Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This is Saxicola Caprata alias Pied Bush chat!!

This blogger is not much into scientific names of birds. Mostly browse through but some names strikes. Saxicola caprata is one like that. It’s a name for a tiny bird common through out the subcontinent, some confines to hills but avoid thick forest (the above was taken at Sholyar Dam hills). Their note is like two stones knocked together, common to Chats from which they derive. It has a pleasing short song. They are generally found perched on vantage point that has view over bare ground in the vicinity thus prefers land with low shrub and near water bodies, it takes its food (entirely insects) thus. They prefer well concealed nest on the ground.

The above pic is that of young one complete black plumage except under tail since it doesn’t get white band on the wing till about two years, and it is sub-specie that has abdomen black unlike the white bellied that is common in the plains. The female have grayish brown plumage.

This few stanzas from Borges’s poem I came across, it is one the best I have read

To see in every day and year a symbol
of all the days of man and his years,
and convert the outrage of the years
into a music, a sound, and a symbol.

To see in death a dream, in the sunset
a golden sadness--such is poetry,
humble and immortal, poetry,
returning, like dawn and the sunset.

Sometimes at evening there's a face
that sees us from the deeps of a mirror.
Art must be that sort of mirror,
disclosing to each of us his face.

They say Ulysses, wearied of wonders,
wept with love on seeing Ithaca
Art is that Ithaca
a green eternity, not wonders.

Art is endless like a river flowing,
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and yet another, like the river flowing.

Borges (1899-1986)was an Argentinean poet, short story writer and essayist (complete name being Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo, phew!!). When 1955 he was made head of the National Library he had become fully blind due to a hereditary disease. He writes…
Nobody should think that I, by tear or reproach, make light
Of the mastery of God who,
With excellent irony,
Gave me at once both books and night.

Borges is someone I came across in the dusty shelf of Central Secretariat library (in Delhi), it was just about the time when after many stints of 9-5 jobs in god knows what all places in what all occupations that I took firm decision on no more full time jobs (I had just quit a job at publishing), and found myself with lot of time and lot to read. This library was also an escape from horrible heat of summer not to mention sometimes I would sneak into ministries nearby and have excellent food at discount rate, I did enjoy Rajma-chawal plate at the road side stall nearby. Things have changed so drastically because of jihadi macaques that anyone who try this now could be in serious trouble. One of my favorite short story is “Borges and I” it is a kind of an autobiography you would rarely witness in fiction. It is also an insight into the writer…"…it would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things. Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger, I shall remain in Borges, not in myself ……..thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.”

Another of his fine story is “Everything and Nothing”. It starts quite brilliantly “There was no one in him; behind his face (which even bad painting of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the astonishment of a friend to whom he had begun to speak of his emptiness showed him his error and made him feel always that an individual should not differ in outward appearance. Once he thought that in books he would find cure for his ill and thus he learned…instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one…”.

It goes on like this “His histrionic tasks brought him a singular satisfaction, perhaps the first he had ever known; but once the last verse has been acclaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from stage, the hated flavor of unreality returned to him. He ceased to be Ferrex or Tamerlane and became no one again. Thus hounded he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables. And so, while his flesh fulfilled his destiny as flesh in taverns and brothels of London, the soul that inhabited him was Caeser, who disregards the augur’s admonition, and Juliet, who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with witches who are also his fates. No one has ever been so many men as this man, who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality. At times he would leave a confession hidden away in some corner of his work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his person he plays the part of many and Iago claims with curious words “I am not what I am.” …

The story ends this way that reminded me Bhagvad Gita “History adds that before or after dying he found himself in the presence of god and told him ‘I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself’. The voice of the Lord answered from whirlwind: ‘Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dreams are you, who like myself are many and no one.’”

Now that is a good story!.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Great tits!!

