, if you were to retrace your steps.

After about 10 days, I learnt that you went further away. By then, I had expanded my search by studying Google maps and studying possible places where you might have wandered off. I was new to the area, so I shared my findings with a neighbour who said he would help me with the search. Unfortunately, he didn’t show up on the Sunday when we were to go look for you further away. Coincidently, someone had seen you that day, as I was to learn later when I went asking myself. Imagine how I felt, when I learnt that.

A kind aunty who saw you last, identified you by your picture. She fed you milk. I know you don’t like milk, but perhaps you were very hungry and drank it. When I think of you being hungry, I break down. I always fed you the best of cat food. I ensured you were neutered and your vaccinations where up to date. When you were in the hospital, recovering from the electrocution, I visited you every single day for 21 days. I made sure you got the best treatment. And now? I don’t even know where you are and how you are managing your food.

Smokey recovering from her burn wounds in Pampapathi vet clinic, in January 2022

I may never get the closure I need. I may never see you again. I don’t even know if you are alive and well, or starving and sick. Or dead. I am sorry, Smokey. I am sorry I displaced you from Bangalore. I only wanted you to be indoors and safe. You were in my thoughts for every decision I took. I never, ever, intended to hurt you.

You know what, Smokey, I don’t miss Bangalore at all, in spite of having lived there for 17 years. I left out of my own choice. Unfortunately, I brought you along to Udupi against yours. In the process of trying to mend my life, I ended up ruining yours. How can I ever get over this?

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Epilogue

The relationship we share with our pets is very personal. At one end of the spectrum, pet parents think of their cats or dogs are babies (that never grow up). On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who think that an animal is a toy that you can buy (and discard or ignore).

When I moved to Udupi, I was shocked to see my neighbour keeping their dog tied 24/7 (only taking him for walk in the morning and evening). Worse, they got another pup – a doberman – only to keep him tied too. When I asked them why they keep their dogs tied all day, they said it is because otherwise the dogs would run away.

I haven’t come across anyone here, in Udupi (or any small town in India) who keeps cats indoors forcefully. This is quite the opposite of what pet parents do in the city, and for good reason. In Bangalore, from what I have seen, both dogs and cats are pampered for sure. But cats are kept indoors much against their wishes, while dogs are taken to parks and on road trips.

Coming from a city, I thought of my neighbours as cruel, because they keep the dog tied all day. I thought I was giving my cat her freedom when I let her go outside like she wanted. But now, as my neighbour’s dog grows weak in his chains, I am in no position to judge his parents because of what happened to Smokey.

Each animal is different in the way they respond to humans. A true pet parent offers affection and care without expecting anything in return. All I ever wanted was for Smokey to be safe. She was never a lap cat. Unlike purring kittens, Smokey used to run away from me when she was young. She hated to stay indoors, at home. Yet I loved her. We may project our maternal/paternal feelings on our pets, but the reality is that animals have a limited understanding of this big bad world. They act out instinct. Their behaviour is based on self-preservation, fear, and need for food.

Eventually, most of us will outlive our pets. As pet parents, we have to prepare for it mentally. But, the circumstances under which Smokey came into my life, and left, has left a deep wound. I feel guilt. I feel regret. I feel remorse. I feel anger. I failed to safeguard a precious, innocent animal who meant no harm to anyone. And I don’t even know whom to ask for forgiveness.

A panoramic drone view of the area where Smokey went missing. With a forest on either side, and a huge paddy field on one side, she couldn’t have gone far. But yet, it has been three months and hasn’t come back.

Was Moving Out of Bangalore the Right Thing to Do?

In June 2022 I left Bangalore for good. I moved to the coastal town of Udupi. This decision which was largely possible because of the remote work options which many IT companies, including mine, provided after the COVID-19 pandemic.

I had modest expectations from my move. I wanted a simple, stress-free life. I love photography (and travel!) but staying in Bangalore wasn’t helping me with my passion. With the city’s infrastructure crumbling, it is almost impossible to go out and spend quality time in nature.

In this blog post I outline the background to my decision, how I went about executing the move, and how a change of place did more harm than good in certain aspects.

Foreword

This world is big. Bigger than our minds can fathom. When we are young, we are inquisitive about the vastness of this world. But at that age, we have very little access to this big world, so we revel in small joys of discovery. As we grow older, we have the means to see more, but most of us end up shrinking our worlds. We lose our curiosity, and work hard to build walls. The big world is no longer accessible to us because we have cut ourselves out.

It is also safer to follow a template when growing up. Education, studies, job, marriage, kids…..it’s all hunky dory till something bad happens. And that is when you learn some lessons in life, and hopefully become a better version of yourself. With me, I don’t know if things go wrong because I am always striving to become a better version of myself, or because I am an idiot.

As we age, being ‘responsible’ becomes the most important duty of life. In the process of taking responsibility of our lives and our loved ones, we get pushed and pulled by forces not in our control. We also start processing change, grief, loss and other difficult emotions which life throws at us, very differently.

Some of us are lucky to take charge of our lives from these external factors. But some internal factors also decide how we sail our ships as we navigate through life. We make decisions based on:

  • What brings us happiness
  • What keeps us away from negative emotions which we cannot handle
  • Greed and ambition which drive us
  • Personal insecurities that we carry from childhood

Bottom line is, adulthood is all about balancing external and internal forces which push and pull us in all directions.

However, these personal life experiences of mine have shaped me in a way where I now no longer relate to a conventional way of life. Irrespective of how we see our lives, the common thread which unites us all is the realization that our lives come with an expiry date. For some, this realization is yet to come. For others like me, it has already dawned and my urge to see and experience more has only increased. But what does all this have to do with me moving out of Bangalore?

Why did I move?

During the pandemic, a lot of us started to work from home permanently. Once the pandemic was no longer killing enough people, the concept of workation became main stream. Remote work, which many of my Western counterparts in my company always benefited from, even before COVID-19, was suddenly opened up to Indians. Combine that with a vacation, and you have a workation. But vacations don’t last long. That is why I decided to permanently move out of Bangalore.

A shift in HR policy was what I was waiting for to set the ball rolling. I would have left home right after college 20 years ago. Unfortunately, I did not have the means to do so then, and being the only child, I was always emotionally coerced into doing what my parents wanted me to do.

