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Encounter with the wild kind.

The house where we have been staying, is next to the banks of a tributary of Ganges. Trees grow on either banks with the ecosystem which something similar to the Sundarbans a bit further off. Pipal. Mango, banana trees guard our compound wall with their strong presence. Birds like the green headed barbet, tree pie, mynah, magpie and many others visit these trees. Bird watching from my kitchen window or the dining room is a favourite hobby for both me and the cat.

A gentle breeze blows at night through the lush greenery. Caramel, the cat, usually curls herself on the pillow and dozes off like the family.

A few day back, while the house was asleep, she sprang from the bed and scampered around the room in a mad haste.

A black and white furry creature, somewhat longer and bigger than her, with patches of black around the glowing eyes, was the object of her chase. The creature ran around the room in circles with its unusually long tail upright, and then proceeded to be chased out of the room and maybe out of the door and veranda of its entry. By now the lights were on and we were wondering where it was, what it was and where it had come from.

It had led some traces of an odd smell in some of the rooms. A quick google search introduced us to the “Civet”.

The Indian civet is a creature which looks somewhere between a mongoose and a cat. It may have been led indoors by the smell of food. Apparently Channel No 5 uses some civet essence in their fragrance mix as well.

That was hardly impressive.

To wake up at 2 am and see an unknown wild animal running around your bedroom is not the ideal memory for urban dwellers.

Two thoughts crossed my mind.

The first was that we talk so much about sustainability, but do we really know how to live with other animals? We fear them. We may even not know about some of them.

Second was a bit more on the abstract. The creature was a creature of the night. It had perhaps spotted our dwelling, just like we had been watching the birds. We were till this incident unaware of its existence. But was it unaware of us? Would it again attempt to enter?

We so often take what we see and experience everyday as the beautiful truth, while there maybe something or someone lurking somewhere that we know the existence not of.

Someone watching us. The same feeling you get of someone watching over your shoulder when you are doing something, no matter how mundane it is. The freedom of making your mistakes in private. The security of the predictable future. The security of sleeping comfortably in a room you can call your own without any intruder.

Actually, isn’t it a lot like the right to privacy?

(Cat did not sleep at night for the last few days. This encounter made her feel threatened of her space. She undertakes guard dog duties for the night, leaving the comfort of her pillow.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking through a Bazaar

When the Spring Equinox ends, the day is celebrated in many places in India by various names. In Bengal its called “Pohela Boishakh”. A north Indian might call it “pahela Baisakh” with a lot of tongue curling.

The little pavement shops were dressed for the occasion. A lot of Red, glitter, pottery painted with designs and a Haal Khaata, or an accounts book ready for the morning ritual.

I sometimes wonder the need of an accounts book. Majority of the Bengali Hindus are not really known for their business acumen. That is left to the Marwari community and this prosperity is evident by their really large houses in the poshest localities of the city. Even then, they would get down from their Audi, or the least a mercedes, as the entire family, and extended family, would plan a sunday trip to the Jhalmuri wala. The matronly mother would then order a dozen or so jhalmuris (a kind of a mixed salad with puffed rice), keenly noting the amount of sufficient almonds to go into it. The eldest male member would then make the payment after sufficient negotiation with the roadside vendor.

The rest of the Bengali community has two major occupations, one is slaving for the above community and the second is the intellectual class; who’s children leave Calcutta for better prospects as fast as they grow up. And they do extremely well, …. but outside Calcutta.

Then the mind wanders to intellectual Bengalis and the name “Amartya Sen” comes to the mind. I haven’t googled him yet, but I believe he is known for his studies relating to poverty which got him a noble prize.

The gaze then shifts back to the roadside dweller, a sickly thin lady, wearing nothing but a blouseless sari and eating the scraping from a used curd bowl.

Wonder if she has heard about him too. I suspect not.

Locked Out!

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I forgot the password. It actually took a year to recover. Do I have a simple explanation to it? If I were to give an excuse, there would be many. Ever since we have this trend of alpha numeric codes with multiple special characters interspersed, password creation has become a chore. Increasingly most of our dealings are going online. Password creation increasing directly proportional. Need to remember and age both take their toll as the mind stresses itself to juggle with many new characters, meant to be different each time.

Over the last one year from the previous post, I’ve changed residence four times. A physical “home” to be took precedence over a web “homepage”. Real locks and keys took precedence over the digital ones.

The experiences, though were gained. Traveling through Calcutta. Discovering new places, to eat. Thanks to mobile apps , travel and food is both available at click of a button but the joy of discovering the hidden markets beneath temporary plastic sheets, on either sides of the road is unexplainable. I feel a certain sense of joy at discovering a 100 year old sweet shop, sampling roadside food, picking a kalamkari skirt at a bargain deal from these streets. Then, the frustration while communicating with a sleepy shopkeeper at 2:00 in the afternoon as Calcutta shuts shop for their siesta.

Watching the palash tree bloom, then the copper tones and then the gulmohars. I must say that I have a nice view. Sometimes, its good to be locked out. Now I’m back.

