Facing the Sky, Once Again

Oh, you know what, the night sky is beautiful. At the same time, any person living in this city (or any other metropolitan city in the world, for that matter) will tell you, the night sky is the last exhibition they are going to even think of glancing at.

Centuries ago, everyone used to be astronomers. Everyone used to marvel at these tiny specks of light appear, disappear and reappear every night and day. Then, the better of them began to see patterns emerging. Accordingly, they deduced the “grand design”, and the rest is history.

Then came lights. Everywhere. Then more lights. Then, even more lights. More than what is necessary. Now, we find ourselves under a carpet of pink haze, instead of the speckled sky (there’s even milk there). We rarely ever get to see the Milky Way (unless you live in places like Jasper Island). The light, the symbols in the sky, the planets, galaxies, star clusters, it’s all gone.

They haven’t disappeared. We have chosen to cover them up. And I happen to live in one of the nerve-centres (a.k.a. metropolitan cities) of this unintended ‘propaganda’.

I am fortunate, for some yet mysterious reason, to be in love with astrophotography. Once in a while, some of this inglorious haze gives way, the atmosphere becomes calm, and my camera comes out, pointed at the sky.

That’s what precisely happened yesterday evening. Some excerpts.

My job from last evening. Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar
Date: April 18, 2015
Time: 19:19 IST (13:49 UTC)

Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: Sony 18-55 mm OSS

Aperture: f/3.5
Exposure: 30"
ISO: 200

Dark Frames: 3, at 30", 20" and 10"
Bias Frames: 3, at 1/6", 1/8", 1/10"

Approximately facing West.

Technicals facts are raw and dry. Nevertheless, if you're interested,
they're here:

Suspense is good, right? I respect that, brother. I got 5 photographs, I chose to keep two. The better piece of work is below.


Date: April 18, 2015
Time: 19:23 IST (13:53 UTC)

Camera: Sony NEX-3
Lens: Sony 18-55 mm OSS

Aperture: f/3.5
Exposure: 30"
ISO: 200

Dark Frames: 3, at 30", 20" and 10"
Bias Frames: 3, at 1/6", 1/8", 1/10"

Approximately facing West.

I won't mention the technical details. I respect the ones who would
like to go through the same. They're here:

You (probably) say, there’s too much light pollution in these photos. I say, that’s how they always will be. That’s how the sky looks from my place.



I remember a quote that had appeared long ago in an issue of the Better Photography Magazine.  It was something like this:

Sometimes, the most photogenic of scenes occurs when the only thing you have with you is your cellphone camera.

Very true. It has happened to me earlier. And it happened once again. And I am confident that it shall occur for innumerable more times.

This kind of incident occurs mostly when a photogenic scene appears suddenly, literally out of nowhere. In an observant photographer’s life, that can occur as frequently as once every single day.

I myself had often lamented the absence of my camera at times. And earlier, when I did not have a phone with me always, I used to get even more….

Luckily now, I have made a habit of carrying my phone with me always, even when I am inside my own home. You would rarely find my phone outside my pocket. 

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

Well, courtesy of my phone, I managed another nice capture while at a restaurant. I can’t explain why and how, but somehow I found this sight very inviting to my phone camera!

Lonely Business

The fringes of a metropolitan city is hardly the place where you should expect the presence of a fisherman, conventionally speaking. Well, if you live where I do, you’d be aware this place is an exception.

Every morning I leave for school, I notice an elderly fisherman getting the fish off his net. Where does he get the fish from?

Well, there is an extremely shallow stream a stone’s throw from my home, so shallow that you cannot even ride a boat out there properly! The water at the most is knee-deep (at most of the places, it isn’t).

This stream is an outlet from the East Kolkata Wetlands, a set of natural and artificial marshlands, as the name implies, lying on the eastern fringes of the city. Being originally devised by fishermen for pisciculture, the EKW has proved to be an ecological asset for the city.

Most of the city’s sewage is dumped into EKW, and its fascinating ecosystem treats the water. When it comes out, the water meets international standards for human use (not consumption). That is not to mention its other qualities.

