Friday, 3 August 2012

Love before first sight

"Go to hell"
He kept driving into nothingness, feeling suffocated.
"with your sorry thinking."
Threw off his helmet, which bounced 5 or 6 times in the middle of the road.
"I can't stay here any more"
Tore off his shirt, which followed him with the wind.
"Priya, wait! Will you tell me what happened?"
It began to drizzle
"Where are you going?"
and a thousand arrows pierced his skin
"Wherever. And listen Akshay. Never try to call me."
The words reverberated in his head and he didn't realize he was already forty kilometres off the city.
The tank dried before he did. He abandoned the bike and looked around in the dark. There wasn't a single gleam across miles. After his eyes settled he saw the road ahead ascending onto a hill. He stood numb and blank. A rattle of nocturnal insects broke the silence. He glanced back at his lifeless bike and decided to move on.
It was cold. He must have hiked for half an hour when he started feeling shaky and thirsty. He kept looking traverse in hope of finding a hut or house. Nothing. He crouched against the trunk of a tree and checked his cellphone. No tower. "Great!" he murmured. He looked straight into the crescent of moon, counted the few stars in the sky and went blank. In a few moments he slept.
A passing noise of a vehicle broke his sleep. He jumped and yelled only to see the tail-light disappear. He sat again. "It descended" he thought and started moving uphill again.
Following the twists and turns he reached a small plateau region, though not the top. In the middle of the field he saw a bonfire, "Ahh finally" he exclaimed within. He ran towards it, finding tyre marks in the way. He reached the bonfire and inspected the area. No one. He sat beside it anyway to catch some warmth.
"Hello!"  "Hello!" an electronic voice erupted from behind. He looked back with a shiver.
"Hello Richa?"
He followed the voice and found a gadget.
"Anyone there?" it cried.
Akshay picked it up.
"Hello, somebody answer please" It sounded female.
After a thought he pressed the only button and answered "Hello?" He didn't know what was he up to.
"Hello Harshit? Thank god. help me please" she urged.
"No. I'm not Harshit. My name is Akshay"
"I found this walkie-talkie lying here beside the bonfire. Who are you?" he asked.
"Sheetal" she replied.
"Ok Sheetal. Tell me where you are and what happened?"
"I don't know. I'm stuck in this pit and I’m hurt. Please help me out. Please" she wept.
"Listen. I'll help you but I need to know where you are. You need to stay calm" He felt adventurous.
"Okay" she whispered.
"What is the range of this walkie talkie?" he asked
"600 metres" she replied
"How did you land up there?"
"I don't know. Last I remember I was lying beside the bonfire with my friends" she clarified.
"Were you drunk?"
"Were you drunk or doped? Someone must have tricked you". His mind was racing.
"No. I.. I just ate a sandwich and ... and.. "
"Lime juice?" he asked while nosing at an empty bottle in his hand.
"Yes. how do you know?"
"Nevermind. Listen I'll shout from here. If you can listen, reply in the talkie with a yes. Ok?"
"Okay but what will you shout?"
"Priya?" she enquired.
"Priya has more range than Sheetal. Ok here I go.."
He released the button and shouted uphill with all his might "Priyaaaaaaaaa"
He shouted again through folded palms in another direction "Priyaaaaaaaaaa"
"Did you shout?" the gadget asked.
"Yes. I guess you are further up the hill"
"How would you know?" she enquired.
"I came from down this hill. If anything happened I must have saw something. Moreover if someone planned to strand you into a pit, then there is no better place than up above"
"I hope you're right. Akshay, do you have a cellphone?"
"Yeah but no network." he replied.
"I'm coming up now. We'll continue talking. Ok?" He assured her.
He switched on the torch of his cellphone and strolled around the perimeter of the plateau looking for a way up.
"Tell me something about yourself?" he asked while he glanced around with squinted eyes.
"I work in an IT company in Pune" she said.
"What about your friends who came here with you. Do they also work with you?" He saw a narrow clearing between the bushes swivelling upwards and followed it.
"I see. And you came here for picnic?" He was running and felt a resurgence of energy within.
"Yeah but the plan was to return before 11 O clock"
"I understand. Sheetal, I've come further up. Now I'll shout again. Ok?"
"What .. Priya?"
"Yes" He stood atop a crest and looked around.
"Is she your girlfriend." she sounded inquisitive.
"Was. Ok I'll shout now. Listen properly" With folded palms he shouted "Priyaaaaa" in four directions. The trees rattled in a breeze.
"Did you hear anything?" He asked
"No. God!" she sobbed.
"Sheetal, how deep and how wide is the pit?" He asked.