Now before you get any funny ideas Great tit are birds coming under tit family Paridae (tit meaning small, shortened titmice). Tits are birds with stout legs, strong feet and hardy bills. They could be found foraging upside down on the branch and climbing the trunk like woodpecker, and I thought I have found the rare White naped tit (Parus nuchalis). It turned out to be Great Tit (Cinereus tit to be specific, as they have white under part. Great tit could be yellowish. Cinereus have distinctive grey coverts unlike white naped that is black). Clearly I was getting overambitious even experts have found it difficult to locate White naped, these birds are endemic to India and found in patches of Rajasthan-Gujarat and around Bangalore-cauvery valley (I had read about it, so was excited!) but the sightings has been rare, classified by Butler as thus about 150years back. Salim Ali (at Kutch) referred it ‘very rare’ but later changed it to ‘capriciously patchy’ (1943-44). Though in south India it has been very rare from the onset, only handful sightings reported in last few decades. Incidentally a single specimen Jerdon obtained in 1864 from Eastern Ghats was thought to be ‘some mistake’. Apparent habitat incongruous of ‘low jungle thorny’ Kutch and dense deciduous forest of south led to further confusion. Many maintain that south Indian spotting must been Parus major (Great tit) they are very similar, but the sightings in south have been strongly corroborated. White naped tit is seriously endangered bird due to habitat destruction (I read that in Kutch belt the need for twig-acacia for toothbrush has threatened the bird further, the researcher suggests immediate availability of cheaper toothbrush)

Tits are varied colorful species and found commonly across the world, they seem to have adapted to city life too. I read that they could open the milk bottle to get the cream, and that bird calls also have changed in noisy cities (became ‘rap’ from ‘rural melodies’-as the report in UK says!). They feed mainly on insects and sometimes fruits, and are found to nest on tree trunk holes. Otherwise found in groups they become territorial during breeding season. And yes I hope to sight White naped tit sometime in future (o boy that would be something!). The painting of Great tit is by none other than John Gould one of the finest bird painter who had no formal training and learned from observation, he got the nickname “the birdman”(a detailed account on him was posted under pied wagtail).

And now a beautiful poem on caged bird (like Munias I mentioned in my last blog) by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) titled

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opens,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats its wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

Dunbar was one of the earliest Afro-American writers, although he died quite young his contribution has been significant. I was reading some of his short stories at (it is a great site…I have included it as link in my main blog) titled “The heart of happy hollow”. The author had these interesting lines to say as forward to the collectio
n “Wherever laughter and tears rub elbows day by day, and the spirit of labor and laziness shake hands, there—there—is Happy Hollow, and of some of it may the following pages show the heart”. I found this collection very interesting it gave insight into Afro-American community at the turn of the 20th century. The dialect used by black Americans that I have seen in some English movies also helped to understand the stories better. There is an amazingly funny story written in afro-American dialect titled “The race question”. It’s about an old punter (who also was a jockey once, as I gathered from the story…frankly with the dialect you have to read it loudly to get it right). This story is a monologue of an old man at the race… not very uncommon if you sit next to a seasoned fellow at the turf club, they are quite liberal with opinion and judgment!!. And yes our man is quite defensive about gambling and comes out with incredible “honest gamblah was ez good ez a hones' preachah...” and yes he wants to “money ernuff to mek a donation on de pa'sonage”. I loved the story!!. It starts like this

Scene—Race track. Enter old coloured man, seating himself.
"Oomph, oomph. De work of de devil sho' do p'ospah. How 'do, suh? Des tol'able, thankee, suh. How you come on? Oh, I was des a-sayin' how de wo'k of de ol' boy do p'ospah. Doesn't I frequent the racetrack? No, suh; no, suh. I's Baptis' myse'f, an' I 'low hit's all devil's doin's. Wouldn't 'a' be'n hyeah to-day, but I got a boy named Jim dat's long gone in sin an' he gwine ride one dem hosses. Oomph, dat boy! I sut'ny has talked to him and labohed wid him night an' day, but it was allers in vain, an' I's feahed dat de day of his reckonin' is at han'.

