Friday, June 11, 2010

Talking Letters - 3


It’s been a while we had a chat. Been rather inconsistent with writing. I have my reasons (excuses).

Few weeks ago the company magazine editor (for the Geomarket) sent an email asking for articles. They generally prefer few pictures with write ups and among their favourites is group of company employees going out and doing something not related to work. So wrote on the trip to Gobustan (plus few pictures). I am sure they will put it in the magazine unlike ‘the pipe story’ that must have been rather depressing. By the way, it is not all true. Had to change what happened with Tom to avoid safety guys coming after us. Poor fella actually broke through the mud volcano’s wall and was going down but for the two people standing on either side. According to him 'for an instant it felt bottomless'. That’s that.

The other article on time curve, well, it is rather about how you have been shot at various stages over last five months. But of course I did play with the photo sequence. The sequence as stated in the article differs from sequence the photos were shot. I just had the photos and made up the story. The rearranging of the photos doesn’t take the theme away. Still time will curve forward.

What I was thinking was that time may travel forward but the records of what happened in bygone times is how we know about past. And history as known to us is what the people recording those events chose to record. So time isn’t all powerful. We can record time upside down and all mixed up. But how does it matter to time how it is recorded, it doesn’t need to show off. Must be tired of itself anyway.

Looks like me and you are not meant to bear each other for a long period. Your govt. has refused the work permit two times and is sitting on third application. So, I will be travelling around for next few months. Turkmenistan, Dubai. Heard Turkmens are no better either. Last two Indians from my company were refused visa, so let’s keep the fingers crossed. This was partly the reason why we decided to make a trip to Gobustan. Many from the group are in line of being refused their work permit, so making the most of whatever time people have here.

Otherwise it’s usual. Few Indians from Bombay office are here temporarily. First time in five months had a meal with someone at home. Usually it is me and NDTV 24X7 newsreaders (rather sensation and gossip creators, but apparently they are better of the entire lot when it comes to news!!).

Have started collecting photos of all the statues you have. There are heaps of these, I guess Russians (and now Azeris) like building statues of people, unlike Mayawati it is only one statue per person (but will have to dig the dirt on all the personalities so may leave that).

Let’s see if I last here few more months.
Omar Bouquet

Gobustan - Petroglyphs and Mud Volcanoes

It was over a casual conversation while sipping a drink at Fashion Café (Baku city center) that plans were made for a weekend trip to mud volcanoes. That was Sunday and I had forgotten about it till Nazli’s email on Wednesday afternoon asking for confirmation of numbers who will be joining for the trip. She had made a plan, organised a vehicle with the help of driving coordinator and the entire itinerary was well laid out in the email for the trip to Gobustan mud volcanoes. Of all the things, initiative for having fun is what most of us usually lack, on this occasion Nazli did not. I added my bit of idea of visiting the ancient rock paintings and she graciously added that to the plan and also found out that these are called petroglyphs (as her next email indicated).

Talking of initiative and energy, internet was well researched and about fifteen page handout was prepared for people to read and educate themselves. All Nazli. Well since Nazli did went all the way to take this trouble it was only fair I (and I hope others as well) should read it. Here is what I would have otherwise not known:
  • Azerbaijan and its Caspian coastline are home to nearly 400 mud volcanoes, more than half the total throughout the continents.
  • Mud volcanoes have a direct relationship with the presence of oil and gas fields.
  • A drilling accident offshore of Brunei in 1979 caused a mud volcano which took 20 relief wells and nearly 30 years to stop the eruption.
  • Gobustan rock art cultural landscape has more than 600,000 rock paintings, on average dating back 5,000-20,000 years (inscribed as a world heritage site in 2007).
  • These petroglyphs (rock paintings) were discovered by accident in 1930s by workers of a stone quarry.
Saturday came and with the last minute rush to get few water bottles from the canteen we were on the way, only five minutes behind Nazli’s schedule. The vehicle which has been organised for the trip was surprisingly better than the usual one’s we travel in daily to and fro from the base. Comfortable seats and seat belts that actually worked. Buckled up and off we went south of Baku towards Gobustan/Qobustan.

The highway runs parallel to Caspian for most part of the journey. I was on the other side of the vehicle and had a rail track running parallel to the road. We crossed many out-of-use carriages but never crossed a train on the way. Development or rather the developed world is slowly catching up on this side of Baku. There is an assortment of factories along the road. But for most part it seems a quiet landscape.

