Why I write about my walks..and Lalbagh, 140419

April 16, 2019

I just got this heart-warming compliment from someone named Malu, regarding the descriptions I write (of the bird/nature walks I go on):
“So heartening to read the write up of your sunday outings. Gives people like me a vicarious pleasure in seeing these birds and animals through your words… thank you very much.”

My reply:

To you, and the many people who have written to me ( and to those who, I realize, may not have written but have still read my bird walk reports…because I recently got a query from someone asking where my writeup was !). Thank you for your kind words.

I used to see terse bird reports (not everyone has the time to write!) which went like this: “I went to X place. I saw..” followed by a very interesting list of birds. This always left me thinking about what the person did before, between, and after those bird sightings, and during them. Was there disappointment at not seeing a bird, or a thrill at seeing an unexpected one? Did they pant in the heat, shiver in the cold, or drip in the monsoon rain? That’s when I started writing “with the details”…I hope you are enjoying what I write, as much as I enjoy writing it!

Here’s the last one:

Bangalore may have entered grishma ritu, but in the open spaces, such as Lalbagh, it’s still quite pleasant in the mornings; so some of us decided to go there ahead of the usual 7.30am meeting time at the Glass House. On the lake bund, we enjoyed the blazing blooms of the Gulmohar, and watched the waterbirds going about their business of catching breakfast, and it was nice to see several Checkered Keelbacks resting in the water just at the corner of the fence and the footbridge that cuts across the lake.

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Not so pleasant was the sight of some visitors stoning these creatures, and I am afraid I gave them a piece of my mind!

The young Crested Hawk Eagle that added an unusual touch to our Lalbagh birding has, it appears, left for other destinations. Some of us had visited Lalbagh the previous day, to conduct a nature walk for schoolchildren, and since, most unusually, we did not sight a single keelback, our conclusion was that the eagle had finished them all off and departed. So it was pleasant to see that we were wrong about the “snakes in the lake”, if not about the eagle. I wonder if the Booted Eagle has also left.

Another rather disturbing sight was that of three Red-eared Sliders on the stones in the lake. Dr Suresh, of Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, told me that these turtles (native to north America) are very invasive,when I had sent him a photo of one that I’d seen in the lake. Is there any way of netting and sequestering these turtles so that they do not take over the lake? Perhaps, like many lakes now have separate areas for the “visarjan” of idols, we should also have an area where people can release their unwanted pets in a humane way.

The third thing that disturbed me was that visitors seem to think that plucking flowers off trees is a very acceptable thing to do. I went up to a few people who were doing this, but all I got for my trouble was some dirty looks and a “Who are you to tell us this?” manner!

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Visitors treading on flowers that were plucked and thrown on the ground

Well…all this unpleasantness aside…it was a lovely time. There was a cool breeze across the water, and we watched a solitary Grebe, several Little Cormorants

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and Great Cormorants, and the “regular” Darter fishing in the waters; Little Egrets and Purple Swamphens waded at the water’s edge, looking for a snack. Spot-billed Ducks flaunted their colours in the morning sunlight. We went to see the Spotted Owlets, and then shared some pre-breakfast snacks, sitting on one of the lovely wrought-iron seats. Before we knew it, it was time to go the Glass House and start the walk.

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Srinivas and Prasad were there, as usual, and we moved slowly along with them as they pointed out many of the common birds of Lalbagh. A Blyth’s Reed Warbler, some Koels, and White-eyes ensured that our progress down the path towards the Arjuna tree was very, very slow! The Peepal tree had two White-cheeked Barbets going in and out of their nest-holes, and so unconcerned did they seem, that it looked as if one was peeking out from the nest, watching us! This is a new variation of the phrase, “Bird Watching”!

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The Japanese Garden area allowed us to watch several woodland birds, and some White-headed Babblers, the resident Magpie Robin and a Black-rumped Flameback slowed us up considerably.

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Meanwhile, other experienced birders and naturalists who normally participate in the Lalbagh walk, arrived too. MBK brought out information in his usual entertaining way. Prashanth did some excellent sketching, talking to the children (the summer vacation meant we had several on the walk) about the colours of birds.

