Volcanoes of Santorini


On June 16, after breakfast we set out to visit the volcanic islands of Nea Kameni, meaning ‘new burnt’ and Palea Kameni meaning ‘old burnt’.


During the Bronze Age, Santorini was called Strongyli, meaning ‘rounded.’  Devastating volcanic eruption of 1650 BC resulted in decimation of Strongyli, creating the crescent shaped Santorini and several surrounding islands.

The island of Hiera was formed due to volcanic eruption which started around 197 BC.  In 47 AD the volcano reawakened spewing huge quantities of magma forming a new island which merged with Hiera to form Palia Kameni.  Breakup of Palia Kameni occurred between 1457 and 1458, as per Roman historian Aurelius Victor’s ‘Historia Romana’. At that time the island had a perimeter of 5,550 meters.  It gradually acquired its present shape through fragmentation by great cracks and collapse of its shoreline, with the current perimeter of only about 4000 meters. Like a slumbering demon, the volcano remained dormant for the next seven centuries. It became active again, very violently in 726 AD.

Nea Kameni is Eastern Mediterranean’s youngest volcanic landform.  It is a protected natural monument and national geological park.  In 1573 AD, about 65 years after Palea Kameni reached its present form, volcanic activity broke out resulting in the formation of a small island called Mikra Kameni meaning ‘small burnt’.  Formation of Nea Kameni commenced with the volcanic eruptions from 1701 to 1711.  Volcanic eruptions of 1866 to 1870 caused the smaller island of Mikra Kameni, to be joined with the larger Nea Kameni.  During the period 1939-1941, many eruptions occurred in Nea Kameni which changed the topography of the island.  The volcanic activity ended in July 1941.  Today, magma exists at depths of a few kilometers, giving Nea Kameni its trademark sulfur odour.


From our hotel we rode a local bus to Fira, the capital of Santorini on the West coast of the main island.  Fira is a ‘whitewashed’ town of cafes, bars, restaurants and shops, all filled with tourists.  We had to now go to Gialos, the old port of Fira to sail to the volcanic islands.   Till a few decades ago, Gialos was the main commercial port of the island.  The port now is active mostly in summer and serves only the cruise ships, the excursion boats to the volcano, and a few fishing boats.   The port is located about 275 meters below the cliff.

Alighting from the bus, we walked to the cable-car terminal to purchase tickets for the ride to the port.  The queue was pretty long and we got our tickets after about 30 minutes.  The ladies made use of this time to buy trinkets and memorabilia from the shops around, while the men stood in the queue.


There is a zigzag track of 588 steps called Karavolades stairs from the Fira to the Old Port.  There were many tourists walking up and down these steps.  There are mule-taxis, that operate on the same track, taking tourists up and down.   The Karavolades stairs have several large bends which offer magnificent view of the volcanic islands.


The fastest option to reach the old port is surely by the cable car system, commissioned in 1982.  The project was funded by Loula & Evangelos Nomikos Foundation created by the wealthy Santorini ship owner Evangelos Nomikos.   He mediated with the traditional mule drivers who were operating here and ensured that a part of the income went to the mule drivers and the rest to the city. The cable car runs every 20 minutes and a single ride takes 3 minutes. The cable car ride to the old port gave us a stunning view of the volcanic islands, bizarre cliff sides and still blue waters.


On all sides of the old port were restaurants, taverns and small shops, mostly catering to cruise ship tourists who come ashore by chartered boats as the huge cruise ships cannot berth at the harbour.  At one end of the port is the caved houses that appear stuck on to the rock and rock caves that have been created by erosion.  We booked our tickets for the boat journey to the volcanic islands and had lunch at a restaurant at the pier.


We set sail on a boat from the port at around 2 PM to the island of Palea Kameni.  After about 20 minutes, the boat anchored at the cove of Agios Nikolaos.


As we came closer to Palea Kameni island, we were greeted by steep cliffs formed by solidified lava.


The cove is formed between small cliffs filled with solidified lava rocks.  The island is uninhabited, but we saw goats grazing, presumably wild, miraculously perched on the ledges on the cliff, chewing away on the almost non-existent shrubbery.


The boat anchored about 75 meter away from the hot springs.  We had to jump seven meters from the boat deck, plunging into deep cold sea water which is greenish yellow and then swim for about five minutes towards the orange coloured hot springs.  (Attempt this only if you are a good swimmer.)  At the mouth of the hot springs stands a little Greek Orthodox church dedicated to Saint Nikolaos, the patron saint of sailors in Greece.


Due to volcanic activity in the cove area, the water is warm and rich in sulphur, iron and manganese.   This gives the water an orange colour and is believed to have therapeutic benefits.  As one swims closer to the cliff where the water is orange, one can feel the increasing water temperature.  It is slightly warm and there is no fear of getting burned.  The seafloor around the hot springs is muddy, rocky and slippery, making it difficult to walk on.

After about half hour stay at the cove, a swim in the warm waters, a view of how the earth would have evolved, the boat steamed off to Nea Kameni, the younger sister island of Palea Kameni.

