Friday, January 29, 2010

Blyth’s myna (sub specie of grey headed myna)

This blogger is ecstatic to have got (not really a rare but) uncommon bird (even AO Hume mentions in 1880s that it is not very common). Recently I read that Blyth’s myna has been upgraded into different specie. Frankly when I took the snap I wasn’t even aware of this bird it took some research and lots of browsing to classify this one. There is no much detail about this bird on the net though nor in the guide book I have, there is ample literature on grey headed myna. Blyth’s myna (sternum malabaricus blythii) is a very shy bird and quite difficult to observe and are purely arboreal in sharp contrast to common mynas. Blyth’s myna has whole head white and is also endemic to Western Ghats.

Yehuda Amichai: one of the greatest Modern Hebrew poet

There are very few who have interest in poetry wouldn’t have read Yehuda Amichai, he probably was one the best “a
poet who played with words”. Amichai’s poems have all kinds of emotions, it is alive and brims with so much energy, the kind that is rare in poems these days. It is an absolute pleasure to read him. Ted Hughes wrote “Yehuda Amichai begins to look more and more like a truly major poet - in the strict sense of the term. That is, there's a depth, breadth and weighty momentum in these subtle and intricate poems of his, even in the slightest, that sounds more and more like the undersong of a people. Who else is dipping his bucket into such a full river of experience and paid-for feeling?”. He noted that Amichai's imagistic language is drawn from both the external and the spiritual history of Jewry. “It is as if the whole ancient spiritual investment has been suddenly cashed, in modern coinage, flooding his poetry with an inexhaustible currency of precise and weighty metaphors.”

This from the poem “I want to die in my own bed”

All night the army came up from Gilgal
To get to the killing field, and that's all.
In the ground, warf and woof, lay the dead.
I want to die in My own bed.
Like slits in a tank, their eyes were uncanny,
I'm always the few and they are the many.
I must answer. They can interrogate My head.
But I want to die in My own bed

This his very well known poem “wildpeace”

Not the peace of a cease-fire
not even the vision
of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill, that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds - who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)

Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.

As I read his poems I just couldn’t help write these

Words live in their own world

My great grandfather’s word would be living
in some corner of world
cocooned in stray thought unaware to even the thinker
maybe it lives on the treetop like python to strangle the victim
or gestates in the words I write
and sprang meanings unintended.

In the prayer room when multieyes of multiple headed gods
shower their benevolence on conditions
that are pact of words
of ancestral hopes and tribulations.
A realization dawns that I am just
mediator of words
that come and go
and do what they please.

White Throated Orange Headed Ground Thrush

This specie is also endemic to Western Ghats (there are lots of foreigners who come from far off places to glimpse these birds that are found nowhere else. Western Ghats has amazing biodiversity and its our duty to protect these, it need be noted that UN has declared western ghats as biodiversity hot spots meaning they are seriously threatened), Orange Headed Ground Thrush is distributed from India to south East Asia, while the White Throat are found only in Western Ghats (this is my first spotting of this bird and had to spend hours going through the net trying to place the bird, I am grateful to Mr. Prasad for the help). The western ghat race has distinguishing dark brown and white oblique bands across the face that run down from the lower part of the eyes, the throat is white. Ground Thrush are found in forest in shaded damp surroundings. A solitary bird they are mostly found foraging on the ground for insects, berries, under fallen leaves as such their beak could mostly be enveloped in mud. Bills are brown and legs fleshy pink colored. A shy bird when it was spotted took to flight perching on a low bough contemplating whether to alight on the ground (it was in an opportune position to be clicked but unfortunately my manual lens took sometime to focus, so missed that one. Just about managed to get the above pic before it vanished). They nest on low trees using thin root fibers and mud.