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As we turned towards the ancient mango tree, we stopped to listen to the Cicadas, and Kesava spotted a Robberfly

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on a Violin-leaf Plumeria plant. Several Common Ceruleans,

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mud-puddling and nectaring on a Cycad, kept us occupied and delighted for a while, too. Several other butterflies were quite active .

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Gardenia sp.

At this point some people asked to see the Spotted Owlet, and I was contemplating taking them to my usual spot, when Srinivas took just a few steps and pointed out one sitting above the netting of the nursery!

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I took the opportunity of asking Srinivas for several plant and creeper ids on the way, and by the time we reached the old mango tree, the call of the White-breasted Iddli had become very insistent in some of us The previous day, I’d found the eatery called “Lalbagh Grand”

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( a very nice alternative to Kamath, where I have been increasingly disappointed with the food)…and off we went to refuel.

The eBird list is

here

I have put up my photos on an FB album

here

The album on Flickr is

here

And….a small thank you to Narahari for the little push that made me write this without further delay!

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A Cassowary is a dangerous bird…

April 16, 2019

I got

this newsclip

on my birding/nature egroup. So I wrote:

A colourful bird is the Cassowary
But…dangerous toenails they carry.
A swipe from those nails
Could open up your entrails
So…of the Cassowary…be wary!

On a serious note, breeding of exotic birds can have bad consequences, even if not fatal.

Walk home from A’s, 090419

April 9, 2019

My walk back from my daughter’s home….
A lady skilfully making brooms from the spines of palm fronds.
A young boy trying to make a “puLLi kOlam” under his sister’s tutelage (an unusual sight!).
Yellow carpets of Copper Pod flowers, and the occasional purple of the Jacaranda.
The ground still damp from the previous night’s short shower of rain.
No school buses.
Steam issuing from coffee urns in darshinis, with customers already sipping
The early buses, BMTC and company ones, thundering past.
Peeping past the Metro mess as I cross the road, hoping not to be hit.
Uneven footpaths, potholes to be avoided.
Two boys having great fun splashing a bucket of water on to a car, washing themselves as much as the vehicle.
Young men sorting out a variety of newspapers, before delivering them. Pourakramikas trundling their trash bins.
Such vibrant life around me…there cannot be a single moment of boredom in a city walk!

Hecky (Mukul)’s tribute to Jayesh,2018

April 5, 2019

Hecky’s tribute to his dad, when Jayesh quit his job: I have always shared a unique relationship with my father. He has been several things to me over the years and continues to assume different roles, even within the span of a single day.

An assertion of fatherhood takes the shape of two religious phone calls to me daily. He sheds that mould and becomes a friend when he shares his numerous and infamous below-the-belt jokes that I am sure you’re familiar with. A true corporate takeover of the household occurs when he makes excel sheets to explain concepts as simple as tying a shoelace to the family. And a true buddy, when he helps me recover from a crippling hangover.

Among all the roles that he has played in my life, the one that stands out constantly, is that of a teacher. The man is a walking life lesson. Immensely articulate, to my father, a true thing badly expressed, is a lie. He has always set the bar high, a bar that has become my life-long goal to one day surpass.

As my father leaves the role that he has for so long cherished at Fidelity, I want him to know that I love him and that I will always have his back. I want to assure him that despite the greying pastures that abound his head, greener pastures await him in his personal life.

My best wishes to a true renaissance man— renaissance in that everything he does was fresh in fifteen hundred.

I had to take that last jab.

Love you pa,

Hecky

Bear Rescue Centre, Bannerghatta, 230319

April 4, 2019

On the butterfly group that I belong to, one member told us about the Bear Rescue Centre (BRC) at Bannerghatta, and asked for volunteers.It was then decided that several of us would visit the Centre and then decide on who would be able to volunteer. Since the Centre personnel wanted only 15 participants in each group, two groups of 15 members each were constituted. One group visited on Saturday, the 16th of March, and the other on Saturday, the 23rd of March. I was with the second group, and my anticipation was not disappointed.

The visit to the Centre, which is one of ten such facilities run by Wildlife SOS (an NGO started by Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani) started with all of us gathering in the Bannerghatta Zoo parking lot, from where Chiranjib and Prajwal came and picked us up, and took us through the scrub forest of the Bannerghatta National Park to the Centre. Set amidst bamboo thickets and grassland, the low buildings of the Centre blend well into the landscape.

