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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.

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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.

January 30, 2019

Though Bangalore has not had too much of winter this year, it was still an overcast morning when more than forty of us met at Madivala kere (lake) for the first 4th Sunday outing of 2019.

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In the gloaming, we were still able to see a couple of Spotted Owlets flying around as they finished up their night of hunting. All of us strained to see them as they landed on a banyan tree close to the gate.

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We walked up to the water’s edge, looking at a few trees (including that icon of Karnataka, the sandalwood!)

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Saraca asoka, the real Ashoka tree with flowers.

and in the stiff, nippy breeze, peered across at the island and on the water, trying to spot some birds. The silhouettes of a few Grey Herons and Little Cormorants, darker grey in the general gloom, were visible. “Is that a Grey Heron?” someone asked. “At this time, all the birds are grey!” I replied.

And then, quite suddenly….we gasped as a large flock of Rosy Starlings flew right overhead, and swooped past in the half-light.

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Again and again, unable to move ahead, we watched, as in larger and smaller groups, these winter visitors gave an aerobatic display of their murmuration.

Video of Starling Murmuration from the net

I never expected that I would be able to share such a stunning sight with so many people, many of whom were coming birding (and to Madivala kere) for the first time. In a swiftly changing pattern of dots across the sky, the murmuration ebbed and flowed…and we watched, spellbound. It took us quite a while to decide to move on!

The sun made a brief appearance and sank into the clouds again.

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Reaching the end of the open-to-morning walkers area, we found that the main gate and the parking area had not yet been opened up. Vidhya kindly offered to go and get the guard to open up, and meanwhile, I pointed out some other waterfowl to the people: Black-winged Stilts, a couple of Asian Openbills, Painted Storks, and Sandpipers.

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As the parking area got opened up, we walked further and I was also able to point out the pod of Spot-billed Pelicans which glided in. I was able to show how different birds use the different levels of water to forage for food.

At this point we got a sighting of the Grey-headed Ornithologist; Dr M B Krishna, who had taken two buses, came to join us.

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We got a very lively account of the history of birding and conservation in Bangalore, particularly in reference to Madivala Lake.

We walked past a bamboo gate to the area which is now off-limits for visitors. This is a mud path that goes along the retaining area and then follows the bund of the lake. As we did this, a long,disciplined line of Coots appeared, delighting everyone with their numbers…and their orderly progression! A couple of Little Grebes were also pointed out. Swamphens quarrelled and foraged in the Water Hyacinth, in their usual way. Egrets, LKG, Intermediate and Graduate, sorry, Little, Intermediate, and Great, were seen, too.

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Waterfowl in the invasive Water Hyacinth

It was very nice to see the Madivala Kere Marsh Harrier, as we call it, appear, floating over the bird flocks and, as usual, alarming them at once. The Brahminy and Black Kites do not seem to upset the birds the way the presence of the Marsh Harrier does!

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Erythrina mitis or umbrosa, Shady Coral Tree

Out came the snacks, and Vidhya’s “ammani kuzhakkattai” and “sundal” were much appreciated, as were the biscuits and fruits that others shared.

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Young Dolphin (that’s the nickname of the youngest person in our group, Srishti) was able to identify several birds very confidently. Her parents bring her regularly for the nature walks, and she is gathering knowledge very fast. There were some other young people too, and I found all of them very keen.

I had to bring the group back outside the restricted area by 9.30 am, which arrived far too soon for my liking! But Vidhya and a few others went on ahead, and birded till 11am.

A few of us breakfasted at Check Post in J P Nagar afterwards,

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while others dispersed to waiting families. Well satisfied with the morning’s sightings and observations, off we went to our other Sunday commitments.

K2 on his 6th birthday

January 28, 2019

Me: Happy birthday!
K2: You be the Evil Grandmother for my breakfast.
Me: “pluk-pluk-pluk”…I indicate a thought bubble over my head, saying, “Aha! He isn’t eating! This is a good time to go and steal his Lego Nexo Knights.”
K2: Promptly swallows a spoonful of his scrambled eggs.
Me: “pluk-pluk-pluk”…indicate a thought balloon that says, “FOILED!!” (I have to underline it in the air with my hand.)
This goes on until scrambled eggs, the RB (Regulation Banana) and milk are all finished. Ask me why I am exhausted at 8am? I have already staged a full-scale drama! George Bernard Shaw has nothing on me!
Off he goes on the school bus, with me savouring the kiss the reluctant little face dropped on my cheek.

