All posts by Bharath

Shenzhen Survival Guide – Part 2 – Commute

This is from 2017. Scroll down for updates from 2019.

Between the last blog and this one, I have travelled to Shenzhen another 4 times.  I have survived through one typhoon and multiple flu episodes during the same time in Shenzhen. The construction landscape is so dynamic that the city manages to have some surprise in store every time I land. The last time I visited the place was in mid January (this month).

Deng Xiaoping's statue gets to look at the city of his dreams from Lianhuashan Park
The view that Deng Xiaoping’s statue gets to look at the city of his dreams from Lianhuashan Park.

For any person living far away from Mainland china, the best way to get in and out of the city is to catch a flight to HK airport and use the ferry. They now have an all new swanky port at Shekou!  Try to avoid having a checked in baggage to save precious time. For most part of the day, the ferries are 1 hr apart. It does not matter whether you have a checked in baggge or not, you have to have about 2.5 hrs of margin time between the flight landing time and the ferry departure time. The ferry takes only about 20 mins to cover the distance between HK airport and the Shekou port, but rules are rules. Immigration is a breeze. From the new prince bay port at Shekou, one can take a shuttle to go to the old port. Metro station is closer to the old port. Taxis and buses are also available at the new port.  For departures from HK airport, arrive 4 hrs before scheduled flight departure at the Shekou port. You can choose to check the baggage in at HK airport or at the ferry terminal itself. Be sure to carry Chinese Yuan (Remnibi) to the port (I have had one hell of an experience by not following this guideline, and that should make for another story). They do not accept any card (including union bank card for the smarties who are reading this, smiling and saying “I have a Chinese bank account and a union bank card!! he he he!”) and there is no ATM at the new port as of today. Do not forget to visit the airlines counter once you get to HK airport to collect your tax refund coupon of 120HKD which you can avail at the tax refund counter!

The new prince bay port at Shenzhen
The new prince bay port at Shenzhen

Inside the city, metro is the best way to commute. Choose an accommodation that is near a metro station; ideally near a metro junction such as “The windows of the world” station. Airbnb should work fine, but take care to report to a nearby police station and register yourself (They freak out if you are a foreigner who is off the radar. Read the instructions on your landing card for updates on this). Buy a Shenzhen-HK Tong (metro-card) to make your life easy. It looks like the image below –

Shenzhen-HK Tong
Shenzhen-HK Tong

It costs 50 Yuan and you need to add additional 50 Yuan at the minimum to start your commute. It is totally worth it. It works from a couple of cm. So you need not pull it out of your wallet to swipe. You may need to visit a major station such as “The windows of the world” to buy this card.

Shenzhen grows faster than it’s metro. There are many places worth going where the metro won’t take you. For all such places, use Didi (Chinese equivalent of Uber). I have very rarely needed to take a Taxi though. Shenzhen is relatively free from pollution (compared to Shanghai or Beijing); Whenever I get a chance, I walk.

I have not needed to take a bus so far (other than the free shuttle from prince-bay port to older Shekou port). So I can’t speak much about it. But, given the reach of the metro, metro + Didi works just fine.

Updates from 2019

Metro : The Shenzhen-HK Tong is so passe now. Wechat is the new cool tool that solves just about everything in Shenzhen. I will cover the wechat howto in another post. The Shenzhen-HK Tong is still good to have as a backup when you run out of juice in your mobile phone. I had this one situation when I checked-in into a metro station using the phone, but the phone died before I got to the destination station. I just walked up to the help center and explained in broken Chinese + English. But they probably understood the sign language more than spoken words. The guard at the metro was quite helpful. He pulled out a map and asked me to point to me starting station. I had to then pay the remaining amount using my Tong and was let to go. Could also pay using cash here.

Commute to HK airport: Ferry is still my favorite. All the more so because of the unrest in HK. Almost all of the points mentioned above hold true. The port has become better though with more facilities.  There is finally an ATM at the port and the ticket counters now accept Wechat or Alipay. But there are times when Ferry is not an option. The first ferry starts at about 7:00AM. Check the latest timetable here. So if one has to catch a flight before 11:00AM in the morning, Ferry is a risky option. In such cases, going through Huanggang port makes more sense.

Huanggang port details : 

  1. Catch Didi to get to “Huanggang port departure hall” (type this exactly in the English version of the app.  Yes!! Didi has an all English version that actually works.
  2. You will get here

    Courtesy :
  3. Ask around for Limo. Usually you get dropped on 1st floor. You have to go down to ground floor. Get here –
  4. Buy a ticket to HK airport. Should look like this.
  5. You will be guided to go through passport control. You will get on the HK side and be made to wait here
  6. As soon as 4 passengers are ready, you will be taken into a Taxi and escorted to airport. There will be a in vehicle check.

The total journey to airport after you reach Huanggang port can take anywhere between 1.5 hrs to 2.5 hrs. This includes wait time, immigration time and the transit time. So please keep margins accordingly. Typically you are in good shape if you are at the port 4.5hrs before the departure.

