Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Lesson in Contradiction

It may sound cliched but i have to say it again- education comes from all sides and this time i got my education through two. One my own son and the other his friend. Can't differentiate the most important from the least of the two that i received so i'd better talk about it.

But first the conversations and the scenario... 
The son had just returned from office and after dumping his corporate bag on the dining table surveyed with some satisfaction writ over his countenance, his living room of the shared apartment. It looked made up and thus hugged his mother for the effort taken to transform the room which before he had left for office the same morning looked ravaged by hurricane. Then-
Son- Baby! it's seems u've slogged the entire was pointless explaining the bus and the route... and sure instead of being there in the Botanical park u were here working like a beast...what did u eat...haan! tell me...oh let me guess...have u eaten or not...
Baby - oh beta stop fussing over me...and get freshened up quick...we'll eat together. i have made something with all colors of bell peppers into it just as u would like...hurry! go take a shower and i'll lay the table.
Sonna expectant and excited about ma ke haath ka khana  hurries to his room but returns and hugs his Baby again exclaiming in delight- Gosh! i don't feel like touching anything. The closet looks so tidy...Baby this time do remember to teach me how to fold shirts and how to arrange all of my clothes this way...
Baby - Accha! accha! get ready fast na...the food will get cold...
Sonna hurries off to materialise in his lounge wear a few minutes later looking as relaxed as an infant bathed. Wet hair, uncombed, in boxer shorts and sleeveless vest in the kitchen to offer help. One look at the once overflowing but now empty laundry basket which were two and his face morphs into a grimace.
Sonna (hurls all in one go)- Ma...where is Varun's laundry...what don't tell me u washed those u should not have done's an invasion of privacy...don't u know that...he isn't even here...u should've asked first.
Baby now Ma who was arranging salad on to a plate felt a wave of panic rush through. " Hey Bhagwaan! why didn't i think of that...invasion of privacy...invasion of privacy..."

Within seconds Baby aka Ma taking out portions of the colorful food on two plates was ready with food and her cheery recipe on damage control.
Thus stoic in her composure and brushing aside the consternation feeling a sense of pride for her 22 year old son having the wisdom that she the 49 year old didn't have had said, " Chalo! sit down let's eat. Don't worry Varun will not get me wrong on this and i shall call him and apologize...chalo... taste and see... "
The food was eaten sans arguments and some guffaws. Sonna and Baby watching the favorite sitcom Frasier on the TV. (Connected via the hard disk. An honest attempt to show all the seasons that Ma aka Baby would've missed and must watch with him)

Few days later when Ma was back to base in her own country busy fixing her own house which looked like it needed some scrubbing here and there as she had been absent from this scene for about two weeks, a parcel arrives. Scribbling her signature on the courier's form hastily she finds it hard to prevent her eyes from getting moist. For good twenty minutes or so she caresses the parcel...runs her fingers over the letters which to her had more than just her postal address. Muttering within her breath...Sonna has sent me a gift...Chanda...Raja...Cheenoo...Guddu.. My Son...oh why did u have to do this...Sonna i miss u so much...wish u were here instead...oh beta...
The moist eyes had started to run. She didn't feel the need to open the parcel. Maybe later after her bath...after her pooja. Not now.

Thus afterwords the parcel was opened very carefully. Everything about the parcel was worth preserving...the outer covering, the bubble wrap. the gift wrap...everything and also the GIFT. But the note card that was inside the gift turned out to be the most PRECIOUS. It said,
"Dear Shivani Aunty,
Thank you for turning our house into a home. With lots of love, Varun."

She thought after her bath and pooja she would get over with the barrage of emotions flooding her and that she should be in a saner state instead what she looked like now was a perfect picture of a cry baby. Tears running here, running there and oh shucks some from even her nose. She remembered about her own call that she was supposed to make but didn't make. She remembered that she had defaulted on that apology. But that was not what had ripped open the floodgates of the tear dam. She was crying out of sheer joy. Joy when she saw the contents of the parcel. Immense joy for having emerged a winner at least this one time.
She sobbed and said to herself, " i knew it! i knew it!...  
Varun did read my intentions...oh Varun...Bless You Sonna...
Sitting on her bed and waiting to tide over the emotions and get sober she kept hugging the gift...her favorite color...wondering how Varun could have known about the color and her penchant for handbags, she waited till she was normal enough to have a cheery conversation.
Then she typed a message on her mobile and read twice before the dispatch feeling frustrated at how words did not quite match all that she needed to convey. Consoling herself that maybe she can do better when she speaks to him, she sent the message to Varun. Then a call to her own son. Ignoring the fact that he might be busy in his office and that it may not be a good time to have hello, hi, wassup conversation she anxiously heard the phone ring on the other side. She had to tell Sonna, share the joy and ask him so much.
He had answered promptly and had relieved her of all. "Ma! Varun had asked me about your favorite color, and he knows you have a thing for shoes and bags. Ma you can call him in the evening...moreover he will call you and talk to you himself...he has been meaning too... he had just called me to say that he's received ur message..."
After she had exhausted herself out over her admiration on the gift, she hung the gift on the bed where she lay her mobile next to the pillow and the note in her hand. And before she dozed off she had read the note over and over again. 