How old are you, I asked him.

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Here he is, quite thoughtful at his party yesterday:

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No, we didn’t take him to McD, but Ronald was nearby and I clicked:

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His grandfather brought in the gods…Rama and Hanuman…to the birthday party:

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Here’s his birthday cake, which quite aptly looks like a devil:

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Here he is, look at the butcher’s knife he’s using!

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Asian Waterfowl Census, Hoskote kere, 130119

January 15, 2019

It’s always a tug-of-war on the second Sunday of every month. I have learnt a lot on the Lalbagh walks, but since I am generally committed to the 3rd and 4th Sunday walks, I do like to go to other birding spots with my friends. Well, on the 13th of January, the tug was decided by the fact that the Asian Waterfowl Census, or AWC ) is on, and we could contribute data and pretend to be very scientific, while following the experts around and getting to see a lot of birds! So off we went to Hoskote kere, after MCS (Mandatory Chai Stop) on the way.

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MCS, ITI Bus Stop. Note Vidhya’s gloves!

The group was not as large as I’d expected, but this lack of numbers was more than made up for, by the number of species sighted! I am not one for numbers, but definitely, between waterfowl, winter migrants, and woodland birds, we were able to sight, and observe the behaviour of, several species of birds.

We carefully turned into the toll-avoiding opening and proceeded down the bund of the lake. We opened our account with a White-throated Kingfisher and a Common Hawk-cuckoo sitting on the wire, out in the open.

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The fog had lifted by the time we got to the temple, and the first pale rays of sunshine showed several Spot-billed Pelicans,

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Painted Storks,

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Cormorants and Grebes on the waters.

There were two scopes on hand, and this certainly helped many of my friends, who are still new to birding, to do some Spotting of their own, apart from the bills of the pelicans and the ducks! A Pied Kingfisher hovered over the water and dove in now and then, looking for a quick breakfast.

The “spotting” extended to the far side, the scope enabled us to look at a Greater Spotted Eagle, as well as three Marsh Harriers. perched on the bare trees, and occasionally sweeping over the water, alarming all the other birds. It was delightful to see a Common Kingfisher and a Wagtail apparently enjoying a boat ride. We don’t often see birds boating!

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On the far side, thanks to the scope, the indistinct blobs resolved themselves into Garganeys, Shovellers, and Pintails too.

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Capparis flowers (Caper)

We walked down to the path into the lake from the Gangamma temple,

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Gangamma, the deity at the lake.

and Grey and Purple Herons, pods of pelicans fishing, Yellow Wagtails

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living up to their name with their bobbing tails, two Wood Sandpipers having a face-off (territory? food? We didn’t know),

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some Common Sandpipers flying with their white rumps showing. A Glossy Ibis gleamed in coppery sheen in the now strong morning sunlight,

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and we were able to make out the difference between Streak-throated, Barn, and Red-rumped Swallows in a birding id practical lesson.

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Streak-throated (L) and Barn (R) Swallows.

A Sand Martin (Common, Krishna Murthy told us) also put in an appearance. Another good comaprison study was of the three Egrets…
Little, Intermediate, and Great…It was like watching the Grimmskipp page come alive! It was lovely to see the Swallows making musical scores on the wire. I believe someone did, once, set the swallows-on-the-wire to music!

We brought out our snacks and biscuits, and stoked up enough calories to let us carry on well past the usual breakfast hour.

We then walked back up the road, doing the other part of the lake adjoining the path, and were rewarded by the sight of both the Grey-bellied Cuckoo

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and the hepatic morph, which is generally female.

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I looked at a non-singing Jerdon’s Bushlark, and a Common Hoopoe (no longer common, either) A (probable) Booted Eagle gave us a fly-past finale.

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Bee covered with pollen, on Ipomoea flowers

Not having realized just how much time had gone by, we decided to go to Sendhoor Cafe in Ulsoor, and our greed was rewarded by the fact that it was noon when we reached there, and everything was sold out! We should just have eaten at one of the two darshinis at the lake! Well, we managed to eat at the Second Choice Darshini (Kadamba, opposite Frank Anthony School) and went home, very happy with our productive morning.

