Anatomy of moose hunt (Part-2)

moose-home-slide

(pic courtesy:Bullmoose inc.)

Michel’s dad had been an avid hunter and that’s why he had bought that land – a 20-acre thickly wooded and otherwise flat spread east of the mammoth Lac Memphremagog which straddles the US-Canada border. He’s glad that he did.

In Canada, folks buy vast stretches of densely forested land for the sole purpose of hunting and charging others for the privilege of hunting on their land. When you consider that a hunter will pay anywhere between $1500 and $3000 for a season, it makes good business sense. Besides, hunting on private land is the safest. On crown property you don’t pay nothing but its hazardous. In season, it is always crawling with hunters and you have to face the very real possibility of being mistaken for a doe and shot by some drunk hunter.

Thanks to Michel, this is my third season on his spread and it’s wild, fairly flat country – no civilization for at least a hundred miles in all directions. And teeming with game – wild fowl, partridge, rabbits and hares, whitetail and moose. And for target practice, there’s always the coyote.

Even when you own the land you want to hunt in, you still need a permit. That’s the first step you take if you want to hunt in Canada – you decide where you’ll hunt : the zone. And then you go get a season license for that zone. Remember, seasons are short – a couple of weeks for every category of game and weapon. Moose season with bow/arrow/crossbow was mid October, for just two weeks. November is for rifle and black powder muskets.

Hunting season is over by the end of November (except for black bear, caribou and elk, which continues into December). By the first week of December you’ll find whitetails ambling along the streets of small towns and villages, completely unconcerned. Somehow they sense that with the start of December they’ll be safe. They’ll expect humans ta chant..”Deer are our friends, deer are our friends, deer are our friends” (remember Shark Tale?). In Duhamel, the deer walk into your kitchen looking for food if they find your patio door open.

Assuming you already have a hunting permit and a firearm/crossbow license, here’s a step by step guide that will see you through to your first kill…….

Foremost, you have to remember – hunting season is short, maybe two-three weeks. So if you are a full-time employee like I am, the first thing you got ta do is make sure you have secured your leave authorization for the period of the season. Like you, there are many in the organisation who’ll want ta go on a hunt. And then if you have a boss like Nurse Ratched (flatter and more rectangular than Saskatchewan) you have ta apply for leave early so she doesn’t hem and haw over it, like she’s letting you peek into her knickers (yuck).

Okay, so you have nailed down your vacation time. Then you organize a season permit and coupons. These are available at all major hunting stores and outfitters. Coupons are little tags that you have ta attach to the corpse of the prey before registering your kill with the ranger station in that area. It has to be attached to the earlobe of the kill, so for C’s sakes don’t throw away the head, even if you know you’re not aiming ta eat it. The coupon is your authorisation to kill that animal and if you kill your prey and then start patting your pockets for the coupon and realize you left it home, three hundred miles away, your ass is grass.

Having taken care of all the licenses and coupons, you are now going to get your gear ready.

First, the weapon. If it’s crossbow season, I check out all the moving parts of my TenPoint Vector, a $1500 mother that I got for $300 from a neighbor who had given up hunting due to old age. The Vector can put a bolt (as a crossbow arrow is termed) right through a moose at 60 yards and come out the other side. The crossbow’s range being severely limited and the bolt’s trajectory having to follow the laws of ballistics, I’ll need a range-finder, which is a tiny device that emits a laser beam which bounces off the target and the device measures the time the beam has taken to bounce back and from that, it gives me the range. Before I shoot, I input that range into the sights of the Vector and I’m good ta go. All this I got ta do real fast since the moose isn’t going ta oblige me by hanging around for long.

If it’s rifle season, I take out my Sapua Magnum .306 and make sure it’s oiled and ready. At a mile, it will drill a neat hole into anything that moves and all I’ll hear is the click of the bolt action. I never fail ta visit a shooting range and check out the calibration of my scope, prior to the expedition.

Next comes the rest of your gear. Here are the requirements that I would term as basic –

  • A reliable hunting partner – bad things can happen to you when you’re on a hunt. It could be anything – a broken ankle or a collapsed tree stand with you on it, causing you ta plummet twennie feet to the ground below and damage your spine. Frostbite, if you are hunting caribou in the Tundra. I mean shit happens, y’know. So always take a partner with you, someone you can trust with a gun in the wild. Anyways, if you want ta go on a moose hunt, the permit allows only one moose for two hunters, so you don’t have a choice. You have to have a partner ta hunt moose.
  • A large pick-up truck – Hunting gear is heavy : food and supplies, guns, ammo, ropes, first aid, sleeping bags, tents, carving and cleaning knife kits, bait, electrical winch for suspending the carcass after cleaning it. Trust me, you cannot set off on a hunt on a piddly Corolla. Besides, a fully grown male moose weighs anywhere between 700 and 1000lbs. You need a means of transport that has enough hauling power.
  • A place ta sleep, nights. Michel has this old school bus that his dad drove into a clearing at the entrance to his spread and converted it into a cozy one room shack. There’s a wood burning stove, a generator, a fridge, bunk cots to spread our sleeping bags on and a larder stocked with racks of Michel’s favorite red shiraz cabarnet.
  • The only inconvenience is the morning poop. For that, you have ta predesignate an area that’s a ways from your camp and just plop down in the brush and do your job. Remember to take your handgun with you and lay it on the grass within reach. Not that it’ll stop a determined black bear though – but if you make sure to have a large caliber piece like a short barrel Glock40 or a Desert Eagle .50, the loud bang is likely ta scare Yogi away. Caution: Remember not ta take your handgun on the actual hunt. Handguns are banned on hunts.
  • Hunting Accident & Liability Insurance – Don’t even think of going on a hunt without insurance. It’s expensive, will set you back by $500 for two weeks in the wild, but you don’t even want ta think of how much it’d cost if you had to be extracted in a hurry by chopper.
  • Satellite phone (where there’s no cellphone coverage) : How are you going to call the chopper? Smoke signals?

Before season begins, you have ta ‘set the field’ – which means, prepare the hunting ground. That is something you do a few weeks in advance of your expedition….

  • Check out that tree stand you had installed a couple of years back. See if the nuts and bolts got rusted and need replacement. As mentioned above in ‘basic requirements’, a collapsing tree stand could kill you or at best turn you into a paraplegic.
  • Fix 3G-enabled motion sensing cameras all over. Michel and I have six SpyPoints that begin transmitting images in real time, telling us if the location we have chosen has moose traffic at all or not. Two weeks prior to season, our Iphones will start pinging as images of animals – deer, moose, coyotes, rabbits – start flooding in, making it look like Times Square at rush hour. Makes me mighty glad.
  • Install large blocks of salt on tree stumps in and around your location. Moose love licking on them. If its deer season scatter bags of apples – whitetail love macintosh. Mid November, deer season begins and I already have 15 sacks, 25lbs each. Let the poor bastards have a feast before they taste some lead.

Okay, so now you have the basics – the land, the licenses, the weapon, a pickup truck, a partner and your own spot. Let’s get down to the nitties…..

Any decent crossbow will weigh at least 25lbs. Try holding it up for a clear shot, it’s painful. So, get yourself set up on your tree stand such that you can rest your arm from where you’re going ta shoot. That goes for a gun too. My Sapua weighs twennie pounds, with scope and everything.

