Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shikra: once common hawk now not to be seen

Shikras were seen quite often in the gardens of Bangalore (Bengaluru), at least that is what i read. I tried my best in last one year just couldn’t locate even one. I found this majestic looking bird at Dhauli. I was walking around the garden behind the rock edict, it was hot sunny noon, air heavy with moisture with impending rain ideally i shouldn’t be out here at this time but my morning engagement took more time and i had already walked some ten kilometres, and so was running short on time, had to catch the evening train, doesn’t really mean that i was rushing around on the contrary i was moving quite leisurely, at my own pace. The garden was still and silent with nobody around that is when i saw the Shikra; busy on the ground negotiating a prey, it seemed a futile effort and the miniature hawk looked disoriented, moments of musing over its lost chance and it flew back to the nearest branch. It really is a magnificent looking bird. Rarely seen in heavy forests they favour well wooded surroundings on the vicinity of cultivated lands, prefers to laze on large leafy trees. Once quite popular with falconers as they trained with ease.

There is a believe in ancient Ao-Naga religion that when a person dies, the soul takes the shape of a bird, an insect or sometimes even a caterpillar. The sighting of birds, especially of hawks, is considered to be the last appearance of loved one on earth. I quote these last few lines of contemporary poetess Temsula Ao (i guess she is from Nagaland, based in Shillong) from the poem Soul bird (bought the book from Shillong)

But grandmother clings
to the new-made barrier
guarding the fresh mound
until her grieving heart
senses a presence
hovering in the sky.
She turned her gaze,
rimmed her eye
settled on the circling silhouette,
and then with a sudden
unseemly whoop
She draws me closer
whispering in my ear.,

‘See that keening bird in the sky?
That’s your mother’s soul
saying her final goodbye,

It is over
come, let us go home now’

Writes Tamsula Ao in an essay When in Doubt My earliest memory of her relates to the time when she came a few days after mother was buried. She stood by her grave and cried long. She noticed a hawk and pointed it out to me, "See, that's your mother's soul, watching us." In retrospect, I realise that she had clung to the core of her native faith about the human soul turning into birds or insects even as she 'progressed' in the new religion

These above few lines of the poems has touched me as no other lines has done for a very long time, i went into silence next many hours. Maybe i could write more about this poet and her poems (but i guess there are copyright issues). Since i am unable to i am leaving this blog empty as a mark of appreciation to this beautiful poet...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Common Sandpiper: The earliest migrant

Common Sandpiper are one of the earliest migrants from Himalayas into the plains, they start migrating by August and also among the last one to leave. I found this one at the pond on the lawns of Victoria hall in Kolkata at about six in the morning (the lady out on morning exercise asked whether i was photographing the pond!!. I had to point out the Sandpiper; somehow i don’t really have much liking for exercise freaks. I rarely walk for exercise, I walk to walk!!. Though i love going for long walks when i am in agreeable places. I was in Shillong sometime back and boy i must have walked few hundred Kms!!). Common Sandpiper is mostly a solitary bird that despite being a good swimmer prefers feeding along the edge of water and therefore can be seen along riverbanks, creeks or tanks, with a nervous bob as it moves about. Bills are long, straight and slender.

Satchidananda Raut-Roy

The taste of life’s bliss
is in his blood
He is neither Hindu nor Muslim
living together is his religion
or to fight for love, for food
or for everything else except
this imagined religion.

In the open manifesto of life
is signature
affirms life.

These lines are from the English translation of Oriya poem The Moon of Matiaburuz by Jnanapeedom winner and doyen of Odiya literary scene for four decades Satchidananda Raut-Roy (1916-2004), popularly known as Sachi Raut-Roy. These lines from poem Raja Jema

I am Sachi Raut-Roy
(not Tagore or Shelley)
I am poet of earth and sky
I am not a professional singer
It is not my business
to paint pictures on paper.
When you open a book of mine
you’ll feel the heart of a new man;
All men make up the tale of humanity,
man’s love and tears, grief and joys,
are portrayed in my verse.

Sachi Raut-Roy wrote not only poems but also fiction, his short stories in particular are quite popular. I was in Bhubaneswar–the capital of Odisha-and so bought a collection of short stories by him from the Odisha Sahitya Academy titled The Cemetery Flower, must say the title story is not for faint hearted, it’s too raw and brutal. The other stories give insight into common people’s life in pre-independent India.

