Friday, April 29, 2011

Journalists in the line of fire-1

We know that journalists sometimes pay a heavy price just for doing their job.

As the deaths in Libya earlier this month of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros show, perhaps no journalist pays a heavier price than the war photographer.

In a moving tribute to both men in Newsweek, Joshua Hammer gives us an insight into the dangers journalists face in combat zones:

War correspondents — in particular, combat photographers — have always worked with their lives on the line. But in the last few decades the body count has risen dramatically. Since 1992, 861 journalists have been killed in the field, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

We also get a glimpse into the characters of Hetherington and Hondros:

James Brabazon, a documentary filmmaker who met Hetherington in Liberia in 2003, recalls the photographer’s steady nerves. “I’ve seen people witnessing combat for the first time soil their pants…run away, scream, melt down, have terrible and understandably normal visceral reactions to the prospect that they’re about to get killed,” Brabazon says. “He just kept working.” After days of being ambushed while filming close-range combat, Hetherington and Brabazon leapt from a vehicle that had come under machine-gun fire. Ducking behind a wall, Hetherington remembered he’d left videotapes in the car, containing all his footage. “He jumped over the wall and ran into an arc of fire,” Brabazon says. “As far as he was concerned, if we didn’t have the tapes, there was no point being there in the first place.”


Hondros, an American whose career spanned war zones from Kosovo to Baghdad, was also in Liberia during the 2003 meltdown. Known for his intimate, empathetic images of both victims and perpetrators, Hondros later wrote about being on a bridge with a platoon of “drugged-up…militiamen” who were firing on rebels on the opposite bank of the river. Hondros’s photo of a commander jumping for joy after shooting a rocket-propelled grenade catapulted him to the top ranks of combat photographers.


Read the tribute to Hetherington and Hondros in its entirety here: "The Last Witnesses".

In the magazine, there's an accompanying piece, To Walk With Ghosts, by former CNN correspondent Michael Ware. Here's an excerpt that illustrates the iniquities of war and the hazards of being a war journalist:

In the field, where, as the soldiers say, “the meat meets the metal,” I’ve found that I gravitate to photographers, the ones who come the closest to revealing the truth, even if we never get to the entire truth. In war, everyone lies; their government, our government, the rebels—even civilians lie through exaggeration or confusion. But what we can get is the shards of truth, like Tim’s photo of a wretchedly filthy, dog-tired American grunt in the Korengal Valley, holding his face in his hand, or Chris’s picture of a little girl with her parents’ blood splattered over her dress, after American soldiers killed them at a Tal Afar checkpoint. (See pictures above.)

War photographers and reporters, of course, are not immune to this pain. But when you’re in a conflict, you can’t afford to think about how you’re feeling. You’re trying to capture the tremendous hurt of the war, but at the same time, you can’t afford to feel it yourself. And unlike the soldiers, who live in an environment conditioned to deal with these things, war journalists often find themselves alone in the newsroom, with no one to share the experience with.

It's not only male journalists who put their lives in jeopardy in this fashion. In February, Lara Logan, a CBS reporter covering the protests against Hosni Mubarak, was assaulted in Cairo just a week after being arrested by Egyptian police. Other women journalists have paid a far deadlier price. Why do they take such terrible risks? In the case of Logan, Howie Kurtz explains in Newsweek that...

Lara Logan kept going back to war, even after coming under enemy fire, even after an antitank missile struck her Humvee in Iraq and the soldier next to her lost his leg. Having children, however, changed her.

When the South African native became a mother, for the first time her bosses sensed hesitation. “There’s an adrenaline rush in being in war zones, and there’s no doubt Lara thrived on it,” CBS News chairman Jeff Fager tells NEWSWEEK.

The magazine also provides brief sketches of ten female journalists who put themselves in harm's way. Watch the inspirational video feature on Lebanese television journalist May Chidiac, who lost an arm and lower leg and suffered severe burns in a 2005 assassination attempt.