As we neared Gobustan driver had a chat with Nazli and decided that it was better if we see the petroglyphs first and then go to mud volcanoes. This saves some time on road seems to be the argument. We were glad that Nazli was along as none of other eight could speak the language. So off we went to petroglyphs. Few very rusty steel poles and not-so-very threatening fence and a lot of sheep welcomed us at the gates (supposedly as there wasn’t any real gate there) of the 4400 acre world heritage site and another five minutes of drive up the hills and we were there. Water bottles, check; cameras, check; we were off to watch history when suddenly the table under a rock caught attention and a group photo had to taken. Tripod out and two different cameras shot the moment. With nine pair of legs it is hard to maintain a single direction so it was after a little while that we managed to make our way to the MUSEUM. The lady made us pay three manat each and took two manat for every camera. The receipts for the two manats for cameras were never issued. The museum literally ended before it even started. Probably, they can do a better job at a world heritage site.

Soon we were climbing the rocks to find the ancient civilisation for ourselves (museum had not been much help). Over next 30 minutes or so we did find it along with many other things. The rock paintings included few animals, boats, a pregnant woman (more like a bunny!!) and assortment of various other shapes and sizes. I am no archaeologist and few minutes of rock staring were enough for me. The musical rocks (rocks used as musical instruments!!) were interesting and did produce some good musical sounds. Soon one by one we retired from petroglyph watching to generally stone and cliff and distant sea watching. Ionut in the meantime had found a group of 15 odd touring girls and was busy getting himself captured in their cameras. Making his own bit of history there I suppose.

Found a Toot there and tasted few little fruits straight of the branches. Nathan didn’t find these good but Emily did. And then we saw the desert rose. A lone shoot of a rose in the middle of lot of dead dry grass and three pink roses. But this was not all too encouraging to ensure that we stayed a bit longer. And we were on way to the next destination on time.

After a bumpy ride on the mud track the driver let us out and pointed upwards towards a track. The mud volcanoes were close and we could all smell the petroleum in the air. The short climb was soon over and we all beheld little cones mushrooming out on a little plateau. They were not much of volcanoes to be frank. We could walk right up to the volcanoes and in fact stand over some. To put in Nazli’s words these were “Cute”. And cute they were. Ranging from few inches to few feet in diameter at their mouths and from 5-10 meter height these mud volcanoes are possibly the friendliest type. They were burping there occasional gas burps, plump, plump, some small, some large enough to be caught on cameras. The place did revive some spirit with the feeling of a little adventure being accomplished.

We could actually make the volcanoes burp more by exerting a little pressure on the sides. In fact one actually stands on the dry exterior with the muddy interior still in fluid shape and that’s how the little pushes lead to more burps. There was a lot of slippery exterior as the mud overflowed to the sides. Slipping on these was easy and one had to be a little careful.

There was a little hill some distance away and soon Kennedy and I were on our way to that little lonely hill while others busied themselves with taking the pictures of little cute volcanoes. This was possibly the largest among the mud volcanoes at this place. Soon Tom joined us. The place was quiet and a lovely breeze was coming from the sea. Sun was out and it all made for a lovely day. Good time to be out.

Suddenly, the place where Tom was standing gave way or so we thought. He had slipped on mud. After the initial shock me and Kennedy (incidentally standing on either side of tom) grabbed his arms and pulled him up. After the initial little shock the laughter started. Finally the adventure that had been missing was here. Tom’s hand and one leg were covered with volcanic mud and so was his camera. According to him an attempt to capture the different patterns of the mud lead him what would eventually be a slip. Soon the others arrived and each had their share of laughter as did Tom. There was sufficient recreation of the event and plenty of the pictures taken of the mud covered Tom and recently christened mud volcano in Gobustan, Mt. Tom.

For 15 manat per head the trip was well worth it and thanks to Nazli’s efforts well organized. And that was that. A relatively short trip to Gobustan but fun nevertheless, especially at the expense of Tom. Driver was kind enough to let him in the vehicle in the mud covered condition. A towel was provided for him to put on the seat. And off we started the return journey.