"We call an intention good which is right in itself, but the action is good, not because it contains within it some good, but because it issues from a good intention." 

"The closing of a door can bring blessed privacy and comfort - the opening, terror. Conversely, the closing of a door can be a sad and final thing - the opening a wonderfully joyous moment."

Last Sunday there was a very interesting article in the magazine section of The Hindu ( newspaper) written by Swati Daftuar. And since the education i had was first on invasion of privacy and later on good intentions i can understand why the article flashed in my mind's eye.The fact of the matter being that i'm not too comfortable with ' closed doors and averted eyes'. Maybe i had my growing up among nosy neighbors and home where i never felt the need for any privacy. But times have changed and even when i feel like gatecrashing all i do sometimes is call up before but most of the times just give up and wait for a chance meeting. This new world which seemed to expand earlier while i was growing up has shrunk for me too. Just like the writer of this weekend column called Armchair With A View. The article title being ' The strangers next door'.

-:Image Courtesy:-

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rendezvous with the Spirit

This is not trick photography. It looks exactly like that. i picked up what looked like a banana peel.

So right now i am garrulous about yet another discovery for which i should thank my olfactory senses. Walking down the road this early morn i was hit by a mild but delightful fragrance. As if someone wearing some exotic but mild perfume had just passed me by. i had to pause and turn around to see...
Then seeing nobody around i reconstructed tales in my imagination. Tales i had heard in my childhood about Spirits. i was told that if some good fragrance or aroma erupts just suddenly as if from nowhere then it means that some good Spirit was honoring one with it's company and that when that happens i ought to remain silent instead of exclaiming about the smell and in silence thank the Spirits for doing so because their companionship is nothing but blessing and protection in disguise.

Feeling good about the lore i continued with my easy morning stroll sans traffic and people. And then as the fresh, soothing and light morning breeze hit me i felt the shower of the same fragrance yet again. This time overwhelming me with a steady lingering floral perfume. i had just stopped then. And i am glad that i did that. For it gave me an opportunity to see and meet the good Spirit in person and have the most enjoyable tete-e-tete.

The spirit i had the brilliant opportunity to meet - Kanak Champa.
 It is a large deciduous tree with broad dark green foliage. Pleasantly surprised first at the reconnoiter and a bit irritated at my own preoccupation as to how i could have not noticed earlier i looked below on the road to see if there were any blossoms, intact for me to bring home. i was lucky for i found one partially if not wholly intact. There were plenty of others which looked like carelessly thrown banana peels. i picked some of those too.
Now they are sitting pretty on the granite slab i use daily to roll my chapatis with. The flower in the ubiquitous plastic cup with some water in it. My attempt to see them looking just so when i introduce the flower and the story of the Spirit to the rest of the family.

There's still some time left for me to surprise them with tea with banana peel. For it's a few minutes more to seeing them walking groggily to the living room. let's see if they are surprised if i show them this and ask them to tell me what it is.
As for me i shall bide my easy time with more of the Spirit. With the help of this book also a field guide. Trees Of Delhi by Pradip Krishen. And whatever i can imbibe from this field guide i would like to put it here if not for anything but for my sake. As it is an integral part of my rendezvous with the Spirit and more.
 That it is also known as the Dinner Plate tree because the leaves are used to make plates one can eat from.
The bark as well as the leaves find use among the rural folks to treat not only small pox but also wounds and itching. 
The long khaki flower buds that open like a banana peel into 5 slender segments reveal the pure white 5 petaled flower which are deliciously perfumed. No wonder then that it is a favorite food of the bats. For us Homo sapiens the flowers not only make our roads perfumed specially during the nights but are also believed to cure ulcers, tumors, leprosy and diseases of the blood. The timber which is durable and moderately hard and strong is used not only for making toys but also for high- class joinery, panelling, flooring and furniture.

i pick up the flower and look at it again. i hear myself talking..."So Kanak Champa how do i introduce u to my family...should i call u Muchkund or Kanair...Dinner Plate or Maple -leaved Bayur...or just Bayur or Katha Champa...
...Pterospermum acerifolium might just blow the fuse of interest out. i think Kanak Champa sounds very literary. Kanak meaning gold and Champa meaning a joy perfumed flower...
So very nice to have met u... 