Hunting season coincides with mating season. Get one of those mating call apps with wi-fi speakers when you’re moose hunting. There are buck calls for does and doe calls for bucks and moose are so dumb that they invariably fall for it. But with deer, don’t bother, deer are real smart, they don’t get turned on by Iphone mating call apps. For them, you get genuine doe pee at any outfitters, for $15 a bottle. Whitetail bucks are like Donald Trump in Moscow – they get a hard-on when they smell does’ pee and come charging ta check it out. Just a few drops, sprinkled on a rag and left on a branch at nose height will do the job. Moose don’t believe in kinky sex, golden showers and all, so don’t bother wasting your money on moose pee.

You could get awful cold and hungry, waiting immobile all day, on your tree stand. Make sure you have short eats, like granola bars, chocolates and a coffee flask. DO NOT CONSUME ANYTHING AT GROUNG LEVEL. The scent will scare moose/deer away. You have no idea how strong their sense of smell is. Up on the tree stand its okay, the smell doesn’t get down. But even so, it is always smart ta station your tree stand downwind from your hunting ground zero if that is possible.

Autumn, days are short and it is likely that when you are making your way through the brush toward your tree stand early in the morning, it will still be dark. And the same, when you descend in the twilight to get back to your shack. So, get a sturdy flashlight. Do not use it unless you absolutely have ta. Light scares game away. Btw, the rules specify that you can start upto a half hour prior to sunrise and finish upto a half hour after sunset. Beyond that if you are caught out in the woods with a crossbow or a gun, the rangers will have your ass on a platter.

The hunt…..

If dawn is at 6am, you wake up around 4:30 inside your trailer/shack/cabin (in our case – Michel’s dad’s bus), make yourself a sandwich and a coffee, force yourself ta go poop so you won’t have ta go later in the day.

The next thing is important if you want a kill – take a shower with an odorless soap and put on fresh clothes. Spray on some of the special deodorant that you can get at any outfitter. Buy the soap and deodorant at hunting outfitters only. They know what they’re doing.

Sling your backpack on, grab your crossbow and quiver and walk the 2-3 kms to your tree stand, taking care not to trip over a stone or a sapling in the darkness. If you do and sprain your ankle, hunting season is over for you. While you are up on the tree stand, keep quiet, stay still and do not smoke. Moose hunt is boring, but think of the year’s stock of chops and ribs that you will wash down with Rickard’s Red while that redhead you met at the library nuzzles you in front of the fireplace.

The moose have their own schedule – they venture out around dawn and forage for food until around 10:00-10:30 in the morning and that’s when you got ta get one. Wait for a good shot, and if it’s a crossbow, aim for the liver, heart or lungs. With a gun, go for the side of the head or the neck. Don’t shoot unless you’re sure you have a good shot angle. It is irresponsible and cruel to wound an animal and watch it limp away, maimed for life, and be set upon by a pack of wolves or coyotes who are waiting for the opportunity ta tear it apart.

After 10:30, the moose disappear until around 3:00-3:30pm, so you can get down and go have breakfast, take a nap and generally chill out. You can even make love (if your partner is female). Its mating season for the moose so why should it be any different for ya.

Come 2:30pm, get back up on your tree stand. The moose keep their schedule. A short while later they reappear and that’s your second and last window of the day ta get one, until the sun sets.

I haven’t been able to figure out where they go when they disappear in the late morning. It’s like, all of a sudden they aren’t there anymore. All the mating calls in the world and all the pee won’t make any diff. They must have a well camouflaged den deep in the woods or something.

In the next part, I’ll tell you all about what happens from the time you have managed ta get a 1000-lb moose buck, right up until it’s final trip to your basement freezer in neat little shrink-wrapped portions, ready ta grill.

Don’t go away.

Veterans Day

veterans day

The American establishment, through the course of a year, goes through a ritual of remembrance – of the heroism of their soldiers, in – to use a much touted term that Americans love to use – ‘keeping their country safe’.

There’s the Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day and Armistice Day. All of these are public holidays, demonstrating how seriously the American government takes the sacrifices of it’s fighting men and women.

All that is true. To those who narrowly survived, the final moments of the act of getting ready to give one’s life for his country are surreal. Soldiers who have been there and back have spoken of an out of body feeling of everything happening in slow motion, devoid of fear or concern – a state of mind where no reason, no response to external stimuli can stop them from going ahead with the act. They have spoken of a moment of pure exhilaration, of virtuosity.

But here’s the thing. What if the cause itself is questionable? What if a soldier is feted, regardless of whether the war he fought was a just or an unjust one. Sadly, except for the American Civil War – which cannot be counted in the list since it was a war Americans fought against themselves – and the two World Wars, I have not found a single war America waged that was a just one.

Let’s take each war and see for ourselves if my statement is true…

The Indian Wars (earliest settlements upto 1924): 426 American soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, for essentially decimating the native American population who were simply fighting for control of their own homeland.

The Korean Expedition (1871) : The first American military action in Korea, to forcibly establish trade routes through Korea into Central Asia, against the will of the Korean monarch who ruled with an isolationist ideology that simply wanted to mind it’s own business.

The Spanish-American War (1898) : A textbook example of land-grab and hegemony. The fruits – the snatching of Cuba, Phillipines, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Caroline Islands in the Pacific, from Spain. No one stopped to ask the locals how they felt about the whole thing.

Samoan Civil War (1899) : Valued as a refueling station for coal fired ships, Samoa was a tiny chain of islands of people who simply wanted to be left alone. Until the Germans, British and the Americans arrived and stoked up a proxy war.

The Phillipines-American War (1898-1902) : Nothing really, just some Filipinos fighting American occupation of their homeland. 86 Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor for this sterling piece of ruthless hegemony.

The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) : Again, plain run-of-the-mill, rebellion against American intervention in China. Another 50 Medals of Honor here, for successfully cowing down a populace who didn’t want external interference.

Invasion and occupation of Veracruz, Mexico; Haiti; Dominican Republic (1914-24) : 63 brave American servicemen awarded the Medal of Honor for their selfless butchery of the poor natives who were just minding their own business.

Occupation of Nicaragua (1909-33) : 2 Medals of Honor, for the glorious fight to ensure that only the US was allowed to build and control a proposed trans-isthmian canal connecting the Pacific to the Atlantic.

The Korean War (1950-53) : Does anybody find a legitimate reason why a country should intervene in some place half a world away without direct provocation or concern of an existential threat? But as far as the medal tally goes, this was a fruitful one. It dredged up 145 Medals of Honor. Brave, really brave.

The Vietnam War (1965-1975) : I guess I won’t waste my time writing about this open and shut case of pure evil. 234 Medals of Honor here. Seems like the more devilish the intervention, the more medals are showered upon the suck… umm soldiers.

Afghanistan and Iraq wars (2001-ongoing) : Perhaps the most unjust of all wars ever fought by a group of humans, in history. The sequence of events directly, on and immediately after 9/11 have raised so many questions that believing it could have been an inside job is no longer a conspiracy theory. The number of Medals of Honor is only 18. For a 16-year long conflict, this seems a tiny number. Maybe it would be more if inanimate objects, such as drones, could also be made eligible for medals.

The reason why the presence of a 9/11 conspiracy cannot be ruled out is simple – if a whole population of Americans can be made to move on, accepting that a stupid, irrational idiot named Lee Harvey Oswald could have single-handedly killed a President, then they can be made to believe anything.