Let's salute them all, these men and women who brave all kinds of dangers to get the world the truth.
PS: The May Chidiac feature on the Newsweek website was produced by the London-based Journeyman Pictures, an independent documentary and news channel that has uploaded more than 4,000 videos on YouTube. Watching some of these films will be a good learning experience for all those who are interested in journalism and a special treat for those who want to specialise in documentary film-making.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    It all depends on the telling, sure. But surely who does the telling matters?

    Last month, at a sale in Landmark, I picked up a delightful book: Viva La Repartee, subtitled "Clever comebacks and witty retorts from history's great wits and wordsmiths". As you can imagine, it's packed with funny and, often, sarcastic rejoinders so it's a great read. Also, this is a good reference book to have at hand when you're being insulted and want to hit back with a zinger of a remark.

    But as a journalist I can't help wonder if ALL the one-liners here were actually uttered by the people to whom they're credited. Sometimes, in an exercise of this sort collecting ripostes from around the world mistakes may be made, embellishments may be ignored, exaggerations may go unnoticed.

    Take for example this episode involving author Truman Capote and quoted in Viva La Repartee:

    Truman Capote was fond of regaling people with an anecdote about one of his finer moments. At the height of his popularity, he was drinking one evening with friends in a crowded Key West [Florida] bar. Nearby sat a couple, both inebriated. The woman recognized Capote, walked over to his table, and gushingly asked him to autograph a paper napkin. The woman's husband, angry at his wife's display of interest in another man, staggered over to Capote's table and assumed an intimidating position directly in front of the diminutive writer. He then proceeded to unzip his trousers and, in Capote's own words, "hauled out his equipment". As he did this, he bellowed in a drunken slur, "Since you're autographing things, why don't you autograph this?" It was a tense moment, and a hush fell over the room. The silence was a blessing, for it allowed all those within earshot to hear Capote's soft, high-pitched voice deliver the perfect emasculating reply:

    "I don't know if I can autograph it, but perhaps I can initial it."

    Those who are familiar with Capote's way with words will not find it difficult to believe that he came up with this crack on the spur of the moment.

    The only problem is Capote did not make this remark.

    Let Capote tell it in his own words in this excerpt from "Remembering Tennessee" in Portraits And Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote (another book that I picked up at the same Landmark sale):

    My funniest memory... is of four or five years ago, when I was staying with Tennessee [Williams] in Key West. We were in a terrifically crowded bar — there were probably three hundred people in it, both gays and straights. A husband and wife were sitting at a table in the corner, and they were both quite drunk. She had on a pair of slacks and a halter top, and she approached our table and held out an eyebrow pencil. She wanted me to autograph her belly button.

    I just laughed and said, "Oh no. Leave me alone."

    "How can you be so cruel?" Tennessee said to me, and as everyone in the place watched, he took the eyebrow pencil and wrote my name around her navel. When she got back to her table, her husband was furious. Before we knew it, he had grabbed the eyebrow pencil out of her hand and walked over to where we were sitting, whereupon he unzipped his pants and pulled out his c*** [I am the one doing the censoring here.] and said to me — "Since you're autographing everything today, would you mind autographing mine?"

    I had never heard a place with three hundred people in it get that quiet. I didn't know what to say — I just looked at him.

    Then Tennessee reached up and took the eyebrow pencil out of the stranger's hand. "I don't know that there's room for Truman to autograph it," he said, giving me a wink, "but I'll initial it."

    It brought down the house.

    The essence of the quip is the same but so much else changed when the episode was included in Viva La Repartee. How could this have happened? Since I can only speculate, I thought it best to ask the author himself and, so, I have posted a comment on Dr Mardy Grothe's website. I am expecting a reply soon.


    UPDATE (April 29): Dr Grothe's email was waiting for me when I got to work today:

    Thanks for your note, Ramesh. Very interesting, indeed. Check out the following link, in which Capote clearly describes making the remark: Truman Capote: Conversations.

    So tell me, my friend, what do you make of this? I have one theory, but I'd like to get your thoughts first. Perhaps your students might want to get in on the act as well.


    Dr. Mardy Grothe
    1921 Bowling Green Trail
    Raleigh, NC 27613

    Well, I can think of only two explanations.

