Archive for February, 2019

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.

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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

Ravugodlu: 4thSunday Bngbirds outing, 240219

February 26, 2019

We were 22 of us meeting up at the shrine at Ravugodlu,

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as the sun rose behind the hillocks of the beautiful scrub jungle. It is getting more and more difficult to find forest patches which are not walled off and where prior permission (often not given) is required. I do envy the birders and naturalists who could range freely over so many areas in the 60’s and 70’s! The population pressure is telling on the patches we have left, and I cannot blame the Karnataka Forest Department for being very wary of visitors, but definitely for students, research scholars and low-budget enthusiasts like me, the wilderness is increasingly either out of reach or inaccessible.

We started the walk with a kind of Coppersmith Barbet convocation, as large numbers of them flew in and settled on the tops of the trees nearby.

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So it was a while before we could move on. Already, before I arrived, the others had seen quite a few Indian Grey Hornbills flying past, and this continued on our walk.

Even when we were not sighting birds, the beauty of the rocky area and the path was delightful. We had been warned by a local farmer about the leopardess in the area (we had seen her pugmarks on the last 4th Sunday outing in July ’18) which had given birth to two cubs, but we saw no sign of her this time. Other footprints were there, though…the peafowl, and some other tracks which Mayur tried to identify.

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As we went on, we sighted birds like the Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers and other woodland inhabitants. The Bulbuls called, as did Tailorbirds…the calls of the Warblers, our winter visitors, were harder to identify. Even the call of the Drongos sounded very different when they imitated other birds! I explained to some of the others about “birding by ear”.

One of the highlights of the walk was the sighting of a Yellow-throated Bulbul, clearly if not sharply, caught on camera by one of the group. Later, Tej was certain that he’d sighted a Black-crested Bulbul, but since none of us had seen it with him, I decided to leave that out of the bird list. My apologies to Tej for caving in on this one! Another interesting sighting was that of the rarely-seen Marshall’s Iora.

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The white in the tail that marks the Marshall’s Iora

At the pond, which still has a good amount of water, we sighted some of the waterfowl…a Little Cormorant, a Common Sandpiper, and both the Common

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as well as the White-throated Kingfisher, looking for their breakfasts. Several birds, such as Swallows, flying overhead, were also noted.

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Large Cuckooshrike

Several unusual trees and plants also caught our attention, and I must thank Subbu for pointing out some of them when I was chatting to the others about the birds. Wildlfowers are stunningly beautiful!

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Now you know why they are called Bottle Gourds!

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Cochlospermum religiosum, Buttercup tree

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Indian elm (Holoptelia integrifolia)

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The inverted parachutes of Aristolochia indica, Eshwaramooli,or Indian Birthwort; critical for the Southern Birdwing butterfly

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Gmelina asiatica,Asian Bushbeech

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A Pond Terrapin that we spotted

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Crimson Tip

We stopped at the end of the trail for our variety of snacks, and both Vidhya’s “mangai thengai pattani sundal” and the masala buttermilk I brought, went down well with an assortment of biscuits and crunchy snacks. Why can’t all the vitamins be in the tasty nachos, I wonder!

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The only child in the group, Sanchana,

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proved to be very curious about everything she saw..and she quizzed me a lot, too! I am not sure if I answered her questions to her satisfaction…but it was very nice indeed to spend time with her. I do wish more parents would bring their children along, though I know the early start is a bit tough…our wildernesses are fast disappearing into residential layouts!

We dispersed at the end of the walk with some of us stopping at the Davangere Benne Dose eatery and others at Thavaru Mane (Mother’s home)Thindi,

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and went home with our hearts…and tummies…full, to face whatever the week ahead would bring.

The eBird list, compiled by Vidhya, is at

https://ebird.org/india/view/checklist/S53078827

Butterflies:

Blue, Pea
Blue, Tiny Grass
Cerulean, Common
Crimson-Tip
Emigrant, Common
Jezebel, Common
Leopard,Common
Orange-tip, White
Rose, Common
Rose, Crimson
Tiger, Blue
Tiger, Plain
Tiger, Striped
Yellow, Common Grass
Yellow, Three-spot Grass

Mammals:

A quick video of the participants , with each one announcing his/her name, is at


I have put up my photos on my FB album

here

and on a Flickr album,

here

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Monet-esque waterlilies in the pond

“Bali” at Ranga Shankara, 230219, by Adishakti

February 26, 2019

It had been quite a while since I went to Ranga Shankara for a play, and the blurb about “Bali” was interesting enough to pull me in. Here’s the quotation from the excellent brochure that was handed out before the play:

“Adishakti’s Bali is a retelling of the various events that lead up to the battle between Bali and Ram and eventually, the death of Bali. The play explores the notion of right and wrong, and how it may change when each and every character is given an opportuntiy to voice their thoughts and opinions.”