Another farcical day is approaching – Veterans Day, celebrated every November 11th. Yes, those very same veterans who on return are first treated as pariah and then made to run from pillar to post, just to get their post-discharge benefits. So, November 11 is round the corner, a time to remember those who fell while fighting ‘to save Americans in America’.

Even though those wars are being waged multiple time zones away.

On Veterans Day, there will be parades, open convertibles with ‘Gold Star Parents’ proudly waving at the adulation from the crowds. Doesn’t matter to them that their son or daughter died fighting an unjust war that they had no business being in, in the first place. Doesn’t matter that most of the soldiers who are shoved into America’s wars are from poor, barely literate families, while the sons and daughters of the rich are able to get deferments for ‘bone spurs’.

On Veterans Day, there will of course be veterans, young and old – on wheel chairs, brought out once a year from the mothballs, their brains befuddled by PTSD, Agent Orange and Moral Injury. Moral Injury, because their minds could have withstood almost anything, except the memory of that little Iraqi girl they accidentally shot or that old Afghan woman they accidentally drove their Humvee over, when all she wanted to do was cross the street to get some naan for dinner that night. Oh yes, those veterans will all be there, their alcohol-puffed faces jaded and sour.

If you are standing, watching the extravaganza with an American friend, he will tell you,” Of course, they fought to prevent attacks by aliens within America.”

You’ll then gape at him and stutter,”But, almost all those attacks so far have been by American citizens, within America – some even by blue blooded white Christian Americans!”

Your American friend is ready with a repartee, sure in his strong Christian faith…”Okay, but they fought to stop the ideology from coming in and destroying us.”

You want to ask him him how an ideology can destroy a citizenry, unless it itself is vulnerable. But you let it go. This is when you suddenly realize you forgot you had a meeting to attend and you excuse yourself and quickly depart.

Veterans Day? A more apt name would have to be “How do we live with ourselves day”

 

Anatomy of a Moose Hunt (Part-1)

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Moose, sighted from Michel’s tree perch, range approx 100 yds – too far (pic courtesy : Michel Gagnon, colleague at work and partner in hunt)

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Have you tried moose? Tastes a lot like horse meat, though a bit more tender. Prepared rare, with fried farm picked potatoes and tomatoes on the side and a jug of Rickard’s Red to wash all that down, a moose steak will bowl you over.

First you got to hunt one of course and in that, the Canadian wilderness affords you ample opportunity.

Moose is the largest member of the deer family and a 1000-lb adult buck is not uncommon. The largest I ever got was a 700-lb King Kong with huge spiked racks on both sides of the head. You know the racks as antlers on deer. While antlers look like large dendritic twigs with branches, a moose’s rack is flat, like a pan with spikes. As for size, deer are way smaller. A whitetail or caribou would rarely go over 350-lbs.

moose rack

Moose racks

deer antler

Deer antlers

Another thing – moose usually graze in pairs and not family units or herds and therefore you miss one and you can pretty much abandon the hunt for the day. Deer on the other hand appear in large family units of maybe ten – twennie animals, consisting of a coupla bucks, four – five females and six – seven kids and it’s a bit easier not ta miss. And caribou? You’ll find caribou in the tundra, roaming in large sluggishly moving, tightly packed herds of five hundred or more and you have to be a raging schmuck to miss one of them.

That’s how the quota system works – on availability. You’re allowed one moose per two hunters, one deer per hunter and four caribou per hunter, on any given season. Just as well, since a moose carcass really does need two strong guys to handle, cut, clean, load into the truck and all. Hunting moose isn’t meant for men with back and shoulder problems.

Aside from the size and the antlers, moose and deer have similar character traits. The males are suspicious and jumpy. It takes a lot ta make a moose appear in your line of sight and draw him close enough. You got ta have the patience to pin one down and put a round into him. A male won’t venture into your field of vision unless it’s dusk or early dawn. The females on the other hand are more – ‘bindaas’ (that’s Indian for happy-go-lucky). You might catch a doe with her kids sauntering around in full view, in the mid-morning or early afternoon.

Doesn’t mean you can kill a female or the kids though. It depends upon what the permit says. If you are only allowed a male and you end up shooting a doe, you won’t get arrested since killing an animal in season is not a crime. But you can kiss your hunting permit goodbye, along with your precious $2000 Sako .306, your gun license, your gear and – if the ranger has had a fight with his missus that morning – even the pickup truck you drove in on, along with a mandatory fine of around $5000.

But don’t let’s think of what negative things might befall you. This is moose season – time for some fun, time ta replenish your basement freezer with a year’s stock of moose steak and ribs.

Assuming you do have the right permit, it’s way easier to kill a female but then the moment you kill one, your deer or moose season is over for the year and you got ta go home. That’s no fun. It is the challenge of the hunt, the back and forth ‘jugalbandhi’ of those mating calls – the genuine rasping bark-like grunts from the moose, against your doe-in-heat calls ‘khra khra khra’ produced by the ‘Deer Calls Pro’ app you have on your Iphone – astonishingly real ovulating-doe sounds played through those tiny camouflaged bluetooth-ready loudspeakers that you tucked away at vantage locations throughout the clearing where you have your tree stand.

There’s another method – genuine, doe pee ($15 a 100ml bottle). The stench is overpowering. You could sprinkle a few drops on the ground in the middle of the clearing, but I have noted that it doesn’t work with moose buck. To them it’s like, “Oh, yeah? So, some bitch peed, doesn’t mean she’s horny, right?” Deer bucks get turned on by doe pee – moose, no. So, remember to keep your Iphone charged and make sure the speakers didn’t get soaked in last night’s downpour.

Remember I said that your season is over once you shot one animal? It is a bit complicated actually. There are rules for everything, beginning with the exact dates when the season begins and ends, the categories of weapons you are allowed ta use, the hunting license, the firearm license, the zones where you are allowed to hunt, the animals you are allowed to hunt in those zones and the period of the year when you are allowed to hunt specific species and so on. You don’t just heft your Beretta .335, load it into your pickup truck and drive off with a squeal of tyres and spray of gravel.

I could elaborate on each rule but I would urge you ta access the 10-post series on my epic battle to kill a large whitetail I had named Zorba, after Anthony Quinn (link given below). It’s all mentioned there in greater detail –

The hunt for Zorba – Parts 1 to 10

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Moose season closes this weekend, but hang on – it’s only for the crossbow guys. Gun season starts end October. You’ll be surprised just how many hunters in Canada are crossbow enthusiasts. All the guys I know (including yours truly) who hunt with rifles also hunt with crossbows and they really love it.

A rifle hunt is an easy hunt. If you’ve had practice, even a $250 Winchester .306 with scope can put bullet in a whitetail’s brain in 500 yards. Kinda spoils the fun of the chase. But a crossbow is another mother. You have ta get the moose within 60 yards, coz that’s the maximum range. And then you have only one chance, since the ‘thung’ of the string and the ‘thwock’ of the latch are loud enough ta scare the dude away, unless the wind is strong and you happen to be downwind. Besides, a crossbow is a bitch ta load, takes a lot of strength, even with those little winches that crossbows come with these days.

So I left my Lapua Magnum .306 home and brought the TenPoint Vapor along. You can kill moose at 60 yards with a Vapor. When you press the trigger, the latch releases the arrow with a ‘thung!’ The arrow leaps out in a blur, covering 50 feet every second. I use a SlickTrick Magnum broadhead (ie: the arrowhead) – razor sharp, made from the same blue titanium alloy that jet engine blades are made of. It will slice through bone, arteries and tissue like they were made out of butter.