    One, Capote, by the time of this interview, had forgotten the essentials of the episode; perhaps, in his telling and re-telling, he came to believe he had made that crack.

    Second, Capote was apparently "unabashed in his pursuit of fame and fortune". So it is likely that, years later, he took Tennessee Williams's crowd-pleasing line and conveniently made it his own.

    I am going to forward my theories to Dr Grothe now. I am sure by tomorrow we'll find out what his theory is.


    I sent another email to Dr Grothe later in the evening yesterday:

    Hello Mardy,

    This gets curiouser and curiouser. The link you have provided here is for an interview with Capote that was published in 1980.

    When I got home today I looked up my copy of Portraits and Observations, in which Capote's essay on Tennessee has been published. And the year Capote wrote this? 1983. Go figure!

    And here's the good doctor's response:

    Thanks for both your notes, Ramesh.  Your first one propounded theories similar to my own.  The plot thickens, however, after your second one.  The game's afoot, my friend.  We'll have to continue our sleuthing!



    The plot thickens, indeed.

    One thing is clear, though: no blame attaches to Dr Mardy Grothe for including in Viva La Repartee this particular Capote version. It's there for all to read in Truman Capote: Conversations.


    AN UPDATE (May 1): After reading this blog post Dr Grothe was kind enough to write in appreciation:

    Very interesting, Ramesh. You have shared our recent encounter in an intriguing and interesting way with your students and other readers. I will do the same in my weekly e-newsletter ("Dr. Mardy's Quotes of the Week"), which I usually send out late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

    I've taken the liberty of adding you to my mailing list, so you can see it for yourself tomorrow. If you decide my weekly mailing is not for you, it's very easy to unsubscribe.

    My best,


    And Dr Grothe's weekly newsletter carried this little item:


    Authors write books for many reasons, but an important one is to connect with readers.  I made a most interesting connection this past week with Ramesh Prabhu, a professor of journalism from Bangalore, India. To hear about it from his perspective, check out his recent blog on the subject:

    Well said, Dr Grothe. Truly, writing is all about making connections.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    An incredible lesson in portrait photography

    What must it be like to take photographs of some of the individuals named by Time magazine as "The world's most influential people"?

    What should the photographer keep in mind when asked to take, sorry, make a picture of, for instance, Amy Chua, the widely reviled and grudgingly admired author of a tough-love parenting memoir? Chua's book is titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Well, Martin Schoeller decided to take the tiger metaphor literally:


    Schoeller explains, in a video on the Time website, how he dealt with the challenge of shooting with live tigers. "It was quite intimidating to be sitting in front of a tiger three feet away from you, looking at you," he says.

    The video includes details of two other shoots: in Cairo with Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who "launched" the Egyptian revolution, and in Chicago with Grant Achatz, a chef who's revolutionising the restaurant trade.

    For some fascinating insights into portrait photography, watch the Martin Schoeller video here: "Photographer Martin Schoeller's TIME 100 Journey".

    PS: Any guesses why Time labelled the photograph a "photo-montage"?

    Also read:

    Monday, April 25, 2011

    Blast from the past: Travels in Malaysia

    Many years ago, I had visited Malaysia as the Features Editor of Dubai's Khaleej Times. On my return I wrote these articles, which are reproduced here from the newspaper's issue of January 30, 1997:

    Kuala Lumpur is a popular stopover for package-tour tourists, who might then go on to Singapore, Bangkok and even Hong Kong. Very few travellers, especially from this part of the world, fly across to the island of Borneo, which is shared by three countries — Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. RAMESH PRABHU, who was in KL earlier this month in connection with the ASEAN Tourism Forum, spent four days in Sabah, on Borneo’s northern tip, and came back enthralled. Here, he explains why…

    YOU HAVE heard of the Wild West. Fancy a trip to the Wild East?

    Picture this: It’s late in the evening as we approach the eight wooded steps leading up to the porch of a traditional tribal longhouse built by the Kadazan people. When we reach the porch we are asked to take off our shoes. It is pitch dark as we troop into the house and gather around whispering inanities to each other for comfort. None of us in this group of 15 foreign journalists knows what to expect. All we have been told is that this house was once the abode of Monsopiad, Sabah’s legendary headhunter of the 18th century. It has been raining so there’s a chill in the air adding to the suspense.