After facing all the ups and downs which life brings, including death of a parent, divorce, a layoff etc, I finally decided it was now or never. I also had the monetary resources to execute this decision now. To map this to what I had mentioned earlier:

  • Right from a young age, staying connected with nature has what brought me happiness. I love to watch birds, cats, dogs, trees, rains, sunshine etc. to pass my time. Weekend trips from Bangalore to get a dose of fresh air were getting increasingly difficult thanks to the poor infrastructure.
  • The daily grind of city life can evoke a lot of negative emotions and stress in any one, and I seized the first opportunity to leave that behind. The paradox of living in a city like Bangalore is that you have access to all the comforts of life. But the happiness tax that you pay to live here is rather unreasonable. There are very few ways to de-stress in Bangalore without spending money. I didn’t want to deal with this anymore.
  • My greed and ambition luckily or unluckily has nothing to with my professional life. All I expect from my job is a sense of financial security. My company’s policies were tweaked to allow work from anywhere after the pandemic which worked in my favour.
  • Amongst my insecurities, the one which I wanted to face and overcome was the one of having to fend for myself. I had no prior experience of cooking before moving out from Bangalore. I knew that the only way I could train myself in the kitchen was to stay by myself.

A lot of folks whom I spoke to were very excited for me. I was going to do which many of them could only dream of doing. The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. A few are ready to jump over the fence to go over to the other side – and here I was, going to do just that.

Planning the Move

Udupi, is a town which most Indians would be aware of because it is associated with good South Indian food. So, even if you don’t know where it is on the map, you must have seen or heard of an Udupi (or Udipi) restaurant in your town.

The decision of moving out wasn’t the toughest part. Figuring out how to, was. I would have loved to chuck all my worldly possessions and start afresh, but in reality I had to take them with me to Udupi. And I couldn’t break the continuity of my professional life. It wasn’t like I could take a week or two off, move lock stock and barrel, and then get on with office work as usual. I had to move in phases.

Finding Accommodation

I looked up rental properties on Olx and FB, and connected with a few property brokers (again, whom I found on these two platforms). Unfortunately, the concept of rentals isn’t popular in Coastal Karnataka (as much as it is in Goa), and many house owners hesitate to rent to bachelors. Staying in Bangalore and looking for a house in a different region wasn’t easy either. I guess I just got lucky finding finding a house via an ad on Facebook Marketplace. It is 15km from heart of the city, and 5km off the highway which goes towards Kundapur. Now that I have actually lived in it for a few months, I can say that is meets most of my expectations.

My house owner is a government servant who lives close to Kundapur. He purchased this house just after it was constructed, and never actually occupied it, because he has his own place in a government quarters. I was happy to be the first one to occupy the place, because most houses don’t age very well in the Coast. When the quality of construction is poor, or if the house is not well maintained, the tropical climate takes a toll on the building very quickly. This fact was corroborated by some older houses which a local broker showed me.

Setting up the House

Once I zeroed in on the house, I had to decide how to set it up. I ended up having to buy basic furniture, and items for the kitchen. I had no experience in cooking, so my mom’s expertise in that matter helped. I purchased most of the items in Bangalore, and transported them to Udupi myself.

I made several car trips between Bangalore and Udupi, transporting what I had already owned, and some household goods and furniture which I purchased new. I bought a lot of stuff on Ikea because their website displays the exact dimensions of not only the product, but also the box in which the product comes. This helped me pick exactly what would fit inside the car. There wasn’t an Ikea store in Bangalore then, and they did not deliver outside of a few metro cities, so I had to do this.

I already owned a computer and study table, which surprisingly fit in the boot of my Maruti Vitara Brezza. So, the on my first trip, I moved my tables, and household goods which I purchased in Bangalore. On the second trip, I moved a lot of furniture which I purchased online on Ikea.

Except for some small hiccups due to external factors, things went as per plan. Every trip which I made by car, with a boot full of stuff, was an adventure. It takes around 7-8 hours on the road to reach Udupi and every minute you spend on an Indian road is an exposure to risk. After the third road trip, I started to feel like a truck driver. Apart from the car trips, I also rode my newly purchased KTM 390 Adv motorcycle to Udupi.

After every journey to Udupi, I had to set up the things which I had brought with me. Again, I did all of this by myself. April, May, June is peak summer and the heat along the coast is brutal. So driving 8 hours, reaching an empty house and then setting it up wasn’t exactly easy.

I purchased large furniture like a cot, diwan, and wardrobe locally. They were cheaper than online furniture stores, and transporting them to my house from the shop wasn’t an issue. I rented a refrigerator and washing machine for a period of 11 months – which is the duration of my rental agreement. Both appliances weren’t exactly in great condition, but they do the job.

On my penultimate drive from Udupi to Bangalore, my car broke down after hitting a dog on the highway. Luckily, I wasn’t carrying a lot of luggage because I was returning to Bangalore. The speed at which the dog ran into my car did not give me any time to react, so the roadkill was something I just couldn’t avoid.

It took me 4 hours to find a tow truck and another 3 hours to get my car towed to the nearest Maruti service centre in the outskirts of Bangalore. The delay in getting my car back from the garage scuttled my plans quite a bit. Although I did claim insurance, I had to pay towing charges amounting to ₹8000 from my pocket.

Looking back, moving goods on my own is not something I would want to do again. The next time I move houses, I’d rather hire packers and movers to do the job. Since this was the first time I was moving cities in 17 years, I did it the way I did it.

I had to set up the house not just to my liking, but also to accommodate Smokey, my cat. I put a lot of thought into how I would transport, and accommodate her in the new place. I also read up on how to prepare her for the journey and life in a new place.

A Day in My New Life

The rhythm of daily life generally revolves around one’s profession, family, and then hobbies, if there is any time left for it. A day in my new life revolves around the weather. When I moved in, it was summer and extremely hot. I tried to finish most of the household work before 10 am. Then came monsoon, where it would rain continuously for days on end. That is when I started a new hobby of watching TV, something I never did in Bangalore. Fortunately, the rains brought down the temperature to a point where I could run the fan at the lowest speed. Rainy days were frustrating because I barely got a chance to step out. I eagerly awaited dry evenings to visit the beach or explore some new locations for photography. Now that the monsoon of 2022 is almost over, I look forward to winter when I can become a regular at some of the places of natural beauty near my home.

On most days, I sit for work by the door, watching the the slow pace of life outside. It is very silent around me, and the birds are the noise-makers. I have peacocks, bulbuls, ashy prinias, parakeets, sun birds and grey horn-bills to watch out for. It has been more than 2 decades, living in a ground floor house and I enjoy stepping out barefoot and feeling the earth when I feel like it.

There is nothing glamorous about this life. A large part of the day goes in cooking meals, apart from attending meetings and doing my day job which pays the bills. I purchased an electric pressure cooker (not an electric rice cooker) which really brought out the master chef in me. Jokes apart, I learnt, rather quickly, how to cook simple food which I enjoy eating. On most days, I consume freshly cooked home food which satisfies my taste buds.

There is nothing I miss about Bangalore, either. I was never the types to go out to expensive restaurants or hang out in malls anyway. For purchasing household goods, I head out into town and finish my work effortlessly. I don’t have to worry about traffic jams, parking troubles, or avoiding old uncles who ride their scooters in the middle of the road.