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Utsava murthy of Gangamma.

The eBird list, a very impressive one, put up kindly by Praveen, is at

https://ebird.org/india/view/checklist/S51618715

I’ve put up photos on an FB album at

https://www.facebook.com/deemopahan/media_set?set=a.10156336753578878&type=3

And on a Flickr album at

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You can see I really concentrated on the bird count this time as there are just a couple of wildflowers and one spider in the album..and no butterflies at all!

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Most of the participants, at the end of the census.

It’s Monday and I am already looking forward to the next weekend!

The fabric of Time

December 28, 2018

Another year comes to an end.
My daily calendar has just a few pages left
That, like leaves on an autumn tree,
Will fall, and be consigned
To the past, and to memory.
It is we who mark the flowing fabric of Time
With patterns that we call days, months, years.
One such pattern is being completed
On the loom of Eternity.
Under these patterns, these motifs
Runs the lasting warp and weft
Of Time itself…moving smoothly, inexorably
One cannot predict how the patterns
Soon to come, will be shaped.
What colours will they carry?
The red of bloodshed? The white of peace?
The yellow of illness? The blue of sadness?
We do not know…
We flow on, too,
Along with the fabric of Time.

Kaikondrahalli Kere: 4th Sunday outing of Bngbirds, 231218

December 25, 2018

Email to Bngbirds:

Where is the winter in Bangalore? Alas…. it seems to last only until the sun gathers power in the mornings! But in spite of the rather strong sunshine, several of us had a very enjoyable morning at Kaikondrahalli (or Kaikondanahalli…it’s spelt both ways at the lake!) on the 4th Sunday outing, on 23rd Dec, 2018.

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KrishnaVirat, Chandu, Shubha, Subramanyam,Tarachand, Imtiaz, Mamta, Gopinath, Jagan, Rakshith, Mandar (with Srushti), Kalyani. Kaikondrahalli kere, 231218. Sushmitha and Shankar joined us later.

We started on the path watching the Spot-billed Pelicans, Little Grebes, Little and Great Cormorants, and Spot-billed Ducks doing their “ducking” as they hunted for food. A White-throated Kingfisher arrived in a flash of cobalt blue and sat quietly at the edge of the bridge. Several Black-headed Ibises flew out, perhaps in search of the next water body.

Walking along, I showed everyone the various medicinal plants and trees that have been planted along the northern edge of the lake (along Sarjapura Road). Soon, the latecomers also caught up, and we looked at Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers, and Warblers flitting around the trees. The butterflies were not out, but a Bush Hopper on a (what else?) bush caught Chandu’s eye, and we looked at the small creature carefully.

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As we neared the halfway mark, Painted Storks,

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some Asian Openbills, and a large number of Grey Herons and just a lone Purple Heron caught our attention on the central island. Mamta, a very experienced birder from Bhubaneswar who is visiting her daughter, was helpful in spotting the Small Blue Kingfisher. Kalyani spotted a White-cheeked Barbet on the Ficus, but it took the rest of us several minutes to see it!

I was dismayed to see a notice proclaiming the construction of a Chamundeswari temple, asking for donations of bricks and cement,next to the fence. But I guess there is little we can do about it, as the marshy area (where we spotted a couple of Sandpipers) will be dumped on and filled up.

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Some of us actually clicked the Greater Spotted Eagle under the impression it was a Black Kite…it soon took off, mobbed by those can’t-get-along-with-any-other-bird crows. But we soon watched a reverse drama in the air, as a Black Kite chased a crow which had secured some food. In the fray, it seemed as if neither bird got to eat the morsel!

We watched a Two-tailed Spider, and observed how well-camouflaged it was against the bark:

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Drongos, as usual, swooped and called. We were delighted to see a Golden Oriole,

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and several Brahminy and Chestnut-tailed Starlings

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A few Rosy Starlings too:

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as we approached the rookery where the Cormorants nest in season.