Birding Morning in Kolkata

It was 5.30 am. The sky had just started clearing up the slumber of the night. A Coppersmith Barbet held a twig of grass in the beak and prepared for the dawn ahead.

Next, a grey headed Mynah announced that it was 7.00 am and that the sun was unbearably hot.

A Black headed Oriole “hid” behind a tree, but her colours and call gave her away.

Cab stories

This is a city you can’t move around without cabs. Is it long unconnected stretches you ask? Too much traffic, you get the answer. One way traffic at different times on different roads. So if you are new and caught on the wrong side of the road, heavens bless you or the miraculous stop to traffic by a friendly traffic policeman.

While the yellow cab is on its way to be phased out, you can’t but help noticing the “No Refusal” printed on its side. Its refreshing, up to the time, you actually reach the cab and are told various reasons why you should not be traveling by the cab to your destination.

Enter Ola cabs and Uber. Taxi hailing turns pleasant and air conditioned. You wait, and wait and wait for your “one minute away” cab. The one minute distance showing in Ola is perhaps by Air. The roads and the cabbies are a different story.

Kolkata calling.

Elections were on in Kolkata. The city branded itself in Blue and White. The railings were blue and white, the LED covering itself on its quaint old world lamps was also the same colour. Some random thoughts follow.

Too much traffic. Its like Bombay , but moving in slow motion.

Too many traffic rules. Too many one way restrictions.

Fresher air than Mumbai. More trees. More birds.

Too hot and humid. Again combine Bombay and Delhi weather at its worst…or maybe its the dry spell.

Beautiful old world buildings. Same issue as Mumbai, neglected and covered with telephone wires.

Parks. Schools. A city that studies.

Stark Rich Poor Divide.

Poverty. Saw a beggar woman licking an empty bowl of curd.

Better lighting than Mumbai/Delhi for historic monuments.

Sleeps at ten.

 

 

 

How do flamingos turn pink?

Every year starting winters, tens of thousands of flamingos make their way to a little known jetty point in Mumbai. They travel from the Rann of Kutch,  which is their breeding ground and make way to two areas in Mumbai, one is a less known jetty point for their morning feeding and the other is their evening spot near New Bombay. when they arrive here in early winter, their wings are a shade of white, but during thier departure they become a pink.

How does this happen? Our guide from BNHS explained that these muddy flats near Mumbai are filled with blue green algae from which the birds’ digestive tract extract the pigment from the carotenoid and an algae rich diet ensures the pink colour to the flamingos. those better the diet, the pinker will be the color to the flamingos.

Rann of Kutch is a good breeding spot for these flamingos but is not rich in blue green algae. The birds travel hundreds of miles till Mumbai to get their adequate dose of nutrition.

However, the story could be short-lived as there are plans to create a trans harbour link over this area and the effects of that on the ecosystem, diversity and habitat is not known.

Unbelievable but true.

If I were to tell you that I’ve spotted kingfishers, two pairs of hornbills, a family of coppersmith barbets along with several crows, sparrows and pigeons, parrots during the time it takes to have a morning tea, you may wonder which green belt I am on.

If I were to tell you that I see these birds from a window while having my morning tea, you may further assume that perhaps its a forest or a nature reserve.

If I were to tell you that these birds were viewed today morning in a busy part of the Mumbai city, I wouldn’t expect you to believe me because I couldn’t believe it myself.

This Morning’s Hornbill Conversation

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“Have you spotted him yet?” asked mama Hornbill, sporting a worried expression on her face.

“Not yet! But let me call out” said Papa Hornbill and sent out a high pitched call to his missing teenage son.

“Perched atop this Neem tree out in the jungle (read City) is not the safest place for us” said mama Hornbill. “Look at that swinging branch. Is that our son?” Said mama, looking towards the overhead wire crisscrossing the road from one tree to another.

“Naaa…” Said Papa, ” He was swinging there with Crows yesterday, but not today! Bad company, I tell you, exposing himself in the middle of the jungle with noisy animals (traffic) all around!”

“You look this side and I’ll try the next tree.” said Mama Hornbill worried about her missing son  and wondering if he had breakfast .

She gave one last desperate call before flying off to the next tree.

 

 

A Bridge on the Sea

Almost middle of the month, I wonder if its the last April here. Being a traveller, everything looks new. You notice the lovely intricacies on pillars that others miss. You stare the Edwardian styled windows at the traffic signal. And you feel amused, not angry when you see women jostling for space trying to catch the evening train, while you walk slowly at a leisurely pace. Then one Sunday, while everyone is fatigued and tucked away home or the neighborhood mall, you take a drive and the empty streets wearied by the daily rush, welcome you. You get moments to admire the Bandra Worli Sealink and see what Bombay is all about if it were empty.

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You start on the bridge and to the left you see the buildings on the other side of the coast, the sea in between.Sometimes there are a few shipping boats anchored here.

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As you cross the heart of the bridge, the strong supports engulf you and then seem to disappear behind you, although you are going at 50 kmph.The sea is below you.

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Midway, when you are in the heart of the bridge, you get a steel cage, are you invincible or are you vulnerable now?

You move further and the “Town” part of the city welcomes you.