Some more lines from the poem The Moon of Matiaburuz

This very old story
was heard again in our firms
the clash of two selfish interests
under the umbrella of two religions
the entire country burns in its stormy wind.
The bright charter of men of this country
was lost,
as a boy’s weightless kite in the south wind.

Tell me, is it morning yet?
Or is it still night,
The deep black python night of the past
I know,
may be this is the sign of awakening
as the night is the sign of the morning
the clouds, the invocation of rains.

Influenced by Gandhi he was active in freedom struggle, his writings became political and relevant to prevailing social circumstances. The lyrical quality in his poems made it immensely popular among common people. These lines from poem written on killing of teenage boy Baji Rout during freedom struggle...

Life couldn’t hold him prisoner
Nor could river’s song and colour
or dusk’s silence and morning’s wonder.
For all those were but too small to one
whose heart’s expanse was one revolution,
redder and more glorious than sunset
hotter than the flames of two crores of pyres.

Writes Jayanta Mahapatra “Sachi Raut-Roy demonstrated that poetry was undoubtedly a part of larger cultural and political forces and changes taking place within Orissan society. It was a poetry that was not separate from the life he led; in other words his poems were not independent of the poet in him. Here was a poet who was not afraid to speak out his true and innermost feelings; both his spontaneity and sincerity were obvious. Would it be wrong of me if i suggested that Sachi Raut-Roy brought in a kind of democratisation of poetry? Not only did he do this by speaking of the oppressive rule by feudal landlords and rulers of princely states, he narrated the emptiness and isolation of the world around him, and his own self...

A scribble...

At Howrah Launch
(a man attempts to explain an American at Howrah Boat jetty-launch)
People so poor here, says the American
In here rich are big richs
poor are big poors, explains the man
O yeah
yes yes
Rich people change fast and get richer
poor people are trapped, they are always trapped
O yeah. How strange
yes yes very strange

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Red vented Bulbul: so common we don’t look

Common throughout India, cheerful and active bird these are mostly found in pairs. Head and throat glossy black, a slight crest on the head, characteristic crimson patch under the tail. Several races are classified by the amount of black in the plume. An arboreal bird, sometime descent to pick up food, has short strong flights. They are also known for their melodious call notes.

James Baxter: What happens is either meaningless to me, or else it is mythology

He who would be a poet must
see the world in a grain of dust
and beauty in a rainy day

James Baxter (1926-1972) was one incredible New Zealand poet and a heck of a guy. Reading about him itself was quite an amazing experience! Why not? When the guy as a kid burns his hand on the stove to protest against institutional education you know you are not dealing with ordinary. After a stint of odd jobs (even worked as a postman for many years), alcoholism and adopting Catholicism, he was travelling Asia with stipend from UNESCO and ended up in Shantiniketan (there is a collection of poem titled ‘Howrah Bridge’). He later created a commune in Maori settlement- Jerusalem. Baxter lived a sparse existence ('It is absurd to say I am really a poor man while I keep on putting words together. Words set in order are mental possessions’) and wrote poems that were more political in nature and questioned the New Zealand society. Despite the fact that he died relatively young, a prolific poet- who started writing as early as when he was seven- he left a huge body of work.

It is the business of a poet, I think, to be destitute as well as honest. He may have money; but he should recognise that it is dirt. He may have prestige; but let him hate it and wear it like an old filthy coat. Then he may be able to stay awake a little better. Love will not harm him, though. It will slice him open like a fish, and hang him by the heels, and let the sun into his private bag of dreams and idiot ambitions. He will think he is dying when he is just beginning to wake up” (‘Writing and Existence’)

A few months before he died, James Baxter collected all the literary relics he had, put them in a large polythene bag, knotted the neck with string and attached an address label and stamps, and sent the lot by unregistered surface mail to an unsuspecting librarian friend!!.