It is very heartening to see children on the walk. Young Srushti (whose nickname is “Dolphin”!) , the daughter of Kalyani and Mandar, proved to be very knowledgeable about birds, and it was a pleasure showing her other creatures, like tent and orb web spiders. Krishna Virat, also quite experienced with birds, came along with his father, Chandu Bandi, who was a great help in spotting birds and showing them to the group.

Here are three birds in one frame, Little Egret, Spot-billed Duck, and Little Cormorant:

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Mamta and I shared our biscuits and orange segments with everyone,

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and we walked on beyond the Butterfly corner, which seems, once again, to be in sad shape. However, some Plain Tigers and Common Jezebels were found a little further on. Brahminy Kites, both adult and juvenile, soared overhead.

There was a lot of activity in the tall Eucalyptus near the rest rooms, with Warblers and White-eyes flitting around, and a Purple Sunbird flashing its metallic plumage in the sunlight.

A Praying Mantis on Mandar’s clothes delighted us for a while.

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We managed to see a Spotted Dove, and a Shikra gave us a fitting flypast to end our outing. Some of us adjourned to South Inn for a hearty breakfast

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and dispersed, well-pleased with what we had seen, and observed.

the eBird list is

here

the FB album is

here

and the Flickr album is

here

Here’s a short video of a Cormorant drying its wings while still swimming!

This was the last Bngbirds walk for 2018, and I take the opportunity of wishing everyone a very merry Christmas if they celebrate it, or a happy holiday if they don’t…and all the best for a prosperous 2019!

Cheers, Deepa.

Why I like FaceBook

December 14, 2018

Here I dip into someone’s thought.
There I see what someone’s bought.
I admire someone’s photograph.
I wish someone would cut their rant in half.
Read someone’s movie review.
Muse on someone’s political hue.
I tarry over someone’s art;
Someone’s music, that is a class apart.
Satisfied, I go to bed.
My friends…you fill up most of my head!
I’ll be back again tomorrow.
To check on you, in smiles or sorrow.
A lovely way to look and see
What’s up with you…. on FB!

Kidoor Bird Fest: Birding on the Border, 10,111118

November 29, 2018

Birds know no borders; the ones that we go to see in Karnataka fly off and can be seen once we cross over into Kerala!

So when the birders of Kasargod announced the second Kidoor Bird Fest, to celebrate both the first sighting of the

Orange-breasted Green Pigeon
obgp by by Sarala Jeevanthi Gamage
Photo credit: Sarala Jeevanthi Gamage

and the birthday of

Dr Salim Ali, the noted ornithologist,

it was clear that this would be a productive birding weekend.

The participants and the organizers.
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The festival was a bigger event than it was in 2017, because this time, birders from all over Karnataka and Kerala attended. 65+ birders made a strong show at the fest, which was held in the hamlet of Kuntangeradka, in Kidoor.

Kidoor Post Office sign.
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The festival began with everyone gathering and registering.
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Beautiful palm-frond birds adorning the hall.
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Raju Kidoor
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and the entire team, including Maxim and Lavina
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worked very hard to make the event a success.

The birders of Kasargod, and some from Mangalore, brought the following local luminaries on the dais: Sri Pundarikaksha K L, President, and Smt Aruna Manjunatha Alva, Ward Member, both from the Grama Panchayath, Kumbla; Sri Biju P, ACF, and Sri Sunil Kumar, SFO, Social Forestry Division, Kasargod; Sri Chikkayya Rai,a practitioner of traditional herbal medicine; and Sri Radhakrishna, an eco-friendly businessman of Kidoor who eschewed plastic.

Dignitaries on podium:
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Sri Pundarikaksha inaugurated the event, and the dignitaries from the Social Forestry Division spoke about the valuable sighting of the Orange-breasted Green Pigeon in Kidoor, on 10th Nov 2016, and the decision to celebrate the birthday of Dr Salim Ali, noted ornithologist, on 11th November as well. Kidoor has proved a birding hotspot, with sightings of several birds endemic to the Western Ghats.

Sri Chikkaya Rai, Sri Radhakrishna, and Chi. Praveen (a young student who has spearheaded several ecological initiatives in his school) were felicitated.
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The local birders took the visitors for an evening walk in the nearby laterite/grassland area.