With a crossbow, where you hit the moose is important if you want a swift painless kill. If you get him in the neck or even the upper torso, the bolt will pass right through and bury itself upto the fletching (the rear fins) in the snow beyond. That’s not a good thing – it won’t down the moose immediately and there’s no way you can load another arrow into the crossbow, take aim, adjust range and shoot all within those few seconds that the animal is in your line of sight. He will make a run for it. This is his country and he knows it better than you. He’ll keep running, leaving a long sprinkly trail of blood that you will find hard ta discern in the failing light and the deepening shadows of the twilight. But even if you are able to, imagine huffing and puffing and blundering after him through dense brush. No way you can catch up to him.

Rule-zillion : Don’t run after a wounded moose. First of all, running in knee high brush or snow isn’t easy and can cause serious injury if you trip and fall. This is the wilderness and getting you on a medevac chopper can cost you dear, if you didn’t take out insurance. Second, if you are in bear country (which the Canadian wilderness sure is), you won’t see a black bear coming. Bears easily interpret running as a sign of fear. Soon you – the hunter – will be the hunted, with nothing on you to defend yourself, since you left your crossbow leaning against the tree stand and this not being rifle season, you haven’t brought your .306 on this trip. Also, you can’t slip a Glock19 into your backpack for emergencies since handguns are banned on a hunt. Anyway, chances are that a pack of coyotes or wolves will follow the blood trail better and beat you to it.

So if you want to save your breath and make it short and sweet for the moose, you’ll have to be patient until it is sufficiently close and at the right angle for the heart, lungs or liver. You have to be sure you have lined up a shot that will kill as swiftly as possible. We are hunters, not apathetic sadists who don’t care if the prey is maimed and then waits to get slowly get torn to bits, still alive, by a pack of hungry coyotes.

There’s another reason why a smart hunter doesn’t run after the prey. During moose season, the forests of southern and eastern Quebec are crawling with hunters (especially the government-owned lands where hunting is rent-free). Another hunter – maybe one of those rednecks who has a bottle of Jack Daniels in his jacket pocket that he is constantly swigging from – could mistake you for fleeing whitetail and you might suddenly watch a third nipple grow in the middle of your chest.

I know you love nipples, but three nipples? That is crowd.

(to be continued…)

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Ps: Don’t go away. Part-2 is all about this year’s hunt and the 800-lb Godzilla we got…

I have turned Artsy

I am usually a course, fartsy sorta guy, devoid of the ability to appreciate art, a reason why I have been in Montreal 15 years and it was only last week that I ventured into the  Museum of Fine Arts. Now I’ve become both, fartsy and artsy.

Actually I’ll level with you. I went there to see tits. Come on, where there’s gothic and impressionist art, there will be boobs. Lots and lots of perfectly hemispherical, gravity-defying boobs that stick straight out, with saucy, aroused nipples, surrounded by cheeky areolae.

Remember Delacroix’s famous 1830 Joan of Arc oil on canvas, “Liberty leading the people”? Simple physics tells me that such fulsome bubblyboos are bound ta sag by the force of at least one of Newton’s ‘G’s. Delacroix obviously didn’t think so. Here it is, see for yourself (took it off the net)…..

eugc3a8ne_delacroix_-_la_libertc3a9_guidant_le_peuple

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Level-1 at the Museum is where all the boobs are. I tarried there so long, you could begin carbon dating me. The most striking of them all was a series of oils and acrylics on canvas housed inside a single room dedicated to the artist, Luis Ricardo Falero. This was a temporary exhibit and I happened to be there on the last day, before they were going to be shipped back to Europe.

A Falero is a veritable boob-fest. A man cannot be faulted for spending an hour and a half on just the six paintings shown below. Just as Dali let’s loose the what-if of the surrealist, Falero celebrates nudes with not lust, but abandon. The nipples he draws are not meant to be devoured lasciviously but flicked lightly with the tongue, over and over, all around. A Falero is not pornography. It won’t give you a hard on – it will fill you with wonderment.

What’s striking about Falero’s work (other than his obsession with the nude female shape) is the detail. Every inch of a Falero is rich in detail. The clouds, the folds of the robes and the hair – luscious hair, blowing in the wind or cascading down creamy white shoulders, every strand distinct from the next. All in all, Luis Ricardo Falero is an unbelievable feast to the eyes.

Faust’s vision, by Luis Ricardo Falero

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An allegory of art, by Luis Ricardo FaleroAn oriental beauty, by Luis Ricardo FaleroLa Favorite

Le vin de Tokai, by Luis Ricardo Falero

A lifelong bachelor, Luis Ricardo Falero (1851-1896) was a Spanish nobleman who specialized in painting nudes, sometimes in settings that were sheer orgiastic and mythical. He had scores of ravishing models who lived with him on his vast estate and they pranced around stark naked, posing at his bidding. On weekdays, he would paint them whenever he wanted ta and on weekends he held orgies.

I guess every century has had it’s Hugh Heffner.

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Level-2, the mezzanine, is filled with crucifixions. Jesus H on the cross, his richard barely hidden by a strip of cloth, JH just before and JH just after crucifixion, even one with Mary Magdalene and her would-be mom-in-law hugging each other in grief at the foot of the cross, surrounded by cherubim fluttering around furiously like busy bees, blowing tiny bugles. The look on Mary Mag’s face says it all…”Someone tell these little shits ta shut up, we’re mourning here.”

Level-1 and 2 are filled with lots and lots of cherubim, chubby toddlers with unkempt flaxen hair and little wings. I understand cherubs are like God’s body servants, messengers and valets, powerful in the hierarchy but too tiny to pose God any threat if there ever is an insurrection. I am an aerospace guy and I can tell you those wings wouldn’t provide any aerodynamic lift, they are so tiny. Still, they can at least fly up and buzz around the corners of paintings.

And then there are the richards. For the love of me I have never understood why painters always paint the richards of adult males peanut-sized. Seen Michelangelo’s David? The first time I saw the statue I actually felt sorry for Bathsheba and her fellow wives.

I apologize for not posting any pictures of JH and his crucifixion. I didn’t want ta stray from my booby message. Neither have I made a mention of the other halls of the museum in this post, even though I visited them. This is my blog and if I want ta restrict the context of this post to just boobs, I will.

 

The Felling of the Little Giant (Part-2) : The Conspiracy

You can access Part-1 here………
https://spunkybong.com/alternative-truths/the-felling-of-the-little-giant/

Shastri

The Indian Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, had little in common with his predecessor, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Although Shastri had been a cabinet minister for many years before he became Prime Minister, he died a poor man. All that he owned at the end was an old car, which he had purchased in installments from the government and for which he still owed money. He was a founder member of Servants of India society – which included Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai and Gopal Krishna Gokhale – which asked all its members to shun accumulation of private property and remain in public life as servants of people.

The renowned Indian journalist, Kuldip Nayyar, who was at that time the Indian PM’s media adviser, has recorded what happened in the immediate aftermath of Shastri’s death….

…..That night I had a premonition that Shastri was dying. I dreamt about him dying. I got up abruptly to a knock on my door. A Russian woman was standing there. 