A Life for a Life

Smokey was a Covid kitty, born during the lockdown of the first phase of Covid-19. She grew up in the security of my apartment basement, and under the watchful eyes of Lucy, her mother. For every day of the last two years, either my mom or me made sure that Lucy and Smokey were fed twice a day. I tried to domesticate Smokey several times by bringing her indoors in my apartment in Bangalore. But she hated it. The only attempt to get her adopted when she was around 6 months failed, because her adopter couldn’t handle her incessant crying and returned her to me. She was the same adamant cat, even after 2 years. The only place Smokey wanted to be, was the basement of my apartment. This was ironical, because Smokey was extremely skittish, and was constantly worried about Tom cats stealing her food. Her only defense was to run and hide. In fact, I have never come across a more skittish pair of cats than Smokey and Lucy. Smokey regularly skipped meals because she would be hiding somewhere. Except for this one time, where she was severely wounded after being electrocuted at the transformer behind our apartment. Read about it here.

While moving to Udupi was my attempt at changing my every day life, it was also an ambitious move to make Smokey an indoor cat. I took this calculated risk after reading up a lot about how cats can be made to stay indoors. Smokey had no safe future in the outdoors in Bangalore. I was willing to give up my passion of travel (and photography, if need be), to be with Smokey while she transitions from an outdoor free roaming cat to a domesticated, indoor one. However, that decision ended up becoming a huge mistake, one which I cannot get over. Read about it in Part II.

What My Cats Taught Me About Life

I write this post in grief. A stray cat, Smokey, whom I nurtured from kitten hood, has been missing since January 20th 2022. She was last seen electrocuted at the transformer which is just outside my apartment gate. I did not know of this incident until 24 hours later. The night security guard, who saw it happen, told me that she got up and walked away after falling down from the transformer. This information was corroborated by the KEB personnel who came to restore power.

I don’t know if she is alive or dead, but having seen a small pool of blood at the accident spot, I fear the worst. I have been looking for her in the neighbourhood for the past three days. I can’t help but recall how much I have obsessed over Smokey, and her mother, for close to two years. I will tell you why.

The story of how Smokey entered my life is unconventional. Although I loved cats, living in an apartment complex meant that I couldn’t keep one at home.  I never imagined that Smokey would become such a huge part of my every day routine. The cats and I where on our own paths which crossed unexpectedly. And eventually, they left the most lasting impression on me. 

Smokey was born to a mangy, feral cat in my apartment basement circa March 2020. She had 5 siblings, none of which survived. It was lockdown time, and the mother cat found safe haven under parked cars in our small apartment which has around 30 houses. But disease, and maybe predators, resulted in all but Smokey passing away within a few weeks of being born.

I have always been a cat lover, so when I saw only Smokey surviving the litter, I decided to start feeding her and the mother cat. I named the mother Lucy, after Lucifer, because I was horrified at how she ate up one of her own kittens. I also intended to get Lucy and Smokey sterilised so they don’t go around reproducing and adding to the stray cat population. So, feeding them was the only way I could ensure that they stuck around in the basement. Unfortunately, this ended up becoming Smokey’s greatest weakness. She never learnt how to hunt, and was entirely dependent on me for food.

Flashback to May 2020, Lucy was an extremely skittish and shy cat. She was terrified of humans, but she was very much in need of food. She was very young, and this was probably her first litter. Initially, my feeding sessions were sporadic. I did not even know what to feed her. I wasn’t aware of the different types of cat food available in the market. But, Lucy used to follow me around in the basement. Since it was the lockdown, watching her and Smokey was a good way to pass time. I gently persuaded them to shift from under a neighbour’s car to my car, so nobody in the apartment would chase them away. From milk, to rice, to egg, to cat food, I gradually upgraded their meals. Smokey was growing up under the loving care of Lucy. She had the same temperament as her mother – she was scared of humans, albeit, a little less. She was never a lap cat and hated being held. She would do a funny act of coming near me, and suddenly running away when I bend down to hold her. I don’t know if she did it on purpose or because her feral genes. Despite that, I continued my feeding and play sessions.

 

This closeness between mother and daughter continued for over a year. Usually, mother cats distance themselves from their kittens after about 6 – 8 months, but not in the case of SmoLu, as I call the duo. Meanwhile, I was becoming a better pet parent. I was feeding them healthy cat food. I made a small cat-house for them to sleep in, where they would spend all morning cuddled together. I could never figure out what they did at night or where they went, because they would not remain in the apartment basement after supper. We have a huge open area beside the apartment, so they probably spent the night there. I even installed a CCTV camera near my car, to watch over them and understand their behaviour. The CCTV had a limited coverage area. I learnt quite a lot from the recordings. For instance, there were several male cats that visited the basement. 

 

2020 and 21 were like no other. Covid was ravaging India and the world. Everyone’s daily routine changed forever, with work from home becoming a permanent thing for IT employees. This also widened the gap between people who had cushy desk jobs and those who had to slog it out.

Since I could work from home, I spent a lot of time with SmoLu. In between meetings, I would go down and watch the two of them together. Smokey would ask me for treats or food every time she saw me. She was a mischievous and curious darling. She was extremely talkative, especially around meal times. Both of them would wait for me near the lift, in the mornings. They would come running towards me if they weren’t near the lift. When I would return home from outstation trips, they would come running towards me. Smokey would mewl loudly seeing me, demanding to be fed. She would inspect the car often, and the joke was that the car is hers, and not mine. Her curiosity never faded. Lucy on the other hand was very stoic. The only feelings she ever showed was towards Smokey, who was always by her side.

For close to two years, I have ensured that they were fed. This was not always easy, because if not me, it is my mother who would have had to go down twice a day to feed them.

I was obsessed with SmoLu, because that is how cats grow on you. They have immense character, and take no shit. They aren’t easy to please or fool. It took me almost a week to trap Lucy to get her neutered. With Smokey, it was relatively easy, and I was glad that she was neutered before she got into heat. Another time, I had to take Lucy to the vet, where she scratched me so badly that the scars on my hand haven’t gone.  

A couple of incidents stand out in my brief association with SmoLu. About a year into Smokey’s life, a male cat started to trouble these two. One day he picked a fight with Lucy and chased her away. She was gone for a week. I assumed that she was dead, because the security guards, who are my eyes and ears where the CCTV cannot see, told me that they saw the male cat chase Lucy into a drain. I was terrified that the same would happen to Smokey, and I brought her home to keep her with me. She was not at all happy in her new (comfortable surrounding), and wanted to be left back downstairs. We spent several sleepless nights fostering her, much to her displeasure. She would incessantly cry all night.

