Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stork billed Kingfisher

Earlier I had written about small blue kingfisher, in mannerism Stork Billed is similar but being large sized bird it perches on branches hidden by thick foliages also it doesn’t hover on the water. They are found in wetlands of well wooded forests. A colorful bird that has pale yellow-orange underpart, bluish green upper part and a dark brown head. What stands out is large blood red beak. Like other kingfishers it too seems to have voracious appetite and could always be found hunting or it could be that most of its attempts at catching fish is not successful.

The Celtics

The ancient people who lived in the region that is now central west Europe, with spread of Christianity and introduction of written form Celtic was corrupted but did help in preservation of poems. There are some Celtic speakers in northern part of Britain even today. Since ancient Celtic poems was oral- stress was on rhythm and rhyme, and passed on through memory for many centuries. Celtics were polytheist and Celtic shrines were situated in remote areas such as hilltops, groves, and lakes. The Celts worshiped both gods and goddesses. In general, the gods were deities of particular skills and the goddesses were associated with natural features, particularly rivers. Poets enjoyed high status in Celtic societies and were repositories of traditional knowledge and stories. These are some ancient Celtic poems; it need be pointed out that medieval Celtic poems were heavily influenced by Christian traditions and so are not included in here. The focus of this blog is on indigenous Celtics i.e. the ancient people.

A Celtic Prayer
Deep peace of the
running waves to you.
Deep peace of the
flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the
quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the
shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the
Son of Peace to you.

Little Bird

Little bird! O little bird!
I wonder at what thou doest,
Thou singing merry far from me,
I in sadness all alone!

Little bird! O little bird!
I wonder at how thou art
Thou high on the tips of branching boughs,
I on the ground a-creeping!

Little bird! O little bird!
Thou art music far away,
Like the tender croon of the mother loved
In the kindly sleep of death.

Celtics believed butterflies (a yellow colored one) to be carrier of soul to heaven. This a simple and charming lines…

Whose the soul thou didst bear,
Yesterday to heaven?

They greeted new moon with these lines…incidentally when was the last time any one of the readers have even looked at the moon or is it possible in this bright nights of cities?!!. By the way Celtics counted by nights and not days (like it is not ‘two days from now’ but ‘two nights from now’!. Druids (their priest- readers might have come across them in Astreix comics, the gauls were part of Celtic traditions) held the view that in the beginning there was darkness

May thy light be fair to me!
May thy course be smooth to me!
If good to me is thy beginning,
Seven times better be thine end,
Thou fair moon of the seasons,
Thou great lamp of grace!

He Who created thee
Created me likewise;
He Who gave thee weight and light
Gave to me life and death,
And the joy of the seven satisfactions,
Thou great lamp of grace,
Thou fair moon of the seasons

This an ancient Celtic blessing

Deep peace of the running waves to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the smiling stars to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you,
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Heart spotted woodpecker

Another woodpecker but smaller and much prettier. It didn’t seem to have noticed me and so was busy on a nearby branch, a pleasure to watch. This bird is uniquely shaped with heart-shaped black spots on white shoulders and broad white scapular patches and barring of flight feathers. Whitish throat and plain grey underparts. A common bird of lowland forest, they are found in pairs or groups.

What the soul is to the body, so is the artist to his people

These are the lines on the tomb of Gabriela Mistral arguably one of the greatest Latin American poet. Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) was born in Chile. She was a village school teacher till poetry made her famous (we now clearly don’t live in a world where poetry can make people famous. On a second thought who really want to be famous in this muck. It is a disgrace to be famous). The story of a village teacher becoming a poet and later having a significant influence on reforming education system of not only Chile but even Mexico is nothing short of spectacular. Actually it doesn’t stop here!!. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature (1945). The citation read "for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world". She carried within her a fusion of Basque and (American) Indian heritage. Reading Mistral is a fulfilling experience. These poems are taken from Net, frankly what I miss in Bangalore is a good library where I can stretch out to spent my afternoon lazing over some good book (just what I did in Kochi and Delhi not to forget Connemara in Chennai, need to add here Delhi does have some excellent library- it was quite an amazing experience) and read full book of poem rather than some snatches from Net. This translation of “Pine forest

Let us go now into the forest.
Trees will pass by your face,
and I will stop and offer you to them,
but they cannot bend down.
The night watches over its creatures,
except for the pine trees that never change:
the old wounded springs that spring
blessed gum, eternal afternoons.
If they could, the trees would lift you
and carry you from valley to valley,
and you would pass from arm to arm,
a child running
from father to father.