    And then the lights come on. There’s a hush as we look around.

    Wenidy Moujing
    Yuriko Watanabe spots them first: 42 human skulls grinning at us from the rafters. It’s an awesome sight rooting us where we stand. That is the cue for Wenidy (“It rhymes with Kennedy”) Moujing to begin his spiel. Wenidy, a direct descendant of Monsopiad, is in charge of research at this cultural village located on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. He is pleased at our reaction and more than pleased to narrate the story of his feared ancestor.

    Monsopiad was born and raised in a village where his maternal grandfather was the headman. Though he received special training as a warrior, Monsopiad was a peaceable farmer to begin with. While he was tilling his rice field one day, a group of women came up and started criticising him for working so hard, saying it was a waste of time as the harvest would soon be plundered by robbers who frequently attacked the village. The women also ridiculed the men of the village and called them weaklings for not being able to defend their homes. Monsopiad, angered by such mockery, vowed to eliminate the bandits and also promised to cut off the head of their leader and bring it back to his village as a trophy to be hung from the roof of his house. As the cliché goes, he kept his head while all around him were losing theirs and, as the years passed, Monsopiad collected the heads of 42 powerful warriors, all enemies of the village.

    As we now contemplated those heads, it was easy to transport ourselves back through time into an era of animistic rituals conducted by the bobohizan (priestesses) amid munificent jungles brimming with exotic life.

    Having set the mood, Wenidy then led us to the main building for a traditional tribal dinner followed by some splendid dance performances by a cultural troupe. Tourists are encouraged to join in the dances and are also given a chance to use the famed Kadazan blowpipe to pop… balloons.

    A traditional dance performance for the guests from abroad.

    It was Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammed who once called Sabah “the Wild East” and as Joshua Eliot notes in his Malaysia and Singapore Handbook, Sabah, in the popular imagination of West Malaysians, is the land of the Bajau cowboys, gun-toting pirates and one-horse towns. It could well be the setting for an oriental version of For A Few Dollars More. The state does indeed have a frontier feel to it; Jeeps and Toyota Landcruisers, as we discovered, are the only practical way of travelling long distances overland.

    With its many and varied natural charms, Sabah is a dream destination for producers of holiday brochures: they all speak of an excitingly fresh and unspoilt land that has something for everyone from lazing on pristine white beaches to exploring the jungles in search of some of the world’s rarest plants and animals, from white-water rafting to a soothing bath in the hot springs and for once they are spot on.

    One of the five tropical islands that form the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park.

    Then there are the five tropical islands, off Kota Kinabalu, just 20 minutes away by speedboat. The waters around these islands, which make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, are clear, clean and calm. Sapi, the most naturally picturesque, is also the most alluring for snorkellers. Even first-timers, once they get the hang of breathing through the mouthpiece, and tube of the underwater mask, will revel in the sight of schools of multicoloured fish making their way leisurely across the coral reef or through an algal field. Giant clams, too, can be spotted on the seabed. Those who prefer not to venture into the water can join a tour of the coral reefs by glass-bottom boats.

    The world's largest flower
    For the traveller wishing to commune with nature, Sabah has another major attraction: Kinabalu Park, the centrepiece of which is Mount Kinabalu, at 13,455 feet one of the highest mountains in south-east Asia. The park is a two-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu through some spectacular country scenery, and if the rafflesia is in bloom the trip becomes even more rewarding because the tour bus will stop in the forest reserve to enable you to get a close look at the world’s largest flower.

    The hardy and the energetic will find the climb up Mount Kinabalu a worthy endeavour. This granite massif, which the Kadazan people named Aki Nabalu or “home of the dead”, dominates the landscape and a trek to the summit to watch the sun rise is on the must-do list of a substantial proportion of the 200,000 tourists who visit Sabah every year.

    And why not? When it comes to a holiday that combines culture, nature and adventure, Sabah is definitely hard to beat.