Chiranjib gave us an introduction to the various bear species found in the world, and then narrowed down to the species of bears found in India, and the 77 bears that have been rescued and are now at the centre. A slide presentation showed us some disturbing images of bears that were ill-treated by those who captured them and sold them to entertain others by dancing; other bears were caught in snares for the wildlife trade. Chinese medicine requires the gall bladders of bears, and several bears have been rescued from traps. “We had more than double the number of bears here,” points out Chiranjib.”We have managed to stop the practice of dancing bears, and so we now get only bears that have been injured in the forest. Now, as the bears age and die, the numbers are growing less.” Indeed, as Dr Arun strikingly pointed out, the goal is not to need such a Centre at all…but that is not likely to happen in the near future. The bears are left loose in an area of about 74 sq. km, coming in to their enclosures for food; some, said Chiranjib with a smile, go first to one enclosure, eat the food there quickly, and go to the next, looking for second helpings!

Bears residing in the Pachavati block at BBRC//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Bears playing with the equipment built for them, at the Panchavati enclosure. Photo courtesy: BRC, Wildlife SOS

As we then went to look at the enclosure where food is given to the bears, more facts emerged.

Bears with simple injuries are treated at the rescue spots and allowed back into the forests; but those that have been badly hurt, or have had their diurnal rhythms disturbed (though they are nocturnal animals, they are made to be active and walk through the day by their captors),have to be put in the rescue centres for the rest of their lives, as they can no longer survive in the wild. As Dr Arun, the resident veterinarian who let us look in detail at the Operation Theatre and talked about the difficulties of treating wild and distressed animals, mentioned, the Centre is virtually an “old age home” for bears, where they will live until they die. Hence, the bears have to be given a diet that somewhat approximates what they would eat in the wild, with fruits and honey along with a ragi mixture. Many animals, used as dancing bears, arrive with their molars broken or forcibly extracted, and many also have cataracts, and most commonly, tuberculosis, from frequent contact with human beings who might be diseased and malnourished themselves.

We were then shown the “squeeze cage”, where the animal is put with as little difficulty to it as possible, in an upright position where it can be tranquillized if needed, and treated. Bears in the wild are creatures of uncertain temperament, and this characteristic might predominate in a stressed or trapped bear.

To allow them to forage as naturally as possible, there is a Termite Raising Unit, where termite hills are raised for the bears to raid as they would in the wild.

Termite Raising Unit at BBRC (2)
Photo courtesy: BRC, Wildlife SOS

The kitchen tour was fascinating, as we saw the various millets and grains that go into the bears’ daily diet. Sri Alauddin, when we visited at 11.30am, had already started cooking the ragi porridge for the bear’s evening meal, which would be cooled and given to them at 4.30pm. The diet for each bear is approximately 8 kilos of ragi porridge twice a day, along with two eggs, and approximately 2 kilos of fruits and enrichment treats.

Bears ragi porridge 2 a day, 020419 BRC Bnrghta.
The ragi porridge in the shallow steel containers, that the bears eat twice a day.Photo courtesy: BRC, Wildlife SOS

Honey and milk are added to the porridge, and sometimes they have to be added in front of the bears, to convince them, like one does with naughty children, that they are getting what they want! While we were in the bear cage building, several of the bears were waiting impatiently for their lunch, and one kept banging at the bars of the cage from the outside enclosure, demanding to be let in and fed! Both Chiranjib and Prajwal showed a great affection for these shambling animals as they described how each bear had a different personality and type of behaviour.

We were then taken to the Jambhava area (the other enclosures are Kishkinda,Panchavati,Chitrakuta, and Dr.GKV Block) and from the rooftop, we had a view of several of the bears foraging for the fruits (watermelons that day) that the staff left for them, in the open. It was delightful to see several Chital stags and does also coming for the fruit…and several birds coming to share the feast, as well!

