Archive for January, 2014

The Asian Openbill Stork, Puttenahalli Lake, 280114

January 29, 2014




is the newest arrival at

PUttenahalli Lake

to delight us on two, the rejuvenation of the lake, and two, the appearance of the diffferent birds themselves, making the lake either their rest stop, or their homes.

The Openbill is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae.


It is greyish white with glossy black wings and tail and the adults have a gap between the arched upper mandible and recurved lower mandible.


v=Young birds are born without this gap which is thought to be an adaptation that aids in the handling of snails, their main prey.


Although resident within their range, they make long distance movements in response to weather and food availability.


The usual foraging habitats are inland wetlands.


The Asian Openbill feeds mainly on large molluscs, especially Pila species, and they separate the shell from the body of the snail using the tip of the beak. The tip of the lower mandible of the beak is often twisted to the right. This tip is inserted into the opening of the snail and the body is extracted with the bill still under water. An interesting fact: the famous birdwatcher,

Thomas Jerdon

noted that they were able to capture snails even when blindfolded! I still am not sure how they managed to blindfold the storks and let them forage, though!

Here’s a quick video of the two birds, foraging in the water:

The HSBC Bird Race, 190114

January 27, 2014

This time, HSBC got into a lot of controversy just before the annual event, with people accusing it of “greenwashing”, covering up less than green business practices by sponsoring “green” events (though how the Bird Race is a green event, promoting the driving of cars all around the cities where the events are held, is beyond me.)

Birders “lining up” in Bannerghatta on the Bird Race day:


This year, it was not a competitive event, and there were no prizes…a move that I, for one, deeply appreciated, as it removed any incentive for “adding” bird species to sighting lists to get a higher total…or accusations of people having done so.

However, neither the controversy nor the lack of prizes dampened the enthusiasm of the birding community of Bangalore, and 33 teams registered for the day’s event.Of these, 4 were to bird in the east, 15 in the north, 14 in the south. (Obviously, the western areas of Bangalore are not considered to have birding hotspots.)

ASIAN KOEL female:


Only one team was Green..The Unventured”, comprising Gurudeep,Deepak,SarvananamdAmbika. They cycled through the day, covering about 80km before winding up at the venue of the evening gathering, where the birding community met over dinner, and exchanged notes about the day.

Red-breasted Flycatcher:


For the first time, there were two online birding apps for use by the birders to enter their data.

The creators of the MyBird app:


Funds were raised for the Bugun Welfare Society in the birding hotspot, Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, in Arunachal Pradesh, by selling merchandise designed by Rohan Chakravarty, the wildlife cartoonist.


As usual, Swarna Venkat made an excellent emcee,


drawing out memories of the days’ birding from participants, young and old.

Manas, probably the youngest participant, at the evening event:


The Chief Guest, Ms Tara Gandhi, reminisced about her learning from the legendary Dr Salim Ali. At Dr Subramanya’s invitation, Dr Suhel Qader made a presentation about Migrant Watch and E-bird,two bird-related online initiatives.


Praveen J made a presentation about pelagic birding.


As they do every year, the organizers took on the job out of their love for this increasingly popular hobby in the city of Bangalore.

At the end of the day, the birding community remains a vibrant and active one!


The Missed Call

January 27, 2014

I don’t know if any other countries are as innovative as India is, when it comes to “lateral application” of technology. One of these lateral applications is that wonderful


in the field of mobile communication…the Missed Call (MC).

In a country where every paise is squeezed for what it can yield, it was inevitable that the MC itself became a medium of communication. Almost as fast as the mobile service providers announced different plans, Indians have found a way of utilizing the ancient concept of zero to them.

How a zero? Let’s assume that when a call is made and received, it registers as one call. So, if the call is not completed, it does not register as a call, and is a zero on the mobile service provider’s billing. But in India, it works in other ways, even as a zero.

My first demonstration of the MC came when the plumber arrived at home to look at the pipes. His assistant needed to go to the terrace to check on the main pipes leading from the water tanks, and was told, “Go up to the terrace and if you find everything is OK there, give me a missed call”. Sure enough, the plumber disconnected his call from his helper, after the second ring..and the message had been passed, without a paisa having been spent on either side.