    SAIFUDDIN ISMAIL is a bumiputra (son of the soil). Hailing from Malay stock he is representative of the young men and women Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammed is banking on to help realise his dream of transforming Malaysia into an industrialised nation with a home for every citizen within the next two decades, part of a grand scheme aptly named Vision 2020.

    At 33, Saifuddin is the correspondent of a women’s magazine in Kuala Lumpur, the capital. He also freelances for a Hong Kong travel publication and that is how he came to be at the Putra World Trade Centre where the ASEAN Travel Forum was being held.

    That is not all: he is also associated with a cable TV company to be launched next month and he is actively assisting in the start-up operations.

    And that is not all either: as a ‘hobby’, he runs a chain of 14 jewellery shops, with plans to open six more by the end of the year.

    “I like to keep busy,” he says modestly by way of explanation when wonder is expressed at his energy-sapping schedules.

    Saifuddin, who writes under the pen name of Bill Bora, is a lawyer by qualification he completed a three-year course in London, he says, so that his parents could “save face”, a very significant concept in the East but his interests lay elsewhere. He couldn’t see himself pushing briefs or arguing cases “that was my parents’ dream, not mine” and eager to take advantage of the booming economy of a thrusting and confident nation plunged wholeheartedly into as many careers as he could manage.

    Saifuddin may be a wealthy young man but he is not overly ostentatious. His only concession to his status is a jade ring worth Dh 57,000. He does not even own a car but that is because he prefers not to spend life stuck in KL’s notorious traffic jams. If he has to go a short distance, he walks. For long journeys he does not mind taking his chances with that other embodiment of big city life the uncooperative cabbie, to whom much newspaper space is devoted. The New Straits Times, one of the capital’s popular dailies, has a regular feedback column and readers are actively encouraged to write in with their complaints about recalcitrant taxi drivers.

    But traffic jams and fussy cabbies notwithstanding, KL is very much a happening city, from the hustle and bustle of Central Market and Petaling Street’s Chinatown, where bargaining is an art form, to the frenetic nightlife of discos and karaoke lounges.

    Tourists will have their plates full, and not just figuratively. There are museums and art galleries, parks and gardens. You can plan excursions to the Batu caves, a system of caverns set high in a massive limestone outcrop 13 km from KL, or Genting Highlands, 50 km from the capital, whose attractions include a theme park, an artificial lake and a horse ranch. KL also offers a culinary adventure that is difficult to surpass for value and variety.  There are countless Malay, Indian and Chinese restaurants to choose from and, as the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board asserts, you can have a different dish daily for a year and still not have tried them all.

    No wonder, then, that 7.5 million tourists visited Malaysia in 1995 making tourism one of the top contributors to the economy.

    NOT MANY will know that it was at a club in KL that the seeds of the Hash House Harriers were sown. The Hash, a cross-country chase, originated in 1938, informs Joshua Eliot in the Malaysia and Singapore Handbook, when the Royal Selangor Club was the watering hole of choice for colonials. It seems a G.S. Gilbert, having had one too many at the club, decided to jog around the Padang the cricket pitch in front of the club to clear his head. In no time, Gilbert’s Hash attracted new adherents. The run, named after the club’s dining room, the Hash House soon expanded into the countryside. The KL Hash, known as the “Mother Hash” to Hash House Harriers around the world (there are now more than 300 clubs in more than 60 countries, including the UAE) , involves runs of 3-8 km and they are usually jovial affairs. Most big Malaysian towns have a Hash and there are several branches in KL men only, women only and mixed.

    ONE OF THE few Malay words to have entered the English language is amok, as in “to run amok (or amuck)”. According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, one of the earliest uses in English of amok, defined as “a murderous frenzy that occurred chiefly among Malays”, was in 1664.

    On the other hand, English, which is widely spoken in Malaysia, has contributed many words to Bahasa Melayu, or the Malay language. To name a few: teksi, bas, tren, imigresen, mesin, doktor, klinik and restoran which are easily recognisable. Then you have exzos (exhaust), motosikal (motorcycle), kadfon (phone card) and kelab (club). Basic Malay grammar is simple: there are no tenses, genders or articles and the structure of sentences is straightforward. Plurals are also easy: one man, for example, is orang; men is orang-orang. One cat is kuching; cats is kuching-kuching.

