Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Common Iora

Common Iora is a small sized greenish yellow bird that has a distinctive two white bars across its wings. A garrulous bird that keeps itself busy in the bushes of thick foliaged trees found at the edges of forests. During breeding season it is known to make some striking displays. A common bird but must say quite difficult to take a snap, the above has not come properly but as and when I am able to capture better pictures I intend to replace it. Till then the readers will have to do with these pictures!. These birds have many subspecies with the variations in the plumage.

Amy Lowell: We do not ask the trees to teach us moral lessons
Amy Lowell (1874-1924) was an American poet who was known for her contribution to Imagist movement (along with Ezra Pound). This i read about her in the net that i thought was interesting "She never attended college because her family did not consider that proper for a woman, but she compensated with avid reading and near-obsessive book-collecting". Apart from some excellent poems she is also known for her biography of Yeats.
This para from the preface she wrote to Sword Blades and Poppy seed

I wish to state my firm belief that poetry should not try to teach, that it should exist simply because it is a created beauty, even if sometimes the be
auty of a gothic grotesque. We do not ask the trees to teach us moral lessons, and only the Salvation Army feels it necessary to pin texts upon them. We know that these texts are ridiculous, but many of us do not yet see that to write an obvious moral all over a work of art, picture, statue, or poem, is not only ridiculous, but timid and vulgar. We distrust a beauty we only half understand, and rush in with our impertinent suggestions. How far we are from "admitting the Universe"! The Universe, which flings down its continents and seas, and leaves them without comment. Art is as much a function of the Universe as an Equinoctial gale, or the Law of Gravitation; and we insist upon considering it merely a little scroll-work, of no great importance unless it be studded with nails from which pretty and uplifting sentiments may be hung!

The Painter on Silk

There was a man
Who made his living
By painting roses
Upon silk.

He sat in an upper chamber
And painted,
And the noises of the street
Meant nothing to him.

When he heard bugles, and fifes, and drums,
He thought of red, and yellow, and white roses
Bursting in the sunshine,
And smiled as he worked.

He thought only of roses,
And silk.
When he could get no more silk
He stopped painting
And only thought
Of roses.

The day the conquerors
Entered the city,
The old man
Lay dying.
He heard the bugles and drums,
And wished he could paint the roses
Bursting into sound.

These lines from A London Thoroughfare. 2AM

Opposite my window,
The moon cuts,
Clear and round,
Through the plum-coloured night.
She cannot light the city;
It is too bright.
It has white lamps,
And glitters coldly.

I stand in the window and watch the moon.
She is thin and lustreless,
But I love her.
I know the moon,
And this is an alien city.

Happiness, to some, elation;
Is, to others, mere stagnation.
Days of passive somnolence,
At its wildest, indolence.
Hours of empty quietness,
No delight, and no distress.

Happiness to me is wine,
Effervescent, superfine.
Full of tang and fiery pleasure,
Far too hot to leave me leisure
For a single thought beyond it.
Drunk! Forgetful! This the bond: it
Means to give one's soul to gain
Life's quintessence. Even pain
Pricks to livelier living, then
Wakes the nerves to laugh again,
Rapture's self is three parts sorrow.
Although we must die to-morrow,
Losing every thought but this;
Torn, triumphant, drowned in bliss.

Happiness: We rarely feel it.
I would buy it, beg it, steal it,
Pay in coins of dripping blood
For this one transcendent good.

The Tree of Scarlet Berries
The rain gullies the garden paths
And tinkles on the broad sides of grass blades.
A tree, at the end of my arm, is hazy with mist.
Even so, I can see that it has red berries,
A scarlet fruit,
Filmed over with moisture.
It seems as though the rain,
Dripping from it,
Should be tinged with colour.
I desire the berries,
But, in the mist, I only scratch my hand on the thorns.
Probably, too, they are bitter.

This poemA Ballad of Footmen is my favorite; it is a strong statement against war…I loved this “all bent on killing, because of their ‘of courses’”. Brilliant.

Now what in the name of the sun and the stars
Is the meaning of this most unholy of wars?

Do men find life so full of humour and joy
That for want of excitement they smash up the toy?

Fifteen millions of soldiers with popguns and horses
All bent upon killing, because their "of courses"

Are not quite the same. All these men by the ears,
And nine nations of women choking with tears.

It is folly to think that the will of a king
Can force men to make ducks and drakes of a thing

They value, and life is, at least one supposes,
Of some little interest, even if roses

Have not grown up between one foot and the other.
What a marvel bureaucracy is, which can smother

Such quite elementary feelings, and tag
A man with a number, and set him to wag

His legs and his arms at the word of command
Or the blow of a whistle! He's certainly damned,

Fit only for mince-meat, if a little gold lace
And an upturned moustache can set him to face

Bullets, and bayonets, and death, and diseases,
Because some one he calls his Emperor, pleases.

