Friday, April 22, 2011

Rosy Starling: Its party time folks!!

Rosy Starlings are the kind of birds that are found in huge gathering, it’s a ruckus-some kind of wild party. Though a migrant it outnumbers the local species, a handsome bird that resemble Common Starling (Common Myna) in its looks and habits that if you don’t look carefully you will mistake. These birds breeds in south-eastern Europe and winters in the plains of India. They feed on the ground and could be seen settling on the branches of tree in large numbers. I got this bunch few weeks back at Turahalli forest. They had fed themselves sufficiently, fattened they were readying for outmigration. I found this interesting fact that migration of Rosy Starling is very much determined by flowering of Silk cotton tree (Bombax ceiba)

Maoris: Dancing with the sound of nature 

The Maoris are original habitants of New Zealand whose rich culture stretch back to about a thousand year to east Polynesia. Despite inter tribal wars and extreme discrimination by colonial settlers (white man- pakeha) they have been able to protect their unique heritage. The present Maori population is around 600,000 about 14% of the country's population. One of my favourite book as also the luckiest find from the second hand book mart on the street has been (and will be for a long time) vanishing voices-the extinction of world’ language” (daniel nettle & suzanne romain), in one of the chapters they mention “ 1840, there were 2,000 white settlers sharing the island and with 100,000 Maoris. By 1854, the white had increased by 32,000 and the Maoris decreased to about 60,000 a level which they were not to exceed for one hundred years. Meanwhile the European population continued to grow. The Maoris had no domestic animals except small dogs. Indeed, New Zealand had no native mammals except a species of bat. Nor did they have any exposure to the disease of the crowd. They soon succumbed to epidemics of European disease. European weeds spread into the hinterland faster than Europeans themselves. European crops and animals annexed the landscape. The Maoris knew what was happening. ‘Is not the land already gone? Is it not all covered with men, with strangers, foreigners-even as the grass and herbage-over whom we have no power?’ asked the Maori”.... “In the end, they were unable to reverse New Zealand’s conversion to a European landscape. In 1981, New Zealand was filled with 2.7 million whites, 70 million sheep, 8 million cows, and field producing 326tons of wheat. These are all European species, and are controlled by a population speaking a European language”. It reminds me of verdant forests in the subcontinent converted into tea estates by colonial Britain (incidentally the remnant of colonialism still lives in Britain in the institution of monarchy...though i have nothing against individuals- they seem like nice people- the love of some in that country for monarchy borders sycophantic hallucination. The reputed TV channel claiming “20 years of asking question” is reduced to weeks of crawling!!).

The chapter further says “The state of Maori, though still perilous, is not as bad as that of many other indigenous languages. Unlike Australia’s aborigines, New Zealand’s 100,000 indigenes all shared a common language before European contact, although there were sizeable dialectical variations. Thus Maoris have a single resource under which they can unite. Maori is spoken by atleast 50,000people. There are over 400 Maori schools, and the language id widely written and used in law. Indeed, Maori took its place alongside English as an official language of New Zealand in 1987. These are all promising developments for the language”. But still there are problems and Maori is in precarious situation. Somewhere else in the book there is a comparison with Irish, how English has invaded as language of home. What we in India can learn and be bothered is the same challenge. Here market seems to strongly favour English (indeed competence seems to be defined within this works well when the economy is service sector oriented, some do start to believe that they really are competent!!) and so if the State doesn’t take necessary steps our languages are in serious threat.

Maoris were not only warriors adept in sailing they are also skilled craftsman. The traditional Maori welcome is called a powhiri, which is a greeting that involves pressing noses as opposed to a kiss. Prominent feature of Maori culture is the striking tattoos that adorned the face.

Maoris place much importance to waiata –songs (folklore is whakapapa, while karakia is prayer or charm songs). Much of the religion and mythology of the race is embodied in these long rhythmic recitals. Use of archaic language in songs was meant to carry the legends/folklores unaltered. Maori songs (poetry), as is the case of indigenous communities, are close to nature and are therefore dependent on musical rhythm rather than rhyme or any other linguist device.

He hara wa te manu?
He pitori te manu,
He hara wa te manu?
He karewa te manu,
I whano ki reira, “titi” ai-
I whano ki reira, “kete” ai,
I whano ki reira tutu mai ai;
Te manu atu tupu ra tangata,
Matua i a Tané.
Nau mai!
Kia piri, kia tata.
What is this bird?
It is a wood-robin.
What is the bird?
Now, 'tis a sparrow-hawk.
It jumps hither and thither, chirping “Ti-ti!”
It jumping there, calling “ke-te!”
It skips, it flutters from bough to bough.
This is the bird that is to bring forth men,
The parent of mankind.
O wife of mine.
Come hither!
Approach and fly to my embrace

“Haul up the Canoe.”
Tōia mai te waka,
Kūmea mai te waka,
Ki te urunga—te waka;
Ki te moenga—te waka,
Ki te takotorango
I takoto ai te waka.
Tōia mai te waka
Ki te urunga!
Oh haul away
The war-canoe,
Oh hither draw
Our great canoe,
To the resting-place,
To the sleeping-place,
To the abiding-place,
Oh haul away,
For home comes our canoe!

