Of Cats and Squirrels

July, 2014 :

Done with an errand, we were walking along the by-lane when we witnessed quite a funny morning early this month.

My hubby, who is very sensitive to dust, sneezed in rapid successions and with high intensity; so much so that in this case of ‘man vs.the wild’, two full-grown cats were “shaken up” !!! 🙂  Their green-eyes popped out in seconds and stepping-back, they quickly hid behind the pillar of a shop, tightly huddled up against each other (as if two friends holding hands in apprehension). Then they timidly waited there until my hubby managed to control his numerous sneezes and well crossed the spot !! 🙂

It was indeed such a funny scene. I burst into a laughter; so did the shop-owner, the sales-boy and a group of school-goers.

December, 1989 :

This reminded me of my cat, Jhumi, whom I possessed during the late eighties. She had been presented to us as a gift in an old string-purse. She was so tiny then that I think I could have accommodated three or four Jhumis in my palm. Being an only child, I soon found Jhumi to be a great companion, particularly on weekend afternoons. Initially, she used to stay endlessly in the comfort of my lap or little pockets of my baggy trousers and skirts.  As she grew up, she would sort of peep around and then quickly recognize my chair and crouch beneath it even when I was away. In my presence, she often laid there resting her warm body against my then cushion-like feet. Her feathery tail tickling my toes, for a while, made me forget all the rigours of the day. During winter mornings and afternoons, I would always find her on my blanket, coiled like an inactive snail. When we got out of the bed, she would demonstrate one of the finest stretch exercises and then bask on the fresh hay until Ma called us for breakfast.

Problems for Jhumi started when her kittens were born. Our Cook and Domestic Help could never tolerate the kittens since they used to jump here and there over their work areas and it also meant that they had to clean all the utensils and spots again and again. One afternoon, as our Cook prepared to serve food, the kittens emerged from bowls. 🙂 Funny but dangerous !… I was enjoying it but elders were then worried about preventing such misadventures. At the dinner table, they discussed about donating them away or making a separate, restrictive arrangement at the bungalow; then they lowered their thoughtful glances at my radiating joy and innocence, and could not conclude.

The next day went as usual.

In the evening, when we were away at a friend’s place, the two ladies (Cook and Domestic Help) packed Jhumi and her kittens in a rice sac and dispatched them on the local train. They entrusted the sac to their common friend who was travelling on the same train. Unless confronted, it must have thrust Jhumi’s family to a village at least 30-40 kilometres away.

That was the end of all my fun. When I enquired in dismay, my grand-mother explained about all infections that would have been likely caused by Jhumi’s family loitering in the kitchen and therefore, the necessity to release them into open, distant places. And our Cook added happily, “Don’t worry, baby… we have put enough food in the sac; they won’t starve” !

For almost a month, I did hope for them to trace paths back to home… But even more, I prayed that they all stayed safe in some caring hands.

Jhumi has been the only feline I possessed.

August, 1992 :

A garden around a bungalow is incomplete without springy squirrels. We were blessed with plenty of them. While we chatted on the verandah, we could see them jump over our legs or while we unwinded on lazy afternoons, we could watch them playing along window-frames and swaying branches. Their merry clicks enlivened the entire ambience.

Ma was an ardent lover of hanging varieties of plants. So she had a row of them adorning the tall borders and roofs of the long verandah. As a keen gardener, she used to place the right supports (dry twigs, jute strings, wire mesh, etc.) for her other plants as well to extend, grow and bloom in the best of their displays. But sometimes the supports went missing, and so did the Help’s colourful cleaning-rags ! Everyone was clueless !! The official gardener and watchman of the bungalow were upset because they could not account for it. And after a few days, they all started believing that ‘kahaani poori fillaami hai… koi purani aatma ghus ayee hai bungalow mein‘ (some ghostly theme of a film depicting return of an old spirit to the bungalow) !!! 🙂

One day, as I sat in the verandah preparing for my exams, I noticed about four or five adult squirrels sort of ‘spying’ on some thing. It instantly drew my attention and I closed the then boring pages of the Civics textbook. I gathered to look myself what was the ‘spying’ about. Soon, I observed that three or four of them first spread around in directions from which Ma or the gardener usually approaches for the plants on the verandah. Then they perhaps squeaked in some code of their own at which the last squirrel, seemingly younger and quicker, sprang into action without clicking a bit. That was definitely to deceive us that the group was playing far in the garden (the squeaking squirrels on guard) and there was none even near the verandah ! 🙂 While others kept guard, I saw this younger one quietly locate those plant-supports and loot one after the other ! It performed with such intelligence, dexterity and speed that I never blinked for a second, let alone calling Ma to witness this amazing scene !!