From the poem Pig Island letter

Tonight I read my son a story
About the bees of Baiame, who tell the east wind
To blow down rain, so that the flowers grow
In dry Australia, and the crow wirinun
Who jailed the west wind in a hollow log:

My son who is able to build a tree house
With vine ladders, my son
In his brown knitted jersey and dungarees,
Makes clowns and animals, a world of creatures
To populate paradise

High Country Weather

Alone we are born,
And die alone.
Yet see the red-gold cirrus,
Over snow-mountain shine.

Upon the upland,
Ride easy stranger.
Surrender to the sky,
Your heart of anger.
From Two Songs for Lazarus
It is the month of the dead,
The Bengalese will die.
The weakness in my head
Makes verse hard to try;
The fast like an iron tomb
Is shutting out the sky.

From the poem Beyond the Palisade

They had their gods to shield them—we have none.
None save the marrowless steel-blade.
On our wrists like leeches hang, silver of blood,
our hills, our forests; the alien sun
stares through silver and green on us; for here
even our fear,
our love loses its focus: the sad cretin
walks abroad in the rotten hearts of the failing towns.
New blood moves briefly; unPolynesian, our deaths are near.
From the hills no dream but death frowns.

From Air flight to Delhi

The homeless in the Mogul tombs
Cannot despair because they do not hope,
On the great star wheel pulled apart
Show the disastrous innocence
Of one who murders in his sleep.
The cross is clouded here with market dust.

From A Rope for Harry Fat

Oh some have killed in angry love
And some have killed in hate,
And some have killed in foreign lands
To serve the business State.
The hangman’s hands are abstract hands
Though sudden death they bring—
‘The hangman keeps our country pure,’
Says Harry Fat the King.

From To Any Young Man who Hears my Verses Read in a Lecture Room

When some cheese-headed ladder-climber reads
A poem of mine from the rostrum,
Don’t listen. That girl in her jersey and beads,
Second row from the front, has the original nostrum

I blundered through nine hundred parties and ninety-eight pubs
In search of. The words are a totem
Erected long after for scholars and yobs
Who’d make, if they could, a bicycle-seat of my scrotum

A Pair of Sandals
A pair of sandals, old black pants
And leather coat – I must go, my friends,
Into the dark, the cold, the first beginning
Where the ribs of the ancestor are the rafters
Of a meeting house – windows broken
And the floor white with bird dung – in there
The ghosts gather who will instruct me
And when the river fog rises
Te ra rite tonu te Atua -
The sun who is like the Lord
Will warm my bones, and his arrows
Will pierce to the centre of the shapeless clay of the mind.

This mail I found from one of the links
I used to meet James Baxter at the Shamrock Coffee Bar in Wellington 2-3 times a week in the early 60s.
Every now and then he would give me a hand written poem and hand it to me saying..."I made you a poem man" and in return, I would buy him food and coffee.
Alas! Those poems were lost long long ago..a friend 'borrowed' a book that had the poems concealed between the leaves. I expect that those priceless affirmations of James' friendship were perhaps discarded as worthless graffiti.
My loss has no bounds.

Some scribbles...

The sky is not the end of sight
there is a world beyond
that fails the eyes
only thoughts can traverse
and converse with those once mattered,
share a joke
and journey back all at an instance.
People on the beach
least aware, of the
leaps between the world.

In the crowd
Let the thought be
let it go free
sit in the favourite perch
and see the world dance
burst of colours and myriad sounds,
breath it all
take it in your vein
let it live you
let it be.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

So landed the Tailor bird

I even mused loudly in my earlier blog that i haven’t been seeing Tailor-bird for last many years and lo the Tailorbird lands just into my frame when i was focusing on vultures at Ramanagaram. It was such a pleasant surprise that it took me sometime to gather the fact it indeed is Tailorbird. A rufous cap and dark spots on sides of the neck –noticeable when puffed up-was enough, strident piercing calls and an erect tail confirmed it further that this little green bird is indeed the famous Tailorbird (though it doesn’t give any indication of its fame!!). They have a rather long and sharp bill for a reason; these adeptly used to sew the leaves that form cradle to its nest which is then filled with soft materials. Two big leaves could be sown or it could be cluster of smaller leaves. The thread used could be from cobweb or silk of cocoon or cotton, these are held by the beak and insertion is made into the leaf and a knot sees to it that doesn’t slip out...quite incredible..try doing that with your mouth next time!!
Tailorbirds are the kind of bird you will see if you are observant otherwise it will just hop away, and you wouldn’t even realise that you missed the opportunity of watching an amazing specimen of nature. So keep your eyes wide open you never know what you miss! 