"It's around ...three times my height and....... more than a metre in diameter" she said in between sobs.
"Can you see the stars?" he asked
"What?  why?"
"Just answer me. Can you see any of the stars?" He demanded.
"Yes I can" she exclaimed
He laid on his back and tried to emulate her sight. He thought for a minute and said "Can you see the clouds travelling under the moon?"
"Yes. Oh I understand what you are doing!" her voice jumped
"Yeah. Now do as I tell. Lie down on your back in the direction the clouds are travelling with your legs toward the star beside the moon."
"Yeah I did." she said after a few moments
"Now close your left eye and count the no. of stars in the right half of the sky" he sounded relaxed.
"Six" she said.
"Now close the right eye and... "
"Three" she was quick.
"Great! Wait a minute" he said and after much thought he said "I think you're on the other side of the hill"
The clouds gurgled.
"Oh god it's going to rain. Akshay come fast please" she yelled and cried.
"Don't worry. I'm on the way"
He felt his heart pounding now. All his numbness had gone. He ran like he never did criss-crossing between the trees and bushes. It started drizzling. He ran faster, slipped, fell and ran again. In two or three minutes he reached the other side and shouted..
"Sheetal !"
He ran haywire and shouted again "Sheetal"
"I'm here" came a feeble voice "Here. Akshay. Akshay"
He ran in the direction of the voice and found the pit.
"Sheetal" he exclaimed and peeped inside.
The pit was quite deep and dark inside. He saw a girl dressed in black and completely drenched in rain, simultaneously crying and smiling towards him.
"Akshay. Oh thank god." she sobbed "Take me out”
“Wait I need to find something to pull you out. I’ll be back” he yelled over the noise of rain.
He looked around and found a dead branch of a tree hanging down from it. He broke it off, ran back and offered her to hold the other end. She did and he pulled her out. She was limping.
“Ahh ” she cried in pain and fell on the ground.
“You’re hurt.”
He sat beside her. A lightning struck and brightened their faces. “You’re beautiful” he said wondering over the turn of fate.
She couldn’t stop a blush. “What were you doing here? And why did you help me?” she enquired.
“Look I love adventures." He manipulated. "Tonight, I decided to cut loose with my bike and I'm here. Hey, you can trust me” he assured her with a smile.
She stared at him for a few moments and said “Oh, how will I be able to thank you”.
Another lightning struck and the rain got heavier.
“We must go now” he said.
He helped her move up the hill and towards the plateau. They crossed over to the other side and while they were descending through the bushes, a Safari whizzed into the field.
“You came in that car?” he whispered.
She nodded. It stopped beside the extinguished bonfire.
“But why would they come back?” he asked.
Two boys and a girl came out and started patrolling the area with flashlights.
“May be because of this” she poked at the walkie-talkie in his pocket.
“Oh. You’re right. They must have found my bike lying on the road” he exclaimed. “And I think they are armed”
“Armed? How do you know?” she asked
“Because right now they are looking for a stranger who probably now has the talkie” he answered. “And soon they’ll ..”
“…check for me.” she completed with a tremble. “And I can’t even run.” She cried.
Just then two silhouettes rushed towards the pit and one waited inside the car.
“We need that car.” He said.
“I have a plan. Do you have the talkie with you?”
She nodded and gave it to him.
“What’s this guy’s name?”
“Ok. You just wait here and don’t move” he told her while crouching behind the bushes.
He quickly moved along the perimeter and threw one of the gadgets under the car from the bushes and spoke with pressed voice into the other “Hello ! Hello!”
The boy came out of the car and looked around.
He followed the sound and saw the gadget lying under the car.
“Anyone there?” it said.
He glanced around again, picked it up and pressed the button.
“Who are you?” asked Vicky.
"Vicky is that you?"
“How do you know me?”
"Can't you recognize me? Harshit here." said Akshay
“Harshit? Did you find Sheetal?"
"Yeah she is still inside the pit."
"So shoot her and come back fast. We don't have time” Vicky said.
"I dropped my gun. Need yours." came the voice.
"What the hell. We have only one gun and you know that." Vicky retaliated.
As soon as he heard that, Akshay released the button, jumped out of the bushes and pounced on Vicky. He landed three or four big blows on his face and laid him unconscious. He quickly investigated the car. The keys hung inside. He signalled Sheetal to come out. She ran towards the car and jumped in. Akshay turned the key, the engine sizzled and the Safari spiralled downhill.