Thanks to the CCTV footage, I got to know that Lucy was back in the basement after about a week. My joy knew no bounds, because I had presumed she was no more. Unfortunately, she was not the same cat after this incident. The trauma made her aloof towards Smokey, who was still a young kitten at heart. Smokey never understood why her dear momma was hissing and swiping at her. It was heartbreaking to watch Lucy grow colder than she already was. But until the very last day I saw her, Smokey’s behaviour towards Lucy remained the same. Lucy was her everything.

Smokey also had her share of disappearing. Once, she was not to be seen for almost 2 nights, and I was sick with grief. But she was back in the morning, her usual self, asking for food like nothing had happened. Of course, she was terribly, terribly hungry. In fact, Smokey’s disappearances became more frequent than Lucy’s. Especially around the full moon. New tom cats started to enter the basement, and Smokey was terrified of all of them. She never learnt how to fight, unlike Lucy, who can hold her ground. Smokey was extremely good at hiding from danger, because after all, she spent her childhood playing under cars and getting into the bonnet.

I like all animals a lot, but I have a special corner for cats. Unlike dogs, where everything is always lovey lovey, Lucy and Smokey’s temperament was closer to that of humans. Lucy had her mood swings, while Smokey was curious and mischievous. A human should be extremely lucky to earn a cat’s love. They can be selfish, and vile. Once they have eaten, they will walk away from you and look at you like you are a stranger. SmoLu were no different, although somewhere deep inside I like to believe that Smokey loved me back, but only did not know how to show it.

I wonder if I got so attached to them both because of my own emotional gaps. I grew up a single child, with no playmates. My relationship with my parents has always been troubled. I have only my mother now, and things haven’t changed. I always loved animals but could never keep a pet. I have no children of my own, and after my divorce, I never felt the need to experience parenthood. Having seen a parent’s death, a broken marriage, and several ups and downs in life, my emotional temperament is like Lucy’s – stoic. I keep my distance from humans. Only with these two animals, I gave my all. 

So, in SmoLu, I found everything I felt lacking. The bond between mother and daughter was such a beautiful thing to witness. Smol Smokey was my companion, and I spent so much time downstairs in the basement playing with her. I was her pet parent, protecting her from Tom cats, and always on the lookout for tasty, healthy food. I rediscovered my childhood hobby of making electronic gadgets, thanks to them. I rigged up a CCTV system with a long range WiFi network and made them a water feeding station which really helped me keep busy during the second COVID-19 wave.

Being so closely involved with these two strays also meant that I became more aware of the the issues other stray animals in the city face. I was directly and indirectly involved in rescues of animals in need. I regularly donated money for animal welfare. I frequently read horror stories about how humans harm voiceless strays for no genuine reason. I read in the papers how over 50% of new COVID era pet parents abandoned their pets on the street, not realising what it takes to raise an animal. From my own experience, I can say that looking after animals, especially stray cats, is an emotional roller coaster. 

I think all animals are more aware of their mortality than we humans are. They live life, one day at a time. It takes only a little love from our side to receive boundless joy from them. They show no malice, and carry 100% pure innocence which humans lack. Each animal has a different character, like us. Genes, upbringing, environment and individual temperament make each one of them unique.  If you have a little bit of extra sensitivity to the world around, you will see what perfect creatures animals are, compared to us. 

Every time I managed to catch Smokey before her feeding time, I would hold her and cradle her like a baby. She would mewl in protest, and I would give her soft kisses. Because after all, we have only this brief life to show and receive love. Maybe it was always in the back of my mind that this might not last long. I am grateful to her for entering my life. 

 

Sleep well, my baby, wherever you are.

UPDATE: SMOKEY CAME BACK ON HER OWN A WEEK LATER. SHE WAS SUFFERING FROM BURN WOUNDS ON HER PAWS AND FACE. I TOOK HER TO THE VET IMMEDIATELY AND GOT HER ADMITTED. SHE RECOVERED BEAUTIFULLY!

How I Recovered Data from a Failed Disk

I recently upgraded to an Apple M1 Mac Mini after running various Hackintosh capable hardware configurations for nearly 15 years. A Hackintosh is MacOS installed on non-Apple hardware – something which was easily possible on Intel-based PCs. Starting with certain models introduced in late 2020, Apple began the transition from Intel processors to Apple silicon in Mac computers. The M1 is the first generation Apple silicon chip and offers several speed and power advantages over Intel based chips.

In all my years of using a Hackintosh, I never faced any kind of hard disk failure, and consequent loss of data. However, within a month of purchasing the M1 Mac Mini, two of my 3.5 inch hard disks which were in an external hard disk enclosure (DAS), failed.

Before I get into the details, let me clarify a few things:

  1. I am not implying that the M1 Mac Mini had something to do with the hard disk failure/data corruption. However, in all my Hackintoshes, the 3.5 inch hard disks were directly connected to the motherboard. This meant that the hard disks always woke up and shut down with the computer. My Hackintoshes also had high quality power supply units, providing stable power to all components.
  2. The two hard disks failed one after the other, and not at the same time. One of the hard disks was a 12TB EXOS from Western Digital, while the other one was a 6TB Western Digital Black hard disk. They were both inside a Terra Master TD2 Thunderbolt 3 enclosure, configured in single-disk mode. This means that the disks were not in JBOD or RAID configuration.
  3. According to the compatibility matrix on the Terra Master website, the EXOS 12 TB is not compatible with the Terra Master TD2 Thunderbolt 3 enclosure. The EXOS 12 TB was the first one to fail, so I attributed this to the incompatibility. However, the 6TB Western Digital Black is compatible with the Terra Master TD2 Thunderbolt 3 enclosure and it failed after a few weeks, thus leading me to conclude that hard disk compatibility had nothing to do with the failure.
  4. The Terra Master TD2 Thunderbolt 3 enclosure is a DAS (and not NAS). It is connected to my M1 Mac mini via a Terra Master provided Thunderbolt 3 cable.
  5. The hard disks already had data, before I put them inside the enclosure.

Hard disk failures can be of two types – physical failure of the disk, or corruption of the file system. Physical failure of hard disks can be fatal for the data in it. Only professional hard disk data recovery companies can retrieve the data from such a disk. Also, it is very difficult for an ordinary non-technical person to ascertain the cause of failure. But I was pretty sure that the hard disk did not have bad sectors or physical damage. This is because they both stopped working suddenly, with no clicking sounds from the hard disk. When a hard disk makes weird noises, it is generally indicative of a physical failure.

With the failed disks in the DAS, every time the Mac Mini powered on, I would see a message, “The disk you attached was not readable by this computer.” The only options I had was to initialise the disk, eject it, or ignore the error message. I had no access to the data in the disk!