Sunlight on the grasses.
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and a pond that they are protecting for the birds.
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Participants on the evening walk.
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Children at the evening walk.
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They organized a cultural program, with many people, including these ladies who sang folk songs, taking part.
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Untiringly, they also conducted a night walk along the village roads.

Lavina, a doctoral student, explains about pond life on the night walk.
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Next morning,in the dawn light, they took the visitors on a morning walk, along a scenic trail.
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Apart from many endemic birds , several trees also endemic to the Western Ghats, butterflies, wildflowers, insects and other creatures were sighted (see photos below). The ladies were put up in the homes of the local residents, who were very hospitable.

The family who put up visitors at Kasargod, when they alighted from the overnight bus, on their way to Kidoor
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The family who put up the ladies at Kidoor
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Photo credit: Padma Ramaswamy

One of the impressive features of the fest was that not only was it conducted on a tight budget, but there was no sense of heirarchy amongst the organizers. Every one pitched in to do whatever tasks were required, whether it was setting up a screen, serving the food, or arranging the chairs in the hall. It made for a very homely, pleasant atmosphere, and the visitors also were able to do their bit. Another great feature was that no plastic was used in the course of the meals; each person washed the stainless steel plate, glass or cup that s/he used.

The meals were traditional and were delicious.

Breakfast of iddlis, sambhar and chai.
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Lunch in traditional vessels.
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After breakfast, the gathering settled down to watch some presentations on Odonates (Dragonflies and Damselflies), and Butterflies.
Murali’s presentation on butterflies:
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After this the participants were treated to lunch at the Gram Panchayat President’s home.
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Plantain leaf lunch.
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Full of the wonderful sightings they had enjoyed, and the new friendships they had formed, the birders dispersed.

The District Collector, Dr Sajith Babu, participated enthusiastically in the Fest.

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He promised to spare the laterite/grassland from human-centric “development”. This makes it possible that from next year, the Kidoor Bird Fest will become a larger, well-sponsored event, attracting birders from further afield.

Participants at the end of the fest:
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Birds and other living beings observed during the event:

Yellow-wattled Lapwing.
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Yellow-footed Green Pigeon.
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Malabar Lark.
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Flame-throated Bulbul.
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Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker.
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Nilgiri Flowerpecker:
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Yellow-browed Bulbul.
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Grey-necked Bunting.
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Chestnut-headed and Blyth’s Starlings:
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Scaly-breasted and White-rumped Munias.
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Curved flower or Woody Chassilia.
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Porcupine quill found on the ground.
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Blue Tiger Moth.
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Memecylon flowers.
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Nag Kuda Tree (Tabernaemontana alternifolia).
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Beautiful grass.
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Beauty of the laterite rock.
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Common Sailer.
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Weaver Ants.
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Red Pierrot.
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All photographs by me, unless otherwise credited.

P N Akhila, 301054-231118

November 27, 2018

When I married and moved to R K Nagar (Rama Krishna Nagar), Chennai, I underwent a lot of difficulties…the usual ones with an arranged marriage. I made friends with Akhila, who lived opposite…and truly, her affection (and generally sweet nature) carried me through those difficult years. She was exactly 7 days younger than I am.

Later, she took up a job, married, moved to Hyderabad…our contact was more sporadic, but there was never any change in our love for each other. She managed her job and her home, brought up two very sweet daughters, and dealt with many blows with her usual gentle courage. I managed to visit her in Hyderabad, and we met when the family was in Bangalore, too.

On an impulse, I’d emailed her to “update” and just before her 64th birthday (30th Oct), she called, explained about a serious illness, and sounded as cheerful about that as she’s always done about everything else. I sent her birthday wishes as usual, and was totally shattered to get a reply a couple of days ago from her elder daughter, saying that she’d passed away on Nov.23.

I have always called her “doe-eyed”. We were two women in two different, busy worlds, and yet we found chances to meet and keep our loving friendship up…I wipe the tears that roll down my cheeks, and carry on with my daily chores. This is life…the mundane soothes, masks, and trumps over the emotions.

My dear, dear Maankannu…my life is much poorer without your sweetness. 64…no age to go…but we have to answer the call, when it comes. I will regain my smile in a while…but right now…I miss my friend, who was almost a sister.