Over the years, I’ve also used the MC as a way of communication. I get on a bus at Bangalore, and want to tell my friend in Mysore that the bus is on its way…one MC. I’m to go downstairs and need to know when my friend is coming, so that I know when to go and wait…a MC from her.

A couple I know also uses the MC as a means of apparent non-communication, which is actually a method of communication. If someone calls at their home and wants to contact the husband, the wife gives her spouse a MC. The husband, noting the quick ending of the call, knows that someone has called (he usually knows who’s expected.) The wife apologizes to the visitor, “He’s not picking up his call”…and the husband now knows what to expect, and whether to come home to meet the person, or wait and avoid him.

But until a couple of days back, I didn’t know that MCs were also an accepted way of doing business, too. I switched on my TV and idly surfed through channels, and paused, out of curiosity, on one of those tv sales channels…and there it was…”Please give a MC on XXXX no, and we’ll call you back (and sell you this overpriced article that you don’t need…that subtext did not appear on the screen.)” went the text at the bottom of the screen. (And sell you this overpriced article that you don’t need…that subtext did not appear on the screen.) Open acceptance of the MC as a business communication method!

My washing machine service engineer also informs me that rather than send texts to his boss, he just “gives a MC” as soon as he reaches the next customer’s place. That’s jugaad in business practices! The only thing I couldn’t work out is, how his boss would know if he genuinely wanted to talk..and the service engineer clarified that, too. “My boss has another number, and when I call on that, he’ll pick up.”

I wonder if there are other applications of the MC, and I’d like to know what, and how. We Indians are masters of the art of Not Paying For Something! And this, when most of us have mobile usage plans that include free messaging!

Cattle in the landscape, Vaderahalli lake (vadErahaLLi kerE) 260114

January 27, 2014

Our eyes pass over cows and bulls, we are so used to them being around that we sometimes see them but don’t notice them at all!

The cattle don’t pay entry fees



They wander in and out as they please.


A Brahminy Bull knows life can be a rag…


They’re internet-savvy..they also use tags.


There’s no high point of view,no moral steeple


But through a country’s cattle… we see its people.


Wildlife Photography: Have you panned it yet?

January 24, 2014

If you can write a post criticizing wildlife photography, please do. It’s the Flavour Of The Moment.
Even the most mild and qualified criticism will do. Adopt a holy, halo-over-head “I feel so bad when I see evil wildlife photographers” pose.

Imply that photography should never have been invented.

Pretend that wildlife watchers without cameras, and indeed, that people who are not interested in wildlife, can do as much damage, or more, than the ones who are interested. Don’t bother to educate photographers about wildlife ethics, but keep complaining about how they transgress the rules. It feels so good to criticize someone else for something….can any pro wildlife photographer claim that they have never, ever, adopted a less than ethical approach?

SOME wildlife photographers do transgress..but so do a lot of others, why don’t we hear anything about them? Because CWP is the Flavour Of The Moment!

The poor guy who’s just bought himself a nice DSLR must pay for the sins of someone who went and trampled over a bird’s nest. No matter that this guy is quite innocent….they belong to the Same Club, so brand them all.

Assume that all newbies are going to be irresponsible. No One Loves Wildlife Like You Do. You are the Brahmin of Binoculars,and you look down upon the Pariah with his DSLR…

And then, of course, when someone tells you that they’ve seen x, or y, or z specimen of the animal kingdom, ask, “Do you have a photo?”

Have you made the post yet?

I don’t know my date of birth…my bank knows better!

January 23, 2014

As usual, I cannot log into my Vijaya Bank account. So I call up tech support (VNET Banking.)

I try the option that the Net Banking techie advises me to do…I say I “forgot password”. That is step 1.

Even this, the tech support tells me to use Internet Explorer, and I tell her that I cannot. I try on Chrome, because she is wrong: I can access the other two accounts that I have joint holding on, and I access them.

The net page takes me to Step 2, where I painstakingly, and repeatedly, enter the details of my ATM debit card, the last transaction (it is to see this that I want to access the account…thankfully, I just updated my passbook a few days ago, so I have the information), and other stuff.