“Your prime minister is dying,” she said.  I hurriedly dressed and drove with an Indian official to Shastri’s dacha which was some distance away. 

I saw the Soviet Premier, Alexei Kosygin, standing in the verandah. He raised his hands to indicate that Shastri was no more. Behind the verandah was the dining room where a team of doctors was sitting at an oblong table, cross-examining Dr R.N. Chugh who had accompanied Shastri. 

Next to it was Shastri’s room. It was extraordinarily large. On the huge bed, his body looked like a dot on a drawing board. His slippers were neatly placed on the carpeted floor. He had not used them. In a corner of the room, however, on a dressing table, there was an overturned thermos flask. It appeared that maybe Shastri had struggled to open it. There was no buzzer in his room, the point on which the government lied when attacked in Parliament on its failure to save Shastri’s life….. 

Ayub Khan was genuinely grieved by Shastri’s death. He came to Shastri’s dacha at 4 am and said, looking towards me: “Here is a man of peace who gave his life for amity between India and Pakistan.” 

Later, he told the Pakistani journalists who had assembled for a briefing that Shastri was one person with whom he had hit it off well. “Pakistan and India might have solved their differences had he lived,” Ayub Khan said. 

Aziz Ahmad, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, rang up Bhutto to inform him about Shastri’s death. Bhutto was half asleep and had apparently heard only the word “died”, because he asked, “Which of the two bastards?”

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Situated at the edge of Lubyanka Square, at the junction of the red Sokolnicheskaya Line and the purple Tagansko-Krasnopresnenskaya Line, in the heart of Moscow, the Lubyanka Metro Station is an imposing underground structure that teems with commuters, until train services stop at 11:30pm and restart around 4am. All along the walls, at regular intervals, is emblazoned in bright red, the word  Лубянка, meaning Lubyanka, for commuters to be able to discern the name of the station clearly from a moving train. (It hasn’t changed much since the 60s).

At 4.15am on the morning of Wednesday the 12th January 1966, the station had already begun to fill up as commuters, bundled up in heavy coats and astrakhans began streaming down the stairs and onto the platforms below. As in any totalitarian system, faces were grim, staring straight ahead, trying not to make eye contact.

After the first screams were heard, it took a while for the Moscow Metro Militia to arrive and during that period, the curious among the crowds strained over each other’s shoulders to catch a glimpse of the blood-spattered body on the tracks.

Homicide would not have been suspected had it not been for the fact that the man had no winter clothing on, not even a sweater that would have been necessary even in the relative warmth of the metro station. The corpse was in a uniform – an Intourist head steward’s white livery, bristling with ornate buttons and epaulets. There was another thing that made an accidental slip and fall onto the tracks an impossibility – the head steward’s head was missing.

In so far as the Soviet system permitted persistence, a persistent Militia investigator might have found the head – in a cell, a few stories above the metro, inside the heart of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, which was also home to a sprawling complex that was instantly recognizable the world over as the deadliest prison on the planet – the Lubyanka.

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In 1966, if the CIA listening post at Badaber (outside Peshawar in northern Pakistan), had the technology to listen in to telephone conversations or if Lt. Chuck Shriver, the man who was monitoring Soviet radio traffic that night had been listening in, he would have heard a cryptic conversation that lasted just ten seconds. It was an exchange that traveled between the Kremlin and the heavily guarded Massandra Palace outside Yalta, in Crimea, the winter retreat of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

“My poluchili ne togo cheloveka (we got the wrong guy),” the voice from Kremlin said.

“Ne meshay mne, 1 utra v otpuske (Shit happens. Don’t bother me, I am on vacation),” the gruff voice at the other end replied and hung up as his bushy eyebrows arched up in a grimace.

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As for the Pakistani President, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, he relinquished power to an army crony and whiled away his days lolling around on a deck chair by the pool, receiving well wishers at the posh Islamabad Club by the Rawal Lake. The club was (and still remains) an exclusive establishment for only the Pakistani elite – army brass, high-level politicians and bureaucrats, members of the diplomatic community and well-heeled businessmen.

One day, at a luncheon during the UN General Assembly in the spring of 1967, the charge d’affaires of the Soviet Embassy in Washington sought out the Pakistani Ambassador to the UN and handed him an envelope addressed to the Field Marshal himself, for eyes only. It was promptly carried in the diplomatic pouch to Islamabad and handed over unopened, to Ayub Khan by a Major in the ISI, just as the waiter was setting down his third scotch on the rocks.

The note quoted an excerpt of Chapter-4 of the Holy Quran and as he read it, the Field Marshal stiffened. It read…..

“Wheresoever ye shall be, doom shall overtake you,

Even though you be perched in lofty towers”

Ultimately those prophetic words did come true. On a clear day in April 1974, a waiter at the Islamabad Club reported having seen a hulking white man with heavy Slavic features sit down at the Field Marshal’s table and speak with him briefly. The visitor had seemed solicitous, insisting on preparing Khan’s cup of tea by his own hands as a mark of respect. To anyone in the Pakistani establishment, Ayub Khan meeting with a representative of the Soviet Union would be curious indeed. The Field Marshal had been a rabidly anti-Soviet stooge of the United States and with the Soviets, the feeling then was mutual.

A few hours after he met the man, Ayub Khan collapsed and died of a fatal heart attack. The foreigner by then was nowhere to be seen. He wouldn’t be. Within two hours from the meeting, the man had boarded a Pan Am flight from Islamabad to the Indian capital, New Delhi. From there he planned to connect to Moscow on an Aeroflot TU-104B that was being held specially for him, it’s twin Mikulin-500 turbojets turning over idly. No worries about the delay – most of the passengers were Russians and they knew that complaining about anything meant a brief stint in a gulag.

——————————————–

The killing of the Indian Prime Minister was unfortunate and unintended, but the new KGB poison that had been allotted an interim code name ‘C2’, was made to be virtually untraceable by forensic science. It was  deemed an unmitigated success.

Col. Yuri Ivanovich Modin, head of the Aktivnyye Meropriyatiya  – the ‘Active Measures’ section of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, which had been responsible for the development of C2 – was immediately promoted to Major-General.

In everything, there is always a winner.

——————————————–

Epilogue:

The Soviets, in remorse for killing the wrong guy, must have coerced his successor, Indira Gandhi, into letting it go. In exchange for her silence, they initiated a process of massive free deals in heavy engineering projects and military cooperation that finally led to the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation.

India benefited hugely from the treaty, in terms of industrial and military aid. The cash and technological aid came with no repayment schedule. Some say that this helped India prevail in the 1971 war with Pakistan.

There was a silver lining to Shastriji’s death after all.

 

Objectified Attachments

2017-09-08_0757

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Overheard…..

“Sometimes, when I grab a cup from my cabinet, I will grab one that’s in the back and never gets used because I think the cup feels depressed that it isn’t fulfilling it’s life of holding liquids.”

“I used to work at a toy store and if anyone ever bought a stuffed animal I would leave its head sticking out of the bag.. so it could breathe.”

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A friend once told me, “I feel bad for inanimate objects, all the time.” I confessed to him that I did too. I have an old heavily scratched water bottle I am unable to discard. Even though I have replaced it with a newer one, it lies at the back of a kitchen cupboard.