With this intriguing introduction, I went in to watch the play, and it did not disappoint. From the very first scene, the intensity of the tension was kept up. The play did not always proceed in a linear fashion, but used a pastiche of scenes to put over the premise, that what is right or wrong changes according to who is telling the story…Bali, Tara, Sugriva, Angadha, Ram…or Ravan.

bali, RS, 230219
The cast and crew take a bow after the performance.

Let me discuss the technical aspects of the production first. The actors were all very lithe and some of the choreography reminded me of Kalaripayattu move in the agility. This contributed a lot to the denouement of the narrative.

The actors were all quite word perfect, and there was not a single “flub” in the production I watched.Since no masks were used (I was wondering if they would be), facial expressions came across clearly, and indeed, in several scenes, were intensified to nearly a mime effect.

The music was excellent throughout. The audience responded to the music as much as to the action on stage, and it heightened the intensity to a great degree. When the music stopped, the silences were quite as eloquent.

The costumes were what I call “contemporary ethnic”. While not precisely ethnic, they were in the flowing, easy lines, enabling easy mobility; a couple of “filmy” costumes notwithstanding, they felt quite authentic. The little tableau of Vali and Sugriva twitching up the ends of their dhotis to tie up at the waist was very entertaining, and one of the few times I have seen costumes form a part of the action!

The stage was, intriguingly, completely bare, and apart from a kind of stand in the “theru koothu” presentation scenes, continued so. This put more pressure on the cast to take forward the play without the help of props…another unusual feature, in a play set on a mythological figure. The few props that were used, such as stones,rolling balls, and ropes, were sometimes understandable, sometimes (as in the scene of two women alternately reaching for the stones and fighting over them) a little obscure.

The lighting was also of a very high order. Characters were highlighted, the colours changed with the mood in the action, and the lighting enhanced the mood of the play at every scene.

The play alternated between a “regular” stage and a “theru koothu” (street plays of Tamil Nadu”) format. In the latter, more exaggeration was permitted, to convey the ideas and emotions. The cast, too, were dressed in more allegorical costumes.

Given all these technical inputs, the play effectively put across its message. Though some parts were still a little puzzling ( I never worked out the character of the female companion of Tara…who was she, what did she represent?) in the main, the high energy of the play sustained throughout the performance, and set the audience to introspecting….what is right or wrong? Who is an enemy, who is a friend? Can someone be slain in secret? Can another man’s wife be taken as one’s own, as part of victory? (Rama’s hidden slaying of Vali is, through the centuries, one of the most controversial part of the Ramayana.) We, as an audience, felt, in fact, drained at the end of the performance, having sustained an emotional and energy high through the 70-minute performance.

I am also intrigued by calling the play “Bali” instead of “Vali”. The wiki entry on Vali tells me that the name is often spelt Bali in many Indian languages, but to me, the name is Vali, so I am still wondering if there was a specific reason to spell it in the Bengali/Assamese/Oriya way.

I was very impressed by the direction. Such high-energy productions can easily run away with the narrative or the emotions, and to guide the performance and yet not be seen to be obviously doing so, is quite a feat!

All in all, not one of the light-entertainment plays that one goes to, to get away from the stresses and strains of the everyday world, but one that made me feel, and think, intensely. Hats off to Adishakti, and I hope I will get the chance fo watch more of their work!

“Bali”, by Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Arts Research
Written and directed by Nimmy Raphael
Cast: Vinay Kumar, Arvind Rane, Ashiqa Salvan, Kiyomi Mehta, Rijul Ray
Music arragned and composed by Vinay Kumar and played by Meedhu Miriyam
Music for the Tara/Bali scene composed by Kirtana Krishna and Vinay Kumar
Lights designed by Vinay Kumar, executed by Anand Satheendran
Creative Guidance: Anmol Vellani and Vinay Kumar
Prodcution Managers: Apoorva Arthur and Bhairavi
Costumes designed by Viji Roy
Duration: 75 min.

Campus Bird Count, IIMB, 170219

February 21, 2019

Many of us who use eBird have observed the past four days (15, 16, 17 and 18 Feb, ’19) for two bird-counts: the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) and the Campus Bird Count, both of which took place all over the world.