                                         ... up close and so very personal... today! "

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Call

i came across this beautiful poster when i had typed free nature posters on my google search box. Then received some more education when i came across the words. First this-
Then more about the snail and maths in nature- 
"A snail builds its shell at a rate proportional to its size (see Nature's Numbers), resulting in exponential growth. An understanding of the exponential function is so important in today's world ..." i read the words in one of the blogs as i was surfing the blogosphere. Made a note of the blog by Mr Nathan Shields called because it sounded more meaningful and very similar to what i have to share today. 

i think something different something nice is happening to me. Maybe it had been happening although at snails pace and am reaping/realizing the benefits now. The results in my own composure and demeanor. Ever since my last holiday...especially after the call.
Finally i am noticing and appreciating acts of kindness that i had earlier not paid any attention to or rather had taken for granted assuming it to be my birthright.

i might be seeming to be so predictable and reading my blog must be as boring as watching paint dry. To go on and on and about the same. One painting only on my mind's canvas but can't help it even this time. The change in me for which the enzyme is a painting happening on it's own in nature which for want of it's real name i prefer to give my own nomenclature. Unknown Mauve .    
 And i don't own the skill to say it any better than this-
I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.... People think pleasing God is all God care about.  But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.  ~Alice Walker, The Color Purple, 1982
A couple of days back when my husband had just returned from office and both of us were enjoying tea with some hot and sour mundane gossips and some cookies of silence, my husband gets a call on his mobile. These days he's mostly on his phone. So assuming that it must be from his colleague and thus now there was nothing much to be had than hear his part of the shop talk which would be like any going- over- my- head calculus equation to me i scooted slyly and sat in the balcony with my compu. i had better things to do. i had to search the Unknown Mauve out.

It had caught my full attention the moment i had seen it. Mainly because of it's color. My favorite mauve/ lavender. The search on the internet seemed endless and more than feeling tired i was only getting overwhelmed and just too engrossed. To any outsider i would've appeared as someone who is deeply involved in some crucial humanitarian project or perhaps like someone taking a career oriented online exam.
Yeah sure a project/ exam alright. Maybe for my individual satisfaction if not for humanity/career. i had thus skimmed more than thirty and some ten hues of the kind and none of them remotely matched the Unknown Mauve.

Enter dear husband handing out his mobile to me, " It's Mr Mehta and he has the name..." 
It was rude on my part not only to snatch the mobile phone but having not a bit of patience either to hear him complete his sentence. Although i was in no state to realize my uncouth behavior at the time.
 Maybe twenty eight years in a row and knowing me inside out i was just too sure that hubby darling would not mind me being uncouth. Although even after knowing and experiencing for some years now he is yet to be immune to my talking loudly.
He still has to remind me at least once everyday, " Talk slowly and softly naa...kaan toh idhar hee hai..." ( I am all ears talk softly)

Me- Hello Mr Mehta how r u ?
Mr Mehta- Hello! mam i am fine and i have called about that flower. That blue had asked me about the name...well what i  have found out is that it is called azzerotum.
Me- Oh thank you so much...just a sec... (gesturing towards my husband for something to scribble on) what did you say...?
Mr Mehta- Azzerotum! azzerotum! maam...azzerotum!
Me- Can u spell it out for me please...
Mr Mehta- Maam you write it any way because i really don't know the spelling...a-z-z-e-r-o-t-u-m, perhaps...
Me- thank u thank u! i think that will do... it will help...i was able to find out about the other one...remember!...chlorodendrom!...
Mr Mehta- yes! yes maam...oh you got it...good good... maam and i hope azzerotum is also correct.  Okay maam hope u come again and you have my number. Do give me another opportunity to be of service to you. Namaste maam!
After ranting all about my pleasant research on his chlorodendrom and after echoing his intentions of engaging him again on my next trip to Corbett i hung up.

The need to search seemed to have vaporized and i heaved a sigh of relief. Having full faith in his words i had shut down the compu and returned to my husband and the rest of the evening rituals.
Both of us in unison for a change comparing happy notes about people. Feeling fortunate...

That night i did not feel the need for TV or any book to lull me off to a good night's sleep. For before i slept i looked towards my life partner looking pure in his slumber just like a child. My heart filled with gratitude and love which i had thought had got blanketed with doubts. i know i should've thanked him first for being kind to me each time and every time i am hyper. i should've apologized for taking him for granted... And although my thoughts kept reverting back to Mr Nandan Mehta the goodness that i was sincerely appreciating felt interconnected.  
"Every kind act, no matter how small, is like a pebble tossed into the pond of human caring...
the rings reach out far beyond the point of impact; the action of our kind deed acts more kindly toward the people around them, those people act more kindly toward the people around them, and so it goes, on and on."

Now i pause to acknowledge and appreciate the stranger who held the elevator door for me, i seem to be returning calls which just few days back i avoided to take, i seem to be listening more with the sincere intent of learning, i am trying to be as open minded as i can be although this still needs to be worked upon...the list may go on so briefly i would like to put it this way i have begun to pay attention.

It's taken me a long time and i am still recovering, recuperating from the epidemic of individualistic culture where relying on the self, wanting greater autonomy and personal success felt more important than anything else. Feeling isolated when i was reeling under the other storm i realize that i feel much better today because i am trying to be less obsessed with the circumstances and making the best of the NOW.

Just the very next day after a good night's sleep i was going out on some usual housework errand. This time i paused at the society entrance gate and gave it the time to appreciate. A well meaning smile to the security guard who had opened the gate promptly without a moment's delay to see the approaching vehicle. Through my open window the words that rolled out effortlessly were, "Thank you , you have been so kind."
He had nodded with a simple well meaning smile too. The simple smile which perhaps had lots to convey than just thank you. The ripples of which lasted the entire day and might go on for days to come.
"The spiral in a snail's shell is the same mathematically as the spiral in the Milky Way galaxy, and it's also the same mathematically as the spirals in our DNA. It's the same ratio that you'll find in very basic music that transcends cultures all over the world." Joseph Gordon-Levitt

So much for today...will be back with of course Azzerotum...what else!