Why is this? Why do some of us sometimes sense a pang of guilt while throwing a pair of worn-out shoes in the garbage bin or neglecting to wear an old shirt with a frayed collar that’s been with us a long time? We know these things do not feel joy or loneliness and yet, every now and then our emotions inform us otherwise. Perhaps this is the result of all those Disney films featuring a motherly teapot or brave little toaster.

History however suggests this behavior predates any cartoon depiction of household items with people-like personalities. From the worship of idols to an animistic worldview, various cultures from around the world have long believed that material objects either contain spirits or possess some kind of special connection to us.

Take Galileo for example……

The spacecraft, Galileo, was aptly named. Carried into space by the shuttle Atlantis, in 1989, Galileo was made to perform a series of loops – one around Venus and two around the earth – maneuvers that in Nasa parlance, are known as ‘Gravity Assist’ – slingshots which were meant to increase velocity, necessary to enable the two and a half ton, schoolbus-sized spacecraft to reach its goal – Jupiter.

Six years later, Galileo had arrived over Jupiter and fired it’s thrusters to slow it down and park itself in an orbit half a million miles above the stratospheric storm clouds of the gas giant. There had been life threatening glitches on the way but this artificially intelligent robot had listened to the commands from it’s rapidly receding masters and it had come through unscathed.

Like the astronomer whose illustrious name it bore, Galileo scored many firsts. The first flyby of the irregularly shaped asteroid named ‘243Ida’ and the discovery that it had it’s own moon. Gravity-Assist flybys of the Jovian moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. The discovery of liquid water bubbling and frothing under the icy crust of the Jovian moon, Europa and the realization that Europa might harbor life in some form. Grotesquely dramatic images and video of active volcanoes on another moon, Io, erupting and ejecting plumes of basalt and sulphur hundreds of miles into space, the pictures having far greater resolution than the ones that Voyagers I and II had sent back more than a decade prior. Unbelievable real time video of the comet Shoemaker-Levy, slamming into Jupiter’s 90% hydrogen atmosphere and breaking up into multiple fireballs, leaving huge vortex-like holes in Jupiter’s clouds.

And many more. Galileo was designed to last 8-10 years and the scientists at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory would have been satisfied if it had conked out by 1997, the year that the mission was officially scheduled to end.

But Galileo was just getting warmed up. July, 1995, right after it had injected itself into Jupiter orbit, Galileo released a probe, which plunged into Jupiter’s thick atmosphere and by the time it’s parachute had slowed it down, it had transmitted to Galileo 58 minutes of invaluable data on why Jupiter is what it is, for onward transmission to earth, before succumbing to the punishing heat and atmospheric pressure.

By 2003, Galileo itself had completed all its mission goals (and some) and now it was time to put it down. September 21, 2003, it was commanded to fire a deorbiting burn, causing it to slow down and plunge into Jupiter. It hit the upper atmosphere at 174000 mph and disappeared into the thick soup forever. 26 years after construction had first begun, the talkative robot finally fell silent. The Galileo-Jovian Project was over.

Immediately following Galileo’s demise, a funny thing happened. Let me back up a bit.

The engineers and scientists dedicated to the mission had been young, in their late twenties and thirties, when Galileo had been first conceived and started being built. Trials and tribulations, marriages, breakups, deaths, disease – they had gone through it all, buoyed by the intensity of their commitment to Galileo’s success. They had cheered at each milestone – delirious with awe at the Shoemaker-Levy spectacle, stunned at the evidence of liquid water sloshing around underneath Europa’s icy crust, laughing hysterically at the oddity of watching a piddly asteroid with it’s own moon and the many other firsts that Galileo had achieved.

Now here they were, three decades later, in their middle age, 365 million miles from their ‘baby’ – watching it die. Scientists and engineers – from a dozen nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, men and women – stood up from their consoles and hugged each other, openly weeping as Galileo was sent plunging into Jupiter, overcome by a sense of loss that comes with bidding farewell to a loved one.

Ever since we have existed, we humans have always attempted to form attachments toward everyday objects that have become a part of our lives, in part because we are loving creatures and loving is in our nature. Love is a fixed part of our species needs. When we are small, it is the teddy bear or the security blanket we couldn’t live without – the challenging developmental phase when a child’s symbiosis with his mother gradually morphs into more individuation. Remember Linus, in ‘Peanuts’, clinging on to his blanket and sucking his thumb?

As we grow, we fall in love with all sorts of objects in our daily lives. In my case, it’s the corduroy jacket that always seems to lift my spirits the moment I slip it on. Or my first car in Canada, a 1998 Corolla that has to be constantly coaxed into taking me where I want to go, but still comes through when desperately needed – like in a snow storm on Highway 20 in the middle of the night. The car is so dear to me that I have even given it a name – Bertha and a gender, female. I have decided to never let go of Bertha.

Or even the house I grew up in. I remember making a trip to Durgapur, while on a visit to India in 2010, just to see with my own eyes the two-storeyed bungalow that we had lived in, five decades prior – 1964 onward – when I was 10. Besides being a place filled with love, events that had seemed momentous then had occurred there. Like the gradual break-up of my parents’ marriage and me being sent to live with relatives first and then boarding school later, when life with my relatives became unbearable.

As I leaned against the wall of the bedroom that we three brothers had slept in, I stared down at the grassy patch outside and I felt I could hear my Ma calling from the kitchen window…”Ei Jobbu, anek hoyeche, ebar bhetore choley aye. Kal school khulche je, boi pottor dekhe ne shob ache ki na” (Jobbu, that’s enough of playing, now come on inside and go over your school bag and see if you have everything. School starts tomorrow).

It was still there but the bungalow now had a run-down look. The woman who let me in was very understanding. After a while, as I wandered from room to room, touching the windows, the walls, while memories sprang up like asparagus on steroids and I couldn’t hold back the tears. The window sill over which I had lobbed Ma’s treasured Ganesha out in rage because I was caught bullying the neighbor’s daughter and given a spanking – the sill seemed not to have changed one bit, though it had been slightly taller than me and I could barely see over it then. Later on, Ma told me she would never have guessed where the marble idol had landed (in the bushes outside), had it not been for the Krishna figurine teetering on the ledge of the window. It appears I had taken out my anger on multiple gods. (The fact that I have grown into a well-adjusted adult proves that Hindu gods don’t hold grudges.)

My emotions that day in 2010 were so real that the woman who had let me in began crying herself, hugging me tightly.

For the men and women who had nurtured Galileo, seeing it plummet into Jupiter, the attachment toward a robotic spacecraft must have felt like something similar. For three decades, Galileo had been a part of their daily lives.

Without doubt, inanimate objects are just that – inanimate. Or are they? After all, we haven’t yet fully grasped what reality really is, have we?

Blaze Windfalls

Overheard…..

“If you won a lottery, would you still love me?”

“Of course, I would. I’d miss you, but I would still love you.”

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I wonder what sort of a life individuals, who suddenly find themselves being winners of large lotteries, lead. History is replete with stories of easy-come-easy-go lives, followed by untold misery.

First of all, if you think you can win big and remain anonymous, forget it. Lottery companies make money because of the presumption of credibility. They would like to announce and advertise a winner. It is their message to lottery buying suckers that everybody has a chance. Therefore, when you win, you will be paraded with an oversize replica cheque in front of the flashlights, just as the couple above is seen doing.