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Tawny-bellied Babbler feasting on the fruit. Pic: Deepa Mohan

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Tailless Line Blue. Pic: Deepa Mohan

Several volunteers come regularly, and help the staff make the exercise equipment that the bears use to climb up and down on, and play with. Old, torn fire hoses are woven into rough thick sheets, and balls and sticks are added. These are made again and again in different ways as the bears’ play demolishes them.These are called “enrichment” too, as they do much to improve the quality of the bears’ lives at the Centre. The photo above gives an idea of the equipment.

We also looked at the differences in design between the older and newer bear pens, and found that changes had been made for the greater comfort of both bears and staff. Surely, this is a not well-known form of architecture and design!

Dr Arun, a veterinary surgeon who started with the main centre in Agra 17 years ago, was soon posted to Bannerghatta (which was established in 2005). He has remained here ever since. He talked with utter sincerity about the bears’ plight, without any sentimentality; his words were all the more effective because of this. “We do not want appreciation,” he says, “because we are quite aware of the work we are doing. What we want are volunteers, who will come and help our work in various ways.” The Centre is planning to have children from neighbouring villages come and know more about the mammals that share the forests and fields of Bannerghatta with them. They would like these children to know,not only about the bears, but about the other fauna, and the flora of the area, too, so that they know, and hence care, about the place they live in, and the treasures it holds.

The whole tour was well-planned and conducted, and was very informative, with an articulate Chiranjib and Prajwal filling us in on details, and Karthikeyan documenting the trip on camera.

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Pic: Deepa Mohan

We were not allowed to take photos of the Centre, but could take pictures of the birds and plants that we found interesting.There were quite a few of such plants and trees!

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Bauhinia racemosa. Pic: Deepa Mohan.

The Centre has much to be proud of. Over the years, the dependency on power from the grid or generator has been reduced by the addition of solar panels. Everywhere I found plastic bottles recycled to hold fruits or food, or used in other ways. Trees have been planted, greening the area, but the grassland has been left alone in its natural state, with bamboo and other kinds of grass providing shelter to other wild creatures and birds.

Indeed, we found so much of interest that we did exceed the time schedule and we finally had our lunch at the bus terminus area at about 3pm instead of 1pm as we had thought. Such was the care and affection lavished on the bears, that we joked to the staff that if provided with so much nutritious food along with milk and honey, we wouldn’t mind coming here ourselves in our old age!

We ended the tour with a group photograph taken by Prajwal (I clicked the group too) and returned to the outside world, very impressed with the work that is being done at the Bear Rescue Centre, and determined to work out how we could pitch to help the lot of the unfortunate animals who live there, and the dedicated human beings who try to make their lives as comfortable and forest-like as possible.

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The group on 23rd March. Pic: Deepa Mohan

We were able to do a bit of bird-watching, too. The bird lists

from the Zoo parking lot while we waited to be taken inside, is

here

and from BRC area is

here

*************************************************************

Facts and figures

Questions to Wildlife SOS:

1. How many centres of Wildlife SOS in India?
We operate ten wildlife rehabilitation facilities across India:
 Elephant Conservation & Care Centre, Mathura.
 Elephant Rehabilitation Center, Ban Santour, Haryana.
 Agra Bear Rescue Facility (for Sloth Bears)
 Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre, (for Sloth Bears) Bangalore.
 Van Vihar Bear Rescue Facility, (for Sloth Bears) Bhopal.
 Purulia Bear Rescue Centre, (for Sloth Bears) West Bengal.
 Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, in Junnar, Maharashtra.
 Pahalgam Rescue Centre (for Asiatic Black Bears & Himalayan Brown Bears), J&K.
 Dachigam Rescue Centre (for Asiatic Black Bears & Himalayan Brown Bears), J&K.
 Wildlife Rescue Centre, Haryana.
 Human Primate Conflict Mitigation Centre in Farah, Uttar Pradesh.
2. How many kg of ragi, fruit, milk, etc each day per bear?
The diet for the bears comprise of approx.8 kilos of porridge twice a day along with two eggs
and approx. 2kilos of fruits and enrichments treats.
3. Where does the funding come from?
We are a non-profit organization and are wholly dependent on donations from supporters and
grants for our funding.
Rescuing and caring for animals is always a financial challenge whether it is buying food or
medicines for the animals, treatment costs, field equipment, vehicle fuel and maintenance or
even staff salary. We are a non-profit charity and operate from donations and grants. We
request people to support our efforts by making donations to http://www.wildlifesos.org and by also
becoming monthly donors and sponsoring the care of our rescued and rehabilitated animals.
4. What are the names of all the enclosures?
Panchavati
Chitrakuta
Kishkinda
Dr.GKV Block
Jambhava
5. When was the Bannerghatta Centre started?
The Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre was established in 2005.
6. What is the area of the BRC?
The Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre is spread over 74 acres.