For example, if it was a simple twig, the squirrel would just pluck and hold it in its mouth. If it was a woollen or nylon thread, it would mostly use its forelegs to untie it without forming any knot and then neatly roll the loosened thread into a ball. Then tucking all these loot in its mouth, it would rush towards a particular bush. The queer activities were repetitive until a certain satisfaction was signalled en masse. Then they would all immediately disperse along with the accumulated loot in a joint effort.

That bush, I noticed, was situated right beneath the shade of a big mango tree on which they (may be, just two among them) had a nest. Later, gazing at it with my naked eyes, I found a robust nest based on the beautiful loot and also those ‘missing’ colourful rags hanging from it. 🙂

When I narrated the incident to my parents, they never believed me until they had the chance to themselves witness it. It was wonderful to watch this loot, together. 🙂

Ma was so emotional and generous that instead of getting angry at it, she started keeping rags and threads near the bushes !! 🙂  She believed that would unburden the cute creatures and enable them to uninterruptedly guard their little ones lying undefended in the nest during which ‘squirrel Ma-Baba‘ (the adult squirrels) had to gather hardware supports.

And indeed thereafter, the ‘squirrel Ma-Baba‘ (the adult squirrels) utilized the readily available resources and resorted to Ma’s garden only if they needed any extras.

The attendants of the bungalow had to quit the mysterious gossip around their ‘purani bhatakti hui aatma‘ (old wandering spirit) theory :-)… but nevertheless, were amused at this fact unearthed by Chote-babu (me).

Wish we had an advanced digital camera then……

 

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Ripples of a Summer Night (Reflections: Part-II)

How I so much miss sleeping on a jute cot under the calm, starry nights,

Dark yet holding the promises of a thousand dreams !

Wisps of clouds drifting here and there as if to fulfil some wish of the Lord;

On some days, the radiant Moon occasionally peeping to say ‘I am here’.

The myriad and entrancing Madhumalatis adorning the green alleys like glossy locks of a lovely lass,

In the merry mist, moistening the shiny white bed linens and my gamey tender toes.

The melodious Nightingale enthralling a dozen breezy hearts

Amidst yet another captivating flute notes of the ever vigilant night-watchman.

Bit by bit, the celestial shade giving way to the soot of the earthen lamps;

The flames of which mustered to brace against sporadic gusts

Scurrying through the rustle of dry leaves and stacks of hay,

Momently creating an eerie of a hiss to baffle the midnight trespasser at bay !

The only other mystery of the unceasing night – the mewing cat and the squeaking rat fight,

Quite refereed by the croaking frogs beside the perpetual well and the elusive lizards around;

And much to the seeming delight of the lightning bugs in the bushes.

The cattle resting in their sheds, masticating on residual grass and fodder of the day,

Sometimes thudding their hooves to drive the whining mosquitoes away;

The dog with its belly rotund with warm country-bread, now sat wagging its tail;

Keeping an eye out on the green glare of some small, pawed intruder perched on the swaying branches,

Beneath which its master unwinded from the tiredness of a long, hot day !

As my wise grandma charmed me with nearly fifty tales of the mind and the soul,

I followed it with occasional turns on the left and turns on the right, done with my queer might;

Then came along a pat here and a pat there,

And with a treasure of hugs and solace on my forehead;

Led by promises of a new day, as alluring as the umpteen sun-baked, sweet mango pancakes,

I was lulled into honey summer-slumbers ringed by a mother’s eternal love.

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– Dedicated to all my Readers on the 6th “happy birthday” of Aamjunta ! 🙂

Indian Space Station – Connect, Engage And Ignite The Space Explorers

A guest post by the team Indian Space Station (ISS), a noble initiative for popularizing space science.

ISS

www.indianspacestation.com

Vision

To create a forum of knowledge, discussion and for the dissemination of news and information for the out worldly science of Space.