Repeatedly, I get the message, “Invalid account number.” Invalid account number? My account number was accepted, that’s how I got to Step 2.

After 3 attempts, I call tech support again. She listens to me as I patiently go over all that I have done. She then asks me for my date of birth. I tell her.

“No madam,” she says, “That’s the right date.”

Oh, the bank knows my date of birth better than I do! I try to reason with her, and she finally accepts, “Madam, the bank has not entered your date of birth correctly.”

So..what should I do?

“You have to go to the bank and correct this, Madam, otherwise you cannot…” do whatever it is I need to do.

Between superbly efficient coders and even more efficient data entry, I am having the most wonderful time with Vijaya Bank.

HOW I wish I could consign this *&#$ bank to H#LL, but there are many reasons I cannot close the accounts.

Deepa’s Principle of Organizational Competence

January 21, 2014

All rights reserved. I am going to fluff up this one simple sentence into a 700-page book and mint money and become a Concept Guru.

The competence of an organization is inversely proportional to the number of desks and people that the customer is re-directed to.

I’ve been having severe problems with my BSNL internet connection. First of all, I had to figure out that it was, indeed, the internet connection that was the problem (my first thought generally is, Oh God, I’ve done something wrong again.) Then, I wanted to check on my BSNL broadband plan online. Lo and behold (or rather, NOT behold)….my plan was not to be found anywhere on the website.

So I went to the BSNL Customer Care Service Center in Jayanagar. It took me two solid hours and being shuttled around to NINE (yes) people before I could get the details of my broadband plan. (“Madam, that’s an old plan. So we don’t have it on our website any more.” “But why can’t those of us who are using the plan access the details?”..”We don’t know Madam, it’s not there.”) I had to go from desk to ao the next-pointed-out-to me desk to find out the details, which I found at the eighth person. It’s a fairly advantageous plan for the consumer, no wonder it was quietly rmoved without notice.

I realized that under this plan, even if I exceed my bandwidth quota, I only get charged Rs.0.30 per unit, and the speed is NOT supposed to drop. So why has it dropped? I was shunted around from Accounts to Commercial to Customer Care all around in a merry cycle.

All that has happened at the end of it is that one person has “asked” someone else, somewhere else, what is happening. I suspect that like most plans in existence today, when I exceeded my quota, my internet speeds have been throttled..which they should not be, under this plan.

I’m feeling giddy with the BSNL merry-go-round…and I’ve forumlated the Principle of Organizational Competence (in Airtel, for my mobile internet, I was shunted to 3 people) which I think will fluff up well into a book…now to think of a catchy cover title…

Thyagarja Aradhana (thyAgarAja ArAdhA)…a music festival to venerate a saint

January 21, 2014

Today, 200114, is, according to the Hindu calendar, Bahula Panchami, and this is the day that


attained samAdhi on the banks of the river Kaveri, at Thiruvayaru, iean Tamil Nadu.

Over the years that I have learnt, and been interested in, Carnatic music, this has turned into a major, televised event called the

Thyagaraja Aradhana

I just finished watching it on DD Podhigai, it used to be televised on the Doordarshan TV, the official “Government” channel which was the only channel we had in the beginning of TV! Before that, in Kolkata, I would hear it transmitted over the radio.

Here’s the first of the “pancharatna” (“five gems”…the five special compositio ns by the saint that are the highlight of the musical worship), sung in 1986; you can see stalwarts like Maharajapuram Santhanam, and that towering musician, Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer.

FB album by M D Ramaswami, with a very interesting narrative

Here’s all the “gems” being sung last year, from DD Podhigai (I must say, the shrill singing by ladies, who are trying to sing one octave over the pitch, which is set to suit men’s voices, is quite awful):

Though Thyagaraja was a saint, and his samadhi (and the singing) are supposed to be open to one and all, social prejudices prevailed for a long time. Gender discrimination, particularly, was quite bad, persisting until 1940. For the story of how

Bangalore Rathnamma

laid the foundation stone to the temple to the saint, only to be denied access (women were not allowed in those days),

click here

Carnatic music has also been the traditional bastion of the Brahmin community, with the very interesting exception that nAgaswaram, thavil and mridangam players hail from the Pillai community…Brahmins are a very “exclusive” caste and did not, earlier, even allow other castes into their homes…so this co-existence is intriguing.