Imagine, 6 TB + 12TB of data going bad. Luckily for me, the 12TB EXOS hard disk contained data which was completely backed up in another hard disk. The 6TB hard disk had media from a recent photography assignment, which was not backed up. I was yet to deliver the images and videos to the client, so I had to access the data on the 6TB hard disk at any cost.

Here are the steps I followed to get my data back:

  1. I tried the ‘First Aid’ option in the Big Sur Disk Utility app to see if the partition can be repaired. This did not help in any way. I find the dumbed down version of Disk Utility in Big Sur pretty useless.
  2. I put the hard disk in an external USB hard disk enclosure to rule out any issues with the Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. This did not make any difference either.
  3. After googling for solutions, I came across a free MacOS software called TestDisk. Among the many things which TestDisk is capable of, it can fix a partition table and/or recover deleted partitions.

Unfortunately, TestDisk can only run from the Terminal. It is a command line utility. However, there is a paid companion app called Disk Drill Data Recovery Software, made by Clever Files, which has a UI. Disk Drill is based on TestDisk.

Disk Drill, like TestDisk, can do many things, including data recovery of deleted files in Mac OS X. I used it to successfully recover the assignment files which were not backed up from the corrupted partition of my 6TB Western Digital Black disk.

Disk Drill works by running different levels of scans on the hard disk. It is quite comforting to know that Disk Drill will show you the failed partition, while Disk Utility or Finder will not. A Deep Scan runs for several hours, and is your best bet to find all the files from the damaged partition.

After Disk Drill ran for a couple of hours on my hard disk, I noticed that it reported plenty of orphaned files. This lead me to conclude that the file system failure was pretty severe. The problem with file system failure on a disk which contains thousands of images is that you will never know if every recovered file is intact. It is hard to test the integrity of the recovered files when there is a large number of images. Luckily, I was able to retrieve the data which mattered to me the most – files from my photography assignment.

Why did the data on my hard disk get corrupted? Why did the partition fail? Was it because of the Terra Master DAS? Honestly, I will never know. I only know that in all the years of using hard disks directly connected to my motherboard, I never faced any problem. Also, what should I do to prevent such a failure in future? Of course, ejecting a disk before removing it from the Mac is something everyone should follow. Is it safe to keep the DAS running always, even when the Mac is shut down? Can I eject the disks from Finder, but still keep the DAS running? I wish had answers to these questions.

I did ask in the Terra Master forum as to why two of my hard disks failed after putting them in the DAS. The reply I got from the support team wasn’t satisfactory. They asked me to follow best practises such as formatting the disks in HFS+ or APFS format, and safely unmounting/ejecting the disk before removing them. From what I remember, I have never removed the hard disks without ejecting them because the DAS is always connected to the Mac Mini.

I have stayed away from a real Mac for many years because I was never comfortable with external hard disk solutions. The world of technology is very confusing and misleading. There is a big push for NAS systems but honestly, not everyone needs one. The NAS world is ridden with confusing terminology. NAS systems also come at an unnecessary premium. At the end of the day, all I need is a computer which allows me to work on data which is important to me. Management of that data shouldn’t really be such a big headache.

My worst fears of using external disks came true within a month of finally buying a Mac Mini – my first real Mac. Luckily, thanks to Disk Drill, I was able to recover my data. Going forward, I am going to take data backup more seriously!

A trip to Drongo Nature Camp in Uttara Kannada District

The year 2020 will go down in history as the strangest in the memory of many individuals. For me, 2020 was when so many things fell in place, thanks to the pandemic related all-India lockdown. I’ve always wondered why we city slickers waste time in traffic, causing stress to oneself and pollution to the environment. And it took a pandemic for the authorities to realise that life is beautiful minus the stress and grind of commute. Sure, the lockdown was hard on Indians for financial and personal reasons, but I think a majority of the people in bigger cities enjoyed working from, or staying at home.

Having spent 4 years of my academic life in a small village, a lot of things that the lockdown taught the world came naturally to me. I have always enjoyed silence. I was at my happiest during the lockdown when there was absolutely no traffic on the roads, and very few people moving around. The air was cleaner, the birds were happier, and I was busy doing what I love in the extra time I had on my hands. This was exactly how my life was during my engineering – far away from motorable roads, surrounded by greenery, and long days where time moved slowly.

Paddy fields near Sirsi

But once the lockdown was lifted, this beautiful phase of calmness became a thing of the past. The yearning to reconnect to nature only grew stronger. Luckily, I discovered a place where one can experience unspoilt nature without missing on the comforts of modern life.  Drongo Nature Camp is situated in Uttara Kannada district, near a small town called Banavasi. It is not too far from the bigger town of Sirsi, either. In fact, it lies on the road connecting Banavasi and Sirsi. Suhas runs the place, and Omkar Pai is the naturalist.

A view of the paddy field near Drongo Nature Camp

Cottages at Drongo Nature Camp

Banavasi is famous for the Madhukeshwara Temple built in the 9th century. We visited the temple the same evening that I arrived at Drongo Nature Camp. I have been to this temple before, but it looked beautiful that evening at sunset. The Nandi statue carved from stone is one of the I have seen.

Madhukeshwara Temple in Banavasi

Nandi Statue inside Madhukeshwara Temple in Banavasi

I have been making annual visits to the popular waterfalls in and around Yellapur, since 2013. I conduct a landscape and waterfall photography workshop in the month of October or November. During the workshop, we visit Sathodi, Magod and a few other cascades in the region. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 edition of the workshop was called off. My intention to stay at Drongo Nature Camp was to visit places in Sirsi I hadn’t been to before.

Sunset with orange and red colours

It was 2 pm when I arrived at the property, after driving from Bangalore. We were welcomed with a local herbal drink, which tasted unlike anything I had before. This was followed by lunch. The spread consisted of locally sourced ingredients, and the dishes were all from the Uttara Kannada district. Needless to the say, the food was both healthy, and tasty. If you have not eaten local household Uttara Kannada food, Drongo Nature camp is where you must go to experience food which is seldom available in restaurants.

Closeup of paddy crop

When I had called up Suhas, the properer of Drongo Nature camp, to make my booking, he had told me that the Camp premises is a great location for birding. The property is on the edge of a forest, and he said I needn’t have to go far for bird photography. Since I am a very opportunistic bird photographer I pointed my lens towards a branch only when I had nothing else to shoot. So, I was quite content with the limited number of birds I photographed at Drongo. The place had other surprises in store for me. I was told that dedicated birdwatchers have known to spot more than 30 different types of avian life in Drongo.

It is quite well known that the Sirsi-Yellapur region is home to numerous small and big waterfalls. Thanks to Omkar, I learnt that this part of the Western Ghats is also a macro photographer’s paradise. In the right season, snakes, frogs, toads, butterflies and a whole lot of small living things come out in the open. The rainforest becomes the macro photographer’s playground, much like Agumbe, which holds the crown for herpetology.  In November, we did not find snakes in the wild, but I did manage to photograph a few frogs and toads. Again, owing to a shift in what really interests me these days, my focus on macro photography was fleeting.