We can crib about the equipments we have and always aspire for better but it will be insightful if we also put things in perspective, then probably we realize how fortunate we are. There is an incident mentioned in ‘The Fall of Sparrow’ (Salim Ali) when they went to kutch to study flamingoes, writes Ali “To make doubly sure that the camera he had lent me (to replace mine which had developed a last minute hitch) behaved as it should in my hands, Maharao Vijayarajji had considerately sent out from bhuj the state photographer, Ali Mohamed, with complete paraphernalia and a special assistant, whose function was not immediately apparent. The two photographers and their equipment made up two complete camel loads. The vintage apparatus-full plate studio camera of solid teakwood, enormous proportions and cumbrousness- looked like some antique piece of furniture from William the conqueror or thereabouts. It was obviously a camera with history…the apparatus not only need two able bodied men to rig it up for action on its massive wooden tripod, but for its complicated cooperative operation. It was worked like a ship, and this is where the trained assistant became indispensable. The chief photographer (the captain) had to enshroud his head in yards of black cloth, eyes glued to the focusing screen. From this position-the bridge-he signaled order down to the ‘engine room’, as it were, to the assistant in front, to twiddle the focusing knob a trifle this way or that to get the correct focus. The focusing knob was out of reach for captain himself and only a specially trained assistant could help. The camera erected in the nest colony, ‘on location’, showed up afar in the vast expanse as a fair sized house, and, when a wind sprang up and the black shroud round the captain’s head began to flutter and flap, I thought of there could be no earthly chance of getting any photographs of the birds. I am afraid at that point I also became rather uncharitably facetious at the captain’s expense, but he bore it all with surprising good humor. It was not until we got back to bhuj and he produced the most unexpectedly good results from his dark room that I realized the laugh had really been on me, and that it needs something more than a good camera to produce good result.”

Song of the Butterfly
In the coming heat
Of the day
I stood there.

That was Native American song. These songs are examples of aesthetic connection with the nature of Native Americans (there are many groups across American continent). I am quite astounded by the degree of sophistication of these poems that could have been passed from generations. There is fun and abandon in some these lines. The above remind of haiku. Sample few more…

The owl was requested
To do as much as he knew how.
He only hooted and told of the morning star.
And hooted again and told of the dawn.

The bush
Is sitting
Under a tree
And singing.

In the heavens
A noise,
Like the rustling of the trees.

I liked this “love song”- matter of fact, frivolous, hilarious…it’s all there in this simple song. I am sure there is more to it before the translation.
You desire vainly
That I seek you.
The reason is,
I come
To see your younger sister.
I have read Native American songs here and there many years back. Now as I read them again I am in enchanted. What lovely people…

Sunday, January 24, 2010

O what a spectacular bird !!

Tree pie mentioned in the last blog has rufous plumage but there is another spectacular looking tree pie endemic to Western Ghats: the Southern tree pie most commonly referred to as White Bellied Tree pie, it has black mask in sharp contrast to its white under part and a long flowing tail. Though endemic to the region it is classified as ‘least threatened’ by IUCN. It is an amazing bird to look at and unlike the rufous tree pie they are found in dense forests. I followed it about an hour as it flitted from one tree to another. Absolutely incredible bird. This painting is by John Gould, need to add here Gould was the one who gave its scientific name Dendrocitta leucogastra.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal and aboriginal poems

I came across some really amazing poem by aborigines in particular Oodgeroo Noonuccal on the Net (I just cannot help expressing my thanks to those genius people who created Internet and made it accessible to common people around the world. I am really very grateful, it is such an amazing experience. The more I know about it the more exciting it gets, I guess very soon laptops will also become accessible to most people). Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920-1993) was the first aboriginal poet to get her work published which was quite a success. She started her career as domestic servant and later joined the women’s wing of the Army and rose to be a corporal. She remained an untiring campaigner for aboriginal rights till her end. The Aborigines have the longest cultural history in the world, with origins dating back to the last Ice Age. The Aborigines believe that "Creation Ancestors" created the landscape and the first people. When these creatures disappeared, they left their spirits in the mountains and rocks, to destroy or damage a sacred site threatens not only the living but also the spiritual inhabitants of the land.

I manage to get few of her poems browsing websites, I found ‘We are going’ very touching, the poem ends with lines that are haunting…

The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.
The bora ring is gone.
The corroboree is gone.
And we are going.

