Friday, January 25, 2013

White-rumped Munia: round is the world

 I was at the coastal temple town and backpacker tourist destination of Gokarna last monsoon, through my window I could see the mammoth Shiva looming in the horizon. In this grandness of world human creates it was easy to miss White-rumped Munia nibbling earnestly in the rain soaked grass lawn beneath the window.   Occasionally taking a break on a rock and preening itself. Engrossed that I was realized much later that I could take god damn pictures! Life, only a few years back, was quite uncomplicated, wherein you could stretch out next to a lake for hours, with nothing but a binocular and that would be it. Every lake had potential to be a Walden!! Now ofcourse there are cameras, there is business of chasing, they even have birdrace! (ah the angst of birdgroups, the arguments and counter arguments, the Yagnavalkyas and  Gargis/Maithris). I have so far steered clear of these, Surveys though are much interesting, the leisure, the pause, the agreeability of little things. Slowly though I have realized that the best company on such occasions is your own. I once spent half a day watching Siberian cranes at good old Bharathpur (by the way for the initiates they stopped coming since 2002). Now who in the right mind would do that? The other day I was at Sultanpur, and riveted to flock of Northern Shovelers among Bar-headed Goose for an hour, who wouldn’t be?

White-rumped Munia (Lonchura striata) is common throughout peninsular India.

Konkani: the enigmatic story of a language that came back from the brink

Imagine a once flourishing language that losses its speakers to different languages and suffers the ignominy of being dismissed as a dialect and then, after decades of effort, establishes itself to its rightful place and honor. It is not only the official language of a full fledged State, Goa, but recently one of its writers is honored with highest literary award in the country (Jnanpith award to Ravindrabab Kelekar for the year 2006). That is the charming story of Konkani language we all should know.  

To be very frank I wasn’t aware of Konkani, except occasionally bumping into someone in Kochi, I used to think that Kamaths/Pais/Shenoys are malayalees. It is much later that I gathered they are Konkanis and are spread across the western coast, even then I took it as one of the languages around. It was while I was cycling on Konkan coast earlier last year that I came across a man running a tea shop, just before Goa on the Karnataka side (somewhere before Karwar), who explained about how Marathi is different from Konkani. Till then I wasn’t aware of these things. It really was an eye opener. I did some research and found that World Konkani Centre is located in Mangalore, and decided will visit it on my way back. That didn’t happen but I did visit it subsequently.

Konkani is an Indo-Aryan language, and is argued as an ancient language, the claim has credence as can be gathered from the reference to the coast as Konkan and that it was the language spoken by the Aryans who moved to south of Vindhyas. Proto-Australoid substratum is very prominent in Konkani, particularly Mundari (of Munda) who were pre-historic inhabitants of these regions. Ancient Konkani prakrit was confluence of Indo Aryan dialects, the Vedic Sanskrit and Dravidian. This archaic form of Konkani is referred to as Paishachi by some linguists. The earliest inscription in Konkani language is of Gupta period. It is found in Arvalem in Goa, ascribed to 2nd century AD. Another indicator of its ancient origin is the major speakers of this language are Saraswath ‘Brahmins’ (I am using the term ‘brahmin’ as a slang that has absolutely no connection with the original idea of Brahmin as understood in evolved scriptures. This slang is used as casteist reference in contemporary India -necessarily a reference to ritual driven dimwits, very much acknowledged by khap media). These are set of people who seem to have originated from the banks of, now vanished, Saraswathi River and have strong references to ancient traditions. This set of people settled in Gomantak, now Goa. Philologists of repute consider Konkani to be the living form what was probably the ‘Sarasvathi language’ spoken in and around what is now Punjab –on the bank of Sarasvathi and Drishtavathi rivers. Like the ancient Vedic form of Sanskrit language sarasvathi balabasha has affinities with modern derivatives of Sanskrit language, and is believed to have best preserved in Konkani. They thrived for centuries, the decline happened with Muslim raiders and later quite viciously by Portuguese. They dispersed to different places and this was beginning of travails for Konkani language.

It need be noted that their contribution to education and commerce has been quite significant. It was Dr. T.A.Pai who created Manipal –near Mangalore that probably is the only education town in the country!! This community’s presence in Banking sector is nothing short than intriguing. Canara bank, one of the leading banks in the country was started by Ammembal Subba Rao Pai. During the year 2000 A.D, for instance, five out of twenty government owned giant banks were headed by people from this community. They were Andhra Bank-Shri B. Vasanthan, Bank of Baroda - Shri P. S. Shenoy, Canara Bank - Shri R. J. Kamath, Syndicate Bank - Shri D. T. Pai and Union Bank of India - Shri V. Leeladhar. Shri K V.Kamath, MD & CEO of ICICI, one of the largest financial institutions of Asia.

It is interesting to note that a major number of linguistic innovations in Konkani are also shared with Eastern Indo-Aryan languages like Bengali, Oriya which have its roots in Magadhi. Presently Konkani is written in Devanagari, Roman, Kannada and Malayalam scripts, therefore these languages have influenced Konkani locally and thus further differentiation. Recently there are attempts towards standardization and Konkani has accepted Devanagari script officially, though it is resisted by goan Christians who prefer roman script. Credit should also go to Shenoi Goembab (in the picture) alias Vaman Raghunath varde Valaulikar (1877-1946) who through his prolific writings revived Konkani and is regarded as a pioneer of Konkani Renaissance. The contribution of Portuguese missionaries (particularly on grammar) as also other Christians is also very significant (Rev Father Jerome D’Souza part of Indian delegate to UN, made his speech in Konkani).   