The highway is well laid and the vehicle is moving on comfortably back to where the trip started. We just had some snacks in form of few Doritos and M&Ms each drowned down by water all kindly provided by Nazli. On hungry stomachs this feel like a delicacy and with tired legs and bodies the group slowly starts to doze off. After a while Kennedy looks around and finds most of the heads rolling onto sides. He smiles and closes his eyes. The Caspian looks clean here and an occasional group of swimmers can be seen on the uninterrupted length of the sea shore. Caspian almost looks beautiful. The light music on iPod, a steady speed of the vehicle on a smooth highway, the magnificence of Caspian and the tiredness in the legs and I also join the club of happily dozing heads shortly.

Three points on a time curve

It is early February and after looking around ten apartments in two days, apartment number 3 on the list is picked as a suitable abode for the near future. As usually happens when one moves into an apartment which has a view of the sea, you take out your camera and capture few moments. Freeze that particular second as it ticks by. The window of the bedroom is opened, the sea captured and as an afterthought I click the street below. Window closed and seconds tick by.
If someone asks me the postal address of the place where I live, I will not be able to tell from memory. In fact I won’t be able to tell the flat number I live in. It is not written at the house entrance and the one time I read the flat number and the address was in the SMS which Yana sent me after I had moved in and which I looked at only once while filling in a checklist for the apartment some time ago. I know it’s on seventh floor or rather floor number 7, you step out, turn right and the first door on left hand side. That’s the door the key which I have works in. The building is one of the four blue buildings on ‘sixth parallel’ as I learned after a little struggle with the taxi drivers. Natik helped me out with the parallel concept. That means now I know how to get to the place I have my lodgings at and since no post is ever coming my way here I may live next three four years, or whatever time I have to, here without the need to look at the address of the place.
The time moves on, as it has a bad habit of doing, and one day a snow-storm arrived, rather unannounced. The window was opened once again, this time to see the snow and the snow storm. First snow storm and first real-snow for me. Otherwise, first snow was a couple of weeks ago when I was still in the staff house. It was in Baku as well but it was just a little snow and not really as exciting as this big storm. And again the camera came out to click the city covered in white. And as an afterthought again I clicked the street corner down below. The window is closed and the time moves by.
From the blue buildings to ‘Mothercare’ it is about a 10-15 minutes walk. 15 if I start well ahead of time and can afford a royal stroll. I make it in 10 if required. The bus drivers have by now got used to my just-in-time approach and usually cut me a few seconds slack. Though one time one of them did say something in Azeri pointing at his watch and I pretended it was so hard to understand what he was saying and just smiled a guilty little smile and buckled up for the ride to the office. Buckled up, and sometimes eyes closed, till 10 Salyan Highway.

On the walk from the blue buildings to Mothercare I have made few unspoken-to-acquaintances. Taxi drivers waiting for their respective passengers at the corner next to blue buildings, seven in the morning every day. The cleaning ladies on the street with their scarves saving them from the dust which they freely distribute to one and all who dare to cross by, I have to make a run when I cross. The meat shop guys getting ready to execute various bulls and lambs in the way that would make the kill suitable to eat for the people with faith (or without). The three old ladies walking their leisurely walk in the opposite direction (lately there have been only two). One young lady walking her rapid quick pace, the old man just finishing his cup of tea and getting ready to open his shop (I have now started nodding a greeting to him), and various other not so mobile acquaintances including trees, houses, streets and roads. Ten to fifteen minutes of the morning, everyday.

Most of the beings (living and not so living) age in one simple straight line with time. Trees do get old but they have a habit of making it seem different. They are on the trail of time and on journey to death, but they have a habit to grow young and old every year in cycles. Grey, dark, green, gold. Naked, covered (in green and in white of snow if the nature wants so). Full of bounty, empty and dry as desert. They have their way of beating the straight line of time. Or maybe time has put them in this curve of going in circles while moving on a straight line.
It is nearly five months since I moved into this home. Every now and then the window has been opened again. To let the Sun in. To let the air in. Once, uninvited, few flies came in as well which I had to, late at night, chase to stop all the ‘peeennnpeeennn’ in the room. The window opens more often on Sundays and so it was that the knob was turned today and after soaking in the view and taking few deep breaths of what I will have to say was ‘fresh air’ I looked down towards the street. And for the first time I took out the camera to specifically shoot the corner of the street.

They say if you have two points you can draw a straight line. But time hardly travels in straight line and even though today I captured the third point, only time knows if this point will find a place on this particular straight line.


Sukhdev Singh is milking a buffalo when I call him. We are speaking after a long gap. His voice carries the same cheerful energy I remember....