The first urge is one that burns bright within us all – the urge to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. And so, the very first instinct after your win will be to give it away – to charity, to the local church, the local Salvation Army, the veterans’ hospice, cancer foundations, MS foundations, Alzheimers foundations and on and on and on. Suddenly you are in a rush to donate, donate and donate. It is a guilt ridden stampede to get rid of your cash.

History shows that whether it is $5 or $500 million, most winners run through their winnings in five years or less, living suddenly overturned lives badgered and exploited (even enviously reviled) by friends and relatives. They impulse buy stuff they don’t really need, which in the end, they end up selling off to make ends meet. They begin with a $8 million, 10000-sq.ft property in an upscale neighborhood where they find themselves looked down upon and derided by theirs neighbors, the truly wealthy old-money, earned-money elite.

Specially when they are old, (like the couple in the photo above) the lives of winners can turn pathetic. Legions of brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles and myriads of grandchildren crawl out of the woodwork, each expecting something, each feeling entitled to a share, every last one of them believing that since the couple hadn’t really earned it, the money was collectively theirs.

Then there must be the sharks – the banks and their ‘investment cousellors’, gold diggers all. They won’t rest till they have stripped you clean.

Winning a large sum can also make you mighty lonesome. You want to jump into a plane and fly first class to Honolulu for a month on the pristine beach and you’d love to take your best friend and his wife along since you always ‘done things’ together. And of course their kids. And since they can’t afford it, you’ll of course pay for their vacation. Likewise, everything will have a dollar tag on it, now on. Every relationship will happen at a dollar price.

The worst part of suddenly winning the jackpot is you’ll lose empathy. Whenever anything bad happens to you (and bad things always do, even when you’re rich), everyone will be grunting behind your back,” What the fuck is his problem, he certainly can afford an army of nurses to take care of him…”

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Mavis Wanczyk, 53, was working in a Springfield(Massachusetts) hospital. After her $758 million win this week, she has called and told them she isn’t coming back. Watching her on TV – a guileless shell-shocked simpleton desperately trying to come to terms with her suddenly changed circumstances – I don’t feel happy for her. Instead I feel sorry for her.

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Sandra Hayes, a black American social worker who used to get by on $26000 a year, has written a fascinating first-hand account of how a lottery win changed the life of an ordinary person. In 2006, she split a $224 million Powerball with her 12 coworkers and self-published a book, ‘How Winning the Lottery Changed My Life’. I picked up the slim paperback the other day at Nova, the second hand bookstore down by the riverside.

Hayes is a rare exception – other than settling the loans and mortgages of members of her immediate family, she conserved her cash and spent it wisely. She did that one thing that most of the other lottery winners couldn’t manage – live a happy, fun-filled, stress-free, low-key retired life that was free of ostentation, in a quiet suburban neighborhood.

Me, on occasion, on a whim, if I am in a depanneur (convenience store), I buy a ticket and it stays in my wallet months before I realize it exists and then I run my Iphone scanner on it and it says ‘non-gagnant’. And that’s it, I rip it up and chuck it into the waste basket.

If I ever won the Quebec649 or the LotoMax, I doubt whether I would follow strictly in Sandra Hayes’ direction. I’m not so level-headed. I would probably let my hair own a bit, do some crazy stuff. I would buy myself an ocean-going yacht, sail the world maybe. But I wouldn’t go ‘overboard’.

The Hullabaloo

hullabaloo

Path of the August 21, 2017, Solar Eclipse. The pin on the map is the location of the longest duration of totality. This is an interactive map created by a guy named Xavier Jubeir, an eclipse nut. Here’s the link to the real thing…..

( http://xjubier.free.fr/en/site_pages/solar_eclipses/TSE_2017_GoogleMapFull.html )

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The Hullabaloo will begin at the tip of the caterpillar-like Severny Island in the Russian Arctic and perform a strange looping lope around the Russian mainland, before it curves down into the North Pacific, barely missing Alaska by the breadth of a hair.

Unstoppable, it will flit first over the Sea of Okhtosk, then the Bering Sea, before plunging southward at more than fifty times the speed of sound. All this while, it will still not show itself but will remain just a faint shadow – albeit a gradually widening and darkening one.

And then, somewhere in the middle of the North Pacific, around a thousand miles south of the Aleutian Island chain – almost bang on the International Date Line – the width of the penumbral shadow will have grown from zero at the Severny to around 600 miles and as it appears over the curvature of the horizon, it will begin slowing down quickly.

At this point another strange thing will happen, one that is guaranteed by the earth’s spherical shape and 5⁰ tilt of the moon’s orbital plane with respect to that of the earth around the sun – the faint penumbral shadow will suddenly coalesce and harden mid-ocean into a slightly elliptic dot of complete darkness, surrounded by a lighter grey annular patch resembling an areola around a nipple. It will turn sharply and begin racing eastward toward the western state of Oregon in the US mainland.

The Hullabaloo will now be something tangible – a gradually decelerating dark oval dot that starts with a modest width of 40 miles, almost doubling to 75 miles somewhere over the American state of Illinois, a point where it will be directly overhead, remaining total for the longest duration (around 2 mins, 40 secs), now at a crawling speed – just over twice the speed of sound – 1450mph.

The Hullabaloo has a short attention span. By now it will tire of us gawking at it and speed up once again until it bids us goodbye near the Portuguese North Atlantic islands known as Cape Verde.

From the start – Mid-Pacific – to finish at Cape Verde, the Hullabaloo will have covered 140⁰ in Latitude – 6100miles. The only landmass it encounters will be the American mainland, a distance it will cover in less than an hour. It will leave behind an astronomical wealth of scientific study and a bunch of destroyed retinae of shmucks who looked directly at it a bit too long, beyond the totality. Since it will cross over what is essentially Trump country, maybe most of those shmucks shall be Trump trash. For once, bigotry isn’t the only thing that will blind them.

I am calling it a Hullabaloo because of the typically American tendency to make a big deal of things, specially when those things happen to them. Okay, so the moon will hide the sun. The American media is making it look like it’s a once in a lifetime thing, which it definitely isn’t. The looney loon hides the sun on a fairly regular basis, on any given part of the world at least every three to four years.

I personally witnessed such a hullabaloo once – in a hick joint in southern India, called Hubli, where as a twennie five year old sales rep, I had just happened ta be at the right place at the right time. It was also the place where I met my first white female friend, Cindy, a grad student at UCLA. Her theoretical physics grant had allowed her to make the trip to record the eclipse.

I woulda told you about what we got up to when she wasn’t occupied in the eclipse study mode, but this is neither the time nor the place for that. Why do my blog posts have ta mention sex every time?

The striking thing about that day in February, 1980, was that while the ordinary Indian locals went about their daily lives trying to make ends meet, not giving a flying f—k about the solar eclipse, the place was crawling with professional and amateur astronomers from all over the world, like Cindy, lugging massive tripods and camera equipment that had lenses which resembled large megaphones. The disconnect was stark.

While the luckier arrivals managed to share cramped rooms in tiny wayside hotels, the majority were roughing it out in tents they had erected on the rooftops of hotels, to record the event. There was a palpable surge of excitement running through these aliens from foreign lands, which was in stark contrast to the laid back laconic bemusement of the locals.

Great, that’s what gets them going, fine, I thought of the foreigners. That’s what turns ‘em on, so be it. Me, I would be rather Sridevi appeared all of a sudden at the front door of my Bangalore flat. I would have loved ta check out her Sea of Tranquility. (Today it would have ta be Scarlett Johanssen of course).