Shenzhen Survival Guide – Part 1 – Information Channels


Bridge connecting Shenzhen and Hongkong

Given the increasing attention deficit that the youth is suffering from, I decided to split this one into multiple posts. The series is for relevant for any of the following groups (in the decreasing order) –

  • People going for a short period of work to Shenzhen.
  • People who want to do a hardware startup and just figured out that they need to go Shenzhen. It is the Mecca of electronics.
  • People who travel to Shenzhen often (>2 times a year)

I am writing the post on Information Channels first, because communication is more important that anything else. I can’t (for that matter no one can) describe Shenzhen in every detail in one book let alone a blog post. With the right tools to search and communicate, anyone can figure out the rest.


The most important basic human rights are – access to clean and healthy air, water, internet, food and shelter (in that order). I don’t believe I have any fish as my audience. So, I don’t need to write about getting air and water in the right proportions in Shenzhen. And to the relief of the land animals, at the least with respect to these two elements, china is no different. But when it comes to internet, if the literary critics allow me a small degree of freedom, china is “infoccating” (intentional double c for the effect). To the uninformed, this is the realization sequence –

  • Our hero lands in china, goes to the hotel, connects to wifi to figure out a few things. Types something in google and nothing happens for a long time. Somebody had mentioned Baidu to this goody-2-shoes and so he types and yo! bingo ! internet!!. But then, it slowly dawns upon him that majority searches need translation. Also, Baidu’s AI has much to learn. Google natural language search through the years has unknowingly let us become dumb once again.
  • Then he goes to a restaurant and looks at the menu. Recalls that he was bad at Pictionary anyway.  The smarty pants picks up his phone with a grin and tries google translate ….. nothing happens…. 2 mins.. still nothing…. and finally realizes that he has hit the aptly called Great Firewall of China once again!! Now what?? Act like a monkey so someone may toss a banana or two and finally get something vegetarian to eat!

Google services are Firewalled in China except in few companies and the higher end hotels. So are Facebook and twitter.  Whatsapp works though! You see, Zuckki did not pay $19B for nothing. So what is the way out? VPNs to the rescue. It is said that even a 2 year old in china knows how to connect to VPN. But not all VPN services are really useful. Specially the free ones.  After many trials and errors, I have locked on to VyprVPN. Use the paid version. It costs about $10 a month at the moment. Totally worth it in China. Do not forget to cancel the subscription once you return. It is easy to get fleeced with automatic monthly subscriptions.  Chinese firewall is not that easy to breach, the VPN keeps getting disconnected if you try the usual suspects – HK, any site in US, South East Asia etc. Try something exotic like Argentina or some eastern European country.  Argentina was my personal favorite. As an alternative to all of this, I tried working with Baidu services for sometime – Maps, Translate etc.. But gave up after sometime. For two reasons.. 1. They suck. 2. With the phone permissions that you need to grant them, you have basically sold your soul.

VyprVPN Logo
VyprVPN Logo

For communicating with people, Wechat is a must. It is even better than google translate. Google translate on a VPN or even otherwise takes 2-3 seconds to turn around.  Wechat does it under 1 second. In my cumulative stay of greater than 20 days, I have not come across a single person in China without a Wechat ID.  Wechat features an inbuilt translator. Each person on either end can type in his own language and the other one can view the message with translation. Just walk up to any person you want to talk to and show your Wechat ID QR code. This is one gesture that most people recognize (even though they don’t agree countrywide on the basic gestures such as the gestures for numbers 7 and 10). The other person will scan it and you are instantly connected! Wechat is also more than just the one-to-one chat. It is a platform for chatrooms and other services. One such very useful one is the Spoonhunt service. The service helps find nearby restaurants sorted by cuisines and customer ratings.

Wechat - QR code scanning
Wechat – QR code scanning

To be able to do any of the above on the move, it is necessary to have good mobile internet. There are plenty of options for buying prepaid SIM card. The service that has maximum coverage in China is China Unicom. I usually walk upto a store with some Chinese currency and a passport and buy the appropriate package as per the length of stay and data requirements. Within Shenzhen, the nearest store is typically within 10 minutes of walk. Cash is a must in most places in China. 99.99% of the places do not accept VISA, Amex, Mastercard based cards. At the time of this post, ~200RMB is sufficient to buy a week’s worth of talk-time and data. Google hangout dialer or skype can be used for international calling whenever the tower signal is good. It can be hard using VoIP during the metro rides. In emergencies, GSM based calling is reasonable too. At the time of this post, it is 10RMB/min for a call to India. Although, I have not felt the strong need, some people have suggested using online services to pre-order a SIM card to the hotel – The convenience of getting the SIM card without having to walk to a store is probably worth it. Also, when you are buying a SIM card at the physical store, it is one conversation for which you can’t use google translate or Wechat services. The other advantage with the online service is that you can share the Chinese phone number in advance with the people concerned. There is also an option for a pay-as-you-go permanent Chinese phone number. In my last visit, I used the VPN service from 3gsolutions and found it to be good, infact better than VyprVPN. It is a bit pricey though at $7/week. The VPN service works even for people who have not bought a simcard from 3gsolutions. For people who want to frequent between HK and Senzhen, refer to this –

China Unicom Store
China Unicom Store

The Mosquiteer! – Reprise

I am writing a blog almost after two years of silence. There is a good reason for the silence as well as the breaking of it. My daughter kept me very busy – That answers the first part. The mosquitoes got back at me.. and not just me, Radhika (my wife) too. My last post was ironically about my fight against mosquitoes when I was trying to secure the home and the surroundings before I got Anushka (my daughter) back to our Bangalore home from the maike at Pune. So I had to write this and get back at the mosquitoes again. Let me begin with some drama –