Needless to say, this stream coming out from there would be treated freshwater, overflowing with nutrients. No doubt it is an extremely lucrative habitat for small fish to survive. 

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

Therefore, business here is equally lucrative for this fisherman. I’ll bet he makes good money out of selling his catch in the local market.

I always wanted to see him at work. I eventually did, as depicted here, albeit when he was packing up after work. And yes, he seems to be the only fisherman in this area.

Fascinating Cocktail

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

Honestly, this is one of the clearest views of the sky I’ve ever got recently. I was seriously stunned after I finished the post-processing on this one. 

If you haven’t yet known, let me make it known to you that I literally “resurrect my images from the dead” with my post-processing.

Very few astrophotographers, which unfortunately includes me too, have the “fortune” of living in an area with horrific light pollution, moderate at best.

I pointed the camera almost straight up, and yet you can see the horrible pinkish glow of LP that has crept into the image, even after post-processing. I simply can’t help it, from the location from where I took this.

Yet, this is one of the most detailed and clear images in my collection of astrophotography done from home! Imagine my situation. 

Regardless of whether you are aware of it, let me inform you that I am horrific with identifying summer constellations. Yes, “horrific” is the word for it. So here’s the annotated version.

The annotated version of the same, generated at Astrometry.net. Click on the image to see more details of annotation.

Now’s the time for swallowing the “bitter pill”.

Date: July 26, 2014
Time: 20:14 IST (14:44 UTC)

Camera Metadata
Model: Sony NEX-3
Focal Length: 18 mm
Focal Ratio: f/3.5
Exposure Time: 30 seconds
ISO: 200

Calibration Frames
Dark Frames: 3; at 30 seconds, 20 seconds and 10 seconds exposure
Bias Frames: 3; at 1/10 second, 1/20 second and 1/30 second exposure

Post Processing
Calibration: DeepSkyStacker
Histogram Stretching: Adobe Photoshop
Final Touches: Adobe Lightroom

Oh, and I’ve just realised, this was one of those photos which often pile up in a horrific backlog! Thanks to my fantastic shortage of time of coming online over the past few days.

The Time Theory of Ragas

Sitar, sarod, tabla, sarangi, raga…: today, they are common words ever in the Western Society. All that concerns with Indian classical music.

Indian classical music has developed through complex interactions between different groups of people, different in race and culture, throughout the history of India.

It is a tradition in which improvisation is what sets you apart from the rest. The written word is not the order of the day, therefore, it is believed that much classical music has been lost throughout the ages. 

Indian classical music, till today, is passed on by the guru (teacher) to the shishya (student).

However, all is not lost. There are many references to musical traditions in historic texts, often with description and detailed, written discussions of classical music.

Classical instruments, such as the sitar, sarod, tabla, sarangi, etc. are generally believed to have fallen into much use during the Early Vedic Age in India. Something of that time that still survives is the raga. 

In music, a set of eight notes make an octave. More technically speaking, if note Z is an octave higher than note Y, it means that the frequency of Z is exactly double that of Y.

raga is like a protocol for music. It lays down a set of rules to be followed while moving up or down the scale, the notes to be played, the notes to be ignored, and so on. 

Within the apparently strict-looking framework of a raga lies scope for tremendous improvisation. After all, as I said before, improvisation is what sets you apart from the rest in classical music. Let me give you an example to help understand. 

Suppose, a raga says that the only notes that can be played are: C#, D#, E, F, A and B. I can now arrange these notes in whatever sequence I want, by changing their order, repeating them, excluding some, and so on. Here are some examples:

  • C# A B F
  • A C# D# C# C# F A B
  • A B C# D# E A F F B
  • and so on.

There is one more thing about ragas that is unique. Before moving on further, please make yourself aware that there are countless ragas in Indian classical music, each with its unique style. And something else.

Each raga has an associated mood. 