Mission

The mission of Indian Space Station (ISS) is to provide budding space enthusiasts every possible kind of information and assistance towards furthering their dreams of travel into the stars. At ISS, we strive to strike a balance between the presentation of theoretical and practical aspects of space technologies, between news and opportunities for students and amateurs and between informative and entertaining aspects of space literature.

What we do at ISS?

Some of the important activities of ISS are as follows:

  • To interact with the researcher scholars from across the world to understand their research problems and the proposed solutions at the abstract level. We believe that the space domain is the only field which is truly multidisciplinary which could use solutions from every field to make its technology to advance. These interviews also provide an opportunity to the student/research community to get acquainted with the current state of the art research going on across the world. You could visit here to know the type of research problems that have been captured so far.

  • To interact with the eminent space experts from the industry and the academia around the world and to get their opinion on future of space science, space technology and exploration, etc. In addition, these interviews also serve as a guidance for the student/research community as most of the questions are relevant to them. You could visit here to know the eminent people who have been interviewed on ISS.

  • To keep a track of every major achievement from the student/research community. We bring those people on the ISS platform to talk about their achievements through various articles. These articles serve as a motivation for other people to take up the similar initiatives. Please visit here to know more about it.

  • To conduct workshops/competitions at regular intervals with focus on involving more people in this space revolution rather for a profit. Some of the workshops are CanSat leadership training program, High altitude ballooning competition/training, telescope making, etc. Please visit here to know our current work in this direction.

  • To ignite and inspire the school students as well by conducting events like space related drawing competition, space essay competition, cartoon explaining the various space concepts etc. Please visit here to know our current initiative on this.

  • To provide an opportunity for the students through the intern-ship program. In these intern-ship, they contribute to science education improvement by identifying local talent or issues. In addition, their work is being published in the form of white papers summarizing various information related to space field. Please visit here to know more about it.

  • To provide stipend to the talented and bright for a limited period of time. This is another way to keep them motivated to do better work and research.

  • To review some of the important books related to space domain. The idea here is to let the audience know these great books written by the eminent space experts. You could visit here to know more about it.

  • One of the best medium to see the future technologies is through movies. We do review science movies on a regular basis to identify the technologies shown in them and feasibility of its realization in the coming days. We also talk about the current developments so far related to those technologies. Please visit here to know more.

  • To provide information on the various institutes in India which provides different programs to pursue a career in space domain. You could visit ISS to know more about this.

  • To provide information on available scholarships program across the world for the students to support their education in basic science and space domain. You could visit here to know more about this initiative.

  • To write about the important science and space related workshops happening across the world. In addition, we do provide articles related to career guidance. We also guide the students who contact us through ISS platform. Please visit here to know more about it.

Achievements

  • After working close to 6 years on this initiative, Indian Space Station name is quite familiar among the student community and even with some of the best space experts and scientists from around the world.

  • Indian Space Station name is also quite familiar with the publisher due to their honest review of various science related books.

  • First of a kind BalloonSat competition is being held for the undergraduate and graduate students in India in close collaboration with Antariksha Labs.

  • Successfully conducted an essay competition for the school student to ignite their creativity and imagination.

  • On-going drawing competition for the school students in tribute to Mangalyaan, India’s first Mars mission. The competition is well received by the students and there is a huge response in every month.

  • A new kind of workshop is in progress to give a hands-on experience in designing and launching a model satellite to every student in India.

  • Developed an expertise in high altitude ballooning missions in close collaboration with Antariksha Labs. This service will be offered to interested people.

  • Unique opportunity is being provided to the students to get better exposure to space field through our intern-ship, stipend programs and student ambassador programs.

  • Regular career guidance from ISS team to the students who contact us to know about various opportunities and avenues related to space field.

What next from ISS?

In the next few years, we have plans-

  • To conduct the space workshops in every college in India to motivate and ignite them to work on space related projects which is both exciting and equally challenging. We believe that the student skill set could improve significantly by working in these multi-disciplinary space projects.

  • To develop in-house products related related to small and large scale, small scale propulsion systems, products targeted at the farmers/rural area to make effective use of satellite technology etc. Our ultimate goal is revolutionize the private space industry in India. We have collaborated with Antariksha Labs (www.antarikshalabs.in) to realize this goal.

  • To create a venture capitalist division which will fund the research work privately to the deserving students, faculties and experts. These research will be time-bounded and there will be an accountability. The idea is to generate a pool of patents by utilizing the vast talent available in India.

  • and many more ambitious proposals in pipeline.