The Fall

On June 2nd, we were waiting for our Bangalore-Pune flight boarding to begin. I was in some sort of in-cohesive mental and physical state. Suddenly Radhika, who was until that moment running around Anushka, said – “Hey! we are at the wrong gate. What are you doing??” I turned around and saw, she was right! Run!! We were the last people to enter the flight. We were even lucky that they let us in. I still wonder where I got the energy from to run in that state. Earlier that day in the morning, the day started quite normally. We sent Anushka to her pre-school and started taking a peaceful morning walk. A little while later, Radhika went to shop some vegetables, I was preparing to go to office and suddenly I started feeling feverish. By the time Radhika was back, I was lying in two layers of blanket trying to feel normal. Immediately, she took me to the hospital. Columbia Asia is supposed to be a whatever * hospital and still they caused so much delay in just taking my blood while I was sitting (rather trying to sit) on the bench. Anyways, let me get back at them with all the *#& words included  in another blog. 2 hrs later I was diagnosed Dengue positive.

I was in a state of shock! Not just because it was Dengue, but because if there is a competition on paranoia about mosquitoes, I would be in the top 99.99 percentile range. Damn it, I even wrote a blog about it thinking I have mastered the art of keeping the pesky buzzers away. By evening I was having fever close to 104°F and paracetamol tablets weren’t really helping beyond an hour of relief. Radhika had started to feel unwell too. But it was not as bad as it was with me and so we ignored it assuming that it must be some minor viral fever and she just popped in a paracetamol. But since both were feeling unwell and there was Anushka to be taken care of, we decided to mitigate the risk and fly to Pune immediately. Thankfully my father-in-law is a doctor and runs his own nursing home in Pune with the home on the top floor and the nursing home in the lower floors.

Once we reached Pune, all was taken care of. I was immediately on saline and a cocktail of drugs was pushed into my veins within 1 hr of my arrival. Radhika was feeling all ok for the moment. A day later, her fever started to recur. But since I was the Jamai Raja and she wasn’t falling down like me, people brushed her complaints. Infact, she was taking care of me. Finally, on morning of 4th June, after repeated complaints, they tested her blood and she was turned out to be Dengue positive too. One hell of a Sati Savithiri. She decided to give me company even with Dengue. I hate the movie, but it was our little “The Notebook” moment. From that moment till 9th June, we slept together for the longest time ever!! I can’t remember much in between as it was just drugs and nightmares all through. And oh! yes, I remember the unbelievably bitter Papaya leaf extract too. Supposedly it helped, I reached a lowest platelet count of 75,000 which is considered very safe (but who knows if it really helped. Radhika drank Aloe Vera and she seemed to be doing even better). But there was one particular night I remember. My creativity suddenly spiked. I was thinking, blabbering and writing like never before (must be the tramadol doze, it works like Ganja). If the moment had lasted for 10 more hours, I would have probably solved all the unsolved problems in physics. But alas, I was juiced out after 30 mins. At that moment, I doubt started creeping in my mind that many of the products of genius such as Beethoven’s works, Mozart’s works or even my personal hero Feynman’s works are probably products of Hashish, Ganja, LSD or something like that. Can’t say for sure till we invent a time machine.

Although the fever had subsided, it took us a couple more days before we could start moving around. Even on 12th June, one floor felt like a major trek in the western ghats. The illness had left me feeling like I was part of some major gang war and I was flogged all over. I do not know if something could be worse, but Radhika supposedly felt even worse with major joint pains. She even almost fainted once due to low BP. Finally, we returned to Bangalore on the morning of 13th. The only good news was that Anushka did not get dengue and she spent time happy times with her maternal grandparents.

Back to Paranoia

The battle was lost, but the war had to go on. I realized I can’t fight alone. Some of us in our apartment (mostly dengue veterans) got together and discussed. We started fumigation using citronella and neem oil on a larger scale around the apartments. Got a very good contact in Bangalore to source the same at reasonable prices – Falcon essential oils. For homes, one can put the oils directly in a mist sprayer and spray it around. A mix of 80% citronella with 10% neem and 10% eucalyptus is quite effective as well as pleasant to the senses. Note that the odor is quite strong, so don’t spray it like your car cleaner liquid. Also, it does not help much to spray it all over the house. The spray has to be mainly used near the entry points for mosquitoes such as front doors, windows without insect meshes etc. For common areas in apartments, a minimum of 1 litre per acre is recommended. Since one can’t spray so thin and even, mix 1 litre in 100 litres of water and use a regular fumigation equipment to fumigate the common areas. Spray the oils at about 4:00PM as dengue mosquitoes are day mosquitoes and become active well before the regular mosquitoes start their onslaught. There are some conveniently bottled sprays such as the ones below, but they are way more expensive as compared to procuring from some local essential oils dealer –


Radhika and I started applying the Dabur repellant cream when we step out –


it says “naturals”, but it is not. As of now, 100% guarantee from mosquito bytes is provided only by a reasonably safe chemical called DEET and this cream contains the same. it’s safety on children is highly debated on the web. I wouldn’t take a chance given that it can cause neurological disorders. But it is certified by NIMA to be used even on babies. Natural solutions work, but only to some extent. For my daughter, I had to try various creams before finalizing on this one from Vitro –


Also, you get various citronella patches such as these – DaburPatches

It is recommended to use two of them simultaneously. One on the leg and one on the shoulder for best effects. But as I mentioned before, none of these natural solutions are 100% percent effective against mosquito bites.