I loved this line “if they could trees would lift you and carry you from valley to valley”. Quite evocative. This line from “Death Sonnet”

No hand will reach into the obscure depth
to argue with me over your handful of bones

This line from “Dusk

and I feel my life fleeing
hushed and gentle like the gazelle.

Mistral was unfortunate for her teen aged son suicides. This from “Sad Mother”

Sleep, sleep, my beloved,
without worry, without fear,
although my soul does not sleep,
although I do not rest.

Sleep, sleep, and in the night
may your whispers be softer
than a leaf of grass,
or the silken fleece of lambs.

May my flesh slumber in you,
my worry, my trembling.
In you, may my eyes close
and my heart sleep.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How is that I not see the Hoopoe?

Finally I was able to spot Hoopoe, a bird that was so very common once, it seemed to have vanished. Hoopoe is an exotic looking bird fawn colored plumage black wings and tail that is banded with white long curved bill and fan shaped crest that spread when alarmed. This is one bird that can be easily identified. They avoid thick forest and are very common in open field with grooves of trees. They could be found turning over leaves or rubbish searching for insects. It has undulating uncertain kind of fight as if it has forgotten where to go “geez am I supposed to go here or there?!!” though it is master of flight easily avoiding birds of prey. During incubation period the females of the specie secrete an unpleasant smell that gives the nest stench of rotting flesh which keeps the predator away.
Hoopoe finds mention in ancient civilizations (Egyptian considered it sacred and Persians associated it to virtue), in murals and quite interestingly reference is found in both Koran and Bible (the above line “How is that I not see the Hoopoe?” is taken from Koran!!).
In 2008 after a poll hoopoe was made the national bird of Israel. The short listed birds consisted of the bulbul, the red falcon, the goldfinch, the biblical vulture, the spur-winged plover, the honey-sucker, the warbler, the white-chested kingfisher, and the white barn owl. Hoopoe was an overwhelming favorite winning 35% vote. Here is the picture of Shimon Peres, president of Israel, announcing the national bird. Incidentally Israel is a main crossroads for birds migrating between Europe and Africa.
Leopold Sedar Senghor (1906-2001): The poet who became the President

It was while I was searching for whom to write about in this blog that I stumbled upon Leopold Senghor the former President of Senegal. Senghor was an influential statesman who served as President for almost twenty years after the country got independence from France in 1960. He was also a poet and writer of repute (incidentally he also authored the national anthem of the country!) affirming the rich cultural tradition of Africans. Other example of writer as head of the country in recent times include Vaclav Havel (President of the Czech Republic, he is my personal favorite too) and Lennart Meri (elected twice as President of Estonia). Senghor worked for strengthening African identity. He used a term ‘Negritude’ which meant ‘sum total of cultural values of black world’. Sartre referred to him as ‘Black Orpheus’. I found his poems amazingly sensual with passion for Africa. There is overwhelming optimism. These lines from Noliwe

I would not have killed her if I had loved her less.
I had to escape from doubt
from the intoxication of the milk of her mouth,
from the throbbing drum of the night of my blood
from my bowels of fervent lava,
from the uranium mines of my heart
in the depths of my Blackness
from love of Noliwe
from the love of my black skinned people.

Senghor had his higher studies in Paris and later served as an officer in French army. He was captured by Germans during Second World War and escaped execution; he spent incarceration period writing poems. He later took up teaching career at prestigious university in Paris. When Senegal got independence he took over as the President. He is credited to have put a strong foundation of a peaceful nation.