The sole purpose of following a raga while playing an instrument, or singing vocals, is to impart a certain mood in the listener. Only if the listener is engrossed in the mood of the raga, only then can he/she feel the strange, calm feeling that one gets while listening to a raga. I have experienced it myself, and it’s a feeling that’s beyond the power of words to be described.

However, there’s a catch. For that, maybe you should ask the psychologist in the university. He’ll say this.

It is easier to impart a certain mood in a person’s mind at a particular time of the day. 

Well, whoever devised the ragas of Indian classical music seemed to be aware of that! Therefore, each raga is meant to be played at a certain time of the day. 

An infographic depicting the time of the day a particular raga is meant to be played. If you’re having difficulty in comprehending this, click on the image to lead to an interactive infographic. Image Credit: ITC Sangeet Research Academy

On a personal note, I play the sitar. It’s an instrument whose existence is gravely at stake, something I’m not at all pleased about. Having said that, I currently know to play three ragas: Bhairav, Yaman, and Khamaj. 

  • Raga Bhairav is meant to be played in the early morning (6 – 8 am).
  • Raga Yaman is supposed to be played in the evening (6 – 8 pm).

I have attended quite many concerts of classical music, and the maestros do follow these timings. I have played these two ragas both during the correct time, and also during the incorrect time. The difference is striking. 

Also, there are seasons associated with each raga! But that’s a story for another time.

A Silent Confession

For the past few days, I have been spending quite some time fiddling around with my blog. I’ve made it go through several minor changes. I’ve changed the subtitle of the blog. I’ve updated my profile, the About Me page too. Innovation and improvisation is my watchword.

Nothing remains stagnant with time. I have changed a lot, but the same changes to be reflected in the blog were long overdue. That was just the usual dusting and cleaning. What about improvisation? And innovation? That’s the rule of the day.

To begin with, I have changed the names of the categories from that boring, old outcrop to more witty ones. But is cosmetic change everything? 

No. If you’ve been following my blog for a considerable amount of time, you might have realised that I rarely lay down with pen and ink my thoughts and ideas, in this blog. I have now decided, it has been enough of maintaining  a business-like, formal outlook. I ought to be more open.

When I started blogging, I intended to make this a platform for science posts. That soon changed to include my photography too.

It is changing again. The new addition? A piece of my mind. 

What is the use of keeping my ideas holed up behind a firewall? Does it make sense to hold back my thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and opinion within a close circle encircled by an impenetrable rubber blanket?

And that’s not the only reason I’ve changed. Allow me to confess what I’ve often tried to make myself come to terms with.

When I became of age, I thought blogging for me is all about educating other people. I thought social networking is only for my advancement of knowledge. I’ve not realised how wrong I was. I had interest in physics, carried away by the same being the subject of my parents, when I am built for biology.

I, was carried away. By people’s emotions, their beliefs, thoughts, actions, choices in life, behaviour…… That’s the consequence of being an emotional person.

I just wanted to present a bloated image of reputation and self-respect to the world. I had got clues that that is not something desirable, and I had started to amend myself.

A series of revolts leads to Civil War. That’s exactly what is probably happening with me now. I feel like there’s a Civil War raging inside me. A war which continues to challenge my long-held beliefs, interests, and emotions. That’s because I’ve finally found the courage to look deep into my heart. And I’ve realised what I’m made of, what I’m made for.

Being an educator has always been my aspiration, and always will be. Earlier, I believed that was what I am made for. But I was horribly wrong. I realised that there is an insurmountable difference between the quality of my thoughts, ideas, and opinion; versus my other aspirations.

I feared to open up in front of people. I feared backlash. I feared loneliness. That was an emotional outlook. However, times have changed, and so have I.

Today, I have the courage to present myself to the world as I am. Of course, with fear buried deep under my mind.

Anyone who doesn’t have fear isn’t human. Or better to put it, every human has fear. Some confess it, some don’t. The ones who apparently appear “fearless” are the ones who know how to conquer themselves and safely tuck away the fear deep under the ground. 

My self, my purpose, my reputation; everything has now become immune. Immune to the fear of what people will say, having seen me taking decisions in life.