For completion sake, I want to mention again that insect nets on windows are a must in a city like Bangalore as mentioned in my previous post. There are very good vendors such as the ones below (I have tried both and got excellent service)

Pinchood – Specialize in magnetic nets around the windows. But french windows are not exactly their area of expertize.

Delmen – Good at handling French windows and front doors. Might be good at normal magnetic nets around windows too, but I have not tried.

Even after doing all of the above, it is better to flush mosquitoes by using regular mosquito coils for about 40 mins in the evening with all doors and windows closed. You can go around for a walk to avoid all the Allethrin breathing. Once you are back, open all the windows (with meshes of course) and feel free to breath again. To make it even better, some fragrance from a sandal dhoop from Cauvery can help.

Lastly, I wrote this blog hoping it will spread awareness on prevention of dengue. Note that all I have written about is the last line of defense. The ideal way is to prevent mosquito breeding itself by making sure there is not stagnant water and blah blah!. You will find that on NHP site. But unfortunately, sometimes you don’t exactly have control on what your neighbours are doing.

The Mosquiteer!

If you have been following my blog, you would know that I am a new father. About a month ago I had to bring my wife and kid back from the Maike (Mother’s home in Hindi). One of the big ticket items on my list before I brought them here was mosquito control. Our area (Kadugodi) in Bangalore is one of worst affected in terms of mosquito infestation. The corporation doesn’t give a damn. What’s worse is that a size-able percentage of these mosquitoes are the exotic variety that spread DengueAedes Aegypti.

Aedes aegypti Courtesy:

Dengue is a very dangerous disease to ignore. It has no known vaccine or cure. The body can only be helped to survive and heal itself. In kids specially, it can be fatal. All this drove me to Paranoia.  In this post, I have listed the various methods of mosquito control that I have tried and the highlighted ones that seem to work best.


The best method of mosquito control is to simply mesh up the entire home. All windows/door/exit fans. We had already meshed our home some 3 years ago. What we had not anticipated was that the nets would tear in a few places within such a short period. I had to search for some kind of glue that will fix it. Finally, some pipe sealing glue worked perfectly. Once the nets were fixed, we were dealing with only a handful of mosquitoes per day that somehow managed to hitchhike a ride whenever someone was going in or out from one of the balcony doors or the main entrance. But to make the night miserable, all it takes is just one mosquito.  So, I had to take the war to the next level.

All out war

I had to try some of the usual suspects – Mosquito coils, liquidators etc. All of them worked, but I was worried about the effects they will have on a 4 month old baby. I myself felt drowsy in the mornings whenever I used a liquidator. I am pretty sure, it would do no good to a small kid. The other issue is that you need to keep using the liquidator day long as Dengue mosquitoes usually bite during the day . But some small harm still sounded better than Dengue/Malaria. I also tried the regular Dhoop (Incense). Dhoop is probably not as harmful to us as most of the commercial products. Also, the sandalwood fragrance is soothing. Overall, Dhoop seemed better than the regular liquidators, but the effects were very temporary.

In the middle of all this, I started wondering if I am the only guy who is struggling with this issue. Definitely this is an age old problem and someone should have solved it! I searched online and came across some mosquito killer machines. Although, I did not believe in their efficacy, I thought of giving it a try. I tried this one – Wantrn.



They claim two things – Lighting and a special TiO2 coating that emits CO2 to attract mosquitoes. The TiO2 coating claim is obviously a fraud. To emit as much carbon-dioxide as a human, one would have to heat about a Kg of TiO2. A coating would do nothing. I still had some hope that the lighting might trick the mosquitoes. There was no way to know other than ordering one for Rs.1000 and trying it out. The experiment was a disaster. Over a period of one week, under various conditions (light/dark, windy/still air, at various heights) the machine managed to catch zero mosquitoes! absolute zilch! I gave up.

Minimum Deterrence

Lemongrass. Note the bulbs that contain the oil. Courtesy :

I finally zeroed in upon some organic solutions. For example, Lemongrass oil is a very good repellent. Note that repellents are better than those that kill because, if you kill, you let evolution get the better of you eventually. If you just repel, you win! I tried making some oil using lemon grass and it seemed to work. But it turned out to be both cumbersome and expensive. Finally, I ordered some lemon grass oil from a local vendor who sold it for Rs.400/500gms. For an average Indian home, 500gms should last for about 6 to 12 months easily.

For using lemongrass oil as a repellent, pour about 2ml of the oil in about 300ml of water, shake well to form an emulsion. Spray the solution near the entrances. With the combination of lemon grass and the meshing, I am finally getting a good night’s sleep.  Also, lemongrass oil has a refreshing aroma. It is clearly quite harmless as it is also used in some forms of tea. It is quite surprising that such a cost effective and safe solution is not so popular.