This one of his earlier poems that reflects nostalgia of an exile…

Tokowaly, uncle, do you remember the nights gone by
When my head weighted heavy on the back of your patience
Holding my hand your hand led me by shadows and signs
The fields are flowers of glowworms, stars hang on the
bushes, on the trees
Silence is everywhere.

In another poem “visit” he recalls the sky of his country

It is the same sun bedewed with illusions,
The same sky unnerved by hidden presences,
The same sky feared by those who have a reckoning with the dead,
And suddenly my dead draw near to me...

He wrote once"... every true work of art, whether it is a novel, a riddle, or a caricature, is always a rhythmic image.... A work of art--poem or story, painting or sculpture, music or dance-these are not ideas but works of beauty. The role of criticism is not to say what it means but why and in what way it is beautiful."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Coppersmith at work

These are delightfully colorful birds. Small stocky greenish bird with yellow, crimson and black sprayed on the face. Purely arboreal they don’t come anywhere near ground and fly from tree to tree sometimes traveling long distances. Like barbet these birds are heard more than seen, they so brilliantly camouflaged. The call is metallic took that is repeated at regular intervals, as if coppersmith is at work, the reason why they are called coppersmith!. I found this bird that was busy fighting the bird upstairs “yah sure I know what you are about sure sure” kind of fight that finally led to they chasing each other across trees.

Two Albanian poets and some incredible lines…

It was providence nothing else that I chanced upon these two poets. Albania a small nascent country has surprisingly rich literary history. It was a pleasant surprise to read some of them (I have to say this again: I am so much grateful to Internet. In 1995-96 when I took up reading I had to be at the mercy of library or local book lending shop…Elloor was quite popular in kerala, don’t know whether it still exists. The way things have changed is nothing short of miracle). Albanians have every reason to be proud of this heritage coming as they are from decades of isolation and misery.

Let me start with Lasgush Poradeci [(1899-1987) the picture herein is his statue in Albania], he was one of the best and what I like about him was almost meditative observation of nature. These lines from “Pogradec”

A shimmering sunset on the endless lake.
Ghostlike, a veil is slowly spread.
Over mountain and meadow the dark of night descends,
Settling from the heavens upon the town.

Over the vast land no more sound is to be heard:
In the village the creaking of a door,
On the l
ake the silence of an oar.
Over the Mal i Thatë an elusive eagle soars.

Sunset always is evocative- the play of silence and darkness, I miss it in cities…I miss it so much. Even when I was studying in college after all the crap I did I made it a point to visit the beach to see the sunset once in a while. Vastness of nature begins with wonder then slowly it seeps in, then you also become part of wonder. It is same about mornings and this poem by Poradeci


Like a spirit sombre within the breast
Lies the lake encased in hills.
Mirrored in its depths,
Night expires breath by breath.

I watch how she suffers, how she dies,
Her eyes blinking,
Azure-circled pools,
Like the stars of a fading sky.

But now the light of dawn
Shimmers deep within the lake.
The daystar steals away, melting
Like a piece of sugar candy.

Behold, day has dawned,
And lightning flashes from the depths.
Like a harbinger of morn
bird-white, a pelican.

The second poet is Migjeni (1911-1938) pen name of Millosh Gjergj Nikolla, he died very young with tuberculosis but left some wonderful writings and poems (there are some short stories of his in the Net. I liked the story of a prostitute who looks for that elusive ‘normal life’ and ends up mad). With age he could have contributed immensely to Albanian literature but unfortunately fate had other plans. I hate it when beautiful people die young (I also hate it when crude people live long). Migjeni did not disappoint and I am quite glad to reproduce some of his lines here…

These lines from “Blasphemy

The mosques and churches float through our memories,
Prayers devoid of sense or taste echo from their walls.
Never has the heart of god been touched by them,
And yet it beats on amidst the sounds of drums and bells.