Her poems are grounded to history and attempted to communicate a proud Indigenous identity that was linked to a vibrant, spirituality of the land. Her Aboriginal upbringing was her main inspiration. Oodgeroo grew up on North Stradbroke Island, near Brisbane. Here, surrounded by the sea and the bush land she would wander off for hours exploring. Nature became very important to her.

This poem reminds me of all the trees in big cities (of course if they survived the onslaught of development). This a poem titled Municipal Gum most Australians have read…

Gumtree in the city street,
Hard bitumen around your feet,
Rather you should be
In the cool world of leafy forest halls
And wild bird calls
Here you seems to me
Like that poor cart-horse
Castrated, broken, a thing wronged,
Strapped and buckled, its hell prolonged,
Whose hung head and listless mien express
Its hopelessness.
Municipal gum, it is dolorous
To see you thus
Set in your black grass of bitumen—
O fellow citizen,
What have they done to us?

Only someone who is deeply connected to nature could have written these lines. It is such an evocative poem. If trees could speak they will have different story tell…

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It’s raining Orioles

This blog is about Orioles, I was fortunate to get all the Orioles: the Golden Oriole (the female too-must say much difficult to spot), Black hooded Oriole and the migrant from Andamans- Black napped Oriole. It is just amazing to get all these birds in one go in almost the same spot in matter of two or three hours. It is no wonder that Thattekad is described as the best place for bird watching by none other than Salim Ali. I though had to muster all my patience standing frozen partially hidden under trees for about three hours. And yes i was the only one in that jungle atleast 2-3 km around, it was a situation wherein every prospect pleased. Orioles are fun to watch, they have amazing zest for life. Chasing each other from tree to tree, flashes of bright yellow across the green foliage that are treat to eyes. All these can vanish in a jiffy if they spot you; you see Orioles are extremely shy but vocal birds.

Golden Orioles are rich golden yellow except a broad line along the eye, lots of black on the wings and tail. Females though have entirely different color plumage that is yellowish green and brown wings. Both have pink colored bills. Golden Orioles are purely arboreal so much so that they don’t even descend to the lower branches and confines themselves to high canopy in thick foliage tree. Golden Orioles migrate from north part of the peninsula in winter and return during summer to northern plains. They are also sometimes referred to as mango bird since they are often found foraging mango trees coinciding ripening of mangoes. It is very difficult to locate them as they choose boughs with thickest foliages so one gets to hear its plaintive calls than actually seeing it.

Black hooded Oriole as the name suggests has black head and throat, they are found in well wooded regions. Like golden orioles they too are arboreal but do descend ground to catch insects. Generally found alone or in pairs.

Black napped Orioles have a broad black stripe that go across its eyes to join the nape. They are resident birds of Andaman and Nicobar Islands that migrate to Western Ghats during winter.
Orioles feed on insects and fruits. The nests of Orioles are something to be proud of. A slender beautifully woven cup suspended on the fork from the twigs.
The picture below includes all these species.
The species of Orioles found in American continent includes Audubon’s oriole that is black headed with yellow body. The painting of Oriole is by Audubon. Incidentally this year is 125th birth anniversary of that great man.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pie on the tree !

Unlike lapwing Tree pie, as the name suggests, is arboreal and rarely seen on ground. It has sooty head and neck (as if it had peered into a chimney!), rufous wing and a conspicuous grayish white patch on the sides. It is a very common bird in winter, so common that I saw it right in the middle of polluted and crowded Delhi on a winter morning (need to add it was the Lutyen’s part of Delhi that is green with huge trees, I was walking…it is an isolated path and so very unsafe to walk, it is different matter that it may have highest concentration of police force anywhere in the country!). Tree pies don’t really prefer dense forests but region where clumps of huge trees and garden occur, they are generally found in pairs or group. Not intimidated by humans they though are shy and could be seen in patches as they fly across thick foliage. You could catch them pursuing insects climbing trees and sometimes hanging on claws very much supported by its long tail. This bird though has an envious reputation of being destructive to other species (after all it is a corvid!) as they ransack their nest eating eggs and chicks. Tree pie has one of the most melodious calls.