Music 101 : The Practical Challenges

The total number of notes to decode are quite small in number. All in all, there are just 12 notes and their octaves. Since the octaves sound similar, registering just 12 notes should be enough to decode all the music in the world. Compare this to some of the other things we remember –

  • Thousand of faces
  • Before the mobiles came around, hundreds of telephone numbers
  • Thousands of dialogues in movies
  • Characters in a language script, words and their meanings
  • Innumerable axioms, theorems, formulas

If we just look at the number of notes, compared to all of the above examples, learning music should be pretty straight forward! But, in practice, it seems much harder. Why???

Our ears are not perfect spectrum analyzers. They were not meant to be. Music is something that humans invented (please don’t quote examples of singing dolphins and whales, when I say music, I mean really complicated music). Nature made our ears capable of distinguishing various calls, voices etc. to help us survive. Having fun was probably a by-product of evaluation that came much later in time and much lower in priority. While identifying a frequency, our ears get confused very easily due to some other aspect of the sound being different. Listed below are some of these aspects (The list by no means is exhaustive) –

  • Volume of the sound
  • Sequence of notes played before (Like hysteresis in electronics)
  • The time the sound is played for (Like hold time in electronics)
  • The instruments (The timbre. This does not play much of a role in discerning the relative pitch within the same instrument. But plays a role when one has to listen to one instrument and recognize a another note played in some other instrument)

Volume of the sound

Try to identify if the notes are going up or down in frequency when I play the notes in the below clip.

The answers are –

  1. Going up
  2. Going down
  3. Going up
  4. Going down

If you got it right, you have one problem less to bother about.

 Sequence of notes played before

Listen to the clip  I play below and identify if the last note in sequence 1 is higher or lower in frequency than the last note played in sequence 2.

The answer might surprise most people. The two ending notes in both the sequences are actually the same!


Listen to the clip below. The two sequences have the same notes in the same order, but a novice may not recognize this similarity at all.


Error due to change in instrument is one of the less serious problems and most of you may pass the below test. Take a listen –

I have again played two sequences with exactly the same arrangement of notes. But the second sequence has a note of flute in it. Do they seem similar in frequency to you? If they do, you are doing good!

In the next class, we will deal with only two notes C and G and try to register them correctly irrespective volume, sequence and timing.

Music 101 : The Math

Musical notes are related to each other through ratios of frequencies. Our ears have a roughly logarithmic scale. Therefore, pairs of notes which have similar ratios, sound alike in arrangement. As an example, in the below clip, I am playing a C4 and F4# first and F4# and C5 later (first on a flute and then on a piano). The frequencies are 261.63 Hz (C4),  369.94 Hz (F4#) and 523.25 Hz (C5). Ratios are 1 : 1.414 (√2) in both the cases. Note that the type of the instrument hardly matters in discerning the arrangement. 

Real instruments don’t produce pure tones, there are a lot of harmonics and each harmonic fades at a different rate. This set of characteristics of a particular instrument is called timbre. Timbre makes instruments sound different from one another although they ma be playing the same note.

Ears recognize tones with a frequency ratio of two to be in harmony with each other. For example, C4 (261.63 Hz) and C5 (523.25 Hz) are basically the same note but C5 has twice the frequency as C4. Therefore, a musical scale extends from one note to the next note that is twice the frequency.  Within a scale, most modern musical traditions have a maximum of 12 notes. 

Just Intonation vs Equal Temperament

Research has shown that for some not so completely understood reasons, we like notes that have a simple ratio of integers among themselves. The most basic example is that of the octave itself. That is, notes with a frequency ratio of two appear to be same note. The next smallest set of integers that can be used to form a ratio is 2 and 3. Infact, this happens to be the case with the notes C and G ( Sa and Pa in Indian notations). Therefore, C and G also happen to be the next most harmonious pair of notes. The Just Intonation temperament constructs all the notes within a scale using such simple ratios. More details here.

But, Just Intonation presents a practical problem. Singers don’t come with machine tuned voices. They would want to shift the reference scale as per their comfort and the mood of the song. If we want to shift the reference scale to another note other than C, then we have to re-tune all the notes around the new base note as per the ratio requirements. Imagine a pianist tuning all the strings every now and then to suit the singer. That would be disaster (although modern electronic instruments make this easy again). Musicians worked around this problem and approximated these ratios to the nearest numbers that formed a equal geometric progression. Such an arrangement is called Equal Temperament. For most people including several professional musicians, the difference between Just Intonation and Equal Temperament notes is not noticeable at all. Very few audiophiles and musical geniuses may be able to tell the difference between the two. More details here.Therefore, to make life easy, I will use Equal Temperament notes for all discussion from now on.

The 12 notes, the 7 major notes and scale shifting.