Majestic mosques and churches throughout our wretched land,
Spires and minarets towering over lowly homes,
The voice of the hodja and priest in one degenerate chant,
Oh, ideal vision, a thousand years old!

These few lines from “Poem of poverty

Poverty, brothers, is a mouthful that's hard to swallow,
A bite that sticks in your throat and leaves you in sorrow,
When you watch the pale faces and rheumy eyes
Observing you like ghosts and holding out thin hands;
Behind you they lie, stretched out
Their whole lives through, until the moment of death.
Above them in the air, as if in disdain,
Crosses and stony minarets pierce the sky,
Prophets and saints in many colours radiate splendour.
And poverty feels betrayed.

lines from prose titled “The suicide of a sparrow

The sparrow was suffering from depression. It was born in a very barren land. Instead of grass, there were boar bristles, and instead of trees, there were the horns of prehistoric beasts. Who would not be depressed in such an environment, if one could call it nature? A sparrow does not need much to live on, but an environment devoid of nature, did not provide anything….

The sparrow, perched on a horn and in the depths of depression decided to commit suicide. It looked about in philosophical irony and took the irrevocable decision which glimmered in its despairing eyes. It chirped once, it chirped twice, it chirped three times. Then there followed a long and poignant cry, its last will, the testament of its suffering. Without spreading its wings, it jumped off the horn and plunged into a boar bristle as long and sharp as a knife, and was impaled.

A sparrow, impaled on a boar bristle. Its tail and wings fluttered, causing it to rotate around the bristle, as metal weather vanes turn on the top of our chimneys when the North Wind begins to blow. What is the logical connection here? Do I detect complaints? Indeed, my dear and far from superficial reader, are there not enough logical, moral, and dogmatic inconsistencies in the realities of this world? Why get angry and accuse me of a few logical inconsistencies which are doing harm to no one

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Stone Curlew the dukhi bird!!

I am removing the piece on Fairy bluebird and replacing with Stone Curlew. It was my fault I should be more careful (than excited!) but I guess the arboreal nature of the bird gave indication of Bluebird than Thrush. Further the pictures also were not great, bills which are important reference in classification too were blurry. I guess my search for Fairy Bluebird continues and yes I will have to have better pictures of Malabar whistling thrush to write about it. In the meantime it is Stone Curlew…

These birds give an impression that they are carrying all the problems of the world on their shoulders (that at present is the job of likes of Obama!!) and stared soulfully with their large eyes. Being nocturnal these big eyes help to catch prey. They are also referred to as ‘thick knees’ and are not really curlews but wader birds, the name curlew comes from ‘curlee’ calls that can be heard in the night.

Taras Shevchenko: the voice against tyranny

Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) was an iconic poet whose literary heritage is seminal to not only modern Ukraine literature but to Ukrainian language itself and was a source for awakening of national consciousness. Born as a serf later a servant, orphaned at early age, he started his life in misery and poverty. Observing his artist talent, he was encouraged and later bought and given freedom by a painter. He enrolled for formal training in art and started life as a poet. His frequent visits to Ukraine meeting his enserfed siblings and relatives, watching the tsarist oppressions and destruction of his beloved land left deep imprints on him.

I will glorify
Those small, mute slaves!
On guard next to them
I will place the word.

He used satire poems against Tsar and actively participated and was ph
ilosophical guide to many subversive groups, punished into military labor and was prevented to write or draw by an express order by Tsar himself. Though Shevchenko somehow managed to write in secret, ten years later on the death of Tsar he was released. By now he was being seen as national bard and he turned his bitterness against Ukrainians extolling them to be honorable and worthy of their history, scorned them for being inactive against oppressions. All his life he was devoted to his nation. "Body and soul I am the son and brother of our unfortunate nation," he wrote. He imbued biblical texts with contemporary political relevance. His poem “The Testament” gained much popularity after it was set into music and is now next only to Ukrainian national anthem.