Earlier, I feared to trail the path less taken, although that was what I vehemently wanted to. Today, my sense of self is such that I will go by whichever path I believe would be beneficial for me, my mind, and my wishes. The fact that I have taken the decision today to make my mind public on this blog just reflects that.

Perhaps, my disillusioned sense of self was due to the fact that no one made me realise how much importance I should attach to myself, how unique I am.

Of the past 14 years of my life, the recent two years has been that storm that changes the course of a ship driven by the wind.

Influential people have entered my life, and have completely changed the way I look at myself, and also the way I look, feel and perceive the world.

To these people, whom I do not wish to name (since the long list would only bore you), are the ones who changed my life. They changed my destiny. They changed the purpose of my life. For what I am today, I owe a lot to them.

That’s precisely why I have opened a new category for blog posts today: The Pen and Ink. A category under which all my ideas, thoughts, beliefs, intuitions, opinions….. are collected.

Being your true self naturally leads to opposition. From other people. Well, there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my short stay of fourteen years on Earth.

Whenever people around you make a superfluous din, which is unjustified whichever way you try to look at it; it means that you are on the right track. 

All that I’ve spoken so far is only applicable if you have a proper conscience, which has been tuned precisely to differentiate the thin line between what is right and what is wrong. And an intellectual conscience never lies. 

That’s what gives me the confidence to speak out, and stand by what I want to. Because I know, my conscience will never lead me astray. But whether I listen to my conscience, that’s another story. 

Motion Focus

May 23, 2014: this lone blogger is alone at home, apparently jobless (although I realised later, I had much to do). Boredom is what I utterly hate the most. What do I do? Get hold of the camera, and start photography.

However, due to some reason, even photography did not press upon my boredom that day.

What I needed was something different. But what? I was doing some street photography in long exposure, so that I can make the viewer feel that the cars and people on the road are moving by making them blurred. Suddenly, I asked myself: Why not do it the other way round?  

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

People go about doing their work in this world at their own unrelenting, steady pace. Most of the “outsiders” are too are forced to admit themselves to that group. 

I have evidence of one such person who did not get carried away by this steadfast pace of the world, undaunted.

I cannot say I was not pleased with this first try! I had tried this long time ago when I had seen my dad shooting during a sports event, but was unsuccessful. You know, I’m feeling bad now. Why didn’t I try this earlier?

Of course, I was overjoyed. My frustration disappeared. Excitement overcame it. Why not take some more of these? That’s precisely what I did.

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

I noticed this man rushing home, with his son apparently acting as the driver, being seated in the front.

This reminds me of something. While going to school, I had often noticed a boy, presumably in Class 5 or 6 by his looks, riding a bike through congested traffic, with his dad seated at the back, with his hands on his legs.

I haven’t seen that occur recently. Why? The best speculation would be that law enforcement handed them down a heavy infraction. Although, that’s just a speculation. 

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

Indians are apparently characteristically lethargic in their work towards the end of their work.  And speed doesn’t have a limit when it’s time to go home.

Well, this gentleman portrayed it all: the image of the Republic of India.

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

You have seen cars, buses, and trucks speeding, right? Well, in India, you generally don’t get an infraction from law enforcement for speeding on a bicycle.

This guy seemed to take extreme advantage of that fact? Seriously, was he thinking he’s in a race track, trying to break the sound barrier?

Lots of racing, indeed. Just one evening in the balcony, trying to take motion focus photos, made me realize how much”speeding” takes place right under my very nose, every day.

In the USA, trailer trucks are a common sight, right? Well, unfortunately, in India it is not so. Our roads are much too bumpy for a smooth ride for a trailer truck. Nevertheless, at least in my locality, there is absolutely no shortage of excavators. 

Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar (CC-BY-SA)

I always thought, and was well-knowledged to reason that driving an excavator is not child’s play. Just as an example, to steer it left you turn the steering right, and vice-versa. There are several other complications. 

This ace of a driver seriously put into question the legitimacy of such a belief. True, drivers in India are aces, thanks to the “stupendous” condition of the roads, but I doubt all are like the one behind the wheel of this!