What really stood out to me at Drongo Nature Camp was the stunning night sky. Once the sun went down, which happens early in November, I was overjoyed to the low levels of light pollution at Drongo Nature Camp. I did not have to go far for astro photography, as the surroundings of Drongo Nature Camp was sufficiently dark. Gudnapura lake which is only a few kilometres away also seemed like an excellent location for night sky photography when we were there the previous evening. But fogging of the sky and lenses is a common issue in winter, so the frames I shot at Gunapura did not turn out nice.

Over the course of my stay, thanks to Omkar, I got to shoot some really nice frames of the November Milky Way from just outside the premises. Just like how spotting a certain species of bird is thrilling for the birdwatcher, catching a gimplse of the Milky Way on a clear night excites me.

Milky Way near Sirsi Karnataka

Star Trails in Uttara Kannada District

Astro photography near Sirsi

Not wanting to give up on my quest to see a new waterfall during this visit, I visited Burdue falls on the second day of my stay. It was a 2 hour drive through beautiful village roads. The route which Google Maps suggested wasn’t part of the main highway, so I pretty much had the road to myself. However, a few kilometres away from Burude, I sensed that the route shown by Google Maps is incorrect. Upon confirming with a few locals who asked me to retrace my steps and follow the signboards to Burude, I was on the ‘official’ road to the waterfall. The locals told me that the route shown by Google Maps also lead to the waterfalls, but the approach is not good.

The official route got progressively narrower and the last stretch is most likely untraversable by four wheelers during the monsoon. Luckily, it wasn’t raining and my Maruti Brezza did not have any problems tackling the rough patches. At one place, a rat snake causally crossed the jungle path, and I braked in time to watch it slither away into the bushes.

Burude was more massive than I had imagined. It is like a lady with a flowing gown. Although situated deep inside the jungle, the Tourism Department of Karnataka has attempted at developing it into a tourist spot. But in their infinite wisdom, a concrete stairway that seemingly goes down towards the base of the falls, stops abruptly midway as you start descending. You are on your own after that.  A big sign board warns visitors not to go down further, but at the river bed, I saw a life guard waiting for a us to go down below. However, I did not go further because I did not want to risk life and limb. It was also going to be impossible to climb back up with a camera backpack.

I was content with the mesmerising view of the grand waterfall from above. I was well aware that the real treat to the eyes is from the base of the waterfall. The color of the water there was turquoise, and for a moment, I envied the lifeguard’s job.

It is increasingly becoming evident that most people in India don’t see nature the way I do. For many, a waterfall or a river bed is a place to have fun irresponsibly. It is public property after all. Almost every scenic spot in the region is filled with trash. For this reason, the locals of Sirsi-Yellapur hesitate to reveal the coordinates of lesser known waterfalls, to outsiders.

On the other hand, I am always on the lookout for pristine locations which don’t show signs of human activity. Nature awes me without the need for intoxicants. I find natural beauty to be the best inspiration. But alas, thanks to my fellow Indians, who are highly immature and irresponsible, this is getting difficult with every passing year. The irony is that the internet, where this blog lives, is the very source of destruction. Any natural location which gets popular due to a viral post on social media becomes a big dump yard in no. time. The instagramming crowd is oblivious to the destruction because a selfie for social media is their only motive. So, maybe the Tourism Department’s idea of truncating the stairway to Burude isn’t such a bad idea.

On the way back to Drongo Nature Camp, I stopped at Bheemangudda – a popular hillock in the outskirts of Sirsi. This sunset viewpoint offers a panoramic view of the rolling hills and highlands. The forest department recently started regulating entry to this place, so at 6 pm just when the colours in the sky started to get vibrant, a guard came and chased us all away.

Sunset at Bheemana Gudda

I checked out of Drongo Nature Camp after a 4 day, 3 night stay. My advise to you, dear readers, is to stay for a minimum of 3 nights to experience what Drongo and the nearby places have to offer. During my stay, I saw only 2 waterfalls, but there at least 6 well known cascades worth visiting near Sirsi and Yellapur. Ask a local, and he will tell you of many more, but they can be approached only after a trek.

The drive back to Bangalore was pleasant, because most of it was on AH47. Suhas’s hospitality extended beyond my stay – he packed food for me to have on the way back to Bangalore! This kind gesture should be suffice to tell you how much he cares about his guests. I thank Suhas and Omkar for the memorable stay at Drongo Nature Camp.

Popular OLX Scams and Why They Still Work

Olx is a website where you can put up new or used stuff on sale. I don’t think Olx really monitors the quality of the items you post, so you could claim anything in your ad. .

Scammers are always on the prowl on Olx. Whether you are a buyer or seller, it won’t be long before you come across someone trying to rob you of your money.

Olx Buying Scams

Here is how con-men start their conversation when you have something on sale:

The seemingly harmless message is start of a long scam where you are tricked into sending your item to an address outside your city before receiving payment.  And the money for your item? It will never reach you. But the con-men will send you screenshots of fake bank transfers to show you that they have paid you. This is an old trick, and I generally just delete these messages.

Olx Selling Scams

Then there is the other type of scam – where you are the buyer and you come across a product and the price is tempting. In fact, it is too good to  be true. For example, this camera and lens is selling at half the price of what it is supposed to be selling for:

Just to see how far this seller would go, to scam me, I chatted with him on WhatsApp. The conversation that ensued was full of inconsistencies. Of course, I knew this was a scam, but I was curious because the seller’s ad on Olx mentioned that the product is in my city.

In the first two screenshots, the seller tries to convince me that he is selling a genuine product. He says he can deliver it to my place. He even shows me the bill.

The items in the bill did not match the products he had advertised for, but let’s not kill the fun right here, shall we?

After a lot of insisting that I would like to inspect the product, the seller relented.

He very confidently asks me to come to Arunachal Pradesh to inspect/buy the camera. Maybe he thought I’d fall for the authenticity of his words. But I did not, because he had told me he can deliver the product from Arunachal Pradesh to Bangalore in one day. So I asked him.

I decided to let go at this point of time because clearly, he was being very stupid. The distance between the address he mentioned, and my house, is 3000 km. And there are no direct flights.

Why Are There So Many Scams?

There are so many scams on Olx because there are a LOT of very stupid people on the internet. When I sell stuff on Olx, I always come across such people. Some are ill-mannered, some can’t read, and some just have a lot of time on their hands.

Here are the types of buyers have come across on Olx.