This poem titled “The dead crow” by Samad Said is translated from Malay
He saw a dead crow
in a drain
near the Post Office,
He saw an old man
gasping for air
And a baby barely able to breathe
In a crowded morning clinic
This land is so rich
Why should we suffer like this?

I want clean air
For my grandchildren
I want the damned fools
To leave the forest alone,
I want the trees to grow,
The rivers run free
And the earth covered with grass.
Let the politicians plan how
we may live with dignity
Now and always

Samad Said is one of the well known and foremost writer, poet and painter (as also essayist and playwright) of Malaysia. He is a Sasterawan Negara (national laureate, highest recognition for literary figures in Malaysia), the above is part of school curriculum and so read by most Malaysian (it is very much liked by children, a website had them expressing their opinion. His novel ‘Salina’ is also part of school curriculum-this he wrote when he was only 23, the book places in World War 2 and chronicles poverty and moral degeneration). His writings are known for its keen observations and intellectual integrity (but I must say I couldn’t come across much of his writings on the net). There is a debate that erupted in Malaysia few years back about removing all Sasterawan Negara writing from school curriculum since children find them difficult to understand. Said finds this ridiculous and questions the quality of teachers (need to add here Anwar Ibrahim as the Education minister immensely contributed to culture of reading in the country). He says “In America the students are studying To Kill A Mocking Bird, and in England they go for Lord Of The Flies. All are difficult books. If you want simple books, then just read ABC all the time… Just think of these students two decades from now. They are not exposed to good literature. We are not creating a situation where people will read good literature”. I don’t think there is anyone who could disagree with that. He further says “Reading is not easy. Unless you have cultivated the habit, you will not read. Things are becoming easier with the existing graphic novels. Now they can see pictures only. The intellectual groups always complain that my books are difficult to read, my books are difficult to study. If they don’t want to read my books, what can I do? If they don’t want to read books, what can I do? They will be stupid because they don’t read. …I am always moving up. I should not go down. They (readers) should also go up. If they don’t understand me, it doesn’t mean I am wrong. I am 72 and I have been through all sorts of experiences. I don’t just make a sentence. I care about every word I write, whether it is reasonable, whether it is beautiful”. Well said.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Did he do it did he do it!

Red wattled lapwing is quite a common plover bird that is generally found in pairs in open field next to water bodies. A bird most of us have heard many times particularly early mornings as also in the night, the call is fierce that sounds like did-he-do-It did-he-do-it. Quite a pretty looking bird that has white and black plumage light brown wings, a conspicuous red wattle in front of its eye (that gives an impression of being angry), red bills and long bright yellow legs. They never perch on trees and are found on ground when disturbed they fly-seldom too high and give their trade mark shrill note did-he-do-it (o yes I did it !!) to settle down immediately and run in short spurts, they are quite a good flier. The bird seem to be aware of its conspicuous coloration so could be seen standing still or moving with slow measured strides. They are referred to as titeeri in hindi

Bouldaire: Prince of the clouds…
An amazing poem by Charles Baudelaire titled "The albatross"

Often, to amuse themselves, the crew of the ship
Would fell an albatross, the largest of sea birds,
Indolent companions of their trip
As they slide across the deep sea's bitters.

Scarcely had they dropped to the plank
Than these blue kings, maladroit and ashamed
Let their great white wings sink
Like an oar dragging under the water's plane.

The winged visitor, so awkward and weak!
So recently beautiful, now comic and ugly!
One sailor grinds a pipe into his beak,
Another, limping, mimics the infirm bird that once could fly.

The poet is like the prince of the clouds
Who haunts the storm and laughs at lightning.
He's exiled to the ground and its hooting crowds;
His giant wings prevent him from walking.