                                                        - : Image Courtesy :-

Monday, April 8, 2013

Nature Does Nothing Uselessly

My theory for today may not be a new one for all but when i had taken interest and given something the attention that it deserved i was rewarded with a newness of some kind. In order that i am able to convey what i have to say for the day i once again searched for words that were simple yet beautiful, words that were apt yet concise, words that could match my own rewarding experience and i came across this by Emily Dickinson. In a way it explains how difficult it is to prescribe words which justifies/describes nature.
NATURE is what we see,
The Hill, the Afternoon–
Squirrel, Eclipse, the Bumble-bee,
Nay–Nature is Heaven. 
Nature is what we hear,
The Bobolink, the Sea–
Thunder, the Cricket–
Nay,–Nature is Harmony. 

Nature is what we know
But have no art to say,
So impotent our wisdom is
To Her simplicity.

i kept seeing them, along road sides, near the farming fields, on the hillocks, here and there everywhere, standing upright canopied with more of that which one can never miss. Repletion can be boring but sometimes can also diffuse attraction. It is nature.
For people like me something intrinsic to my own nature which apart from attraction is inflicted with something even more... CURIOSITY. Cannot help being as curious as a cat. And so far my curiosity, which although has shown me both pleasant and unpleasant has not killed me. Not yet. 

Therefore i had to stop by and know more. i started questioning around if someone knew something about the object of my attraction. Not to be deterred by the many negative replies i kept on my quest on that which had apart from attracting my attention had intrigued me enough with it's commonness. The elderly worker who partially satisfied me and in his own subtle way corrected me informed about the usefulness of that common wild one. In Kumaoni which was his mother tongue they call it Vasinga.

i had ventured close to Vasinga. Very close enough to touch it and not lick it and definitely to sniff it like a cat. Fragrant! the blossoms had a typical flowery smell.
So this is what the local people use to ripen the BANANAS with. Must inform, have to share...what is it that they use to ripen the fruits that we happily buy from the market. Wasn't it CARBIDE chunks... but why when nature has this...the very common growing like grass on it's own...the fragrant Vasinga...?
Mr Nandan Mehta had shown some keen interest in my curiosity and had plucked a branch off the shrub to find out and tell me it's better vernacular name. And while he disappeared for a few minutes inside the Forest Department outpost i took pleasure in some intense inspection of the blossoms.

My inspection also introduced me to the entire shrub in the area among which the tallest one was approximately 2 meters in height. The leaves were large and tapering to a peaky point. Also hairy on both sides. There were clusters of what looked like buds but i wouldn't be sure of that. Limited in my knowledge and just attentive towards the appearance an ignoramus like me could not tell buds from the fruits. Not in this case at least.

i returned to the flower again and was stunned by it's beauty and uniqueness. 
The white flowers tinged with pink in it's panicles. The anthers purple in color. i was wondering if that other gentleman whom i met at Jim Corbett Home/ museum at Kaladhunghi and who was also the Chief Conservator of Forests Kumaon, if he was intrigued too when i had asked him the name of this Junglee (wild) beauty.  For he looked uncertain. The fully uniformed forest guard standing in attention nearby was beckoned with a gesture. The guard who looked like a native had confirmed to what i had known till then. Nothing more to fully satisfy my curiosity. i wanted a proper name which could enable me to extract more of the one i had for want of an original started calling Junglee Beauty.
But feeling grateful nevertheless to Mr Paramjit Singh CCF Kumaon for helping me identify the flowering Silver Oak instead and about some tips on the safari that i was about to take i was hopeful to the brim of Mr Mehta  short for Mr Nandan Mehta our nature guide.
 Meanwhile was also having a good time. The unhurried time spent in waiting and just watching...

" Madam they are not sure but they are saying that it is CHLORODENDROM ! announced Mr Mehta hurrying towards me and gesticulating for me to get into the jeep as we ought to proceed on our filled with expectation jungle ride. Seating next to me and as our jeep moved along the jungle path he assured me, " Give me some time madam and I will let you know if it sure is chlorodendrom or not." 

Mr Mehta may not have been sure of the name but was confident about the medicinal value of the shrub. As we moved along he told me about the usefulness of the leaves and roots and about it's Ayurvedic significance. The Kwath (decoction) bitter to taste made from the leaves are used to treat fever and parasitic worms in the intestines he said. 
He regaled me with more during our jungle ride and both my husband and me were very impressed by his knowledge not only about the flora and fauna but also of his mechanical skills. We watched him in action on using his knowledge to start a broken down vehicle. Our own jeep which had just stopped suddenly.
" The Self needs to be replaced...take it out and let's push the jeep to start it..." said Mr Mehta to Naim our jeep driver for the day. i was wanting to disembark the jeep when it had to be pushed to which he had exclaimed, " No! no! madam no need to do that, please remain seated..." 