This project was really a learning experience for me. I have finally accomplished what I always dreamed of. However, along with it came problems.

Take a close look at the date when the images were taken, and you would understand the tremendous backlog I’m faced with right now!

You may view more of my photography, preferably on my 500px profile, or if you consider, my Google+ Profile. 

The Looks

My small brother, he is 9. Believe me, he is one of the naughtiest boys round here (not to speak about my “sophisticated” mischief).

It has now become a rule of thumb that there will be a dispute between the both of us at least once every day. It has become a protocol 🙂

Notwithstanding his mischievousness, he can sometimes be completely different. One look at this image will convince you about what I’m speaking of.

My brother playing with the new Lumia phone which my mother bought recently. Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar

See that cold look on his face? That’s the cold, calculated look that he gives whenever he is extremely preoccupied with some task. In this case, it is playing Rail Rush on that Lumia phone.

I personally find this type of cold and calculated look odd, probably because I’m absolutely used to disputes with him. 

He will never pay any attention to you, even if you poke or make fun of him, when he gives this look. It’s a silent reminder, which goes like, “Do Not Disturb, You Won’t Get Anything.” This is one of his hidden qualities, albeit hs naughty nature: when he starts something, he’ll stick around till the end. Children will be naughty, they should be.

He has a friend, one whom he describes with his own mouth to be his “best friend”. A guy known as Jishnu, who too is no less.

The only difference is thatpeople think that he gives less trouble than my bro, Ribhu. Let me tell you, the truth is that unlike Ribhu, Jishnu is mischievous. He does all the mischief behind people’s back (not to speak of myself).

The kind of “introductory” looks you’d expect from Jishnu, especially in the afternoon.   Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar

You know, some people have their own, unique, and often disturbing way of identifying themselves. Jishnu is one of them who identify themselves with irritating characteristics.

The most typical times when he likes to visit our house is when people least expect outsiders. Like when you’re having lunch, enjoying an afternoon siesta…….get the idea, right?

Why? To play with my brother, of course. You’d expect them to play something like table tennis, cricket, or football, being children, right? I have evidence to the contrary of your stereotypical expectations. They join in together to build models using LEGO Bricks, play computer games, play as Secret Agents to the President, etc.

In case you’re wondering how the scene looks, here’s a peek.

This is the scene I’m talking about. Of course, they’re at the PC.  Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar

Besides, that Jishnu especially loves to mess with me in the afternoon, more so when I am enjoying a siesta. To tell the truth, I don’t get much sleep in the afternoon, and when I do, there’s good reason for it. 

This is the look he gives me when I snarl at him for waking me up from my afternoon sleep.  Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar

I don’t like being woken up.

The Amby: The Pride of Kolkata

The famous Hindustan Ambassador.  Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hindustan Motors
Hindustan Motors, or HM, was founded in 1942 at Port Okha, Gujarat. However, in 1948, operations were moved to a place known as Uttarpara, situated in the Hooghly District of the Indian state West Bengal.

It was founded in 1942 by B.M. Birla.

HM is currently continuing operations at its Uttarpara Plant. The same place where the famous HM Ambassador is produced.

HM is one of the only automobile manufacturers in India. However, its Uttarpara Plant was the first, and currently the only integrated automobile factory in India.

HM has been known to have a close technical collaboration with the Japanese automobile manufacturer, Mitsubishi Motors.

Undoubtedly the most famous creation of Hindustan Motors is the Ambassador, which is widely used as a taxi, and as official government vehicles.

The Hindustan Ambassador
The Amby itself is based on a British car dating to 1954, the Morris Oxford.

The initial Ambassador was almost a ditto copy of the British Morris Oxford III.  Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Despite its British origin, the Ambassador is a car totally manufactured in India.
It is tagged as the definitive Indian car, and is often called “The King of the Indians Roads”.

Any why should it be not? The Amby is used by almost all elite government officials. Ranging for the Prime Minister, the President, and Defence Ministry, to the Personal Secretary of a state’s Chief Minister.