As mentioned previously, most modern musical traditions use a maximum of 12 notes within a scale.  Some Arabic scales use 24 notes while there are other cultures which use only 5. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of learning music remain the same. Therefore, I will continue to use the 12 notes with 7 major notes as the reference through the rest of the series. It was also discussed that these 12 notes are in a geometric progression. Therefore, it follows that the frequency ratio between each note and the next is 1:21/12.  Within these 12 notes, for reasons unknown (probably due to the obsession with number 7 and the cultural positive reinforcements over centuries), 7 of these notes happen to sound very natural and comforting when played consecutively. These are called the major notes in the west (Sargam in India). If we denote the step size from one note to the immediate neighbor as one, then the major notes can be represented as below –

Position Western notation Western numbering Indian notation
0 C Unison Sa
2 D Major Second Re
4 E Major Third Ga
5 F Major Fourth Ma
7 G Major Fifth Pa
9 A Major Sixth Dha
11 B Major Seventh Ni
12 C Octave Sa


On a piano, all the major notes are white keys. The minor keys are black keys. The same applies to Indian instruments such as the harmonium. We can now place the 5 minor notes between the major notes. These are just the missing positions in the above table. i.e 1, 3, 6, 8 and 10. The complete set is given below.

Position Western notation Western numbering Hindustani notation
0 C Unison Sa
1 C#/D♭ Minor Second Komal Re
2 D Major Second Re
3 D#/E♭ Minor Third Komal Ga
4 E Major Third Ga
5 F Major Fourth Ma
6 F#/G♭ Augmented Fourth Tivra Ma
7 G Major Fifth Pa
8 G#/A♭ Minor Sixth Komal Dha
9 A Major Sixth Dha
10 A#/B♭ Minor Seventh Komal Ni
11 B Major Seventh Ni
12 C Octave Sa



Piano keys with notations for reference


Now on, through this series, I will be referring to the western notation and the positions for ease of teaching. Positions are very useful in teaching relative arrangement of notes. If the difference in positions of two pairs of notes is the same, then the pairs sounds similar. Going back to the first example in this post, the position difference between C and F# is the same as F# and the next C. Therefore, the two pieces sounded similar.  I recommend that people use a piano/electronic synthesizer vs any other instrument for the first lessons on music as these instruments reflect the math in the music in the simplest manner. To test the theory of relative positions, you can try the following experiment – Play the two sequences below on a piano and check if they sound similar –

Case 1 : C, D, E, F, G, A , B, C (Positions are 0, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12)

Case 2 : C#, D#, F, F#, G#, A#, C, C# (Positions are 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13)

The two sequences played are the C and the C# scales. You can here me play it below –

Just for fun, you can try all the other 10 possibilities with different starting positions (D, D#, E and so on..) while keeping the relative positions between the successive notes same as the above examples.

Now that we have understood the theory, we can get started with the practicals. In the immediately following posts, I will elucidate the techniques for synthesizing and recognizing a small sub-set of notes which are the easiest to start with.

Modi – Middle path, anyone??

As always, opinions are quite divided about Modi and the change he will bring about. To some he is the silver bullet for all the problems that India faces. To others, he is the next Hitler who is going to exterminate all Muslims. There seems to be hardly anyone around who is taking a more pragmatic view of the man.

In 2002, I chose to do my graduation in Gujarat. I did so, very well knowing that it had witnessed one of the worst plagues in 1993,  an earthquake in 2001 and one of the worst riots in 2002. The reasons were simple. There was some fascination about Gujarat. The land of Mahatma, Sardar and now Ambani. The land from where all good/bad was imported into India. East India company had it’s first base in Surat. Parsis came in from Gujarat and the list goes on.. My close relatives were like .. “Are you crazy??, You want to get yourself killed?”. When I landed in Gujarat in Sept 2002, I felt vindicated. Surat was very different from anything that I had seen in Karnataka (including Bangalore). As they say, there was some energy in the air. Even the chicken center guy outside the college had something that you could learn from. Entrepreneurship runs in their blood.

Coming back to Modi.. There was some unmistakable efficiency about everything that happened around us. I saw the road in front of  our university getting converted to a concrete road. It was done in 3-4 months flat. In 2014, in the heart of Bangalore, I see that a much smaller section of road is getting converted to concrete since 1.5 years and is still in pathetic shape. Roads used to be always damn clean! And interestingly, I had not seen any sweepers in the morning. One day, on one of our early morning outings at about 4:00AM, I realized that the sweepers come in very early and swank it up well before the wake up alarms go off. Modi started the now famous Biennial Vibrant Gujarat programs. These programs are conducted in a different district each time and have a very energizing effect on the business in the chosen districts. I was lucky to witness the one in 2005 as it was in Surat. Come Navaratri every year and you could actually see what ppl outside Gujarat talk about. Girls on scooties go around without fear at midnight. Crime rates in Gujarat have always been among the lowest in India. Occasionally, you would hear a crime related to the diamond market (It is not surprising given that more than 85% of world’s diamonds are cut in Surat). But that’s about it. In 2006, the notorious Tapi flooded Surat for the n’th time. I visited Surat for the convocation ceremony 3 months after the floods and I could not see any tell-tale signs of the flood. A similar occurrence in Bangalore would have crippled the city for months.

On the whole, while it looked like while Modi was an able administrator, it is hard to pick faults in his predecessors, as Gujarat was almost always a front-runner on any good statistic. His specialty comes in the way of small innovations he does to make things more efficient. He is also  special because he works exceptionally hard. He has no family to run and works 24×7. On the negative side, it is hard to believe that he had no active role in the Gujarat riots. See this video and tell me he is doodh se dhulahuwa (A phrase in Hindi which means pure, washed of milk).