Aamjunta – your contribution to this noble initiative will be the game changer in India’s education system and future of young India.

 

Should we Approve this Space Redefinition ?

Like many of my folks, I would love to live in a villa or mansion with most modern amenities, a sprawling garden, a customized swimming pool and good parking space.

Money matters but it is not the real determinant !

For after the routine confrontation with SPACE and POLLUTION around, I am not in favour of even owning a four-wheeler (in fact, I am still avoiding it !). The Apartment concept is a wiser choice in many aspects and as a family even, we are also comfortable and happy travelling in autos, Volvos and taxicabs.

We are happy because we spare space and prevent pollution – all very little but that is what we still manage to contribute. That gives us some sort of joy within. And of course, we do not have the headache of maintenance, licence renewals or manoeuvring in traffic when we actually look forward to solely enjoying the time.

Three years ago, we planned to get bicycles but there is still no appreciable bicycle lanes across the city. And the metro rail tracks too do not utilize the underground space… Anyway, if ever we much need to own one vehicle, then we shall restrict it to minimum usage to release space-on-roads and prevent air-pollution at least.

Of late, the ‘villa culture’ is the latest style-and-status statement in the city. Millionaire home buyers, particularly in Bangalore are even seeking out helipads and four-car parking areas !!! (This entire article is a must read; every bit of information contained in it sounds so alarming to me that I could not figure out what to highlight and what to ignore !)

Moreover, irrespective of the number and quality of roads, there are huge ads and flashy show-rooms everywhere to promote sale of varieties of fashionable cars and SUVs.

So this is how it goes – we observe Earth Hour, Save Trees, Prevent Pollution, Stop Industrialization, Environment Day, etc. But we go crazy with these $million /$billion investments, mostly to satisfy our ego – why ? Surely we can jolly good afford but are we being honest with ourselves ? Why can’t we start practising some sort of contentment, despite few odds at the beginning ? …It can be done in various ways – big or small, right ?

It troubles my heart more to see how some of my folks who have well-flourished in their career abroad are now heading home not really to bring in brilliant ideas to rebuild or serve their country but to mindlessly secure a high-flown niche in a city that holds promises of multifarious entrepreneurship and where mercury levels are relatively less drastic !

I therefore strongly believe that some of such detrimental features both of the Real Estate and the Motor Vehicles industries should be “absolutely unacceptable” to a society ALREADY DEPRIVED OF CHILDREN’S PLAY AREAS EVEN IN SCHOOLS – everyone is kind of getting choked at the rate things have already deteriorated !!

Otherwise, I am afraid there may come a situation in the near future, when we would not be able to spot space on Earth to even mark our own foot-prints, literally so !!!!

Aamjunta – what do you say ?

Abhishekam and The Hungry Feeds

In olden days, Rajyabhishek used to be performed for royal coronation in some kingdoms.

But Abhishekam or Abhisheka is a custom still practised routinely in some religious institutions around the world, either as a ‘bathing ceremony and anointing of the deity being worshipped’ (sanctification) or as an ‘esoteric transmission’ (empowerment of the disciple).

Depending on the type of Abhishekam, the libations on deities could be holy-water, milk, yoghurt, ghee, panchaamrutam, honey, sesame oil, rosewater, sandalwood-paste, etc. Among all these items, it terribly hurts us to know and to see buckets of milk being poured on the deities. It ultimately goes down the drains, leaving both the calves and the children hungry on the pavements, some right in the temple’s premises !!

Moreover, this milk comes from cows that are considered as the most sacred of animals and even worshipped as ‘divine mothers’ (gow-mataa) as per certain beliefs and customs. By pouring all those milk for Abhishekam and keeping the calves and our children malnourished, aren’t we being dishonest, selfish and treating our gow-mataa disrespectfully ?

Many argue that the milk and other liquids are collected after the Abhishekam. Even if it is somehow done and converted into ‘Prasadam’, hygiene cannot be guaranteed ! And token amounts of such offerings by each one of us shall lead to a huge wasteful quantity at the end !!

Folks- is preserving such rituals meaningful than filling the empty stomachs of the calves and feeding the hungry mouths of teeming millions ?

As the human race holds big conferences to eradicate hunger and poverty from the whole world, why can’t we sensibly contribute by altogether doing away with offerings of milk (and its derivatives) and similar practices ? Like ‘money saved is money earned’, ‘food saved is also food generated’.