This is a familiar sight of Indian roads. In 2013, it was rated as the world’s best taxi by BBC.

When HM rebuilt the Morris Oxford III in India after production was stopped in Britain, it was built for Indian roads.

Many are aware what I mean by “Indian” roads. An average “Indian road” is as good as the ‘torture track’ that every new automobile has to drive through during its very first test drive!

Uneven Road Surface, potholes, and dogs and cows running through streets are characteristic of many Indian roads. Some roads are as good as mud tracts. It’s better to trek there than to walk on foot!

The Amby was designed to survive all these. It has a high ground clearance, and has repeatedly been praised by the Defence Ministry for its superb off-road performance.

And taxi drivers are all praise for it, many of whom only bother to put it in for maintenance as regularly as they change their toothbrush!

How long do people use a single toothbrush? Around  2 to 3 years! Doctor uncle says, “Change it every six months.” I bet he doesn’t himself!

The Amby on the production line at the Uttarpara Plant.

Comfort is the cornerstone of the Amby. I have been on many car models, even on luxury cars, but I’ve not found the seats in any more comfortable than those of the Amby! 

Low maintenance cost, superb off-road performance, built for Indian road conditions, best-in-class comfort: it’s all a power-packed punch. Get you that in any other car? No. It’s dependable, and has huge leg space, along with a full boot to pack up.

A real multi-purpose car!

That’s what has kept the Amby alive. It was banned in 2011 for failing to meet Indian emission standards (which are, BTW, one of the most lenient in the world). However, it soon overcame that hurdle with R&D, and the Amby is back onto the streets.

Despite having undergone hundreds of internal changes in the dashboard, engine, power steering, disc brakes, and the like, the exterior structure of the Amby still mirrors the Morris Oxford III. 

Like many other things, this is an “Indianized” artifact of British history left back in India, that has become the identity of the country.

After all, an Ambassador with a red beacon on top has been the ultimate symbol of power in India for decades.

After 26 Days…….

This year, the clouds have set in a bit too early. That is obviously something that is not at all appreciated by an astrophotographer!

We normally have a clear sky here in Kolkata, during the month of March. But not this year.

That was kept me from pointing my camera at the Heavens.

Notwithstanding the horrible conditions, I did point my camera two times. The first was an utter disgrace, but the second was much more pleasant.

What I managed to get.   Image Credit: Sagnik Sarkar

“Inefficient” Production!
The image I have showed you here is just one of the three light frames I had captured during the session.

If that surprised you, let me tell you that on average, I keep less 40% of all the images I ever take with my camera.

“Inefficiency” in photography is like an indicator of my presence! 😉

The Frugal Reality
Summer has approached. How do I know that? It is indicated by the 365 days’ calendar rolling into April’s court.

Summer months are mostly dreadful. They are full of clouds blanketing the sky. On top of that, there is horrible atmospheric seeing due to the high humidity.In one phrase, the “time an astrophotographer dreads”!

What Happens to the Unlucky Astrophotographer!
It’s only when I take out my telescope and try to look through it at high magnification do I realise how horrible atmospheric disturbance is in summer. Besides, you can’t rule out the possibility of ruining your instruments in unannounced rain.

Just when you have hushed up and somehow managed to pack up all your laptops, instruments, cameras, and telescope, and have fled indoors, precipitation ceases to exist! 

Technical Details & Annotated Version
Yes, it’s time for the bitter dose! The EXIF Data.

Date & Time
Date: March 28, 2014
Time: 20:39 IST (15:09 UTC)
Instrument: Camera
Model: Sony NEX-3
Focal Length: 18 mm
Focal Ratio: f/3.5
Exposure Time: 30"
ISO: 200

Calibration Frames
Dark Frames: 3 (30", 20", 10")
Bias Frames: 3 (1/10", 1/20", 1/30")

Post Processing
Calibration: DeepSkyStacker
Histogram Stretching: Adobe Photoshop
Final Touches: Adobe Lightroom