Sunday, April 28, 2013

Uh..There's a Singularity in my Soup....!

A stitch in Time will confuse Einstein”

At every singularity or point of inflexion in the Universe- whether physical or abstract- strange, unpredictable and exciting things start to happen-say, at the brink of a black-hole, or at a spot where geography takes a sudden turn, or at sunset - the sandhikaal where dark embraces light. ..when…mundane objects assume weird dimensions…Make for the spot, if ye seek for Adventure in Ideas..”

The first quotation is from JIR- The Journal of Irreproducible Results, and the second manufactured a while back by the author of IK, that is Yours Truly, beg pardon…

For those who came in late, etymologically the word ‘Singularity’ arose in a mathematical context, and was subsequently borrowed by various other disciplines including Humanities. In the context of Mathematics, it is a point at which the derivative does not exist for a given function but every neighbourhood of which contains points for which the derivative exists.” Derivative, as students of Calculus will tell, is the change in value of the function for a small change in the value of the variable, and is the indicator of ‘area of predictable-ness’ here..It could also be defined as a point where a measured variable reaches un-measurable or infinite value, for example in the function f(x)= Lim 1/x as xà0. Thus, things are predictable at every point in the neighbourhood, but not at the singularity. Naturally the gender of the noun ‘singularity’ is feminine, ha, ha, ha…just joking बरं … 

John von Neumann used the term in relation to technological change thus:

"the ever accelerating progress of technology ... gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue." 

We suppose a time-warp could be cited as an example of 'singularity'. A geometric example of a singularity is explained in the accompanying picture.
Tschirnhausen's_cubic: singularity at (0,0)
Our hypothesis today is that what makes the North East so wildly fantastic is the existence of major singularities in the terrain, as well in the affairs of humans, plants and animals, he, he, he..!

These are two places in the North East, which have no duplicates anywhere else on this globe. Why Cherrapunji (or Mawsynram, a few km away) is the rainiest place on Earth or why birds commit suicide in Jatinga Hills, has always been a mystery. After a series of personal visits to these exotic spots, and after interaction with the local tribals, we conclude that the apparently unrelated phenomena are but two aspects of the peculiar geographical placements of the spots. That is, geographical singularity lies behind the shenanigans.

You’ll find videos of this trail on Youtube, many of them prefaced with the words: “The most dangerous railway in the world..”. Till last week perhaps, we ascribed the sensational words to the endearing propensity of You Tubites for exaggerating things, in order to magnify their own cause. The journey last week with Missus converted us to The Cause!

This treacherous track extends from Lumding in Central Assam, south of the Brahmaputra, to Silchar, deep inside South Assam. The whole 130 km route bristles with Military presence, and the fire-power is unbelievable. Ordinary soldiers carry SLRs and revolvers, and the rest, especially the PSOs, carry the more compact AK 47s along with their revolvers. The commandos are shielded 24x7 with bullet-proofs and helmets, so deadly are the insurgents. We travel in the sole AC Chair Car in the procession of bogies in the Hill Queen Express, which is guarded by five AK 47 wielding PSOs each at either entrance. That makes our task of shooting the trail with our camera quite tedious, but we did it with due cooperation from the personnel who all bank with us, God bless Chabiwala Bank!

For a large part of the year, the NE Railway is constrained to suspend the service on account of breaches and explosions on the tracks engineered by the Groups. The latest such break taken by the Railways was in October 2012. A few days before our own journey, two Kuki Militants were apprehended removing fish-plates just before Lower Haflong station. The strife is as usual for and against autonomy.

“Haflong”- the name has an exotic ring. Its beauty is haunting. It’s one of the cleanest places in the North East, elevation being around 1700 ft. The place is surrounded by the Borail Valley and at least 200 days in a year, clouds descend into the valleys and it invariably rains in the town. Strong winds sweep the Jatinga Hills. That partly accounts for the cleanliness and the low temperatures. A new lesson is learnt by us this time- that the ‘absolute’ altitude of a place does not have any bearing on the beauty of hills so long as the valleys and ravines are deep. Only you’ll not get as breathless, and maybe the temperatures are higher by a couple of degrees…But then Haflong is Haflong because of the ‘singularity’ we are going to talk about..