Bouldaire was one of the greatest French poets, he once wrote The poet benefits from an incomparable privilege which allows him to be, at will, himself and others. Like those wandering souls in search of a body, he enters, when he so desires, into the character of each individual. For him alone, everything is vacant”. That is quite a grand vision of poet but when it comes to Bouldaire it is so much true, he was arguably one of the best. He writes “Multitude, solitude: identical terms, and interchangeable by the active and fertile poet. The man who is unable to people his solitude is equally unable to be alone in a bustling crowd” he continues “The solitary and thoughtful stroller finds a singular intoxication in this universal communion. The man who loves to lose himself in a crowd enjoys feverish delights that the egoist locked up in himself as in a box, and the slothful man like a mollusk in his shell, will be eternally deprived of. He adopts as his own all the occupations, all the joys and all the sorrows that chance offers. What men call love is a very small, restricted, feeble thing compared with this ineffable orgy, this divine prostitution of the soul giving itself entire, all it poetry and all its charity, to the unexpected as it comes along, to the stranger as he passes. It is a good thing sometimes to teach the fortunate of this world, if only to humble for an instant their foolish pride, that there are higher joys than theirs, finer and more uncircumscribed. The founders of colonies, shepherds of peoples, missionary priests exiled to the ends of the earth, doubtlessly know something of this mysterious drunkenness; and in the midst of the vast family created by their genius, they must often laugh at those who pity them because of their troubled fortunes and chaste lives”.
I liked the words “divine prostitution of soul giving”, only Bouldaire could have conceived that one. He had problems with religion but could neither be a Christian nor not be one Baudelaire’s solution was Satanism. ‘Satanism was for him the inevitable but logical way to maintain both his creed and hope for salvation’ (taken from Net). These lines from one of his poem
At last, so you’re my Mary perfectly,
And mixing love with pagan cruelty,
Full of a dark, remorseful joy, I’ll take
The seven deadly sins, and of them make
Seven bright Daggers; with a juggler’s lore
Target your love within its deepest core,
And plant them all within your panting Heart,
Within your sobbing Heart, your streaming Heart!

I found this poem quite interesting not only in the way words are chosen but as one writer points out “sadistic pleasure taken in the murder of this Madonna can be felt in the final triple present participle whose trisyllabic regularity rhythmically mimics a male orgasm”. Now this form of poetry is quite new to me wherein you create syllable rhythm to emote. Quite an incredible use of language, maybe I should try this technique one of these days. Baudelaire’s greatness was his capacity to blend dark sides with conventional feelings.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Colorful flier is Indian roller

Otherwise dull looking lumpy bird Indian roller unfurls its color in flight; it is quite a spectacular sight as it streaks across the sky in glorious shades of blue. I have seen this bird many times but could photograph only recently. Previously referred to as blue jay (wonder why they change its name?!) it prefers open field and avoid heavy jungle. A very common bird on the plains they could be seen perched on a branch or pole concealing its bright color and blending to the surrounding but watching all direction with its keen eyes. The acrobatic displays have given them the name rollers. A sturdy bird it has relatively large head and a hooked tip to the bill. They nest in holes of trees or buildings.

In Hindi they are referred to as neelkant-blue throated, also a reference to lord Shiva thus associated with some sacred rituals. At least four Indian states have named Indian roller as its state bird, an indication to its popularity.

Sugathakumari teacher: grandmother to all keralites

She is a writer, poet, venerable elder and a reference to collective conscience of our society. She is someone every keralite has read, when she speaks we listen. Her contribution to saving silent valley has been significant and she is also the founder of care center for destitute and mentally ill women in Thiruvanthapuram (Trivandrum) that brought in revolutionary changes in dealing with these issues. I guess there is no one who wouldn’t have read her poems, in particular the evocative Rathrimazha (night rains).

What a wonderful poem!!

Talking of rains instead of going to college I would many times catch a bus to beach to experience rains!!. There is something about the monsoons that is inexplicable. When I was studying in kerala I have kept awake watching rain all night (instead of studying!!), the more you watch more enticing the rains are. Home was on top of a hill and I could see most of Thiruvanthapuram (Trivandrum) from my room. Watching rains has been best part of my life, and something I put high on priority. In fact I stayed on a beach almost a decade back for about two months during monsoons just to watch rain!. This my dedication to Sugathakumari teacher

Denying the dead

We deny the dead their existence
in the absences, we deny them
in our hopes too.
Negating them into vague memories
or thoughts that suit us.