As i sit to write about nature and all my findings i am sensing gratitude for those nice and warm people i met who in one way or another contributed to my understanding. Starting with
- Mr Bal Kishan our cab driver who gave us a very comfortable and entertaining Xylo happy feet ride from Delhi to Corbett also the local name for Ruddy Shelduck- SONPATARY and Cormorant- JALKAUWWA...,  
  - enterprising young boy Mr Bharat and his senior Mr Kuldeep at the reception of the resort who were ever so willing to accommodate us into not only the best available room at such a short notice but also somehow arrange two seats for us in the already full jungle safari...,
- the waiter at the restaurant of the resort Mr Amar Pal who courteously obliged us with whatever food we asked for even if it meant a special a la carte and snacks like chilli potato/ paneer or some vegetable fritters at peak hour when he had to cater to all the visitors who preferred the resorts' buffet..., 
- our two drivers on two separate safaris Mr Chandan Singh for the post lunch safari, and Mr Naim during the early morning safari with their honest and sincere intent to make us see the unusual...,
 Mr Paramjit Singh CCF and his staff, the one who confirmed my finding of the local name and another perhaps his junior officer who told me about the book where i might find all details about the shrub...,
 -the happy vacationing families i had the opportunity to meet...,
- and last but not the very least Mr Mehta.
For it was with Mr Mehta's Chlorodendrom that i managed to arrive at what i was desperate to know. 

It may not be Chlorodendrom but Clererodendrum viscosum but how does it matter. That i got to know what i ought to know and experience what i have always wanted shouldn't that be more than enough !
i guess not for me. For more than being curious i am an 'apt conversationalist'. So said my school year book once upon a time. The editor wanting to be polite in her adjectives on describing my talkative nature. i am just that. Wanting to talk about all, share about common and special, about what goes unnoticed and what catches the hearts' fancy, about what i'd rather go without and what i always crave...
So if one's able to read me well enough then perhaps like Emily Dickinson would have poetic words to describe my nature and me which wants to be helpful too. Maybe not to the extent that Clerodendrum does or for that matter all plants in nature do. This one for instance apart from ripening the bananas is a panacea for helminthiasis, abscesses, tumors, skin diseases, hernia, fever, malaria...and probably more.
 Nevertheless i sincerely hope that my ramblings come of use and that someone, somewhere gets benefitted by it.
"Nature does nothing uselessly." -    Aristotle

Image Courtesy:


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kya Dekha Kyaa Dekha

Did you see something? Have you spotted anything? Saw ??...Anything at all... ???
This seems to be the common refrain of one and all. When you go on a safari in any national park during peak holiday season.

It's ridiculously funny and one might laugh it off but i was getting irked. The questioning and all the boisterous accusations. Felt like standing up and shouting, '' You want to SEE then head for the ZOO !''.
My irritation at all that noise we folks were making in that forest reserve area. As if the sounds of the jeep or canters was not enough that we humans have to barge into other territories and act like it was our own living room. Soon irritation gave way to some introspection followed by enough compassion for all the 30 jeeps that are allowed in a day to take the safari ride in the oldest National Park of India. It dawned upon me...
My own selfish intention. Was it any different...
Just like all i too had paid to spot a Tiger/ Elephant/ Leopard in the wild. Now the question put forward by family and friends is a common one too. Did i get my moneys worth !?
If i limit myself then the answer would be a quick no but the fact of the matter is that my interests have a wider gamut which includes everything i have not seen before or perhaps have seen before but had neither the inclination nor the time to enjoy. That's why i proclaim today, Bang! for the buck!!.

i have to admit though that i don't possess the skill or the knowledge about all that was new for me therefore i am also borrowing from the internet. Pictures, descriptions... .

i have to share this visit to the Corbett National Park mainly because it is all fresh in my mind and any further delay might erase some if not all. The deliberations of mundane affairs and my own failing memory which eventually is a consequence of advancing forward in age might blur not only the names but also the amazing images. In a manner of speaking this sharing is something like seeing once, discussing twice and then writing thrice which shall cement my memory well enough enabling me to remember it as vividly as i had seen of what i have just seen.

Therefore i shall start from The Where. First while waiting in the town office and after being allotted our jeep when the formalities got over while i was surveying the trees in the campus of the Forest Office i saw something large perched upon a tree. Hoping to admire the cuteness of a baby monkey and sitting comfortably on my jeep i got ready with my equipment. Was it the baby then...
No! it was a big bird with what looked like almost the size of it's body big bill...
A forest guard who respected my intentions came near and helped me identify the bird without even asking. Gave me enough info for me to remember and watch out for them in the skies. He spoke in my mother tongue of which i translate in English. My new knowledge on my first find.
Grey Pelican a migratory visitor which is a fish eater and has an elastic bag under the length of it's lower bill.
Now re-enforced with my own search on the bird for pictures and descriptions i would love to share more.
"The lower mandible of the bird has a large pouch like layer of skin attached to it, from the throat. 
They catch fish by dipping their bill below the water and suddenly expanding the throat pouch pulling the water with the fish inside. 
Then they drain the pouch above the surface before they can swallow the catch. 
This bird lives across southern Asian countries and Due to ongoing habitat loss and human disturbance, the Spot-billed Pelican's numbers have declined."
He was so right that forest guard because i eventually saw quite a few of them in the skies sensing and enjoying the joy of discovery. Happiness at the thought that i know the visitor by its name. The Grey Pelican or the Spot- billed Pelican.