Newlyweds Do Fight


“Almost all married people fight, although many are ashamed to admit it. Actually a marriage in which no quarreling at all takes place may well be one that is dead or dying from emotional undernourishment. If you care, you probably fight” said noted American author Flora Davis.

Captain Deepak Malik (name changed), a young officer, newlywed, once sought my interview as he had some pressing private issues.  I ordered him to meet me next morning at 11 AM.  All the while I tried to fathom as to what could be the problem he might be facing.  Is it that his young wife has not been able to adjust to the Indian Army’s way of life?  Is it that she is scared of me as the Commanding Officer?  Is it that she felt that some officers or soldiers misbehaved with her?  My mind went into an overdrive, searching for all possible problems a young couple could face.  Surely, I was preparing myself as to how to deal with it.

Next morning at 11 AM, Captain Malik showed up at my office.  I asked him “What is the pressing issue?”.  “Sir, everyday there is a fight between my wife and me.  It is becoming too much for me to handle”  he said.

“How many times do you fight?”  I questioned.  “Once a day” was his prompt reply.

“Oh! that is not an issue at all.  When we got married, we fought twice on a working day and four times on a holiday.  Young man, you are doing pretty well.  Remember, your wife is an individual, she comes from a different family and background.  It is natural to have differences of opinion and at this age and it got to end up in a fight.  If you do not fight, then there is a problem – either of you are faking it.  Now get off from my office and attend to your work”  I said to him, feeling relieved.

After a month, I met the couple at the Officers’ Mess function and I enquired about their well being.  Captain Malik said “I asked for the Commanding Officer’s interview thinking that after hearing my sob story, he might excuse me the morning Physical Training, instead he gave me kick and threw me out.   Now I realise what married life is all about.”

Marriage is all about communication – honest, frank, open, accepting and respecting.  It must be full of love for each other.  It should neither be sarcastic nor hurtful.

It is an art as to how newlyweds deal with arguments, big and small.  They end up causing heartburns and a lot of tension in marriage. Both partners need to find a communication style that works for both and respect the boundaries mutually set.

It is mostly small and pretty issues which end up in arguments, at times running out of hand.  It could be about the ‘mess’ in the bedroom, clutter in the washroom,  what to watch on TV, what to eat for dinner, which movie to go, visiting family members, how often you spend time with each other’s friends – the list is endless, even though very small.

Life of a newlywed is challenging – it is all about adjustments and at times compromises – many were least expecting these. Reality dawns on the couple  when they live together, away from their parents.  It is all the more challenging for an Army wife who hails from a non-Military background.  It is going to be a roller coaster ride for the bride and she is bound to be scared at each step.  The husband got to explain everything in detail to her and provide more than needed support for her to adjust to the military environs.

Taking a holiday and travelling to a place of interest to both will do a lot good.  Sometimes this may also lead to a fight, but the thrill of the first holiday together will much outweigh the fight.   This time can be utilised to review your progress together and also plan for future.

‘His money – Her money – Our money’ – especially when both spouses are earning – is another point for a fight.  Now you got to row the boat together, hence the need for proper budgeting after mutual discussions.

When you marry someone, you marry into a family. Learning how to live with each other’s family needs ‘diplomatic’ skills many a time. Always keep the interest of your spouse ahead of everyone else.

Each of you are individuals and hence need ‘my time’.  Allow your spouse this benefit too- to pursue hobbies or interests or even lazing around doing nothing.  You both will have many interests common and many divergent.  You got to accommodate each other.

Sex is an important part of married life.  Both got to be expressive and enjoy the pleasure.  It is not all about the ‘physical sex’ on which you spend no more than five minutes.  It is all about foreplay, caressing, speaking those lovely lines and so on.  Go as far as your imagination can take you, but be equally careful not to make it a nightmare for your partner.  When one partner feels there isn’t enough sex, it will cause issues. Both need to be open and respectful about how you are feeling and your needs.

Everyone has different plans in life. The husband may want a child whereas the wife may not. It could be the in-laws who are more in a hurry to see a grandchild. Either way, having children is a huge decision and can cause tensions if both are not on the same page.

I’ve learned that just because two people argue,
it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.
And just because they don’t argue,
it doesn’t mean they do.     
Omer Washington

 

Sikhs and Kerala Floods


Offering free meals to anyone and everyone is a great Sikh tradition known as  of Langar (लंगर).  It  has remained a core part of the Sikh faith from inception.  Every Sikh temple or Gurdwara (गुरुद्वारा ) around the world offers people a free meal at any time regardless of sex, colour or religion. There are no rituals involved and everyone eats together. The aim is to inculcate the feeling of equality amongst all, a Sikh teaching around equality.

When the state of Kerala faced disastrous floods in August 2018, Sikh volunteers from the UK- based philanthropist group – Khalsa Aid – reached Kerala and setup a Langar at Kochi for some 3,000 people.  On seeing the plight of the people, they expanded the Langar relief to serve 13,000 people twice a day.