If each man were to lay down his weapon, and say,
With a click of his heels, "I wish you Good-day,"

Now what, may I ask, could the Emperor do?
A king and his minions are really so few.

Angry? Oh, of course, a most furious Emperor!
But the men are so many they need not mind his temper, or

The dire results which could not be inflicted
With no one to execute sentence, convicted

Is just the weak wind from an old, broken bellows.
What lackeys men are, who might be such fine fellows!

To be killing each other, unmercifully,
At an order, as though one said, "Bring up the tea."

Or is it that tasting the blood on their jaws
They lap at it, drunk with its ferment, and laws

So patiently builded, are nothing to drinking
More blood, any blood. They don't notice its stinking.

I don't suppose tigers do, fighting cocks, sparrows,
And, as to men—what are men, when their marrows

Are running with blood they have gulped; it is plain
Such excellent sport does not recollect pain.

Toll the bells in the steeples left standing. Half-mast
The flags which meant order, for order is past.

Take the dust of the streets and sprinkle your head,
The civilization we've worked for is dead.

Squeeze into this archway, the head of the line
Has just swung round the corner to 'Die Wacht am Rhein'.

Something I scribbled the other day


Don’t know why they call a lizard a gecko
must be the way it sounds
short guttural dismissive
unlike blustery confidential leezzaarrd

Miniatures of Jurassic era
wriggles its nervous tail
wipes its tongue over bulging eyes
translucent gluttonous frame
like cheap chinese toy
haggled for in the crowded market
adorn the wall
the bigger one chased by smaller and smallest
frozen in a reverse evolutionary hunt
until the glue give away
and they tumble one after the other
and gamely wait to be arranged again.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Ceylon Frogmouths

The Ceylon Frogmouth (now also referred to as Srilankan Frogmouth) is a nocturnal bird endemic to Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. Found in dense forests these are large headed birds that has huge frog like gape and large flattened hooked bills that is used to swoop on insects during night. Female are rufous while males are grey. These species sit upright on low branches during day, brilliantly camouflaged and look as if part of branch. It needs discerning eyes to locate even when few feet away. Absolutely amazing. They sat staring as if they think they are not been located, my guide a sensitive fellow asked me not to use flash (after my first click, the above pic) and disturb them. He reminded we are intruding into their sleep, i regretted my transgression. We took care not to make any noise and push the branches around as delicately as possible to get better view.

Of the 13 Frogmouth species found in the world, only two belong to India. The other is found in the Himalayas.

Reggie Siriwardena: Renaissance man from Sri Lanka

Reggie Siriwardena (1922-2004, later Regi, earlier Reginald) was one of the foremost Srilankan intellectual, critic, journalist, teacher, novelist, playwright and a humanist, and yes he also happen to write some excellent poems!!. When he turned eighty he wrote this line, the angst of violent nation that was loosing its promising young

scandalous at eighty years to walk
the earth where younger better people now are dust and ashes

Regi Siriwardena also collaborated in the introduction of a controversial new English literature syllabus to the consternation of the conservatives he included the lyrics of Bob Dylan's Blowing in the Wind and replaced Shakespeare. He was convinced of the unsuitability of Shakespeare at school level. Even for university students, he abolished Shakespeare for first year students. Once, while discussing English in the schools, he commented, This school Shakespeare competition has become the literary equivalent of the Royal-Thomian match. He also analyzed English and Sinhala text books for racist bias towards the minority communities. He noted and documented these prejudiced texts and highlighted that these promoted hatred towards the minorities in general and Tamils in particular. These texts published by the state were harming ethnic relations it was pointed out. As a journalist he covered the culture as also the international section (he wrote about astronomy for children too). He learned Russian and translated many works into Sinhala (noted for Anna Akhmatova and Pushkin).

His creations were hinged in torment of colonial humiliation of native culture and yearning for self respect for its people and universal aspiration. In his poem “Colonial Cameo”, he speaks of a father who made him read Macaulay and admire Napoleon and a mother who spoke only Sinhala. He remembers the day she took him to school and leaving she said “Gihing Enang” (sinhala) to a peal of giggles from his class mates (it was anglicized school). Reggie writes
My mother pretended not to hear that insult.
The snobbish little bastards!
But how can blame them?
That day I was deeply ashamed of my mother.
Now, whenever I remember,
l am ashamed of my shame.