And with increasing or unresolved demographic, economic and environmental crisis, that is what Time also now demands of us…

Let us engage ourselves on a little introspection and thoughtfully hear our Conscience……perhaps the Lord’s answer lies within !!!

Aamjunta – what do you say ?

 

Is Universe the Ultimate Free Lunch: Cosmic Inflation to Intellectual Inflation ?

Last week, as I was browsing a news report, an advertisement of a car appeared on the right-hand column. Its caption read ‘space re-defined’ and then it instantly struck me – all the three kinds of news that I had come across by then related to inflation (or some sort of that) banged on my thoughts with a hint of some inter-connection.

Here is the list of those inflations:

Economics inflation.

Cosmic inflation.

And the mysteries of the human mind, its quest, its challenges  and expansion of our thoughts, which I refer here as Intellectual inflation.

Last year, President Barack Obama highlighted innovations as an important factor to boost the American economy and unveiled “the next great American project“- a $100 million enterprise to probe the mysteries of the human brain. At the august gathering of top scientific dignitaries of America, he also affirmed the power of philanthropic science.

I myself now borrowing, scaling up and transforming a few ideas from the above bit of news, hope to present in the forth-coming analysis how this Intellectual inflation, quite expectedly, acts like a window of perception with regard to the other two types.

The first one- I need not elaborate it as everyday, we either personally confront it or see it in the newspapers or hear it on the television. What I need to mention is that the third type, our ever-changing or expanding ideas can further influence those graphs that feature significantly in the internal world of business and commerce. Terms in economics like demand, supply, costs, profit, loss, etc. finally boil down to various human needs and achievements across demographies and are also changeable over time.

Now, let us focus on the second type of inflation which has been the workhorse of cosmology for 35 years. Before I relate this to the third type, let me first highlight the newly discovered spectacular findings or evidential proofs as a result of the undaunted perseverance of man.

Describing in very simple terms, Cosmic inflation means when the cosmos or the universe, just after the Big Bang, underwent an exponential gush in its first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. According to British scientist Dr Jo Dunkley, it could be when “everything that is important, everything we see today – the galaxies, the stars, the planets – was imprinted at that moment”! Since then, space has continued to expand for nearly 14 billion years and will endlessly continue to blow up here and there (multiverse). Scientists opine that coupled with a few other factors, a phenomenon as this has perhaps also rendered an evenness to the sky.

Researchers from the American BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) team believe they have detected the residual signal (B-mode polarisation) left in the sky by this super-rapid expansion of space or Cosmic inflation. To seek this “smoking gun”, they have been using a telescope (basically a giant superconducting thermometer) at the South Pole to make ideal observations of a small part of the thin, cold and dry sky. This residual signal was observed to have a distinctive twist pattern, now believed to have been caused by gravitational waves. The discovery of this particular polarization of the cosmic microwave radiation was thrilling because it means ‘the light waves had a slight preference to vibrate in one direction rather than another’. These patterned spirals were detected by measuring infinitesimally small differences in the temperature of the microwaves.

So far, so good.

The BICEP2 data does not talk about what this magical-sounding inflating energy is. Einstein’s concept of anti-gravity or dark energy was revived 15 years ago along lines that it is ‘giving a boost to the expansion of the universe, albeit far more gently than inflation did’.

Let us take a look at the four forces of Physics at work in the world today: gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. But Physicists have long suspected that ‘those are simply different manifestations of a single unified force that ruled the universe in its earliest, hottest moments.’ Since men interpreted these forces, the laws of Physics have evolved and can definitely evolve further whenever or until the cosmos ‘super-cools’.

Though the BICEP2 group’s data is subject to intense peer review, there is an all-high possibility that this new observation may make certain existing theories or models indefensible and set up a completely new regime of Physics or even science.

In the exalted and equally humble words of Prof. Alan Guth, a leading pioneer of the theory of Cosmic inflation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to the BBC: “I have been completely astounded. I never believed when we started that anybody would ever measure the non-uniformities of the CMB, let alone the polarisation, which is now what we are seeing…I think it is absolutely amazing that it can be measured and also absolutely amazing that it can agree so well with inflation and also the simplest models of inflation – nature did not have to be so kind and the theory didn’t have to be right.”