The schedule of our visit was as follows:

10:10 AM – Starting for the Rescue Center.
10:25 AM – Reaching Rescue Center. Orientation.
10:50 AM – Enclosure tour and feeding.
11:15 AM – Center schedule and Types of Bears.
11:25 AM – OT tour.
11:45 AM – Squeeze cage and Termite Raising Unit.
12:00 PM – Bear Kitchen tour.
12:15 PM – Jambhava Enclosure tour and sighting from top.
12:30 PM – Going back to office area.
12:40 PM – Refreshment and Group photos.
12:50 PM – Sign-off.

Sri Lalit “Achar”ya, Cheetal Resort, Madhai, Madhya Pradesh, 010219

March 26, 2019

When I went for the Bird Survey at the Satpura Tiger Reserve, in Madhya Pradesh,I stayed at the

Cheetal Resort at Madhai

It was a most impressive home stay, but apart from everything else, I spotted this sign:

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Pickle and food research room! That intrigued me very much. Little did I know that I was going to get a course on Pickle Making 101 from Sri Lalit Khattar, who owns the resort!

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At lunch, Lalit ji noticed me taking a lot of interest in, and relishing, the ginger, small-mango (“midi mAvinkAi” in Kannada or “mAvadu” in Tamizh) and date pickles

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that Karthik Hegde gave me to try, and walked up, asking if I would like to know more, and see the Pickle Research room. I was delighted to agree!

A very instructive and interesting time followed as my friends Harish, Sharmila and I went with him. Here he is, with some of his pickle jars.

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Lalitji says that pickles can be made from almost any vegetable or fruit.Properly made, he adds, the pickle has as long a life as the person who’s making it, and possibly longer!

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Harish and Sharmila talk to Lalit ji

Some pickles, he says, need to be made with oil, and some without. Very few pickles need the constituent vegetable to be boiled or otherwise cooked beforehand. However, he cautions, the process must be very carefully followed.

Most Indian pickles (called “achAr” in Hindi..in Tamizh, it’s “oorugAi”, meaning, “soaked vegetables” and in Kannada the name is “uppinkAi” or “salted vegetables”) have condiments (a combination of various spices) added to them,stuffed or marinaded , to soak into the vegetable, fruit or flower, and add the unique taste. His research, he remarks, is to try various combinations of spices, and also vary the process of preparing the pickle, and to see what tastes the best, and lasts the longest.

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Lalitji shows some of the “masAlA” (condiments) made to be added to the pickles.

His oldest pickle, that he showed us, was made with lemon…35 years ago! It still smelt heavenly!

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These are pickles made with “kundru” (Coccinia grandis, the ivy gourd, or “tindOrA”) They were crunchy.

He had some very unusual pickles to show us, too. Here are pickles made from Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) flowers. I knew that they were used to make a potent liquor, but the pickles were something new.

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He showed us a pickle made from Guava seeds, and mentioned how he’s made pickles with the seeds of the Tulsi (Basil) plant. “The cost of the seeds is about Rs.500 per kilo,” he said. “Oh, who buys it then?” I asked. “I don’t sell it!” was the reply. I make it for my own satisfaction and consumption.” Now that’s what I’d call a “consuming” passion for the pickle-making art!

Karthik Hegde, who manages the home stay, is an enthusiastic participant in the ongoing research. It was he who gave Lalit ji the recipe for the small-mango pickle…which was made perfectly, tasting absolutely authentic, from the small mangoes that grew on the trees in the homestay (which is also a farm in itself.) Here, Karthik and Lalit ji discuss the product and the process.

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Storing the pickles properly is vital to the long shelf-life of the pickle, Lalit ji is quick to emphasize. But if stored properly, he adds, metal, glass, or plastic containers, anything can be used for storage. His room bore witness to his words.