India is much more diverse than Gujarat. Moreover, Modi took reins of Gujarat when Gujarat was already doing good. It is easier to take good to better than it is to take bad to good. It is unfair to expect some magic in 5 years. But, mind you, he is very good at making small changes that are directly visible and will win him votes again while working on longer term improvements in the background. It is this trait that makes him a very good politician apart from being a good administrator. Also, considering Modi’s political maturity, I am sure 2002 won’t happen again. When 2002 happened, he was a political fledgling and had almost nothing to lose and everything to win. Now, with one bad move, he has everything to lose.

In summary, the road to glory looks like a long one and Modi will hopefully take us there without any events that we would want to forget about. Eagerly waiting to see a more vibrant India in 2024 voting Modi back to power.

Bansuri – The Hindustani Flute


Flutes are probably the oldest of the man-made musical instruments. A cut bamboo might have served as the first resonating column and the wind, the first flautist that inspired a passerby nomad. My guess is that the first flutes probably looked like the pan flutes shown below –


Image – Courtesy : Wikipedia

I theorize that the idea of making multiple holes within the same bamboo and to cover/uncover holes to produce different notes requires some ingenuity and would have taken several centuries if not millenniums before we got a transverse flute that looks like the one below –

File:Venu or Pullaanguzhal.jpg

Image – Courtesy : Wikipedia

This kind of transverse flute was independently invented by the Europeans and the Indians. The association of flute with Krishna (Indian god and an Avatar of Vishnu) indicates that this instrument was already quite popular around 2000 BC. Given that Krishna was a cowherd and played “cool” folk tunes for Gopikas, Krishna’s flute was probably closer to the relatively short south Indian Venu or the smaller versions of Bansuri than the modern north Indian bass Bansuri. Infact, it took nearly 4000 years before the Indians reinvented the Bansuri. Pannalal Ghosh(1911-1960) was one of the first musicians to employ the Bansuri for serious Hindustani Classical Music. In the process, he experimented with the bore size, number of holes and the length of the flute to invent the bass Bansuri that I am going to describe in more detail in this article.

A typical Bansuri covers 2 octaves. Depending on the construction quality and the bore size, some notes of the 3rd octave can be played too. Smaller bore sizes allow reaching higher octaves. Why? Smaller bore size means lesser volume of air. To sustain the standing waves in the flute takes a lot of energy. And to sustain notes of the higher octave takes even more energy. Therefore, with lesser volume of air, the higher modes of vibration become more viable.

You can hear me playing a D4 flute below.  The notes are D4 (fundamental), D5 (first harmonic, 2x) and A5 (second harmonic, 3x). I paid nearly 66$ for this flute and it is totally worth it.

What is this D4?? This is the lowest note that this Bansuri can play (technically, there is one more lower note, but this where the transposed C starts for this flute. In other words it is the scale of the flute). In Indian musical terminology, this would be Re. The fundamental frequency is 293.66Hz.

The Bansuri like all other flutes uses a resonating column of air to produce the various notes. The blowing end has a cork that blocks the energy from escaping from the blowing end. The other end is the first open hole. The fundamental mode of resonance has nodes on both the ends and just one antinode in between. Therefore the length of the column is half the wavelength. Here is an interesting puzzle..  If you actually measure the distance between the open ends, multiply this distance by 2 and name the value is λ, divide the speed of sound (c)by this λ, you would get a frequency that is higher than the note that you hear when you blow. Infact, when I tried this, I got an error of 10% !!!. Engineers like me would be jobless if simple mathematical models worked. Thank god, they don’t. The devil is always in the details. The actual phenomena is much more complicated than the simplistic theories of a both ends open pipe. For starters, the energy does not escape efficiently from only one hole. The next hole plays a part too. To test this, I tried closing the next hole and got a variation in the frequency. This proves that the simplistic assumption that only the closest open hole plays a role in deciding the frequency is wrong. Therefore, it means that the effective length of the column is actually more than the distance between the blowing hole and the first open hole. Experts who make flutes have to take this into account among several other such non-idealities. It is no surprise that a good concert Bansuri sometimes costs more than 10x that of a normal one.

To be cntd… The most important part – Playing the Bansuri

Make your own Baby Hammock

I became a father on 22-Apr-2014. As per the prevailing superstitions in India, one is not supposed to shop for a cradle till the baby is born (Nobody mentioned anything about making one 🙂 ). I made part of the hammock ready before the d-day. Got rest of the act together in a couple more days. My princess loves it. Cumulative effort including this documentation was about 6hrs (The 6hrs don’t come easy as babies keep everyone busy all the time)

First find a suitable place. Make sure the hook is strong enough and well supported. Hang S-links from the hook so that regular links can be then added.IMG_3892

Secure the S-links. IMG_3903

Add as many links as necessary to get the right length.  If necessary, add a ring at the end of the links to connect to the springs.IMG_3893

Add springs. Choice of the springs is the most important part of the hammock.  The effective spring constant has to be such that the assembly stretches neither too less nor too much. A good rule of thumb – A stretch of 15 cm with about 5 kgs of load gives decent results (Natural frequency of about 2Hz with a 3Kg newborn which will drop down to about 1.4Hz in 4 months  when the baby will be about twice the birth weight).  Pune being an auto-hub, made my life easy. I got these automobile springs within 10 minutes of search.IMG_3895