I always wanted to come to Vishakhapatnam, have passed this place quite often (the railway station is one of the best), even this time too Vishakhapatnam was not on the itnery it so happened i am supposed to be going Agartala but couldn’t get any reservation (tatkal is a scam) so slowly moving up city by city, on road, in general compartment and so on. The idea is to get down the city you fancy and spend some time and move on (i hope the money lasts). So here i was in Vishakhapatnam, very soon found myself on Beach road. It is a beautiful place ‘where every prospect pleases’, had ‘Apollo fish’-a spicy dollop spread on fried chilly (when Andhraite met God. God must have said ‘thou shall find salvation in chilly’, it’s fiery even by Kerala ‘kallu shop’ standards). I was quite upset not finding tandoori fish on the menu; I expect that on the beach. I always thought government-tourism dept- should take initiative in training chefs at the street level and help create menu for them. Some of these innovations and presentation doesn’t need much expense. I went for a walk and came across statues of luminaries (if Seemandara becomes a separate state Vishakhapatnam could be the Capital city), politician, social workers, poets, singers, even a muscle man –who it is claimed stopped the train engine with ‘single hand’!. Poets include Srirangam Srinivasa Rao, Puripanda Appla Swamy, Adivi Bapiraju, Arudra...must add here that statues are done well unlike shoddy work one come across these days. Now having seen the statues of these greats my next step was to find more about is a shame that I didn’t know much...frankly my understanding of Telugu is rather limited (eastern Andhra had strong influence of Budhism, Telugu has similarities to Sinhala). Vishakhapatnam Public Library is a new building and does have some collection of books but no works of the above mentioned poets in English-I believe Sahitya Akademi could work closely with Public libraries across the country and provide. There should be Sahitya Akademi section in each library. 

So I was back in the Net, and thought of writing about Arudra (who was born in Vishakhapatnam, though couldn’t find much of his poems on the Net). Arudra, his real name was Bhagavatula Sadashiva Shankara Sastry (1925-1998) started his career as band boy in Airforce later he worked as editor of `Anandavani' magazine for two years. Joining the cine field in 1949, he wrote lyrics and dialogues for many films. He was a member of the Andhra Progressive Writers Association since 1943. While on other jobs, he pursued writing and published a number of books on varied literary subjects. A multifaceted personality he wrote poems, essays, short stories, dramas, translations, film songs, detective stories and a book on Chess. He also translated the Tamil treatise Tirukkural into Telugu. 

Tvamevaaham written in 1948 is considered a masterpiece. It was based on violence and lawlessness during Razakar movement in Telangana. The Razakar atrocities were sponsored by the Nizam against his own people who wanted to overthrow him in favor of democracy and join the Indian Union. In this poem Death speak to a human "you and I are the same (tvamEvaahaM)". An imaginary sand clock and a water clock were used by the poet to depict time in Tvamevaham. The `hours' are a symbol of the rich and affluent, the `minutes' denote the attitude of the middle class and the `seconds' are likened to the mentality of the working class. A stop watch was depicted as an instrument to measure `revolution'. The `key' fanned revolution, while the `alarm' was a warning of the prevailing situation. First published in 1949, it has gone through five editions. This a writing by his daughter in her blog (

“My favourite part of the kaavyam is the section nimishaalu - Minutes. Written as a monologue, with acid unpunctuated prose commentary alternating with supposed free but tightly written verse, this section mirrors middle class mentality, the woes, aspirations and traps thereof. There is a rhythm to the monologue and the mutters of commentary that is achieved partly by eschewing punctuation and partly by the rhythm of spoken language itself. The leitmotif of 'mamu brOchuvaaru' and how it evolves, using images evoked by Carnatic kritis is masterly.
The Water Clock is one of the few segments that can be translated at all and that famous line is from here:
the train you intended to board
is always a lifetime late
unwilling to wait for ages
you board any that comes along
your luggage of ideals
is excess, will say the T.I.C.
trunk-loads of your hopes and desires
consigned to the brake van of dreams
the train will set off before
you can load all your baggage
so, leave some behind
with the heroes that you idolise
that train won't reach your destination
during your lifetime
bemoan in god's name
and stay put where you are.