Then as we enter the forest reserve area...
Crossing the Ramaganga Dam also known as the Kalagarh Dam i saw at once Egrets and little Cormorants. Photography is not permitted at the dam so all i could do was take a long distance shot with my poor photography skills but was happy with the result. It sufficed as my own binoculars enabled me to see them close enough and as clear as a brilliant picture could be.
                  White Egrets, Black Little Cormorants and this that i had never seen before.
Ruddy Shelduck aka Brahminy Duck which is one of the migratory birds that visit India. i had the additional advantage of having a nature guide accompany me, his name being Mr Mehta or else i wouldn't care to see that they were different from the common ducks that i have known erstwhile. He prodded me to observe a pair closely and see if i can spot the differences.
 " The overall color of Ruddy Shelduck is orange blended with brown and chestnut. When seen from a distance, the sexes appear similar, but closer observation reveals that the males have a black ring at the bottom of the neck and and the female often has a white face patch. They have white wing coverts, metallic green speculum and black primaries and tail. The bill and feet are black. The immature are similar to the adults, but are paler and have gray markings on the wings. Body length is 60-70 cm, wingspan 1,1-1,35 m and the maximum weight is 1,4 kg."
                             The call of this rare and beautiful duck is a "loud wild honking".

Then as we entered the forest reserve and my greedy for newer trees eyes were sweeping all they could especially the ones that did not look green but rather rust/ red/ yellow/crimson i saw some trailing white something as quick as lightening flash across the trees. i donned my Nikon Monarch Binoculars hoping to see perhaps a Langur and then what i saw, i have no words to describe how i felt. i found something so stylish and overwhelmingly attractive. i wonder if all those designer gowns that celebrities at a fashion pageant or Oscar ceremonies wear with a long trail has been inspired by this in nature. Yeah sure those like a dream bridal gowns too...
Paradise Flycatcher. The male with a long and white trailing tail.
"This Small,black headed rufous or white bird with extremely long central tail feather. Black crested head, broad bluish bill and blue rimmed eyes. Rufous phase is all rufous with white under parts.White phase is all white,flecked black with black wings.
Female and juvenile are as rufous phase but with short tail and crest.
Inhabits shady areas in woodland, gardens and plantations, often near water. Feeds by Fly-Catching at all levels. Nests high in tree fork."
As we crossed the dried up streams of the river inside the forest i looked around for the familiar call teet-teet-teet-teee rhyming with did-you-do-it. i have heard it in the city too sometimes. We know it as a Titaharee call . i had been apprised of the name in my childhood but never actually seen the bird. Now i had someone sitting next to me to show the structure of that form through which the call emanated. He patiently and kindly helped me locate the Titaharee.
Red Wattled Lapwing aka Titeeri in Hindi is the first among all the birds to raise alarm calls in the forest he said, that's why in order to spot a tiger or leopard one must keep his ears alert for such signals. Generally the Lapwing calls are heard in the wee hours of the night. It is because they generally feed at night. Now i have to watch out during full moon nights. For Mr Mehta imparted another bit of news. That during full moon nights the calls will be heard quite frequently as due to some strange reasons the Lapwing is quite active on full moon nights.
"Red-wattled Lapwings are large waders, about 35 cm long. The wings and back are light brown with a purple sheen, but head and chest and front part of neck are black. Prominently white patch runs between these two colours, from belly and tail, flanking the neck to the sides of crown. Short tail is tipped black. A red fleshy wattle in front of each eye, black-tipped red bill, and the long legs are yellow. In flight, prominent white wing bars formed by the white on the secondary coverts."

Although we were by now getting more vigilant and had spotted peacocks and peahens it was when our nature guide pointed towards the Jungle Fowl that we were quite surprised to see the brilliant colors of that which is called Jungalee meaning wild. Appearance wise there seemed to be nothing wild about it. Rather it looked quite groomed resembling in it's plumage the city bred.
The Red Jungle Fowl aka Junglee Murga is also now facing the threat of extinction due to genetic pollution reoccurring at the edge of villages bordering forests where domesticated chickens are commonly bred.

We continued further into the forest and while the driver of the open roof jeep Mr Chandan Singh tried his level best to make us spot elephants if not tigers it was he who pointed towards a fresh pug mark which he said looked like that of a leopard. Mr Mehta confirmed the finding.
This was near a tiny pool of water a wet patch of a dried up stream. Oh ! schuks ! we had just missed... Probably the Leopard had come to drink water and after quenching it's thirst had proceeded towards the deeper recesses of the forest. But with hopes held high we were now peering on to the tree branches hoping to spot one resting there. In doing this we were rewarded with one that elicited a gasp nonetheless from both of us, my husband and me. It was on this Semul tree. Bereft of much green foliage or a single crimson blossom but laden with lots of big bee-hives. Mr Mehta assumed that the bee hives may be more than twenty at least. We tried to count as the jeep moved on. We were able to spot 20 but there were more...