Another poem from “Waiting for the soldier"

After the Roman army took
a soldier, in the midst of looting and raping,
stopped when he saw a Greek bent over
figures inscribed in the sand. Gaping,
the Roman watched his strange absorption
in that magic of lines and circles. He
(not looking up at the soldier) said," Move
With your shadow there it's hard to see"
The soldier hit him on the head, and so
Archimedes died. If, then, today
I turn more and more to this ordered world
of sixty four squares, to the mimic play
of forces in a field where nobody bleeds;
where in the intervals of the game my silent friend
won't annoy me by spouting racist drivel
or Marxist simplicities; if the chief end
of life at present seems to find
an infallible answer to the French Defence
(my opponent's favourite opening ), don't say
I am escaping. In a world without sense
one must look for meaning wherever one
can find it-if only, perhaps, for a day
or two. I know the Roman soldier-
in one shape or another-is on the way.

Continuing with his last poem that he wrote when he turned eighty these evocative lines
To have existed while the planet made
eighty revolutions round the sun is no
achievement, but I must confess I am
rather surprised to find myself still here.
It’s scandalous at eighty years to walk
the earth where younger, better people now
are dust and ashes,
who died of violence and had much more
to give -Rajini, Richard, Neelan
makes it embarrassing to be alive

In the same poem he writes

But I shouldn’t complain: to compensate.
I have acquired immunity to other
infections - post - modernism, for one.
And free verse, for another. I’m glad, too,
I never caught, as my late brother did.
The Sinhala nationalist flu. An early shot
Of Marxism, perhaps, took care of that.

Also some fun and premonition of his impending death

By time's mere flux, I am called to play the part
Of patriarch I am unfitted for.
But not for long, I hope. When the time comes,
Ajith, Prince of Obituarists, will write,
I know, a graceful piece - measured, as always,
And free of flattery or fulsomeness.

I don't believe there is judgment after death,
Or penal court of Yama: If there were,
And I were called to account, what could I say
In mitigation of sentence, but stammer,
"P-please sir, I tried not to be p-pompous ever,
P-pretentious, Sir, incomprehensible,
or b-boring". Would the judge pronounce severely;
"A frivolous trifler! He deserves no mercy,
I sentence him to fifty years of torture
Translating into Serbo-Croat the texts
Of Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha!"

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ashy Prinia

A delightful little bird that can found in open field that has patches of bushes, it is a frequent visitor to gardens (atleast in the pre pollution era!) and can be seen on low uncertain flight from one bush to another. Small bird with long tail they have ashy brown upperparts and lower warm buffy. I have observed this bird many times but only recently able to take the snaps. I was at Art of Living (run by Sri Sri Ravishankar) on the outskirts of Bangaluru with the specific intention of capturing wildlife (did spot a well fed rat snake) walked up to the lake and around but couldn’t spot many birds, after the breakfast (they provide free food, I am a big fan of free food!!) while I walked across the garden in the front of the main mediation hall that I spotted Ashy Prinia busy searching food, it was a spectacular sight against bed of green grass. This was the only bird I could photograph in the whole trip but must say was worth it.

In my mid twenties I did travel around different ashrams in the country and so on, indeed I spent much of my time in Rishikesh (I still love that place, it is quite vibrant), I look for intellectual stimulation -what is referred to as Gyana marga and never been comfortable in Bhakti marga, the latter is where you find many charlatans. There are some genuine gurus too, though I was quite cynical of these people (famously Sai Baba, Mata Amruthanandamayi so on) some experience taught me that they have created a positive space and have considerably helped underprivileged people, so even if there maybe some minor transgression that get sensationalized by media sleaze I tend to look at the overall context of their contribution and find myself rather quite insignificant to even comment, it easy to find fault but think of millions of contended people. I have listened to almost all gurus those who have influenced me include Ramanna Maharishi, Swami Chinmayananda, Jiddu Krishnamurthi and most significantly Osho (quite a sharp fellow that one…what I liked about him was you can call him an adorable asshole!!. I haven’t met anyone so sharp and precise, one moment he could be on the pinnacle of enlightened thoughts the very next he comes out with some hilarious crap. It is juxtaposing these that made sense to me. A reminder that there is no all nice world, indeed such a world would be sickening. Intellectually I would rate Naipaul in the same category: unpleasant brutal truth told as brutally that it shocks and you are in awe, there is no compromise it is like a Zen slap. Clinical and profound).

I recall spending a night at Ramakrishna mission in Chennai in early 1990s (after doing some crap that I felt intensely guilty about), mylapore was such a beautiful place those days (now it overruns with vehicles and barricades). I carried a copy of Bhagvad Gita (with interpretation by Chinmayananda) when I landed in Delhi and would refer it quite often. An old man (the head of institute I used to visit to take occasional classes in evening at Karol Bagh) had a heart attack and was prescribed bed rest; I gave the copy to him. I was free!!.

I wrote these on the way back from recent visit to Western Ghats…

The dawn

I started the day early
and visited the trees
the birds were there
so were the bees.
The chill in the air
doubled the mirth
the eastern sky flare
gave out the joy
that the clouds carry
in little knots.
Not a penny
not a diamond
can the amazement buy.