These Sikh volunteers, joined hands with Kochi administration, took over the kitchen at Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium at Kochi, where the aid materials were pouring in.  Food supplies and cereals like wheat, rice, vegetables poured in, but with no one to cook a meal.  The Sikh volunteers purchased  spices and utensils, took over the kitchen at the stadium and kept  the kitchen fires going.  The food from this kitchen was distributed at various relief camps for the needy.

Hardly any media or social media showed the contribution of the Sikh volunteers in bringing succour to the flood affected.  The Kerala Government and administrative officials seemed ignorant about the contribution of the Sikh volunteers as there was hardly any gratitude expressed for these volunteers.

Let us now turn a few pages of Kerala history to 1923.

As per the caste system prevalent in Kerala (then broadly divided into Malabar, Cochin and Travancore kingdoms) and the rest of India of that time, low-caste Hindus were not allowed entry into the temples.  They were not even allowed even to walk on the roads that led to the temples.

In the Kakinada meet of the Congress Party in 1923, TK Madhavan presented a report citing the discrimination that the depressed caste people were facing in Kerala and need to abolish untouchabiity – a practice in which some lower caste people are kept at a distance, denied of social equality and made to suffer from some disabilities for their touch, is considered to be contaminating or polluting the higher caste people.

In Kerala, a committee was formed comprising people of different castes to fight untouchability.  Satyagraha movement began on 30th March 1924 at the Mahadeva Temple at Vaikom town in Travancore, which denied entry of lower caste people – mostly Ezhavas.  Satyagraha  is a form of nonviolent resistance or civil resistance and the term was coined and developed by Mahatma Gandhi to oust the British from India.  People who offered satyagraha are called Satyagrahis .  The Satyagrahis in batches entered the temple and were arrested by the police.

On 01 October 1924, a group of forward castes Hindus marched in a procession and submitted a petition to the Regent Maharani Sethulakshmi Bai of Travancore with approximately 25,000 signatures for allowing entry to the temple for everyone.

On 23 November 1925, all the gates of the temple were opened to Hindus except the Eastern gate.  In 1928, backward castes got  the right to walk on public roads leading to all temples in Travancore.  This was the first time that an organised movement was conducted on such a massive scale for the basic rights of the untouchables and other backward castes in Kerala.

As the sathyagraha commenced in 1923, a few Sikh volunteers reached Vaikom in support of the demonstrators. They established a Langar there to feed the Sathyagrahis.  How they reached Vaikom from Punjab in those days with a scant railway network and how they cooked food for Keralites who only ate rice got to be researched.


This is an archived image of the Sikh volunteers with Ezhavas sathyagrahis.

After successfully completing the Satyagraha and after the Temple Entry Proclamation, some of the Sikhs remained in Vaikom. Some Ezhava youth were attracted to the concepts of the Sikhism.  It is believed that many Ezhavas joined the religion. Many families later returned to Hinduism and the number of Sikh Ezhavas dwindled.

In Sikhism, the practice of the Langar is believed to have been started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. The concept of Langar was prevalent in Punjab from the 12th Century – from the time of Baba Farid and Sufi saints.  Guru Angad, the second Guru institutionalised it for all Sikh temples.  Guru Amar Das, the third Guru established langar as a prominent institution and required people to dine together irrespective of their caste and social rank. He insisted on all those who visited him attend laṅgar before they could speak to him.

From the beginning till date, Sikhs have followed the words of their Gurus and have been rendering yeoman service to humanity by providing food not only in their places of worship, but also to the needy wherever and whenever it is required.

Hats off to the spirit and commitment of this great community of Sikhs. 

 

 

 

Ship On Fire


During the term break at the Indian Military Academy, I paid a visit to the Indian Naval Ship anchored at Kochi Naval Base, which housed the Midshipmen from our course. I boarded the ship at about 9 AM and was received by our course mates and was taken to the bunks where they stayed.

As the Midshipmen were to attend to their daily training, I was ‘ordered’ to sleep on Saurav’s bunk and stay put until they returned for lunch break. I was also ordered not to come out of the bunk as an ‘alien’ in the ship would attract the wrath of the senior officers of the ship. What a great place to sleep – for a Gentleman Cadet on a term break from the Academy, even a hard rock becomes a soft bed the very moment he gets an opportunity to sleep.

Suddenly the fire alarm in the ship went off. I first thought I was dreaming, but the commotion with many boots striking the metal decks of the ship made me realise that it was indeed a fire alarm. I looked out through the port holes and I could see three fire-tenders parked alongside the ship.

As an Army Cadet, I took the orders seriously – that too to stay put at the post and not to abandon it until last man and last bullet. So I decided to roll over and continue sleeping. Midshipmen came down for lunch and that is when it dawned on them that I was still asleep – like a good Army Cadet.

It seems someone reported some smoke somewhere on board and Pixie was the Officer on Duty and he immediately raised the fire alarm, called the Fire Station and they promptly dispatched the fire tenders. As I did not know the procedure to be adopted and also not to disclose my alien-on-board status, I thought it wise to continue sleeping, even if the entire ship caught fire.