    “Can, la” is the Malaysian equivalent of “No problem”. When the guide aboard the tour bus was asked on the way back to KL from Genting Highlands if the media group would be able to make it to the hotel in time for the next appointment, “Can, la” was the confident answer. When some journalists in the party pointed to their watches and expressed serious doubt, the guide’s response was a very assertive “Can, can.” His confidence, one may add, was justified.
    • Ramesh Prabhu travelled to Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, by Malaysia Airlines, courtesy Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (PR/Marketing Representative Office in AGCC Countries: Al Rais Travel & Shipping Agencies).

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    If you want to do well by doing good...

    ...then take a leaf out of Vikram Akula's book.

    Akula, whose parents emigrated to the US in 1970 when he was two years old, worked in remote Indian villages as an idealistic graduate student before going on in 1998 to found SKS Microfinance, which provides small loans and other financial services to poor people in India. He tells his fascinating and inspirational story in A Fistful of Rice, published earlier this year.

    REINVENTING THE WHEEL: Vikram Akula decided to go the for-profit way with SKS.

    A Fistful of Rice is fascinating because in compelling language it introduces the lay reader to a subject that most would not have much interest in: development work. And it is inspirational because Akula shows how well-meaning and driven people can transform for the better the lives of those less fortunate than they are.

    Akula says he knew as a teenager, after having made several visits to Hyderabad, his hometown, that this is what he wanted to do. He writes in A Fistful of Rice:

    When I enrolled at Tufts University at seventeen, I began thinking in earnest about how to help India's poor. I devoured the works of the great philosophers, searching for clues on how to live my life and make a difference in the lives of others.

    And after he graduated, Akula says, he was excited to get out into the world and test his theories. He writes:

    At long last, it was time to go to India and start working with the poor! The only problem was, I had no idea what I might do there, or who would hire a fresh-faced college graduate like me. And in those pre-Internet days, these questions were far more difficult to answer.

    But Akula did not let this "problem" deter him. His approach and the exercise he then embarked on will serve as an eyeopener and encouragement for many young people who get disappointed when they don't immediately get what they want and who often give up at the first hurdle:

    I went to the women's center on campus, knowing that groups working specifically with women were more progressive. I began flipping through magazines in hopes of finding a nonprofit located in drought-prone Telangana, the impoverished region of my birth. Because I spoke rudimentary Telugu and had family there, I figured that would be the best place to start. Unfortunately, there weren't as many options there as in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, or Kolkata, but eventually I tracked down the contact information for a few nonprofits. I sent off a raft of letters and waited.

    Only one organization, the Deccan Development Society [DDS], responded. And even their letter was decidedly lukewarm. The director, a man named Biksham Gujja, basically said, "Okay, if you come here we'll meet with you, but we're not promising anything."

    But this was good enough for Akula:

    Relieved to have gotten a reply, and determined to convince Biksham to hire me, I bought a one-way plane ticket to Hyderabad and packed a single gym bag with clothes. I wanted to travel like Mahatma Gandhi — no unnecessary attachments, no excess of material goods.

    And so Akula comes to India, begins working with the poor as a volunteer, is hired by DDS, learns what it means to work in development, and finally, after a two-week training session in Bangladesh with Grameen, founded by the pioneer of microfinance, Muhammad Yunus, starts his own organisation, SKS, for Swayam Krishi Sangam, "a Sanskrit phrase meaning 'self-work society', or more loosely, 'self-help-society'."

    In later chapters, Akula, who was named by Time magazine in 2006 as one of the world's 100 most influential people, describes in moving detail the challenges he and his inexperienced team face. Today SKS, which unlike most NGOs is a for-profit organisation (read the book to understand the reasons for this), has moved beyond giving microloans. "We're also able to offer our members social, educational, and health benefits," writes Akula.