And his commentary later was amusing
De bay maih's done huh bes', she's done huh bes'! Dey's turned into the stretch an' still see-sawin'. Let him out, Jimmy, let him out! Dat boy done th'owed de reins away. Come on, Jimmy, come on! He's leadin' by a nose. Come on, I tell you, you black rapscallion, come on! Give 'em hell, Jimmy! give 'em hell! Under de wire an' a len'th ahead. Doggone my cats! wake me up w'en dat othah hoss comes in”.

And it ends like this…
"No, suh, I ain't gwine stay no longah, I don't app'ove o' racin', I's gwine 'roun' an' see dis hyeah bookmakah an' den I's gwine dreckly home, suh, dreckly home. I's Baptis' myse'f, an' I don't app'ove o' no sich doin's!"

Charming indeed

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

White rumped Munias are gregarious birds

It is a bird that is always found in groups or pairs, the flock fly in undulating manner when disturbed. I found this bird in a bush- adjacent to a river, maybe it had its nest nearby as it flit and came back again and again to check and was vary of my presence. The sparrow sized bird feeds on seeds and therefore considered pests by farmers. Unlike sparrows it has thicker stubby bills (so belong to the family of waxbills, also finches) and smaller in size and despite the fact they are numerous they are reclusive and not very easy to spot. Adults have dark brown upperparts and white lower. Unfortunately they are popular cage birds, it is saddening to see these gregarious birds in cramped cages for human entertainment. It need be added that the trend of keeping cagebirds as pets has gone down drastically in last few decades.

Ancient Korean Poetry: I came across a form of poetry that is followed for centuries in Korea, referred to as Sijo. They are three line lyrical poems that start with introduction, development of the theme and conclusion. The conclusion generally has an element of surprise, that can take a profound turn. They are elaborate and not intended to be witty though they use pun, metaphors and allusions. Sijo is meant to be a song that was vehicle for religious and philosophical expression that was more personal.

Yun Sondo (1587 - 1671) is considered greatest Sijo poet. Born in Seoul, Yun Sondo was a government official during the Choson dynasty, but his straightforward character made enemies at court and he was banished for imprudent criticism of those in power. Thirteen years later he returned to become tutor to the royal princes but was later banished again. He spent most of his 85 years in his rustic country home, contemplating the nature of life, teaching and writing poetry. Yun is considered the greatest master in the history of Korean literature. His most famous composition is The Fisherman's Calendar, a cycle of 40 sijo. In both Chinese and Korean classical poetry, the fisherman symbolized a wise man who lives simply and naturally. Having observed fisherman at close quarters this blogger very much agrees to that.
The translator of Sondo’s poems faces a serious dilemma: whether to trace the meaning track (literal meaning and structure) or poetic track (theme and aesthetic). Clearly translation from culturally divergent milieu is rarely successfully.

The Fisherman's Calendar is a sijo cycle consisting of 10 verses representing each of the four seasons, a total of 40. The innovative Yun Sondo transformed the way the verses were written. The freshness, imaginative word usage and line structure set higher standards to which future writers could aspire. Here are some taken randomly from the collection. Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa that is repeated is meant to be represent sound of anchor chain and rowing. Like boat rowers in kerala use hylasa and other sounds that give rhythm.

The sun slides low to the west; it tells us its time to go home.
Strike the sail, strike the sail!
Evening willows remain a joy, flowers more amazing still.
Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa!
How many statesmen would envy this? Now why do I think of them?

I'd like to roam the tender grass, pick orchids and gromwells too.
Haul in the boat, haul in the boat!
How many could I carry in this leaf-like little boat?
Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa!
This morning I came out alone; the moon and I will go home.

I've put down the fishing rod to watch moonlight through the awning.
Drop anchor now, drop anchor now!
Night is sneaking up on me: hear the cuckoo send out his call.
Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa!
It brings me so much pleasure I can't recall my way back home.

Another fine day has ended; now it's time to eat and rest.
Secure the boat, secure the boat!
I walk the path in cheerful song; red patches peek through new snow.
Chigukch'ong, chigukch'ong, oshwa!
From my window I'll praise the moon till it sets behind hushed pines.