Many tart substances, such as lemon or lime juice, or tamarind, can be used as a base for pickles. These, too, should be properly processed to ensure a good shelf-life. Tamarind itself can be a pickle! So can chillies, apart from being a component of the condiment, in the form of chilli powder, or added as green chillies to give heat to the pickle. Apparently, chillies, and their varieties, are a huge subject by themselves, in this art.

Some pickles need to be kept in the sun for a few days or weeks; some need to be stirred at regular intervals. Definitely, there needs to be an investment of patience, time, and dedicated effort in making these delectable additions to our Indian meals.

A pickle can be eaten with anything; whether it’s rOtis, nAn, rice or pulAo, just with curds (yoghurt)..or sometimes, as I did lip-smackingly with the date pickles.. all by itself!

I did want to discuss some of the short-life pickles I make (such as “menthiya mAngAi” or “puLi miLagAi”) but alas, the survey that we had come to do didn’t leave much time for discussion! So I mean to have a further chat the next time I go to Madhai..and meanwhile, let me confer the title of “AchAryA” (respected teacher, and a pun on the word “achAr”) on Sri Lalit Khattar!

Long may his research on this tasty part of Indian cuisine last. I have been savouring the wonderful date pickles that he told Karthik to gift me as I left (I saw it only when I returned home!) and think of the very interesting time I had with the “AchAryA”!

Theatre Review: “Monsters in the Dark”, Bangalore Little Theatre, Ranga Shankara, 270219

February 28, 2019


Cast and crew taking a bow after the performance.Photo: Deepa Mohan

“The Emperor of All Maladies”, a Pulitzer-winning book by Siddharth Mukherjee is an intense book about that dreaded “C” word…cancer, and looks at the dread ailment via multiple lenses…history, biography, describing the several discoveries, obstacles,triumphs and failures in humanity’s long journey with, and battle against, cancer.

To base a play on a book like this is a major challenge, and Bangalore Little Theatre rose up to that challenge with their play, which I watched at Ranga Shankara on the 27th of February, ’19. The theatre group had produced an excellent brochure, which described the play. I skimmed through it, wanting to let the theatre experience wash over me, without preconceptions.

The play was indeed as intense as the book; cancer is viewed like a kaleidoscope, from the opening scene of the “oncomice” (patented in the process of studying cancer), to how it feels to be diagnosed with the dread disease; from the scientists and doctors who made their contributions to the therapy, their right and wrong decisions; the ethics committees that sat in judgement on them, often hindering or stopping protocols; the suffering of cancer patients, the positivity and negativity they face from those around them, and the mental framework of the survivors. The references were more to leukaemia in children, which is a very emotional issue. The denouement and the climax of the play comes with a zing, and a hark-back to the beginning, that I cannot reveal without spoiling the suprise!

The stage design was well done; one area was designated as a kind of lab set up, where doctors and scientists could be seen pondering and worrying over tests and results; another, with two step-ladders (why did the two actors have to sit on different levels was never clear to me), represented the ethics committee’s sessions. A bench also became a hospital bed with the addition of a saline drip stand, and two chairs and a table at the left of the stage became an area where a friendship between two people blossoms into love, while one of them is diagnosed with cancer, though she is training to be an oncologist herself.

The costumes that the cast wore were very interesting. All of the cast, except for the character of the budding oncologist, wore very smart dungarees/overalls; the addition of coats, lab coats, or lace-edged ponchos demarcated the differentiation in the characters portrayed.

The dialogue was another very difficult part of the play, consisting, as it did, of many technical terms and names of protocols and processes. The playwrights tried to overcome this difficulty by simplifying as much as they could, and also using a blackboard to write some of the figures (such as 41,000 doctors who responded to a survey, or the names of the V.A.M.P protocol) so that they were clear to the audience. In spite of this, the jargon did tend to overwhelm us and we struggled, also, to keep up with the names of the doctors and scientists; some who wanted glory, and some who were truly dedicated. I must compliment the cast on their excellent command of these difficult lines, and the clear diction which ensured that the audience got the names well.