My parents conducted the Aradhana in Kolkata, under the auspices of the Carnatic Sangeeta Sammelan, for many years. Apart from this, Rasika Ranjana Sabha (or RR Sabha as it was called) also conducted an event.

The event is also celebrated by the south Indian diaspora, in the US, at

Cleveland, Ohio

It has also developed into a major event–both a music and dance festival– for the south Indian diaspora, but it is not held at the actual time of the saint’s attaining nirvana; this year, it is from March 28 to April 7. Interesting, this year, to have a Thyagaraja festival dedicated to the memory of another of the trinity of Carnatic music, Maharaja Swathi Tirunal!

There has, of course, been a lot of politics surrounding the festival, and I just try to look past the human element to the divinity that still ensures that many people gather each year on the sandy banks of the Kaveri, and offer geetanjali (musical reverence) to this saint.

The irony, however, never fails to strike me…Thyagaraja was a man who was poor all his life, renounced the world and became a sanyAsi a few days before his death, and reached out to the masses through the simplicity of his songs…and today, he is a gold-plated statue,decked with garlands and jewellery, accessible only to those with “VIP” tickets…he is saluted by the rich and the powerful..and the poor, common people to whom he reached out can attend the concerts that happen over the days of the festival..but not many do. It’s still a bastion of the Brahmin caste/community, and a very “Hindu” event…old divisions continue to live on.

In a lighter vein: Top establishments in India

January 21, 2014

Top 13 establishments in India…

1.Gandhi Hair Saloon.

2.Mallika Textiles.

3.Kalmadi Constructions Pvt Ltd

4.Jayalalita Fitness Club.

5.Dharmendra Dance Academy.

6.Mayawati Beauty Parlour.

7.Yamraj Travels.

8.Surdas Opticals.

9.Inzamam English Classes.

10.Salman Marriage Bureau.

11.Rakhi Satsang Kendra.

12.Manmohan Public Speaking Training Course Institute.

13.Asharaam Bapu Girls’ High School.

Bangalore Bird Race, 190114: Of Flycatchers, Kingfishers…. and Thrushes

January 20, 2014

As the sun came up,



six teams (and one family who was with us for a while) gathered together


to participate in the annual bird “race”. This time, there was even less reason to call it a race, as it was non-competitive.

Our group had a lot of fun,throughout the day, but for me, a time of especial delight was when we were walked along “Flycatcher Avenue” which lived up to its name, and, indeed, added the



to the Flycatcher list (which, on this day, went: Flycatcher, Asian Brown/Asian Paradise/Black-naped Monarch/Red-breasted/Tickell’s Blue/Verditer/White-browed Fantail..only the Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher was missing!)

We then walked around “Kingfisher Pond” (yes, we sighted all three Kingfishers: the Pied, the Small Blue, and the White-breasted)


and went to the edge of the Herbivore Safari area. Here, we sighted some birds that I have never before seen in the zoo area. One was the Black-naped Monarch, which flew off too quickly for me to photograph; and there were two more.

One was the




a quick video (it’s quite shaky, as I was balancing and trying to keep away from the mildly electrified fence)




another quick video capture of the thrush:

These birds set the seal of contentment on the day for me, and I fell in love afresh with my favouite haunt. I also realized that two assumptions of mine were wrong:

1. Thrushes do not visit south Bangalore, but stop at Nandi Hills, and one has to travel there to see them.

2. Access to this area (it used to be open, earlier, but has now become a ticketed area) after 9am is in vain, as the bird activity would have died down.

Indeed, the area of the Herbivore Safari, just beyond the fence and a small water body, seems to be a place where these birds are not disturbed by any human activity; the safaris conducted by the Forest Department pass a good distance away from the rocks and pile of bamboo leaves and other deteritus that these birds love to walk through, looking for insects.

So now, to Flycatcher Avenue and Kingfisher Pond, I’m adding the Thrush Area. Thanks to Valli, who first spotted the Monarch and the Blue-capped Rock Thrush! Feeling good, thinking about it even now!