Maybe one day I will have a go at translating the other sections, but TvamEvaaham should be read in Telugu and aloud, to experience it best”.
The other works of Arudra include: Gayalu-Geyalu (a collection of poems and lyrics), Arudra Naatikalu (collection of plays), Nenu Cheppanuga (short stories), Kondagali Thirigindi (collection of selected lyrics from the poet's 25 years of film career), Gurajada Gurupeetam (a study and evaluation of works of Gurajada Appa Rao) and Vemana Vedam (critical commentary on selected poems of Vemana). His lifelong research resulted in -- Samagra Andhra Saahithyam, history of Telugu literature in 13 volumes. One of the memorable occasions in Arudra's life was his 61st birthday celebrations held in Madras. His lyrics were sung by all the playback singers in a recital which lasted for two-and-half hours

Cricket match

To tell the truth, I cannot play cricket
Yet, for every match, I buy the ticket
Between Umrigar, Borde and Desai, I cannot tell the difference

Not even when I’m close by.

That’s why, when our team is fielding
I shout aloud, “Milka Singh”
He wears a turban and a beard
That’s how I remember him well.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Aha at last dear me the vultures!!

Finally after many futile attempts I am able to photograph the Long Billed Vultures of Ramanagaram. My plan was to go early morning since when the sun is out air gets heated they create pressure variants-thermals- these are used by these birds to soar and lookout for food-I read that in the net-so if you are late into the day you won’t find these birds. They will be soaring high in the sky. That precisely what had happened in my other occasions, it really was quite frustrating. But this time the climate was damp and the birds were in some kind of hibernation, they weren’t in any mood to fly, occasional flaps nothing much or maybe their stomach were full (they eat to fill about thrice in a week). I took these pictures from quite a distance, you can climb up the cliff if you want to but I thought against that course of action, since it is against one of the cardinal principle of bird watching and that is: Do not disturb the bird or its habitat.

My reason of excitement on spotting these large and magnificent birds also has to do with the fact that Long Billed Vultures (also referred to as Indian Griffon Vulture) are extremely rare birds and IUCN has classified it as Critically Endangered. The long-billed vultures are one of the 20 most endangered birds in the world. IUCN report states “It was common in parts of peninsular India until very recently, but since the mid 1990s has suffered a catastrophic decline (over 97%) throughout its range. This was first noticed in Keoladeo National Park, India where the population fell from 816 birds in 1985-1986 to just 25 in 1998-1999. Just one tiny population in the Ramanagaram Hills of Karnataka remains in inland southern India, and it is rare elsewhere within its former range”. According to the BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society), 99 per cent population of the bird has declined at the rate of around 50 per cent every year. "At present there are only 11,000 vultures remaining in India. If it continues to decline at this rate, then only around 6,000 vultures will be left and finally they may become extinct". They suffered an extremely rapid population decline as a result of feeding on carcasses of animals treated with the veterinary drug diclofenac leading to renal failure. The drugs are harmless to humans and to cattle themselves but highly toxic to vultures (the governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan announced a ban on the production of veterinary formulations of diclofenac in 2006 after the discovery and publication of the role of diclofenac in 2004). A second veterinary drug in use in India, ketoprofen, has also recently been identified to be lethal to the species, and population modelling indicates it may be present in sufficient concentrations to also cause population declines. Other likely contributory factors are changes in human consumption and processing of dead livestock, avian malaria, and poison and pesticide use, but these are probably of minor significance. The increasing air traffic in big cities too has taken its toll. Also the reproductive cycle of vultures is very slow. The vultures do not start breeding until they are four or five years old, and even then they only have a single chick.