The Dimasa tribals are the originals here. Since they are one of the Bodo like tribes, they are supposed to have settled in Assam even before the Ahoms came. Di masa  stands for ‘large water’, that is, the Brahmaputra, and they were the original rulers of Dimpaur, now in Nagaland plains. The Dimasa form 43 % of the population of Dima Hasau district (earlier NC, that is North Cachar), rest being the Kukis and Nagas (Mar). The warring groups are the deadly NSCN (I-M), that is the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), DNRF or the Dimasa National Revolutionary Front, KLA that is the Kuki Liberation Army, and IPF or Indigenous People's Forum, a non-Dimasa tribal body. The local Government is with the Dimasa Autonomous Districts Council.

If you recall our tribute to the gallant Col.H.S.Kohli, the ketchup episode took place right in the Cachar forests, and as we pass the village Bada Nagadun where it all happened, we silently bow to the Guru’s True Son, and mumble….Satt naam waheguru..!

So, Cherrapunji and Jatinga. The Google terrain map of the area is quite graphic. We give below the HTML output which can be explored to one’s heart’s content.  Both Cherra and Haflong lie in the terai of the lower Himalayas which commence their ascent after the Bangladesh plains. Cherra is  200 km to the west of Haflong. They both are thus in the ‘twilight’ area on the Bangla border, lying in the shadows of a singularity where the flat surface suddenly wakes up, shakes itself, and starts a steep jog northwards. The joint where She[i] welded the plains to the mountains is our ‘singularity’! You have to click (-) 6 times and then click TER- 

Sohra or Cherrapunji is an unusual place, both ethnically and geographically. Ethnically, it is an area with a substantial quasi-Hindu population, and a dominant tribal allegiance,  the Sacred Forest of Mawngap having an overbearing presence. An Ashwamedha like ritual is performed here each year around during tribal festivities. Don Bosco, the Evangelist of the North East, had vision enough to accommodate the tribal aspirations, while Sankardeva proved a little less flexible..and hence the predominance of Christianity in the North East..

From the MSL to an altitude of 5000 ft., the Cherra ascent is abrupt. Clouds which when hovering over Bangladesh, considering themselves exalted, suddenly come up against the Cherrapunji hills, and naturally precipitate in no mean measure.  This kind of precipitation is technically called 'orographic'.  One night, when YT and Missus were put up in a Cherra resort, it rained 12 inches flat is a period of 8 hours..Annual rainfall here is 500 inches…

The wonder that is Cherrapunji therefore, owes to the singularity subsisting on the Bangla-Meghalaya border.

Jaitnga is more complex. This is ‘arguably’ the theatre of the most intriguing avian phenomenon, anywhere on the globe, and has received the attention of no less a bird than Dr. Salim Ali….

Dr. Salim Ali: Shankar Paramarthy's interpretation
The North-easterly winds have a run of Jatinga valley in the months of September to November . Most of the 40 odd suicidal species breed after the monsoon, and the birdlings are in the learning mode during the post monsoon months.  The birds with the suicidal tendencies are the Pond Heron, Kingfishers, Tiger Bittern, Black Bittern, Little Egret etc., around half the casualties being Kingfisher kids. The Kingfishes, any way, is not a bird of flight. Winds of over 20 km/h, qualifying to be called ‘strong breeze’, funnel down towards the Bangla plains during September-November when it all happens. Here is the governmentspeak ( on the climate:

The Dima Hasau district can be divided into three distinct Zones South to North. The Southern face of Borail Range receives considerable high precipitation. The northern face falls in the rain shadow of the Range and consequently precipitation is much lower. The northern part of the district around Langting is one of the driest and hottest parts of Assam. The central part has a cool and equable climate. Cyclonic disturbances and storms occur frequently in Surma valley but seldom visit Dima Hasao district. This is due to shielding effect of Borail Range. Thunderstorm is quite frequent during summer months. Mist and fog occur the winter months. Frost is unknown, even in depression. Light to moderate winds blow from North or northeast, expect during monsoon when the wind blows from southwest.

As our Dimasa friends posit, the birds, by the time they reach the Jatinga valley turning, are worn down by the winds to a vegetable state, and they head for succour following the beam of the nearest light source in sight, and in the process become food for the tribals, there being no PDS…

Our Dimasa driver says all birds taste just like pigeons..for another authentic report, check
We end the dispatch with some snaps we took and movies we shot.

Cherrapunji view point
You enter Cherra here
Haflong from Haflong Point
Jatinga Valley

Baby kingfisher on tower parapet wall

Missus with Rajanikanth @ Jatinga watch-tower
Penitentiary for surrendered militants @ Haflong (ha,ha,haaaa...) 
Feel the Jatinga valley winds, North Easterly clouds swooping down. Peak in the middle is 7000 ft.
Valley view from Abraham's Point


[i]  From the feminist slogan “I saw God. She is black.”

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