    Vikram Akula's tale proves that initiative, enterprise, and enthusiasm aligned with a desire to help underprivileged people can help to combat poverty. It also proves that you can do well by doing good.
    • A copy of A Fistful of Rice has been placed in the Commits library. Commits students will find it useful to read the book before they go off on their NGO internships it will help them to better understand the situation on the ground.
    • Shloka Nath of Forbes India profiled Vikram Akula in the magazine in January last year. Read the profile here: "The TightRope Walker".

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    What kind of piece should you write to accompany your holiday slideshow?

    When many of us come back from a wonderful holiday, almost the first thing we do is upload a few hundred pictures to Facebook and other similar sites. I am not sure what the point is of this exercise how many are going to click on each thumbnail? And how many will go through the entire album unless you hold a gun to their head?

    Here is an approach that I think works better: After my wife and I spent two days at an unusual resort in the foothills of the Nilgiris earlier this month, I selected from dozens of pictures the ones that I thought would tell the audience a story. And I used the "Movie" feature in Picasa to create a video slideshow, with background music, which I then uploaded to YouTube.

    The pictures, I think, speak for themselves but the video may not be informative enough for someone who would like to know a little more about the place. So I wrote a few paragraphs that give a hint of the many ways you can enjoy a weekend here.

    Here is what I wrote and posted on YouTube:

    R&R at Jungle Hut, Masinagudi
    Two days of rustic luxe April 8-10, 2011

    My wife wanted to stay in a tent and that's what we did at Jungle Hut on April 8. It was maddeningly hot in the afternoon this was summer after all but as evening approached the temperature dipped and it was truly magical to slip into our tent and fall off to sleep to the accompaniment of the trilling of nightjars and other nocturnal birds.

    We were woken by the Masinagudi Cicada Philharmonic Orchestra early the next morning and a good thing too we had scheduled a two-hour trek up the mountains with the Jungle Hut guide.

    The trek was fun and we worked up a good appetite too so the sumptuous breakfast laid out for us afterwards went down smooth and easy.

    After breakfast we shifted to a regular cottage room my wife may like to rough it out but I want my conveniences. The room was just right: spacious, airy, clean.

    I went for a swim later in the pool, took a brief nap, then we headed to the restaurant area for lunch. The meals are one of the highlights of the stay at Jungle Hut we just couldn't help tucking in like there was no tomorrow.

    We played Scrabble, we read my wife even borrowed a book from the Jungle Hut collection to take to Ooty where we spent the rest of our 10-day vacation. We also watched the IPL matches live on the big screen, we went for long walks, and we took plenty of pictures.

    Team Jungle Hut went out of their way to ensure we enjoyed every minute of our brief stay. Thank you, Vikram and Anushri Mathias, Malvika Bhandary, Aniket Gupta, and Falgun.

    And here's the YouTube video:

    PS: If you drive down from Bangalore via Mysore, you can do the 250-km trip to Masinagudi in five-and-a-half hours with a short break. Ooty is about 40 km and 36 hairpin bends from Masinagudi.

    PPS: Masinagudi is at the same altitude as Bangalore, about 3,000 feet above sea level it can be really warm during the day in April-May. But Ooty is 7,620 feet above sea level so in summer even at 2 in the afternoon it's cool enough to enjoy a walk in the sun.


    I did the same thing with our Ooty pictures. And because, compared with Masinagudi, Ooty is well-known, I restricted the write-up to a few tips:

    When in Ooty you must...

    ...stay at Sterling Fern Hill a visit to Coonoor (18 km away) and check out Lamb's Rock and Dolphin's Nose
    ...have lunch at King's Cliff
    ...experience the warm hospitality of Commits alumna Poonam Parekh (Class of 2008) and her family at their lovely home
    ...treat yourself to some wood-fire delicacies at the Sidewalk Cafe on Commercial Road homemade fudge and chocolates at Jai's King Star; and Last Forest honey, Gray's Hill relishes, and Mackays Seedless Bramble Preserve from Modern Stores (if you want eucalyptus oil, Swastik is the best)
    ...and go boating on Ooty Lake, walk around the Botanical Garden, take some long drives. You MUST have your own car in a gorgeous hill-station like Ooty, it will make your stay more memorable.

    And here's the Ooty video:

    Isn't this preferable to wading through hundreds of caption-less holiday snaps?