Amazed at the enormity and ways of the Cosmic inflation, he further mentions: “It’s often said that there is no such thing as a free lunch,”…”but the universe might be the ultimate free lunch.” 🙂

But scientists do admit that ‘we might never know what happened before inflation, at the very beginning, because inflation erases everything that came before it. All the chaos and randomness of the primordial moment are swept away, forever out of our view.’

And this is perhaps where, in my opinion, the eternal and imperishable Bhagavad Gita would come in as a form of Intellectual inflation to bid defiance, in a way, to the boundaries set by Cosmic inflation.

An article in The New York Times bears this comment regarding the ever-changing state of the cosmos and consequently, the changes in laws of Physics: ‘As the universe cooled, according to this theory (a special break point in the evolution of the universe), there was a fall from grace, not unlike some old folk mythology of gods or brothers falling out with each other. The laws of Physics evolved, with one force after another “freezing out,” or splitting away.’

Now, recall the chapter in Bhagavad Gita in which Lord Krishna bestows the divine eyes to Arjuna and asks him to behold the countless manifestations of the entire cosmos in His majestic, inconceivable, indestructible, expansive, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, all-sustaining, all-pervading and transcendental Form. This Holy text extols – if the glory of thousands of suns were to blaze forth all at once in the sky, even that would not resemble the glory and prowess of that exalted Form – the Adhiyajn or ParBrahma or Ishvar (Super Being or Ultimate Consciousness) from which multifariously emanates the animate, the inanimate, the smaller than the smallest and the bigger than the biggest in these eternal cosmic phenomenon since time immemorial. In other words, it means that the entire cosmos is a manifestation of that Super Being.

Then there is a chapter which deals with the cyclic nature of creation and eternal transcendental existence. In the cyclic creation, one day and one night of the Brahma (Aadi Prakriti or primary material nature of Ishvar), each, lasts one thousand Yugas or one Kalp (4.32 billion years). At the beginning of such a day of the Brahma, all mortal beings are born again and again; and they are annihilated when such a night falls. These beings are said to be under the control of Gunas (Modes) of Prakriti or Maya (Nature). Interestingly, I wonder if these Gunas are those forces (comprehensible by the mortal being) that Physicists have so far deciphered and defined after years of perseverance !!

Only in the transcendental existence, can one rise above Prakriti and attain Param Dhaam or Vaikuntha (Supreme Abode); such beings do not take birth again. Only a steadfast Yogi who is aware of that splendid Form both in his inner psyche (contemplation) as well as in his Karma (actions) and devotionally meditates on the Ishvar, can seek Him and His endless cosmic vision. According to the philosophy of Bhagavad Gita (and even Vedas), seeking the Supreme Guru or Ishvar should be the ultimate aim of a true Seeker of knowledge. This knowledge is the most sacred and is in conformity with Dharma (Righteousness) and can be perceived by instinct gliding on the wings of Faith. Perhaps this Yogic manner of seeking the Ultimate Realization or Truth has been symbolically represented by Lord Krishna’s grant of divine eyes to Arjuna, who knelt in humility and in Faith, and prayed to the Lord to reveal His cosmic phenomenon !

Thus we, the human-beings, see how subtle yet how vast, how deep is the relation between the spiritual inner psyche and an outward urge for rationality. It is indeed amazing to realize how the Bhagavad Gita or the Vedas, composed thousands of years ago, contains so many golden mantras intensively relevant for the entire mankind, even today !!!

Whether metaphysics or science or spiritual beliefs, after all it begins with Faith and humbly continues with man’s unfathomable quest of knowledge. Whatever we do, we must surrender it in all good Faith, as an offering to the Lord who seems to pervade everything in this cosmos. Therein, we behold the beautiful balance of the intellectual and the spiritual worlds, and always a dramatically unfolding picture of the infinite Creation. The day either our Faith or our humility or our quest ends, we as human-beings, shall fall from grace.

Aamjunta – what do you say?

An Indian Summer with the Bulbuls

A story from Purulia (West Bengal, India) made quite a few headlines last week. A tusker, also known to have killed three people last year, smashed a house into bits and started moving away. Just then it heard the cries of a helpless 10-month-old baby from under the debris. To the crowd’s amazement, it immediately turned back and gently removed every last bit of stone, brick and mortar from the infant’s body before heading back to the forest.

A similar incident was reported from Jalpaiguri (also in West Bengal, India) about six months ago where a herd of elephants carefully removed a little girl from the way before going on a rampage.