Although for good reasons it is advised that we should keep to the vehicles and must not step out of the  jeep, Chandan Singh stopped the vehicle at what looked like a clearing. He pointed towards a tree cottage. We read the board which said that it was a Watch Tower. Painted green for camouflage it looked very snug hidden in the foliage of the huge banyan tree.
 We took turns to do what is to be done from a watch tower but the thought that a leopard can also accompany me from behind or perhaps a python can try to kiss me from that thick foliage felt quite thrilling too. 

So from the watch tower i surveyed the area peering through my equipment lingering on any foliage which showed the slightest movement. The good equipment led me to one tiny head which glittered like gold in the sun.

The Green Bee Eater. There were plenty of them hanging around as Mr Mehta apprised us with. An entire colony of green bee eaters. We could distinctly hear the nasal trill of the birds. Tree-tree-tree-tree. He then pointed towards the holes in the ground which are made by these birds. Probably as a finding food process or perhaps breeding. i wonder why i did not ask that. Maybe i was just too pre-occupied figuring out all the colors that the slim looking bird had.
"Like other bee-eaters, this species is a richly coloured, slender bird. It is about 9 inches (16–18 cm) long with about 2 inches made up by the elongated central tail-feathers. The sexes are not visually distinguishable. The entire plumage is bright green and tinged with blue especially on the chin and throat. The crown and upper back are tinged with golden rufous. The flight feathers are rufous washed with green and tipped with blackish. A fine black line runs in front of and behind the eye. The iris is crimson and the bill is black while the legs are dark grey." 

During that safari as we went along the Jhirna range we spotted about six Blue Jays aka Neelkanth at regular intervals. Neelkanth meaning blue throat perched on dry bare branches. Also saw them perching singly on electric wires by the roadside when we were returning to the town.
The Indian Roller aka Neelkanth or Blue Jay
The call of the Neelkanth/ Indian Roller is a harsh crow-like chack sound. It also makes a variety of other sounds, including metallic boink sounds. All that when it is quite vociferous during the mating/breeding season. Associated with God Shiva and named after Him the bird is considered to be very auspicious especially if it can be sighted during the last day of Navaratri, called Dusherra. Very strangely it just disappears on that day. Mr Mehta told about his frustration on not finding a single one on Dusherra. Determined he appeared too when he announced his never say die. For spotting a Neelkanth on that particular day.
It being the state bird of my own Bihar i know of all these beliefs associated with the bird which in it's color apparently looks strikingly similar to the kingfisher had it not been for the bill. The breast of this beauty is brownish whereas the crown and vent are blue. i thought it should have a blue throat too for it to be called Neelkanth but it is not and therefore i wonder about the link up with Shiva .
"The primaries are deep purplish blue with a band of pale blue. The tail is sky blue with a terminal band of Prussian blue and the central feathers are dull green. The neck and throat are purplish lilac with white shaft streaks. The bare patch around the eye is ochre in colour. The three forward toes are united at the base. Rollers have a long and compressed bill with a curved upper edge and a hooked tip. The nostril is long and exposed and there are long rictal bristles at the base of the bill."

While all of us including our driver Mr Chandan Singh exchanged notes about Neelkanth, Mr Mehta got a bit carried away forgetting for sometime his purpose for the day. Happens to all of us and i don't blame him for that. It was then the roles got reversed. i interrupted his animated talk and pointed towards something that looked small and attractive.  i was all pumped up with enthusiasm and curiosity to know more and see more.
There were many small brown birds that looked alike and i was told they were Bushchats. This one was very attractive and just too cute.
Pied Bushchat
"The male is black except for a white rump, wing patch and lower belly. The iris is dark brown, the bill and legs black. The female is drab brown and slightly streaked. Juveniles have a scaly appearance on the underside but dark above like the females." The whistling call is somewhat like that of an Indian Robin aka Kalchuri and has been transcribed as we are tea for two with tea at a higher note.

i think i might have seen a rufous Treepie or it could be Eurasian Jay but i can't be sure for it was just too quick for my binoculars and me but these along with many trees and shrubs proved really worthwhile for a debutante birdwatcher and a maniac for trees and shrubs and bushes. That i got to see two different herds of elephants, a pair of Jackals, Spotted Deer along with a Stag and last but not the very least a Muntjac aka Barking Deer was just incidental.

Thus the enthusiastic happy call... my own call... Kya Dekha Kyaa Dekha meaning what i saw...all that i saw...


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Flor de Nochebuena

 Has to be in Spanish today because the story i share is about two poor Mexican kids Maria and Pablo. Brother and sister born in a poor peasant's family. Throughout the year they lived a hard life but despite their misery the kids would eagerly look forward to Christmas. Dabbling in dearth and burdened with drudgery they would nevertheless nurture excitement for the local church function which would also set up a nativity scene for everyone to see. The pomp and gaiety would start even a few days before Christmas. Although half fed and most of the times hungry Maria and Pablo slept well with dreams about the Baby Jesus in the manger and of all that singing and dancing for the new born King. 