Experts like Suhel and Praveen can give you a very good overall picture of how these two counts went, all over India; at my (amateur) level, I can confidently say that the three southern States of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu have had a lot of birders uploading lists from various spots and campuses. The most remote spot I’ve seen a bird list being uploaded from is Mizoram, in the north-east.

The campus I’d chosen to conduct a bird count at, for the past few years, is that of the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, on Bannerghatta Road.

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After a terror attack several years ago, the campus had been closed to visitors other than those who had business or educational appointments. I would like to credit Prof. Shainesh of IIMB, who is a keen birder, along with his wife Leena, for opening the doors to various walks: trees, butterflies…and birds! I would also like to thank Dr Selvarajan Rajeshwaran and Vidhya Sundar, who first introduced me to IIMB, and have kept up both the IIMB and our personal friendships!

This year, the decision was made to let the Environment and Nature Society (ENS) a student organization, to take the major role in organizing the event. On the morning of 17th Feb ’19, about a dozen of us, amateur birders, entered the campus, and met Pradeep Kumar, of the ENS, who had passed the word around to students and residents at the campus. Prof. Shainesh and Leena were also there, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some second-year students who, after celebrating their placements in the corporate world, yet found time to wake up early and join the walk. I was equally happy to find some of the faculty, such as Prof. Jayaram Uparna, attending. The acquaintances made during such events are a big plus for me!

We started with the two Coral trees (Palash, Butea monosperma) trees that are now in full bloom. Rose-ringed Parakeets, Brahminy and Chestnut-tailed Starlings, House and Jungle Crows, Purple-rumped Sunbirds and Pale-billed Flowerpeckers, Spotted Doves and the lone swooping Ashy Drongo…they thronged the flowers on the trees, and we spent quite a bit of time watching all of them having a breakfast feast, sprinkling the ground below the trees with fallen flowers as a result. Meanwhile we also recorded several kinds of waterfowl, such as Black-crowned Night Herons, Little and Great Cormorants, flying overhead, heading from one lake to another.

As we moved on, the many trees and the leaf clutter yielded a variety of woodland birds, too. Cinereous Tits, and some warblers appeared. We were able to let the others listen to the calls of the White-cheeked and Coppersmith Barbets, and explain how the Drongos can imitate other bird calls.

One highlight was seeing a Shikra couple bringing in twigs repeatedly, and beginning their nest high up in a tree.

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The onlookers could hear the difference between the call of the Shikra and the other common raptors of the Bangalore skies, the Black and the Brahminy Kites.

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White-cheeked Barbet eating the fruit of the Jungli Jilebi

Almost at the end of the walk, there was an unexpected delight waiting….the white ribbons of the Paradise Flycatcher, as it flitted amongst the mango trees and the faculty quarters, delighting everyone! Praveen caught an Asian Brown Flycatcher on camera, too.

Even though it was a bird count, we could not ignore other living beings. IIMB has greened the campus which was just barren some decades ago; trees like the Jungli Jilebi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pithecellobium_dulce) the South American trees like the Golden Trumpet Flower (Tacoma aurea), the Rain Tree (Samanea saman), the Moulmein Rosewood

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… which were once upon a time imported, but have “settled down” very well on Indian soil, and our “native” trees like the Neem ( Azadirachta indica), the various kinds of Ficus (including Peepal and Banyan) the Mango (Mangifera indica), and the Silk Cotton (Bombax ceiba) were all noted. A Calabash tree ( Crescentia cujete) had its balloon-like shiny fruits on show. We noted how many birds enjoyed frequenting the Singapore Cherry ( Muntingia calabura).

Six-footers also came in for their share of attention, especially at the flower beds, where several butterflies were nectaring and also sunning. Bees such as the common honey bee (Apis dorsata) and the Blue-banded Bee (Amegilla cingulata, also an “import” from Australia, like the Eucalyptus trees!) were busy with pollen and pollination, and occasionally fell prey to some of the birds.

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We finally wound up our bird count, after a couple of the participants sighted the resident Spotted Owlets, though we could not see the Barn Owls that are regularly heard.

ENS very hospitably gave us a lovely breakfast,

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and we dispersed, very happy at having spent a productive morning, and at the same time,being able to contribute some data in the name of citizen science.

We thank IIMB, once again, for the opportunity.The campus is now a green oasis in an increasing-by-the-day concrete jungle, and the two points of view always remain as questions: Would there be more birds in this oasis because of the greenery, or would the fragmentation of the green cover reduce the number of birds? Data that such events help to provide, will give the ornithologists a clearer picture over a period of years.