Very recently, it has been reported that elephants and dogs too recognize certain voices and languages. On a lighter note, now we know how justified is ‘HMV’ and its logo – His Master’s Voice !! 🙂

Incidents as these that sound straight from India’s Amar Chitra Katha series or Jataka Tales or western Fairy Tales, have been observed all over the world. In about two or three separate articles starting from this particular write-up, I would love to narrate a few remarkable ones from my childhood. These would also constitute my humble attempt in appreciating all Nature-lovers, observers and researchers. And I hope that readers will enjoy this curious side of life where Nature vividly communicates with man in symbolic languages.

Before I begin, I would like to mention that my parents have always ardently hailed Nature. My mother (here addressed as Ma), was not only keen at gardening but also guarded all life-forms in our garden just as she was protective of her own family. And therefore we believed that’s perhaps how she was more well-recognized, completely trusted and sort of much admired by the other occupants of our green ambience.

In this article, I shall focus on one episode based on birds in the district of Mayurbhanj (Odisha, India), where I spent most of my young days, almost 25 years.

The jovial Bulbuls seemed to be eternally present in the green, calm surroundings of the bungalow. Once a pretty young Bulbul-ma (that’s how I used to call the mother-bird) over-estimated her plans of a good nest and the entire fledging process after her cute eggs hatched. Consequently, on a scorching summer day in May,1990 she anxiously fluttered up to Ma who was watering the plants in the patio. She chirped madly and then flew to and fro in the direction of her unsecured nest. Ma lost no time in understanding that she had to rush as per Bulbul-ma‘s directional moves. I tiptoed along on the grassy patches here and there, intermittently starred by some bright seasonal flowers. Bulbul-ma perched on a nascent palm tree planted in a clay pot. Its leaves had quite dwindled away in the heat that was everywhere. The tree barely supported the small nest built for three members. Ma peeped at the centre and her heart sank to see three tiny nestlings struggling to survive the heat, thirst and hunger. Hair on their skin was singed and beneath it was visible the tender skin, slightly reddish. Their beaks were wide open with its pink delicate but almost dry inner linings exposed towards the clear blue sky that was absolutely unpromising of a shower for the next couple of days. They were desperately waiting for Bulbul-ma‘s solace. But she was utterly helpless because she could not have transferred them anywhere at this stage! The well too was far from the pot; so she could not have even managed a small spray on her nest with her wings soaked in the water from any container.

With the gardener’s help, Ma quickly but carefully shifted the pot to a spot in the verandah where shade was almost perpetual and we could monitor them maximally. A polythene sheet was later hung at one side as a double guard against all the remaining rays. Ma found a very innovative way to artificially feed the nestlings- she took a new ink-pen dropper and with it, very smoothly let droplets of water and mango-juice into their mouths. They gulped and gulped…and I was always very excited when Ma delegated this task to me after a simple demonstration. Then she taught me to spray their almost singed bodies with cool water and to often check their nests for enemies- ants and insects. When they grew better, Bulbul-ma would feed them small dead ants and insects. At nightfall, it was the watchman’s turn to guard the nest as well. Ma also regularly gave hand-mashed mango pulp and nuts to Bulbul-ma, who sitting on the same palm tree, would sincerely observe us when we nursed her nestlings. Her expression was like ‘achaa! itna kuch karna parrta hai kya? mujhe nahi malum tha!! (oh! we got to do all these, is it? I didn’t know!!)’ :-).

And Bulbul-ma was somehow acquainted with saree (Ma, grand-ma and domestic helps), dhoti (gardener and grand-father) and casual skirt and top (me). Till date, I wonder why she missed out the formal shirt and trousers (my father)! So initially, when my father went near the palm tree to see this interesting episode, she would scream and again start seeking Ma or me. We explained to her in a language of the homo sapiens that ‘a father’ is the man-of-the-house, someone who would ultimately rescue us all in case there is a danger…that he is Ma’s husband and my father, the little girl’s father. And several times, we took him along with us to the nest so that Bulbul-ma would learn that he is after all a safe visitor :-).