I’ll tell you where I’ll be when the next one comes around, July 2019 – The French Polynesian Islands east of New Zealand. Some of those tiny islands have only girls there – in grass skirts……

Above and Beyond : Part-1

n2

PAF Base Masroor

Karachi, Pakistan

August 20, 1971

11:20 hrs

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Sprawling just outside the western suburbs of Karachi, lies Pakistan’s largest air force base, the PAF Base Masroor, named after a former base commander, Air Commodore Masroor Hussain who died in May 1967, when a vulture hit the windscreen of his B-57 Canberra as it was lining up for its final approach for landing at the Mauripur Air Force base. The sudden shattering of the glass and the resulting gaping hole in it’s nose, rendered the large bomber aerodynamically unstable. Masroor was hit by a battering ram-like blast of air, the shock of which killed him instantly. Just feet from the asphalt, the B-57 hit the tarmac at 150 knots and exploded.

Although it had been an accident and there was no valor involved, the Mauripur base was renamed PAF Base Masroor. The PAF website proclaims that the deceased officer ‘received shahadat (**martyrdom**)’. I guess that the very act of joining the military qualifies one as performing a task that is above and beyond an ordinary citizen’s call of duty.

But let’s not begrudge Pakistan it’s heroes. This was 1967 – a period of grave tensions between Pakistan and India – typically a time when nations look for excuses to create martyrs. Hey, 1944 onwards till the last moment before he killed himself, Hitler was distributing Knight’s Crosses with Oak Leaves like nickels and dimes, literally grabbing Wehrmacht men off the streets and slapping medals on them.

Over the years, Masroor has hosted multiple squadrons of Mirage-3s and 5s, B-57 Canberras, T-33 Trainers and C-130 Hercules and today it is home for the JF-17, a multi-role fighter developed with the help of China’s the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation. Like most Chinese products, the JF-17 is a rip-off of the PAF’s aging F-16s.

But I digress. I was going to tell you what happened on a scorching day at the PAF Masroor at the height of the Bangladesh War in August, 1971, when my thoughts got waylaid…..

An hour before noon, rookie Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas, 20, had begun taxiing his T-33 toward the runway, getting ready to take off on a solo training sortie, when a Bengali instructor pilot, Flt.Lt. Matiur Rahman, signalled him to stop and then climbed into the rear instructor’s seat. In those days, there were many military offers of Bangladeshi origin stationed in West Pakistan and Rahman was one of them.

Minhas wanted to practice treetop level flight, a specially hazardous maneuver even in the relatively slower T-33, but essential in combat situations.

The jet took off westward into the wind, but made a steep banking turn and headed east, climbing swiftly to 15000 ft in minutes, where it remained until the plush green of the Indus River estuary and the Keti Bunder Wildlife Sanctuary hove into view. The jet dived and began skimming so low it looked as if the fuselage would brush against the top branches. In less than a minute they would be over the wetlands of the widening estuary and from there it would be just five minutes to the Indian border.

Of course, they had no plans of crossing over. This was a training flight and besides, the T-33 was unarmed, except for a lone 20mm canon that just happened to be disassembled, under maintenance. Minhas would soon be climbing and banking west back to base.

The jet did climb but then it began behaving funnily, like as if the pilot was not in his senses. The situation became clear when, half way into the turn, Minhas radioed base that he was being hijacked. Turns out that the instructor pilot, Rahman, had been waiting for a chance to defect along with an aircraft and fly to India where he would join his compatriots in the war that was then raging in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

The controls of a twin-seater trainer aircraft are somewhat like those in the dual control cars that we have for auto driver training, which enable the instructor to exert control when the trainee makes an error. Rahman was using his set of controls to steer the aircraft east toward the Indian border, while Minhas struggled to wrest control from Rahman and turn the jet toward Karachi.

Unfortunately the two pilots hadn’t noticed the airspeed plummet, due to all the pitching and yawing caused by the fight over the controls. Within minutes, the T-33 stalled and dropped from the sky like a stone. While Minhas perished, strapped in his seat, Rahman was discovered some distance away, maybe because Minhas had ejected the canopy in prep for a bailout and Rahman’s seat belt had come undone.

Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas was posthumously awarded Pakistan’s top military honour, the ‘Nishan-E-Haider’. At just 20, he remains the youngest and the only member of the Pakistan Air Force to win the award. Bangladesh didn’t want to be left behind in all the ‘shahadat’ frenzy either. Rahman was honoured with their highest military award, the ‘Bir Sreshtho’.

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Around 40 kms east of the Islamic terrorism hot spot, Peshawar, lies an unprepossessing little town named Kamra in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The town could have even been called a hick town had it not been for the fact that it is also ground zero for Pakistan’s military aviation industry. It is where the Avionics Production Factory, Aircraft Rebuild Factory, Aircraft Manufacturing Factory and Mirage Rebuild Factory are all located.

Also located at Kamra is the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and this is where the name ‘Minhas’ once again popped up and this time embedded itself inside the collective consciousness of anti-terror task forces of the western world.

I would like to tell you all about what happened but I have a short attention span and besides its sunny, I have the day off and want to go kayaking. But please, do watch this space. I’m about to break a story that’s never been told before…..

(to be continued..)

The Stupidity in Religiosity

Porters carry Hindu pilgrims to the Amarnath Shrine, a mountain cave that is considered a shrine to Lord Shiva. The route is a treacherous Himalayan mountainside – rocky, snowbound and insurgent infested.

Inside that cave is a hump of ice, a natural phenomenon caused by water dripping on the cave floor and instantly freezing.

To Hindus, that hump  is sacred and every summer thousands brave a harsh terrain, narrow slippery mountain paths, avalanches and mud slides to visit the cave and heap garlands and sweet meats on that hump. Lucky hump.

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Overheard, Lord Shiva, muttering under His hashish laden holy breath….

“That’s just a stupid fucking stalagmite in a stupid fucking mountain cave in the middle of stupid fucking nowhere that you are risking your lives to see, you stupid morons. Am I not supposed to be everywhere, omnipresent? Then, why the eff do you have to do this?”

Honestly, why? Its like that American student who wanted to visit North Korea and came back a vegetable. Why did he have to go to a place where everybody looks alike and behaves weirdly? Maybe Amarnath Yatra is a desire to behave weirdly for a change.

In the south of India too there are hordes of absolutely insane folks who take a punishing 35km long trek through dense foliage and mountainous terrain, enduring bug bites, leeches and venomous snakes, to a joint called Sabarimalai for their ‘Lord Ayappa’.

It must be the kick, the adrenalin, the satisfaction that comes from deliberately bearing pain, spurred on by some weird sense of guilt, the feeling of unworthiness and the overpowering need to be cleansed.

But no, even in that there is deceit. Instead of trying to make it on their own steam, (which is actually the original objective of any pilgrimage) they engage porters to haul their sorry asses up the mountain.

In this photo, the only ones deserving of salvation in my opinion are the predominantly Muslim, desperately poor young men, who haul well-heeled pilgrims up the treacherous mountainsides. If Lord Shiva is really smart, he will shine his blessings on these young men instead. They might be Muslims, but they are the true pilgrims in this picture.

Yesterday’s terrorist attack on Hindu pilgrims at the Amarnath Yatra is sad but then maybe it is God’s way of teaching us a lesson – to cut the crap and look for salvation within ourselves.