Walking with excitement in their hearts they saw scores of people carrying gifts for baby Jesus. Maria felt sad and started crying. When Pablo asked her why she was crying she confessed that she felt inferior and just too embarrassed because they have nothing to offer Jesus on His birthday. Pablo had also felt the same and was rather disheartened but had bravely curtained off his true feelings from his sister. Now that the issue was out in the open they both started crying miserably feeling sorry about them being gift less. Wiping their tears but still feeling sad and unable to prevent more tears from coming they walked towards the church. 
Some believe that an angel appeared before them and said, "All you have to do is gather what's at your feet. Gift it to the Baby and your gift would surely be appreciated and accepted. Jesus loves anything that is gifted from the heart with love."
Mario and Pablo looked down and saw only weeds but they obeyed the angel and diligently gathered what they could of the weeds. They felt happier now because they had something in their hands and their heart was full of love for Jesus. The other children mocked them and jeered at them but they kept their faithful face forward and queued up in the church to gift the Baby in the manger. People had lined up to place extravagant gifts at the foot of the nativity scene. When their turn came people glared at the two urchins in disbelief when Mario and Pablo placed the bouquet of weeds near the manger.
Lo! and Behold ! the weeds transformed into beautiful star shaped red flowers. Everyone who had witnessed this cried out in amazement and swore that they had seen a Christmas miracle.

Then on each year during Christmas time beautiful Poinsettias bloomed by the road side. Word spread around of the miracle witnessed by one and all and the red flowers thus earned it's name as, ' Flores de Noche Buena'- Flowers of the Holy Night or The Flower of Christmas Eve.

This miracle was not the only miracle that had happened. Another event had happened too and the venue was in the hearts of the people who had glared at the poor children. For they had realized the true meaning of gift and that honest gesture of love called gifting. A gift need not be expensive and whatever is gifted from the heart is accepted by the Lord. As if an overnight transformation had taken place in the hearts and minds of the local people.

Every year during Christmas time families gather to pay tribute to this idea of gifting. All the while hoping good for the future while honoring the past with thankfulness in their heart.
My roving eyes had perchance caught a brilliant spectacle in red while we were passing the rows of hotels and resorts on the main road in Dhikuli. i requested the driver of the cab to pull over for just a few minutes for i wanted to see what that glory was. Hurrying in my excitement that i have seen Bhuransh ( local name for Rhododendron)  i approached the radiant spectacle.
 Lo and behold! what do i see!. A POINSETTIA TREE !. 
i thanked my stars. Nowhere up till now had i seen a Tree of that which i had always fancied. i have seen the ornamental variety in white, red and yellow in Coorg as potted plants and small shrubs but never as a tree.
i had to narrate the story which was once narrated to me by one of our Nun sisters in St Joseph's Convent. i remember it well. On the last working day before the winter vacation started in December. Somewhere around 18- 20th December. The Convent itself was gearing up for Christmas and for us to view and appreciate the Sisters with the help of the creative students in school had put up a nativity scene at the entrance of the school chapel. i had in my possession a beautiful Christmas card which i had purchased from the Christmas Fair at school. The beautiful almost like a dream card glittering with Holy Night Starry Night Stars featured this flower too. i remember asking Sister Mary Leoba the significance of the flower. She had  patiently indulged in my curiosity at first and later satisfied it with this folk lore. i had thus received my first enlightenment that day. About Gifts and Gifting and the Christmas Poinsettia.
Now for the facts that i know mainly because i have loved and admired Poinsettias ever since. My reading through books has bestowed to me some more enlightenment of another kind. As to how some flowers have derived their names. Scientifically they may have names which only a Botanist or a student of Botany would know. But commonly many of the flowers are named after people. Either after those who have discovered them or else derived from those who have been passionate about  propagating them. Finding it somewhere and then bringing it back to their own country to nurture and grow.
The US ambassador to Mexico in the 1880's Joel Robert Poinsett saw these beautiful flowers in Mexico and decided to bring it to the United States. He first grew them in his own green house and gifted the plant to his friends, relatives and fellow botanists. Later he worked on growing them commercially. Although scientifically the plant is assigned to the genus Euphorbia , his name invariably got associated with it. Thus Poinsettia.

The charming and sweet legend of Mario and Pablo and the weeds which got transformed conveys a very basic moral.
In our own country we have another legend quite similar to this Mexican one. About Lord Krishna and his pauper friend Sudaama.
Alas! if we only understood and endorsed that. For today even something so pious as gifting has become an ordeal that we generally shirk. Mostly it is only pretense or rather a courtesy where anything gets dumped by the giver on to the receiver. Recently ostentation has got the better of it and people are gifting huge and very expensive items for status sake which perhaps pumps more into the already bloated ego .
Where are we driving the generation to? Why are we doing this? How or when did it all start...!?

i suppose since i have no brief or substantial answers to that i would like revert back to Poinsettia and some Spanish... Adios! Hasta Pronto !