This a compelling paragraph from Kamat’s potpourri ….“if one has to see the diversity of today's Konkani language, one should travel the Indian west coast. In Bombay, they speak in Marathi accent whereas in Konkan, they stretch the words so that no outsider can understand!. The Hindus of Goa liberally use the Portuguese words whereas the Christians use it as if it's a Portuguese dialect. In Karwar and Ankola, they emphasize the syllables, and in Kumta-Honavar, they use consonants in abundance. The Konkani spoken by Nawayatis of Bhatkal is very melodious with smearing of Persian. People of South Kanara do not distinguish between nouns of Kannada and Konkani, and have developed a very business practical language. They sometimes add  Tulu words also. The Konkani of Kerala is drenched with Malayalam, and the Konkanis of north Karnataka add Kannada verbs to Konkani grammar. The city-bred use a plenty of English. To write Konkani,  Kannada, Nagari, Roman, Arabic, and Malayalam scripts are used and this way, Konkanis declare themselves as members of world family (Vishwakutumbi). There is no other language with a possible exception of Sanskrit that a language is written in so many scripts”. The fact though is that Konkani unfortunately was compelled to become a language using multiplicity of scripts.  Indeed there is a vast literary output of considerable high standards of Konkani authors in more than a dozen languages including English, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Pali, Marathi, Guajarati, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Singhalese and so on.  Needless to say Konkani suffered, as much as most Indian languages now are since more people prefer English as their language of expression.
(the blogger expresses gratitude to Kalaangan –the Konkani Heritage Centre in Mangalore for access to books)  

Stumbling onto vintage Ranjit Lal …and ensconcing into little worlds…

It was fortuitous to stumble upon Ranjit Lal’s Wild City -Nature Wonders Next Door (published in 2008) at Sunday second book mart, Daryaganj for 50R.  It couldn’t have got better than this, ofcourse it took me about six hours of siphoning through books and pensive bargaining on a tight budget. Ranjit Lal undoubtedly is a charming writer and a keen observer particularly of nature. Not a single line is disappointing, but I need point here that though Mr. Lal is critical, and rightly so, of anthropomorphic references he himself falls into it by sometimes referring male and female species as husband and wife, probably in jest but more than few times makes it extremely irritating. This ofcourse in no way dilute the fact that he is one of the most endearing contemporary writers, his heightened awareness and nuanced expressions laced in humour is always a pleasure to read, indeed it is difficult to keep the book down once you start. This book is precious and strongly recommended. I am a keen observer of insects, ants and spiders topping the list. It is an experience to watch the spider weave its web, always difficult to put these amazing feats in writing. Ranjit Lal does it with much dexterity, almost matching the “forgotten son of genius” (Dickenson)!!

“…and watching one do so is always worth the half an hour so it takes. The spider will first crawl up a suitable twig or post and let loose a light thread of silk. This hopefully will snag on some similar post or twig a little distance away and the spider will haul it in until the line is tight. The bridge line is done. The spider will now crawl along this, releasing a thicker and much stronger thread which serves as the basic scaffolding from which the web will be hung. Once this line is in place it will crawl back along this, releasing yet another thread in a loose loop below this scaffolding line. Now it crawls along the loop line and drops another line vertically down from its lowest point waiting for it to snag. Once it does, a basic Y-shaped framework for the web is complete. It continues in similar fashion until a proper radial framework for the web is complete. Then, starting from the centre, it begins spiraling outwards, laying the lines which will form the ‘body’ of the web. Once this is done, it changes direction and starts spiraling inwards along the same route it just came along, but now eating the line it had just laid and replacing it with sticky thread. As it reaches a radial junction, it ‘twangs’ the line so that the droplets of sticky stuff coat the thread equally along its length. As it nears the hub, the sticky silk is shut off for a ‘free zone’ to be formed so that the spider does not get caught in its own web, and the spider settles itself in the centre, awaiting guests to its parlour…”

 Ranjit Lal’s has a way with humour “…many years ago, I used to photograph the sea gulls that flock to Mumbai’s marine drive, right opposite a hostel of women. I hung around the place for hours, armed with binoculars, a camera with telephotos lens et al. If any police constable had asked me what I was doing opposite a women’s college equipped thus, I would have had to tell him the truth: ‘I’m photographing gulls’. You can well imagine the response! ‘Photographing girls? Abbe saala, sharam nahin ata hai? Chokri dekhta hai? Chal thane!. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Come with me to the lock up!’
Fortunately, havildars in Mumbai minded their own business at that time. Not like the cops here in Delhi, where I now do my birding. Out on the ridge one winter morning with a few friends, we were suddenly accosted by a couple of cops.
Kya kar rahe ho? What are you doing?’ they demanded truculently.
Chidiya dekh rahe hain,’ we explained eagerly, wondering if we could convert the lathi-loving police into avid munia-watchers. They stared at us incredulously. ‘Chidiya dekhna hain to chidiya-ghar jaiye,’ they promptly ordered. If you want to see birds, go to the zoo!”

That is the charming world of Ranjit Lal that you are eminently invited.  

From the scribble pad…

The city gets a layer of flesh
everytime it inhales
takes everything
distorts the details
and belch happiness