I had just stepped into my teenage. Once, during a mid-day chat with Ma who was my closest friend, she very jokingly remarked ‘perhaps, this Bulbul-ma has not come of age…looks like these eggs are borne out of a pre-matured wedlock’… 🙂 Then in the next few moments, her tone transformed to that of immense appreciation and respect for Bulbul-ma– ‘but one thing my girl, note she hasn’t ditched her eggs…rather she has accepted Nature’s rule in rearing them up, even all alone in this scorching heat’ !! And again she rushed towards their nest to check on them.

The monsoons were nearing when one day, the now hearty fledglings flapped their wings for the first time. Bulbul-ma spent two days in fruitlessly trying to teach them fly. We concluded that they had got used to the comforts in badde-sahaab ke bungalow (big man’s bungalow)- all our family and helps accused Ma and me :-). On the third day, as evening approached, two of them managed to fly out; after hobbling for a few metres, they took to the air smoothly. The last one just didn’t move. It was indeed robust. Ma blamed it on me saying that I over-fed my pet and now its wings could not bear its weight. Bulbul-ma pricked its back with her beak so as to stimulate it. The fledgling merely shrugged off the sensation and continued to stubbornly sit in the nest :-). Then my Ma gently brought it out and placed it on the floor in the verandah. Using her fingers, she prompted the fledgling to follow it and walk. There was no response. Then she slightly stroked her nascent wings and blew some mouth-air over it. We were still surprised how this little fellow was unable to decode natural instincts! Just then, my grand-father happened to sit on a mattress on the floor barely a few metres away from it. Suddenly, the fledgling flapped its wings and flew onto his cosy lap in a manner most unlike of even a distant-cousin of birds :-)! I think it had understood by then that it had to perform under the full glare of spectators and the view of the short distance to be covered at a small altitude helped it muster some strength to fly- ‘bhai, udd le…isse asaan aur chance nahi! (hey,lemme show I can fly…there can’t be an easier chance to do it!)’ :).

Then it again sat there seeming to be very satisfied with its flying skills. I wanted to feed it again with the dropper because I believed it might have got exhausted with its efforts. But Ma stopped me as she seriously wanted it to fly as a natural response to thirst and hunger, and she also empathized with Bulbul-ma in her desperate efforts. Evening was nearing…

In the meanwhile, Bulbul-ma had brought in either Bulbul-baba (the father-bird) or some Bulbul-masi (Bulbul-ma‘s female friend) !! We didn’t try to figure out exactly who it was. We had better tricks of Bulbul-ma to watch. The adult birds had caught hold of a big grasshopper and another insect in their respective beaks and started luring the lazy fledgling towards it. As the latter hobbled after a few minutes, the adult birds continued moving back, maintaining a minimum take-off distance on the runway :-). The trick went on until the fledgling successfully flew towards the trees that the birds had flown to with the insects still held in their beaks.

Even years later, Ma used to recollect this particular trick and was very amused each time. She said ‘wasn’t that so much like human adults who try to lure their kids to desired activities or places by holding out a chocolate or a flashy toy in front of them ?’. Perfectly so.

That lazy fledgling was a female and she continued to be robust. So, we could always identify her as long as we all lived there. I roughly built a nest the following summer at the same spot (to lure my cute lazy fledgling) and I believe she only laid eggs. She turned out to be an intelligent Bulbul-ma and we didn’t have to look after any of her nests. Honestly speaking, I would have loved to bother about all subsequent fledging processes :-).

It was during this phase that I learnt about Dr.Sálim Moizuddin Abdul Ali, the great Indian ornithologist and naturalist. He is known all over the world for having conducted systematic bird surveys and giving a wonderful fillip to the subject. He is also referred to as the “”bird-man of India” and was conferred the Padma Vibhushan in 1976 . I wonder what a whale of observations and conclusions Dr. Ali must have had in his extra-ordinary pursuit to understand the ways of varieties of birds! The International Jury had rightly honoured him with these lines-

Since the writing of your book, the Book of Indian Birds which in its way was the seminal natural history volume for everyone in India, your name has been the single one known throughout the length and breadth of your own country, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as the father of conservation and the fount of knowledge on birds. Your message has gone high and low across the land and we are sure that weaver birds weave your initials in their nests, and swifts perform parabolas in the sky in your honor.
For your lifelong dedication to the preservation of bird life in the Indian subcontinent and your identification with the Bombay Natural History Society as a force for education, the World Wildlife Fund takes delight in presenting you with the second J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize. February 19, 1976.

More similar articles to follow, if Aamjunta approves… 🙂

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