The music in the production was a major part of it. From the drum that heightened the tension in scenes, the music at every point underscored the narrative of the play, and the building tension of unfolding events. The eerie tune of “Three Blind Mice”m played on the harmonica, heightened the fact that not only the laboratory mice but the patients themselves, are sometimes the guinea pigs of those who try to work out a cure for this disease, trying new treatments and protocols on hapless sufferers.

The lighting was extremely effective too, highlighting the action at different parts of the stage, and picking up expressions such as Dastan’s amorous humour, Deeksha’s study-related tensions, or the sadness on Carla’s face as she realizes her illness. The darkness made space and time for the shifting of the stage props such as the benches, and stools, the positions for which were clearly marked on the floor of the stage.

The direction was one of the best parts of the production I watched; by being unseen, it was all the more effective. However, I would certainly suggest that a certain looseness in the production could be tightened up, which would also cut short the length of the play. I think, that with more stagings of the play, this may be done.

This is not a play for those who are looking for an evening of candy-floss escape from the real world; it brings the audience face to face with the enemy within us, that humanity has faced, fought, overcome and succumbed to, over time. It showed us how ambition or vainglory can sometimes trump compassion and empathy; but it also brought us the stories of those who conquered the illness, those who made breakthroughs in the treatments and ended with the statement that negated the title of the book on which it is based: “It is not the emperor of maladies”, but just the foe that must, and should, be conquered. A worthy effort by Bangalore Little Theatre, and I look forward to watching further productions of this play to see how it evolves.

Monsters in the Dark, by Bangalore Little Theatre
Ranga Shankara, 27 Feb ’19
75 min
Playwrights: Ravi Chari, Kavya Srinivasan
Directors: Murtuza Khetty, Deepak Mote
Costumes and Set: Aruna Nori
Cast: Abhishek Sundaravadanan, Deepthi Adappa, Disha Mittal, Khyati Raja, Meera Girijan, Minti Jain, Paawan Mukker, Prabha Venkatesh, Ratneshwar Bannerghaee, Shreekant Road, Shreya Sen, Sneha Sridhar, Vignesh Suresh
Backstage: B N Rangashre, Vinay Kambappa, Vaidya Ojha
Music: Aniruddh G, Harmonica
Tickets: Rs.200

Production supported by a grant from Kusum and Mohandas Pai and contributions from Bangalore Little Theatre, Health and Humanities, St. John's Research Institute, and Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai.

Reunited with my beloved Flycatcher Avenue!

February 27, 2019

From 2006 and a couple of years after that, I used to haunt the Bannerghatta zoo area regularly. There was (and still is) a direct bus from my home to the area. The zoo was small (smaller than today), and with the Jungle Lodges and Resorts property right there, it was a very safe place to wander around, as the staff and the guards would let me know if there was any elephant movement I should be wary of.

Just outside the old wall of the zoo (which has been pulled down now, but in a touching bit of conservation, has a small part with a strangler fig growing on it, retained!)

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there was a beautiful avenue (that is, a tree-lined road). At one point, the road divided into two; the left-hand path went steadily upwards, with a sign (which is still there) saying, “To Mirza Hills”. However, I increasingly started frequenting the lower path, which went along the old wall of the Zoo, and led to a small pond, which had a circular path adjoining the Herbivore Safari area.

The pond was a lovely, leafy place where one could (and still can) see the three most commonly-occurring Kingfishers in our vicinity: the Small Blue, which is no longer “common”, the Pied, and the White-throated Kingfishers.

The areas behind JLR and along the rocky hills were also a great place to sight various birds. The area where the BMTC terminus is today was the home of a family of mongoose, which went about their business without fear. The area near the Butterfly Park was a place where I regularly sighted Scimitar Babblers.

After enjoying all this, I would fetch up along what I named “Flycatcher Avenue”, to get an unfailing bonanza of flycatchers, during the winter months. The summer months still yielded the resident ones such as the Tickell’s Blue and the Fantail Flycatchers.