Couldn’t be that
they wait for us in the corner
just as we saw them
in moments of joy, in their best dress
thinking what we are thinking
dreaming our own dreams…

This a haiku by Basho on Rain

Spring rain
leaking through the roof
dripping from the wasps' nest.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Malabar grey hornbill

The earlier blog had grey hornbill that are found in plains across the continent. Malabar grey hornbill as the name suggests are endemic to Western Ghats. They probably the only kind of hornbill that lack casque, commonly found in dense forest and surroundings these are not considered threatened specie unlike many other hornbills. This photo was taken at boothathanketu (created by ghosts is the literal meaning!!). Other habits are similar to grey hornbill.

Poems as daily prayer, how charming: this blogger till he was 17 or 18 years old everyday use to participate in evening prayer (lasting about 40odd minutes). I realize recently that these prayers consisted of poems mainly by Poonthanam. Poonthanam lived during the medieval period and had not much knowledge of Sanskrit so he used Malayalam this therefore became very popular among common people. He was one of the greatest exponents of bhakti movement in the region that is now kerala. Few of my favorite lines are

Kandu kandangirikkum janangale,
Kandilennu varuthunnathum Bhavan
Randu nalu dinam kodangoruthane,
Thandilethi naduthannathum bhavan
Malika mugalileriya mannante,
Tholil marappu kethunnathum Bhavan

The rough translation here is

The people who is seen by all of us now.
You are the one who makes them
Not to be seen in this world.
In a matter of day or two
You are He, who makes them ride on the royal chair.
On the shoulder of the king who climbs to the top of palace.
You are He, who places the tattered heap.

I must have listened to these more than a million times!!. But my favorite prayer happens to be a small one, a poem written by one of the greatest Malayalam poet Kumaran Asan titled chandameriye poovilum…it is an amazing piece that I have sung so many times that it is part of me.

Chandameriye poovilum shablabamam shalabathilum
chandkam karathaari enuru chitrachaduri katiyum
andhacharu kadakashmalakal arkarashmiyl neetiyum
Chindayam mani mandirathil vilangu eshwarne vazhthuvin
Vazhthuvin vazhthuvin
Enum eshwarne vazhthuvin
Vazhthuvin vazhthuvin
(Basically means salutation to god that is in flowers, butterflies….). Kumaran asan drowned in a boat tragedy at a relatively young age. This I wrote…

When the boat got startled by a mischievous wave, mother clutch my hand tighter till it start to pain and I try wriggling out of the grip. Sky and lots of coconut trees in it would bob a bit, scared I would close my eyes tight. When the world had settled she pointed to somewhere in the river and say “look child you see there, yes there that is where the poet drowned”. Then she wouldn’t speak. On that bright afternoon looking at the shimmering blue water, I thought about the poet. Did he search for the words when he drowned?. Did he try to rhyme them? Or was it that he just wanted to take a breath of air, gasped and died?. Mother would say “ofcourse he searched for the words. There wouldn’t be world without words even silence is because of words. Poet chose silence”.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thunchan parambiley hornbill !!

I happened to be at Thunchan parambu sometime back- it is the spot where father of Malayalam language lived, considered a sacred place. Unfortunately the day I landed in Thirur (malapuram) it was hartal-meaning no hotels no nothing. Fortunately got a room next to the railway station and just about manage some food for the day. Thunchan parambu happened to be about 2-3km from where I stayed so decided to walk. I reached there at about 7.30am, the fellow at the gate said it will open only by 9 or much later (the timing mentioned at the gate though was 8.30). So I decided to walk around. The place has predominantly Muslim population, most conversion happened during early 1920s (referred to as moplah rebellion), when the landlords (mostly elite Hindus) aligned with Britishers and did untold misery. This led to an uprising that got communal. Walking across the place was a pleasant experience, though gulf money has led to some atrocious buildings across kerala but the houses I encountered were aesthetically done. Youngsters were found to be keen on badminton. With so much of greenery and silence (thank the hartal) I found the walk agreeable. Finally could locate a small teashop next to the mosque (quite a beautiful small simple structure I thought, unlike the atrocious crude mosques I have seen in recent times), my favorite breakfast any day is puttu kadala (only next to appam stew though, idlis are distant third!!), so within few minutes my tummy was full. Cost 12Rs.