Make sure the springs are secured properly.IMG_3896

You may want to add one more ring at the end  to connect to the hammock hanger.IMG_3897

Since it concerns babies, it is better to put in some safety measures. The springs are the weakest link in the design. To be prepared for contingency, additional flex cables can be used to connect the top and bottom ring. The flex cable length should be such that there is no tension in the cable under normal circumstances, but when the springs fail, the cables should hold. IMG_4287


Find some hanger like component to hold the hammock. I found this nice hanger shaped steel rod. Use some thread to secure the hanger to the ring.IMG_4290


Use a nice cloth to cover up the not so nice looking mechanics. It is important to uncover the cloth and inspect the whole system atleast once in a week.IMG_4294

Tie the hammock securely. I used an old Saree. Old, used cotton Sarees are specially soft.IMG_4291

This is how it should look..IMG_4295

The hammock is ready for action!!  IMG_4296

But wait! Use atleast 10kgs to test the whole structure for 1-2 hours. Place the baby only after thorough testing.

The results seem good. My princess sleeping peacefully…IMG_4303


Look at her swing all by herself..


Savandurga Trek

Savandurga is one of the largest monoliths in Asia. I had been waiting to do this trek since more than a year. Whenever I travelled towards Mysore, I would look on my right and keep admiring this single rock beauty. I also had the perfect day in mind to climb it. It should be a full moon day and the next day should be a holiday. So finally, the opportune moment presented itself. Thursday the 17th was a holiday in view of the Great Indian General Elections and 16th was almost a full moon day. Harsha, Nikhil and I decided to climb on the evening of 16th . Nikhil was in-charge of the food,  me in-charge of the tents and equipment and Harsha in-charge of firewood. Nikhil and I did our duties. Harsha thought I wasn’t serious when I mentioned that he needs to get firewood. He hadn’t even arranged for some fuel. He was banking on Nikhil’s vodka bottle. We set off from Harsha’s home at about 3:30PM in the afternoon. Our hope was to cover a good distance while there is light and spend as much time as possible in one place at night. The view en-route was enjoyable too. Typical idyllic life. After about an hour’s drive, we lost track and wandered about for 20 minutes before getting back on track. Although the hill was visible all the time, we were just going round and round. We finally managed to get to the temple at the foothills. Parked our car and started off at about 5:00PM. Looks daunting, doesn’t it? Anyway, this is not where we started. We had to go around and find a more gradual slope. After about 20 mins of climb, we took a small break. We also noticed that a dog had been following us. It would later dawn upon us that it was not following, it was leading!  Thats Nikhil trying to catch up. Can you spot him? As per Pole (Harsha) the lizards’ way up. The view after another short climb of 10 mins. That’s pole. Nikhil slowly fading in. After more than an hour’s climb, we were still not anywhere near the top and it was getting dark already. Nevertheless, it was already beautiful up here. The water body is the Manchanabele reservoir. After one more quick climb of about 20 mins. We decided to camp for some time and wait for the moonrise. That’s Bangalore. The moon wasn’t showing up and we had no work to do. So we thought we will shoot a few ghosts. In the excitement, we forgot about the moonrise and the moon was already smiling upon us before we realized. Thats the Manchanbele reservoir gleeming in the moonlight. HDR-Moon-HighresFinally! The moonshot I was hoping to get when I thought of getting up on this hill. It is a combination of two photos. One with a 30 second exposure to get the city lights and another with a 1 second exposure to get the moon. We started our climb again. This time, with the dog leading us from the front. Reached the top in another one hour’s climb. It was quite windy and cold on the top. We were definitely under-prepared. We found one rock shelter and quickly finished our meals. We need all the energy to prepare the tent for the night. After a lot of struggle with the wind, we managed it!! We were not sure if it will stand the test all night. Nikhil dozed off. Pole the firewood in-charge finally got to work. Thankfully, he had got some matchsticks and camphor.Things weren’t looking up. We needed some dry grass to start the fire. The wind made it all the more hard. We were running out of camphor and matchsticks. Finally!! Got some warmth for about 20 minutes after 1 hour’s struggle. That’s our tent with the Nandi in the background. The moon was now almost at the zenith bathing everything in milky white light. You can see a faint Jupiter in the background. The night was crazy!! We saw some torch-lights at a distance. While Nikhil was sleeping peacefully, Pole and I got worried. It is not uncommon to get robbed in this area. So Pole and I were standing guard all night. And our weapons? Just a thick Lathi and a small knife. We had hid all the valuables(including my DSLR) behind a big boulder and were ready to give off the rest of the possession in the worst case. Finally at about 4:00AM, some of the strangers came close enough so that we could call out and converse. We then realized that it was just another group of trekkers. We then happily went off to sleep. The Nandi looking over the hills. It was morning and all our belongings outside the tent were still there. We started our descent as Nikhil wanted to be among the first ones to vote. The climb in the night in this part of the stretch with all that gear wasn’t easy at all That’s actually the sun! It was so cloudy. Managed to reach the city at about 9:00 AM. Dropped all the gear at home and went directly to the polling booth. Voted for Modi, came back home and dropped dead.