The Ones Who Lack Manners

These types of people are the most popular ones on Olx.  In the recent times, thanks to low-cost smartphones and cheap Internet, a lot of Indians have gone online. And the way we Indians behave online for everyone in the world to see. I think as a nation, we are by far the most ill-mannered people.

On Olx, you will find a lot of people who don’t believe in greeting, thanking, or closing discussions. Their messages are an example of how our education system has completely failed in teaching  us about basic courtesy.

Not closing a discussion is very common on Olx.

The Ones Who Try to Act Smart

This is the second most popular category of Olx buyers. They think they are smarter than you, but their words and actions don’t really prove so.

The dumbest of this type goes to Amazon, types the name of the product you are selling, and tries to prove to you that your product is over priced. Until now, all the people who have behaved this way with me have either not looked for the correct product, or not included everything I am offering on sale when searching. And it is not like Amazon is the hallmark of safe buying. There are sellers on Amazon who ship from overseas, but don’t mention that clearly in the description.

Another way of trying to act smart includes comparing products purchased in India with Indian warranty with prices abroad. For example, if you are selling a product which was purchased in India and has local, country specific warranty, it is not fair to compare the price of the same product in the international market where the price might be lower, but there is no warranty available in India. So it is never an apples to apples comparison.

 The Desperate Ones

I feel sorry for these guys. Because they very badly want what you are selling, but don’t want to pay for it. So they first lowball, and then try to justify their price.

These guys all have some theory that if it is a second hand product, the cost automatically drops to half or lesser, even if it is a day old.

The Ones Who Cannot Read

Even after you take great pains to put up all the details about your item in the Olx description, there will be people asking you very basic questions. I wonder if these people have a language problem, or reading problem. Here are a few examples.

Does it Have to be so Taxing?

The reason why I created this blog post is to show how a useful platform where buyers and sellers can meet to mutually benefit from each other’s needs (of selling and buying) has turned into a complex and dark place where Sigmund Freud would have loved to hang out.

When a seller puts something on sale, all they expect is to find someone who matches his expected price. If he doesn’t find such a buyer, it is up to the seller to lower the offer price or decide not to sell the product.

Thanks to the kind of people I have come across, online selling is a mentally draining activity. One must be prepared to get cheated, offended, abused and trolled by people who just don’t understand basic decent behavior and courtesy. All this only ends up sucking you of your energy and time.

But this is the direction in which all social media networks are headed, right?

 

I Lost Access to My Instagram Account

Instagram can be addictive. What happens if you are locked out and you cannot get your daily dose of the gram? It happened to me over a weekend. It was my own doing, but I also realised that Instagram has an unconventional way of verifying an account to restore access to it.

Before continuing, here is my Instagram handle. Follow me for photos from the beautiful outdoors of India. https://www.instagram.com/pixelshooter/

So here is what happened.

Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

I turned on two-factor authentication for my instagram account a month ago. I access my account from multiple devices (home, work, phone etc). Sometimes Instagram goes overboard with anti-spam protection and prevents me from performing legitimate actions. I even got shadow-banned for accessing Instagram from my desktop, but I fixed that problem. If you are interested in knowing how, drop a comment down in this article.

So with two-factor authentication, I not only wanted Instagram to secure my account, but I also wanted those silly “Action Blocked” messages to go away.

Instagram’s two-factor authentication requires you to enter a code in the authentication screen, after you log in using your password. This code can either be sent to you via text message, or is generated in an app such as Google Authenticator.

At first, I choose SMS based two-factor authentication. But due to delays in receiving the SMS, I turned on Google Authenticator based two-factor authentication. When I did this, Instagram sent me backup codes. Backup codes are to be used when you don’t have access to the authenticator app. And I did not save the backup codes. This proved to be a grave oversight on my part!

I had to reset my iPhone which is the primary device where I have the Instagram app installed. All data, including the Instagram and Google Authenticator app was wiped out when I reset my phone. After reinstalling Google Authenticator I could not complete the setup process because I did not have access to the Instagram app. This meant that I was effectively locked out of the app!

Instagram Support Interaction

I contacted Instagram via the login screen on the app. I promptly got an email which had an amusing set of instructions.

They wanted to see my selfie! And if my Instagram account had no pictures that showed my face, I would never be able to access my instagram account!

Now, this is a really strange way for a company to offer support to its users. What if you are a photographer who posts all sorts of photos except one of yourself? Or what if you were handling the account of a popular brand? How do you prove to Instagram that you are asking for legitimate help? From this email it was clear that Instagram expects you to have photos of yourself in your account. Who would have thought so!

Luckily for me, my feed had 2 photos where my face was clearly seen. So I emailed them a selfie with a piece of paper that had the information they wanted.

I immediately got another email asking for more information. This included details which I had to recall from memory.

At this point, I had many questions.

  1. How will non-technical users of Instagram know details such as whice Operating System they used to sign up for their account?
  2. Does Instagram actually expect us to remember such details?
  3. If Instagram is meant for selfies, why are they so big on security? After all, their own two-factor authentication scenario did not take into consideration what happened to me.
  4. Why can’t they just send a code via SMS to complete the authentication process in a situation where the user does not have access to Google Authenticator?

Actually, I don’t remember when I signed up for Instagram. I certainly don’t remember what OS or device I was on. So I provided them with information on how I currently access Instagram. As of now I am waiting for a reply to my support query. I may never be able to access my account. I will update the outcome here.

UPDATE:

So after another email where Instagram said some idiotic stuff, I got access to my account. I would like to believe they relented because I questioned their logic – what’s the use of protecting the privacy an account that may never be accessed ever again?

.

Bastar, Chattisgarh

Update: See my travelogue here: http://www.pratapj.com/travel/waterfalls-bastar-region-chhattisgarh/

I’m sitting in a railway station in Jagdalpur. My journey thus far has been great. I wanted to see a few known and lesser known waterfalls in Chattisgarh and I was able to so without hiccups.

Given my luck, I consider this an accomplishment. Two months ago I missed my flight after being stuck in a landslide. And a few months prior to that, I got to witness exactly what I wanted to, but I wasn’t prepared with the the right kind of gear. And I don’t know how it would be from now till I reach home in two days.

My train is already late by an hour. And it takes 10 hours to cover 400 odd kms. Not something I’m looking forward to. This journey to Chattisgarh could have been planned more efficiently, if I had the right kind of information to go by. Every tourism board wants to promote destinations within their state, but there is seldom enough information for travellers like me to make bullet proof plans.

Bloggers, backpackers and intrepid travellers are supposed to fill this void. But we live in times of shallow travel blogging, with influencers and social media PR agencies killing the spirit of self publishing.

Given the scarce information on how to easily visit the Baster region in Chattisgarh in three days, I’m much obliged to come up with a post on www.pratapj.com. I did this trip solo, with a heavy pack full of photography gear. For now, here are some iPhone pics and vids till I get back to my computer.