The signs of change came when the present BMTC terminus was built, and much of the area which had been free and open, was walled up and included in the gated, ticketed area of the Zoo. This meant, not only that I had to pay each time to get to my favourite place, but that I could not get access to it until the gates of the Zoo opened, at 9.30am, which is usually late for birdwatching. But since the avenue always has good shade, I found the Flycatchers even after this time, and hence did not mind paying up for the privilege. We have even sighted the Blue-bearded Bee-eater, the Orange-headed Ground Thrush, and other such species, when we looked across the barbed wire into the undisturbed Herbivore area; a Nilgai or two would amble into sight, and we never failed to spot crocodiles half-submerged in the water, or sunning themselves on the rocks.

Then came more construction. Access to the Flycatcher Avenue was barred as a new wall came up across the lane, and from taking groups of children and adults there regularly, I stopped visiting the area completely. Friends who did visit also told me that access to the lane was no longer available, leave alone accessing the Kingfisher pond.

So it was with a sense of “What will I find?” that I decided to go with Vidhya to the Zoo area again, during the Great Backyard Bird Count, on 15 Feb ’19. I was in for a treat!

Of course, we had to pay for ourselves and our cameras, and could only get in at 9.30am…but once we got in, we found that the disappearance of the old wall was good for us as birders. Where the flycatchers would disappear frustratingly behind the wall earlier, now the area was clear, and we could watch to our hearts’ content.

On this first visit after a long gap, we were able to sight no less than seven of the nine kinds of Flycatchers that I have seen here. We saw the male Paradise Flycatchers in their sub-adult stage without long tails, with half-grown tails, with the fully-grown, replesendent streamer tails too! I need not tell you that we returned with beaming smiles from the visit. Nor have the two subsequent visits been a disappointment in any way, on the 23rd and 25th of Feb. Indeed, near the Leopard/Lion cage (the notice says Leopard, but there is a lion in the enclosure!) there is a bamboo stand which is home to a very tame Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, which led my friends teasingly around the thicket as they got their DSLR shots…and then sat patiently for them…while a full-tail white-morph Paradise flycatcher flaunted his “ribbons” at us from the trees above. We were quite spoilt for choice!

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Paradise Flycatcher, White morph

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Paradise Flycatcher, Rufous morph

The eBird list for the area behind the parking lot from the first visit (I’ve done three so far) is at

https://ebird.org/india/view/checklist/S52742678

and for the Zoo itself (including Flycatcher Avenue) is at

https://ebird.org/india/view/checklist/S52712056

I’ve put up photos on an FB album at
https://www.facebook.com/deemopahan/media_set?set=a.10156406434043878&type=3

The flycatchers I’ve sighted and observed here are:

Asian Brown

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Black-naped Monarch

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Brown-breasted

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Grey-headed Canary

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Indian Paradise

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Red-breasted

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Taiga

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Tickell’s Blue

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Ultramarine

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Verditer

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White-browed Fantail

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White-throated Fantail

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Which makes 11 kinds of Flycatchers, all in that small area!

I am writing to the Karnataka Forest Dept at Bannerghatta, giving these details, and asking for access in future…let’s see what comes of it!

Cheers, Deepa.

Other flycatchers I have seen elsewhere:

Great Crested Flycatcher, St Louis, Missouri:

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Dark-sided Flycatcher,Nandi Hills, Bangalore (a record for south India)

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A dead Black-and-Orange Flycatcher, Munnar:

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Nilgiri Flycatcher, Munnar:

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Oklahoma:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Forest Park, 100814

Least Flycatcher, St Louis:

Least Flycatcher, St Louis, 100413

The 64 squares of war

February 27, 2019

In every chess game, it is the pawns who get sacrificed first, and then, maybe, some of the others up the heirarchy.
The kings remain, stodgily moving, perhaps, a square or two…and the game ends before any king can be slain. We mourn our soldiers, and similarly, the other country will also mourn its brave soldiers.
As for the terrorist training camps…I weep for the poor youths who are brainwashed by evil ones. It is the evil that must be wiped out, and it is the youth that get wiped out instead….these are my thoughts on the 64 squares of war.

Approaching adolescence

February 26, 2019

She lies on the bed, unaware of me,
Reading intently.
In the lines of her lengthening limbs
I see a young woman emerging
From the girl.
And yet, in the curve of the cheek
And the gentle dimples in her elbows,
I find childhood lingering
For a while longer.
Linger longer, O childhood!
For once you are gone
This little one will forever be
An adult, never to return
To this level of innocence again