The eBird list is at

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52805810

45+ species in an urban oasis, in the middle of a concrete jungle, where trees are being chopped down daily, is a great count indeed!

Butterflies:

Awl, Common Banded
Blue, Gram
Blue, Pea
Blue, Zebra
Brown, Common Evening
Castor, Common
Cerulean,Common
Crow, Common
Eggfly, Danaid

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Emigrant, Common
Jezebel, Common
Judy, Suffused Double-banded
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Leopard, Common
Lime, Common
Orange-tip, White
Pansy, Chocolate
Pansy, Lemon
Rose, Common
Skipper, Indian Grizzled
Tiger, Blue
Tiger, Plain

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Yellow, Common Grass
Yellow, Three-spot Grass

Looking forward to reports from other campuses and ‘backyards’,

Deepa.

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The difference

February 9, 2019

Some people string together words.
They write well, and their prose
Makes one think, and muse
Upon their meaning, and one’s own opinions.
But others…they pull words together
Like notes of music, and create poetry.
There may be no rhyme or prettiness…
But the words bring a fullness to one’s heart,
And, sometimes, moisture to one’s eyes.
What is prose, what is poetry?
The eyes and the mind may not know the difference.
But the heart knows
Poetry from prose.

Nature Feature, Feb. ’19: Hayath and the world of many legs

February 8, 2019

For a while now, the world of insects and spiders has begun to be revealed to everyone, through the medium of photography. As the micro-sized creatures are captured through macro photography, stunningly weird-looking creatures appear on social media feeds, making us feel that these, surely, are beings from a different planet!

No, these creatures are not “out of this world” at all. It’s just that their tiny size prevents us from seeing them in detail. Another reason why we know little about them is that they are often so well camouflaged, as leaves, bark, or other natural phenomena, that we overlook them completely.

Hayath Mohammed is one young man who, even as a child, was drawn to these smaller living beings. “I would walk around in the garden and find enough to interest me and keep me occupied,” he says. He invested in a camera to be able to document what he saw.

His parents have been supportive of his interest in these many-footed creatures, he adds. Indeed, he says, “My mother likes to go birding with me, and since she has also observed the various kinds of spiders and insects, she’s very understanding about my fascination for them”.

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An Antlion, one of the creatures Hayath showed me

He joined several fora for various insects, and soon learned to distinguish bugs from beetles, hoppers from weevils, and wasps from flies. “I tend to only think of their scientific names, not their common ones, as the common names tend to be generic,” he remarks. “When I talked about a Signature Spider, for example, I would quickly be asked which kind I meant, so I quickly learnt the specific scientific names.”

During the course of our short walk together in Doresanipalya, he did bring out quite a lot of these names for the spiders. Arachnura, Argiope, Cyclosa, the names rolled off his tongue,but didn’t quite roll into my ear as easily!

On the photography front, too, Hayath says, it’s been a big ride. “I got started with a Sony point and shoot gifted by my uncle.” he says. “I used that for a while before moving to a Sony H2.”Since then,” he adds, “I’ve moved to a Canon DSLR system and then, recently, to the micro four thirds Olympus system. My current macro equipment costs around Rs 50,000 in total.” Certainly, if it should be counted as a hobby, it’s quite an expensive one!

But more than a hobby, it’s a matter of a passionate pursuit for Hayath. “Macro photography can be extremely satisfying as a genre, ” he remaks. One need not spend so much, he adds. According to him, there are several low budget options to get started:

1. Clip on lenses for smart phones
2. Reversing short focal length lenses on an existing DSLR
3. Using a Raynox DCR 250 clip-on diopter for telephoto lenses and bridge cameras.

But sooner or later, one does wind up investing larger amounts of money to get the perfect image! “Proper use of light plays an important role in making good images, as with any other genre of photography,” he is quick to point out. He uses a Rs.5 thermocole Hi board as a light diffuser with his expensive flash equipment! So the combination of expensive equipment and cheap “jugaad” works well for him.

Here is Hayath, looking around at the trees, the leaves (on, around, and under them!) with his equipment, for the various creatures that he finds so interesting, and photographs so well.

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Here is his incredibly beautiful image of a Cicada:

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Photo: Hayath Mohammed

Let’s wish Hayath every success on the path he has set himself, of documenting the small creatures of the urban jungles….. creatures that most of us never get to see at the level of detail he achieves.