The Testament

Dig my grave and raise my barrow
By the Dnieper-side
In Ukraina, my own land,
A fair land and wide.
I will lie and watch the cornfields,
Listen through the years
To the river voices roaring,
Roaring in my ears.

When I hear the call
Of the racing flood,
Loud with hated blood,
I will leave them all,
Fields and hills; and force my way
Right up to the Throne
Where God sits alone;
Clasp His feet and pray...
But till that day
What is God to me?

Bury me, be done with me,
Rise and break your chain,
Water your new liberty
With blood for rain.
Then, in the mighty family
Of all men that are free,
May be sometimes, very softly
You will speak of me?

Shevchenko used folk song elements to depict sadness, women’s harsh fate, the longing for happiness (his poems and writings had consistent images of impregnated and abandoned women as a metaphor of tsar’s oppressions). His poetic style was marked by the use of simple language and metaphors. Shevchenko consistently refined his use of folkloric material. His adaptation of folkloric elements was so successful that many of his poems became folk songs. His paintings are masterpieces mostly quaint and refined that hid his own harsh realities (an example of his painting is posted herein).

this my favorite poem

Even till now I have this dream:

among the willows and above the water near a mountain there is a tiny white bungalow.

A grayed grandfather sits near the bungalow

and watches his tiny grandson, so nice and curly-haired.

Even till now I have this dream:

a happy smiling mother steps out of the house and kisses grandfather and the child,

she joyfully kisses him three times,

takes him into her arms and nurses him, and carries him to bed.

And grandfather sits there and smiles,

and quietly Whispers: “Where is that misery? That sadness? Those foes?”

And in a whisper the old man, crossing himself, recites the Our Father.

through the willow tree the sun shines and quietly dies out.

The day is done, and all has gone to sleep.

The grayed old man has gone himself to the house to rest.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The forest wagtail

It was a stroke of luck that I spotted Forest wagtail, you wouldn’t believe when you see this small bird that it is a migrant from thousands and thousands of kilometers away from Siberia from north china from Assam. How does it fly from such far lands? It is a miracle. And so unassumingly nibbling on forest ground “oh it’s no big deal. We do it all the time”. Really little bird!!. I don’t think so. I think it is quite a big deal to fly thousands of kilometers on those small wings. I found this bird wary but not unduly intimidated by human presence. Back and crown are olive brown, the wings black with two yellow wing bars. Forest wagtail differs from other wagtail in its bizarre habit of swaying its tail from side to side, not wagging it up and down like other wagtails. They feed on insects specifically ants and spiders.

Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976): the rebel poet who sought revolution

One of the greatest Bengali poets who is loved across the borders, a poet, writer, essayist as also composer of thousands of songs (ghazals, collectively known as Nazrul songs, that is immensely popular to this day), and yes he could act and sing too!!. He is the soul of Bangladesh. Nazrul Islam is someone whom the world should know and understand more.

Kazi Nazrul Islam was born in a pious poor Muslim family- his father was an imam of local mosque, he had his early education in this religious surroundings, he later became muezzin. Soon he joined a theatre group and traveled across Bengal with the troupe, composing plays. He later joined army that took him outside Bengal. Finally he settled down to literary activities coming in close contact with other luminaries. Writes Tagore (To Kazi Nazrul Islam)

Come, ye comet,
come to build a bridge of fire across the dark,
Hoist up on the castletop of evil days
Your flag of victory!
Let omens be carved on the forehead
of the night,
Awaken, startle those that drowse,

“Bidrohi” his famous and popular work was published in 1922, his rebellious language adding to the fervor of freedom movement.

Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,
Shall rest in quiet only when I find
The sky and the air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed.
Only when th
e battle fields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres
Shall I, weary of struggles, rest in quiet,
I the great rebel

He started bi-weekly magazine “Dhumketu”, and was soon arrested and spent sometime in jail. He also started “Langal” a magazine that was intended to be mouth piece for peasant masses. He used rhetoric as a tool that exuded sincerity and intensity that created a rage among common people against injustice and oppression. Some people have mistaken his “I” to be arrogance but it was meant to represent the suffering humanity, the poorest, giving them sense of self. He was responsive to the contemporary issues, and wrote in the way he felt, it wasn’t contrived. Nazrul was rightly critical of khilafat movement for its religious fundamentalism and hollow ideology. He fought lifelong against religious dogmas and intolerance, and considered them inherently irreligious.

These lines of his I find quite amazingI can tolerate Hinduism and Muslims but I cannot tolerate the Tikism (Tiki is a tuft of never cut hair kept on the head by certain Hindus to maintain personal Holiness) and beardism. Tiki is not Hinduism. It may be the sign of the pundit. Similarly beard is not Islam, it may be the sign of the mollah. All the hair-pulling have originated from those two tufts of hair. Today’s fighting is also between the Pundit and the Mollah: It is not between the Hindus and the Muslims. No prophet has said, ‘’I have come for Hindus I have come for Muslims I have come for Christians.” They have said, “I have come for the humanity for everyone, like light’’. But the devotees of Krishna says, “Krishna is for Hindus”. The followers of Muhammad says, “Muhammad (Sm) is for the Muslims”. The Disciple of Christ is for Christian”. Krishna-Muhammad-Christ have become national property. This property is the root of all trouble. Men do not quarrel for light but they quarrel over cattles”(emphasis mine)

Later with deaths of his closed ones his poetry turned from theme of rebelliousness to spiritual quest. His songs merge Islamic and Hindu values and philosophies (he effectively merged folk tunes). These amazing lines

Let people of all countries and all times come together. At one great union of humanity. Let them listen to the flute music of one great unity. Should a single person be hurt, all hearts should feel it equally. If one person is insulted; it is a shame to all mankind, an insult to all! Today is the grand uprising of the agony of universal man

Read these few lines from “The Rebel” and tell me if you don’t feel that raw energy

I am insane! I am insane!
Suddenly I have come to know myself,
All the false barriers have crumbled today!
I am the rising, I am the fall,
I am consciousness in the unconscious soul,
I am the flag of triumph at the gate of the world,
I am the glorious sign of man's victory,
Clapping my hands in exultation I rush like the hurricane,
Traversing the earth and the sky.
The mighty Borrak is the horse I ride.
It neighs impatiently, drunk with delight!
I am the burning volcano in the bosom of the earth,
I am the wild fire of the woods,
I am Hell's mad terrific sea of wrath!
I ride on the wings of the lightning with joy and profound,
I scatter misery and fear all around,
I bring earth-quakes on this world!

I am Orpheus'sflute,
I bring sleep to the fevered world,
I make the heaving hells temple in fear and die.
I carry the message of revolt to the earth and the sky!
I am the mighty flood,
Sometimes I make the earth rich and fertile,
At another times I cause colossal damage.
I snatch from Bishnu's bosom the two girls!
I am injustice, I am the shooting star,
I am Saturn, I am the fire of the comet,
I am the poisonous asp!
I am Chandi the headless, I am ruinous Warlord,
Sitting in the burning pit of Hell
I smile as the innocent flower!
I am the cruel axe of Parsurama,
I shall kill warriors
And bring peace and harmony in the universe!
I am the plough on the shoulders of Balarama,
I shall uproot this miserable earth effortlessly and with ease,
And create a new universe of joy and peace.
Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,
Shall rest in quiet only when I find
The sky and the air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed.
Only when the battle fields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres
Shall I, weary of struggles, rest in quiet,
I the great rebel.

I am the rebel eternal,
I raise my head beyond this world,
High, ever erect and alone!

And these lines from “O nightingale” (translated from Bengali), how charmingly sensitive

In Garden Plot, O Nightingale, do not
rock upon this flower stem today;
For these buds swinging in deep sleep,
Unbroken dozing slumber lay

What an amazing man was Kazi Nazrul Islam, the comet has passed by…those who saw are blessed.