The car just just reached the foot of the hill. Sheetal was looking at Akshay with eyes full of love and admiration. She caressed his hair as she felt the wave of emotions swinging. She tried to keep herself from erupting it out and it became harder with every passing moment. She then looked straight towards the road and felt Akshay looking at her face with the same emotions. And she said "Akshay, I love you".

The car jolted with a huge deceleration, shuddered and stopped. Sheetal looked right with widened shocked eyes. The driver's seat was empty. Her heart came into her mouth and she cried as loud as she could. Maddened, she flung open the door and ran straight on the road, limping and limping away from the car. She was crying, weeping and yelling fraught with horror.

She must have run two hundred metres when she saw a bike lying beside the road. Something occurred to her and she stopped and looked around. She found a cellphone lying under a tree. With trembling hands and mustered gut she picked it up and flung it open. There opened a message thread in the name of Priya with the last conversation as "Priya, come back. We'll sort it out." & "Go to hell. No one can ever love you"

Her mind flew. With tearful eyes she held the trunk of the tree with one hand and peeped down. Akshay was looking at her with forever opened eyes.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Motorcycle and the Art of Handling Energy Crisis

If you’re a guy, close your eyes (and go to sleep?) and feel the grunt, the thrust of a Harley Davidson (gals can hop-back). Only the roar adds 10 mph to its speed. Its muscle complimenting yours, its beautiful handle blending in your palms, a laser correct stability on-road and a monstrous dominance off-road makes living-in-this-world so much worthwhile. Now imagine 2075. Imagine an “i-Robot” style electric car that is self-manoeuvred, programmed and integrated to the online traffic feedback system. It doesn’t make a sound. It’s fast-n-sexy-n-funky. It has a dozen of triple character technologies that make it safe and non-risky. Well, did you feel suffocated? Maybe The Terminator felt so and came back from future to feel the magic of the former. 

Folks, today we have a beautiful present, but it may be ephemeral. Last century saw the petroleum consumption go twenty folds the consumption in 19th century. Our oil extraction technologies have outgrown the renewable energy technologies in the last two decades. The extractors have also started angling the spoon to get the liquid gold out of its caves. To date world’s population is nearly 7 billion and it is said to stabilize till 9 billion. It takes a million years for those naïve plants to capture sun’s energy and compress it into a high energy density fuel. We are already aware that the fossil fuels will deplete. According to estimates, if we assume that they are reliable, oil will last around 43 years, coal -131 years and natural gas -60 years. If we balance out and predict through mathematical model, the combined fossil fuel content will last around 75 years. But they may deplete sooner than research or perception marks and alarmingly sooner than we are ready. 

I’m writing this piece neither to press the panic button nor to load your mind with a statistical analysis of world’s energy usage. This is an attempt to address one question that has bothered us since childhood but left un-digged – How will we cope without fossil fuels? This is an attempt to convolute action and compulsion in our thoughts and generate a conscience. A widespread conscience.

The recent power outage in Northern India saw – 19 affected states, cancelled trains, stationary Metro, blackened homes, airport & hospitals on backup, AIIMS begging power from Bhutan, unplanned holiday in offices – a jolt at par with a war situation wherein enemy takes control of the arteries and veins of the nation. A necessary jolt though. It at least replaced the #10ThingsToEatBeforeYouDie trend with #BenefitsOfPowerCuts. We, at least, had a talk about the impending energy crisis. It is another thing that talk is not enough. But still.Reports say that such a situation was bound to happen as the major affected states imported heavily from neighboring states. Demands skyrocketed in peak hours and transmission lines got overloaded and tripped. You may look at it in three ways – Utter power distribution failure, improper maintenance of plants or a beginning of the end, inevitability. Having only 6 nuclear plants as against 65 in US, India is just a vulnerable child. More than 85% of its power comes from coal, oil or gas and that too majorly from import. This stat is close to the world average but given the stature of a to-be-superpower nation, it is far from sustainable. Denmark’s  19% energy source in form of wind; France’s 80% in form of nuclear power; and Germany’s over 70% in form of nuclear plus renewable sources is but a laugh at that said claim. It doesn’t need to be re-stressed that nations don’t need only fire power to win a war now.  