Vultures are large carrion-eating birds and play a key role in the wider landscape as providers of ecosystem services, and were previously heavily relied upon to help dispose of animal and human remains in India. Its scavenging habits are an important link in checking and containing the spread of infectious diseases among animals and even human beings (vulture declines have been associated with an increase in feral dog populations across the region. At carcass dumps the situation is even more severe, with packs of several hundred dogs occurring in the place of the hundreds or thousands of vultures that used to be present. Such large packs of dogs are very aggressive). In India cows have a sacred status for Hindus and are not consumed. As a consequence very large numbers of livestock carcasses became available for vultures in Asia and became the principal food source for the resident species of vultures. Vultures were so abundant that the Parsi religion in India and Buddhist communities on the Tibetan plateau utilised vultures for sky burials in order to cleanly and efficiently dispose of human bodies.

Nine species of vultures have been identified in the Indian subcontinent, among which three Gyps species – Oriental White-rumped Vulture, Long-billed Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture – declined quite rapidly. The three species of vultures continue to decline at an alarming rate. The number of Oriental White-rumped vulture declined by 99.9 per cent between 1992 and 2007. The equivalent decline in the combined total of Long-billed and Slender-billed vultures was 96.8 per cent, as per the surveys conducted.

For years, it was believed that all vultures were raptors. In 1994, however, it was discovered that the vultures share a common ancestor with storks and ibises. Vulture Centre, Pinjore in Haryana set up with BNHS is India’s first and largest vulture conservation breeding centre.

Bharathidasan: The revolutionary Tamil poet

Did the sky sing

or the moon?

Did the honey sucked beetle

give the sweet note?

Did the roaring thunder

after learning subtle music

give such a sweet melody?

(from the poem Skylark)

I had been to Connemara library (Chennai, i am coming here after almost 15 years...unbelievable!!... those days I was quite crazy about aircrafts, and so would try to get more info and find some pictures) to collect information regarding Avvaiyar(Tamil poetess of 1BC, I took the pic of the statue of her at Marina beach), quite shockingly there are only four books that too in Tamil. Bharathidasan was the other choice in my mind (the pic too taken at Marina beach). Bharathidasan (1891-1964) was a major figure in modern Tamil poetry (i recall studying him in school). His poems carried the revolutionary zeal and lyrical expressiveness (all the below are translated from Tamil), in many sense he was a visionary and his poetry tend to be messages to downtrodden and exploited, that was sought to be ingrained. He symbolised the conscience of Tamil people and its civilizational angst and insecurities.

Crabs on the Sand Shore

Like the silvery brood of swans

tumbling down in sporting mood

The leaping waves again and again

fall on the shore twirling

When the silver tide after touching the shore

withdraws, the crabs with tiny legs

run hither and thither

And create a scene of wonder

Sweetness of Tamil

The succulent pulp inside the fruit,

The juice of full grown sugarcane,

The honey in dew moistened flower,

The sweetness of well heated syrup,

The milk yielded by wholesome cow,

The cool juice given by tender coconut,

Are all pleasent i say; but still

I maintain tamil is my life-ye know!

Let me add here that his liking of Tamil did spiral into linguistic chauvinism, unfortunately aggravated anti Hindi sentiments, shocking from a poet who has written some amazing lines. But i think we need to put it into the perspective Dravidian assertion. These lines from ‘The Sacrificial Altar’

Thou toiled hard but without a morsel of food

thou live like cattle lodged in a fold

at the of men thou prostrate

who do evils in the name of religion

and thou sink low without a shelter

If thou complain to them of thy hunger

they’ll call it the result of thy sins of the past

and talk at length to support their stand!

If thou counter their views, they will unite and fight

When thy kids and spouses in all

are famished and crave for gruel

there are temple festivities in the streets

will thou pay heed to the customary words of the wealthy?

Raise thy arms to annihilate

religion that nourishes superstition

Free yourself of the sacrificial altar

and win for thyself this prosperous land, o men!

Needless to add Bharathi was unabashed firebrand communist, i found this particular poem ‘Foreign names for various forms of Government’ rather interesting

If two cows you have

Give one to your neighbour:

That is ‘Socialism’

One you sell

and buy a bull-

That is ‘Capitalism’

Sell the cows to the government

and procure the milk you need:

That is ‘Communism’

Confiscating your milch cows

And making you pay for the milk:

That is ‘Fascism’

Kill the owner of the cows

And seize the cows at once

That is ‘Nazism’

Collecting all the milk

And pouring it into a ditch

That is ‘New Dealism’

Which of these

will you choose?

that be your country’s creed