By the time I was back at the gate it was about nine and the gate was still closed, thought of sitting on the bricks nearby, few minutes elapsed and the fellow inside probably took pity or something told me to come in and not to worry about gate opening and other formalities. It was when I was at the pond that I heard the flutter on the huge tree nearby and lo a hornbill, a grey hornbill to be specific. And yes Great Indian Hornbill (it is a spectacular looking bird, sadly I have seen only in zoos. One day I hope to see it in wild) is the state bird of Kerala (and Arunachal Pradesh). Grey hornbills are abundantly found throughout India even in urban areas with big trees.

Hornbills are peculiar looking birds and anyone who sees one will definitely give a closer look. They have huge bills, in some species they are few feet long-helps in foraging and defending. Although it looks cumbersome but they are very light, most species have a casque mounted over the upper mandible, the reason why they are referred to hornbill. Grey hornbills have smaller casque (Malabar grey hornbill endemic specie to Western Ghats is devoid of casque and found in hills unlike grey hornbills). Hornbills can fly long distances but are quite clumsy and create quite a flutter. They are typically large-headed, with thin necks, broad wings, and long tails. I guess the distinctive feature of hornbills has to be the way they rear the young, the female holds herself captive in the tree trunk, the hole of nesting cavity is closed from inside with a slit kept open for male to pass food- a defense against predators like monkeys and snakes. I recall seeing these in one of the TV channels where they showed these in details with miniature cameras, it was amazing. Hornbills are fussy eaters and spend great deal of time visiting trees and checking out the ripeness of fruits, choosing only those that are appropriate to the taste. Predominantly frugivores they do supplement their diet with small reptiles during breeding. Presence of hornbills is an indicator to healthy nature of forest and ecosystem of the region. Certain communities in Malaysia consider hornbills as representation of purity.

Malayalam the renaissance language: this blogger’s mother tongue happens to be Malayalam- the first words I learned and spoke, the association is embryonic. Though I am quite comfortable in speaking and can manage to read (reading fiction is a challenge but yes short stories and in particular poems) writing in Malayalam is still where I stopped when I was a kid that is at munaam padam level. Few days back I was at the place where Malayalam language took its root: Thunchan parambu.

Malayalam is one of the youngest languages in the world but the socio-cultural contribution of this tiny state where this language is spoken is nothing short of spectacular. It was Ezthuthachan (literal meaning would be father of writing, the great teacher) who evolved a new texture for Malayalam language, mingling the Sanskrit and Dravidian streams into a simple medium capable of interpreting different nuances of feelings in a sublime level attaining high degree of aesthetic sensibility. Ezhuthachan (real name being Thunchathu Ramanujan) lived in the later half of 16th century, his contribution to Malayalam is to the scale of what Homer is to Greek literature and Chaucer to English literature. He is regarded as father of Malayalam. Ezhuthachan was basically a bard, who traveled extensively to Tamil and Andhra lands and learned different languages and delved deep into the Upanishads. Bhakti movement wherein the common people were involved had a significant impact on him. He rendered epics Ramayana and Mahabharata in a simple musical style accessible to common people. He wrote hari nama keerthanam that popularized 51 letter alphabet that forms the basis of modern Malayalam. Incredibly he adopted a parrot as a narrator for these, the reason for it being referred to as Kilipattu-bird songs. These are even to this day very popular and could be heard at homes, this blogger has listened to these millions of times particularly during Ramayana masam. Ezhuthachan helped unleash the creative energy that can still be experienced, creating a medium that is a source of emotional integration and evolved sensibilities. He gave common people the meaning of words that need be worshiped and respected. He opened the world of words to people. What an incredible man.

Thousands of children are brought for ritualistic initiation to the art of learning at the birth place of this great teacher and poet every year. It is believed that he taught under old Nux Vomica tree that still exists with the ancient tank (the pic herein). It inscribes the first letters: Hari shree ganapthayae namaha. During Thunchan festival (held every year during the month of Jan-Feb) the iron stylus of the poet with which he wrote his poems is taken out in a grand procession. This year this blogger will try to be part of the festival.