But why am I crying about India’s energy security? The blackouts are happening at more places. We have a bigger problem at hand.Yesterday’s Black Monday hurled me to dig the internet, hoping to encounter serendipity in terms of the solution of world’s energy crisis, hoping to find inspiration in affluent nation’s energy usage map, but found myself startled and at utter detest against this one country – United States of America. Let me repeat – utter detest. The reason is this statistical analysis, a must read. I’ll put its summary in 3 points as follows. Number one- Food processing & consumption is an energy cycle. System takes in some energy (that includes fossil fuels) and gives some back to environment. On an average, worldwide, such systems give back 50% of what they take in while US gives back just 13%. In fact it consumes in 2100 W of non-renewable energy to produce 100W of food. Number two – Per capita energy utilization of world is 5kg of energy unit per day; Indians use 1.4, Chinese 6.4 while US citizens – 23.6. Africans – not even worth mentioning. Number three- If every nation starts using energy at US’s rate, fossil fuels will deplete in just 16 years! Now that’s what is called being developed.

One may feel inquisitive now– why no major outcry? There are a group of reasons.

Development of nuclear power plants is the biggest of them. According to estimates, U-235 and plutonium resources would last around hundreds of years if used by current non-breeder type nuclear reactors. If we succeed in developing breeder reactors, we would be able to utilize U-238, which is amply present in oceans to last for millions of years. Then there is mother of all – nuclear fusion (technology of producing energy by combining hydrogen isotopes viz. deuterium and tritium) that may provide energy for billions of years. It is theorized that we’d be able to build fusion reactors in 50 years from now. At first, these facts spring us in air like Uncle Scrooge’s nephews. However, they are hardly an appeasement. Chernobyl incident, recent nuclear plant destruction by tsunami in Japan, under-developed technology to handle nuclear waste, a setup prone to hijack by terrorists all converge to the fact that nuclear plants are not yet safe. More of them mean more chances of mishaps. A recent survey shows that less than a third of sustainable energy experts feel that nuclear energy is a straight answer to problems.

A distant second is a group of these – hydel, solar, wind, shale gas, oceanic, bio-fuel etc. Each has its own limitations. Hydel is non-pervasive and non-perennial. Wind is moody. Oceanic is too under-developed and remains unpromising. Bio-fuel has its own cycle of taking in energy and giving back, though far-promising than aforementioned. Shale gas is new, promising but not everlasting. Solar is still highly inefficient and far from a social success. A lot of research has to go into solar power harnessing. Nevertheless, the sun remains the biggest “star” of future. A no. of nano-technologies are being developed to achieve affordability and efficiency in this medium. Fingers crossed.

After going through all these research, the mood is neither skeptical nor optimistic. The stone in hand has turned into mud but yet has to become sand.

Since long I had a simple code to get through complex situations – come back to nature. Whether it is school, college, office, family, friends or enemies – nature provides a good sample of all situations. In nature, every small entity is important. Everything from bacteria, virus, caterpillar, butterfly, grass, weeds, animals, plants, and what not – every single entity has a role to play. The more the variety of strands, the stronger is the web. The petrol-diesel-gas-solar-hydel-wind-nuclear-ocean-shale-geothermal web is of a similar kind. The longer we hold this web, the better for us. Each small initiative such as self-energy-sufficient villages, zero-energy buildings, solar powered appliances, commuting office by cycle, one wind mill in locality, buying an electric car, global earth hours, planting a sapling and minimizing food wastage matters. Howsoever small, they are important. And the trick to make such initiatives effective is being part of a similar-minded active communityWe will continue to dig and rig till the last ounce of coal & oil remains, we are so inextricably chained with them. But, we CAN slow things down.

OK, enough said. Let me leave you with a thought. On a cool Sunday afternoon in autumn, over a straight smooth road spotted with sun-rays filtered through the shades of eucalyptus, when the fallen leaves whirl incessantly, if you feel playful, what can you do best? 

Just go back to the first paragraph.