20 Photos from The Last 6 Months

Just like that, six months of this year has gone by. In terms of photography, it has been pure joy. I pursued new genres of photography which demanded a lot more time, patience and planning. Over the past couple of years, I have been shooting only landscape and outdoor photography exclusively. This year I deviated from the usual ultra-wide-angle-on-a-full-frame style to do a few new things (some of which involved an ultra-wide-angle-on-a-full-frame 😀 )

Here is a look at how 2018 has been so far and some of the places I visited.

January

As winters in Bangalore get warmer every year, we go further away from the city to find the old charm of foggy mornings. I shot this aerial image in a lake near Dodballapur:

Gundamgere near Bangalore

In the same month, Pradyu and I went to Ramnagara looking for the traditional practice of making livestock jump over fire, but we ended up shooting this beautiful scene of a temple lit by a 100 (or so) lamps:

Later that month, some friends and I went to Badami on a recee trip to design a unique photography tour. We found excellent opportunities and here is one shot of star trails above the rocky hillocks of Badami:

Badami astro photography

The drive to Badami also took us through some scenic routes like this one:

And how can a trip to Badami be complete without capturing the way locals live amidst the splendid ruins of the Chalukya empire:

Locals near the Bhoothanatha temple

If you thought I was done with road trips in January, you are wrong. Friends and I went down South to see the beautiful big temple at Tanjore and visit nearby places:

Bharathanatyam near the Chola temples

And here is an aerial view of paddy fields from the country side:

Paddy Fields in Tamil Nadu

February

The astro photography workshop that I mentored happened in the second month of 2018. We had a full house and the participants enjoyed capturing the night sky. Watch the video I made after the tour:

Later that month, I did a solo trip to look for the Milky Way. In the wee hours of the morning, I looked up at the sky after driving 70km and was rewarded with this beautiful sight:

Milky Way near Bangalore

In February, we earthlings got a chance to witness a rare celestial event – the blood red super moon. We traveled to a location near Tumkur hoping to get clear skies and a chance to witness this spectacle. It was a bit of a disappointment though, as the moon rose early in the evening. I shot this star trail after the moon rose:

Star trail near Bangalore

And here is a day-old super moon photographed with a Canon 500mm:

March

While I was enjoying my newfound love for astro-photography, I soon realised that my Sony A7rII wasn’t the best camera for this job. I borrowed a friend’s 6D to try it out. While it has an outdated sensor for 2018, it performed quite decently for landscape photography.

Mydala lake

Using the 6D took me back to my Canon days. I knew I had to get back to using a DSLR, so I tried the Canon 5D Mark IV when a bunch of astronomers and astrophotographers went to a farmhouse near Kanakpura to shoot the Milky Way.

Astrophotography at Chiguru farm

By now, I was shooting a lot of time-lapses.  I purchased a Syrp Genie and Genie mini and was shooting panning and linear time lapses with a slider. Watch a YouTube video of this outing here.

April

I decided to travel to the Gharwal region of the Himalayas to shoot nightscapes under clear skies. In the high altitude of Nag Tibba, 4 hours from Mussourie, I got a chance to see the Milky Way in all its glory. The only problem is that the Milky Way rises very late in the night in the early part of the year. Staying up way past midnight, I captured this:

Nat Tibbe night sky in the Himalayas

I traveled with my Sony A7rII and a borrowed Canon 5D Mark II. Unfortunately the Canon 5D Mark II was too old for astro photography while my A7RII wasn’t suitable for time-lapses. So once I came back to Bangalore I purchased a Canon 5D Mark IV.

May

I did a few small trips to test out the 5D Mark IV. The performance far exceeded my expectations. I realised how overrated YouTube videos of people reviewing cameras are! Everyone in the internet loves to trash Canon and praise Sony. The truth is that the Canon 5D Mark IV is a fine camera and much more user friendly than the Sony.

I was back to shooting macros too.

A friend of mine even shot a feature film with my Canon 5D Mark IV. His camera man was given a choice of using my A7rII and the 5D Mark IV (with C log) and he chose the Canon. The industry is pretty much still with Canon.

I visited Padubidri to watch his shoot when I captured this crab on the beach with a Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D.

June

Monsoon season brought interesting cloud formations in the sky. On two visits to Mysore and places nearby, this added the necessary drama to my photographs. Here is an aerial photo of a farm near T Narasipura:

By June, I was using the 5D Mark IV almost exclusively. I even created a corporate video with it. Reality check: 4K video is not the yardstick to measure everything!

The 30mb files from the 5D Mark IV is a perfect combo of quality vs resolution. I always had a tough time batch processing 45mb files from my Sony A7rII. The 5D Mark IV is a lot more versatile. Here are some timelapses that I shot with it:

Lightroom Workshops – Six Years and Counting

I conducted a one-day workshop on Lightroom/Post-Processing in Bangalore on May 5th. As I was looking at the course material, I realized that it was my sixth year of mentoring photographers in Lightroom. Our initial few workshops included both Lightroom and Photoshop, and spanned across two days. We converted it to a one day Lightroom-only workshop because Photoshop is not something that you can cover in a weekend.

In these years, Adobe has made quite a few significant changes to the software to simplify it, but the core concepts still remain the same. With Lightroom CC, the app that we once knew has actually become a ‘classic.’ Lightroom Classic CC is what Adobe calls the software that desktop version. Lightroom CC is now for the ‘mobile’ crowd and uses the cloud to store images.

In this class, we had 9 participants, two of whom were French. We also had many participants who had either traveled with Darter on our tours before, or had attended our other workshops. This is certainly encouraging for us – people come back only when they are happy.

The venue for our workshop was the Honeycomb – Video Production Bangalore, Web Design office in Koramangala. It was great to work in a space dedicated for photographers. In case you weren’t aware, Honeycomb makes archival photo prints on imported media. We had at least 50 prints hanging on the walls of our classroom. Honeycomb also offers services like image retouching and website development. Do check out their website.

Lightroom can be both easy and daunting. A common question that I get asked always is – when do I stop editing? How much of Lightroom should I use to edit an image. This question is challenging one for me, because like the question itself, there is no definite answer. The best thing would be to use a number of examples to show what can be achieved.  As a mentor, I always strive to get the participants to understand the tricky topics like tonal correction first. To do this, I use some of my own photos as examples. As someone who loves landscape photography, I use more of such images for demonstration. However, I also recognize the need to have a variety of sample RAW files.

One collective feedback that I received in this workshop was to split the session into two days. What do you think? Should a Lightroom workshop be for one day or two days? Comment below and let me know.

If you are interested in a future Lightroom workshop, visit http://www.darter.in/ and stay connected through our Facebook page.