“Te Riwaru”
My great canoe,
How speeds to shore my long canoe,
Light as the fleecy cloud above
That bears to Tauranga my love.
My carved canoe
Te Riwaru.
O dear canoe!
That featly o'er the waters flew
From Arorangi, Island home
Far in old Kiwa's ocean foam;
The paddles in the toiling hands—
How plunge they at Hautu's commands!
My own canoe

My Riwaru.
Oh urge along
My brave canoe,
O viewless powers of earth and air,
O Uru, list, O Ngangana!
Drive on with lightning stroke and free,
O'erwhelm with storm our enemy;
Oh swiftly paddle, swift and true,
Our proud canoe
Te Ri-wa-ru!
A Patriotic Song
Ka ngapu te whenua,
Ka haere nga tangata ki whea?
E Ruaimoko!
Kia ita!
A-a-a ita!
Kia mau, kia mau!
The land is slipping away;
Where shall man find an abiding-place? 
O Ruaimoko!
(God of the under-world)
Hold fast our lands!
Bind, tightly bind!
Be firm, be firm,
Nor let them from our grasp be torn. 
“Pass On along the Quiet Ways.”
Hare ra, e Pa, i te ara haukore,
Taku ate hoki ra, taku pa kairiri
Ki te ao o te tonga;
Taku manu-korero ki te nohoanga pahii,
Taku manu hakahaka ki runga ki nga iwi.
Houhia mai ra te matua
Ki te kahu Tahu-whenua;
Houhia mai ra te matua
Ki te kahu Taharangi.
Marewa e te iwi
Nana i whitiki taku motoi-kahurangi,
Ka mau ki te taringa;
Taku koko-tangiwai
Ka mau ki te kaki;
Taku pou-mataaho e tu i te whare.
Kia tu mai koe i te ponaihu o te waka,
Kia whakarongo koe te wawara tangi wai hoe.
Waiho i muri nei to pukai-kura—i!
Pass on, O Sire, along the quiet ways;
The beloved one of my heart, my shelter and defence
Against the bleak south wind.
My speaking-bird that charmed the assembled tribes,
That swayed the people's councils.
Clothe him, the Father, with the stately garments,
The very fine mats Tahu-whenua and Taharangi,
Place in his ear the precious jewel-stone,
The greenstone kahurangi,
Hang on his breast the koko-tangiwai,
Of glistening lucid jade.
O thou wert a prop within the house:
At the prow of the canoe thou wert,
Ears bent to the splashing sound
Of many paddles.
Our prized kaka-bird has gone,
The plumes alone remain. 
A Song of Praise
Pinépiné te kura,
Hau te kura,
Whanake te kura,
I raro i Awarua.
Ko te kura nui,
Ko te kura roa,
Ko te kura na Tuhoe-po.
Tenei te tira hou,
Tenei hara mai nei
Na Te Umurangi
Na Te Whatu-i-apiti.
Nau mai, e Tama,
Ki te tai ao nei.
Kia whakangungua koe
Ki te kahikatoa.
Ki te tumatakuru.
Ki te tara-ongaonga;
Na tairo rawa
Nahau e Kupe
I waiho i te ao nei.
Oh, bind thy noble brows
With the lordly red feathers,
Waving bravely in the wind;
The plumes brought hither
From Awarua, our distant home;
The great plumes, the lofty plumes,
The treasured plumes of our ancestor Tuhoe-po.
Thou art the traveller brought hitherward
By Te Umurangi and Te Whatu-i-Apiti.
Thou'lt be a powerful shield against
The weapons of the world;
The sharp and deadly spears,
The pricking darts and stings
That fill the foeman's armoury;
Thou'lt conquer e'en the barriers
Which Kupe the explorer raise
To guard this new-found land.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In the pursuit of Jerdon's Courser

It is unbelievable that i didn’t think about this before!! A Critically Endangered Specie living few hours from Bangaluru was not in my list!. What a shame. Actually i had forgotten about this bird, i recall having discussion about this specie with foreigners in Bharatpur many years back. Few weeks back i had taken the pics of Jerdon’s Leaf bird and while i was going through the literature stumbled upon Jerdon’s Courser.

Jerdon’s Courser is the saddest story so far, they are now confined to small patch of scrubby forest in Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh). It was thought to be extinct until in 1986 there were reports of sighting in Lankamalai hill range now part of Sri Lankamaleswara WildLife Sanctuary. Last spotting was in 2009. I had few days to spare and first week of April is when summer sets in and Kadapa is known to be intensely hot belt, some reference to the weather on the Net (must say the weather reports in most Indian News channels are rather juvenile and it serves no purpose. BBC is good but CNN is exhaustive, unfortunately as is the case of everything American they are self obsessed and talk about American continent only) showed some unseasonal rain and so i decided to take the risk, if not now i would loose the opportunity and will have to wait for October. My plans were to go to Thirupati and from there to Kadapa. But when i reached the bus stand i saw a direct bus to Kadapa (7.30am) ready to leave. It took the shortest route through Madnapalle (that reminds I have stayed here for few days many years back at Rishi Valley school- founded by philosopher saint JR Krishnamurthi) and by 13.30 i was in Kadapa, must say it really was hot. 

Hotel Blue diamond was within my range, the man at the counter was helpful he made few phone calls (surprisingly he had a memento on the table that had Jerdon’s Crouser- that made my job easy!). These birds are referred to as Kalvi Koli in Telugu, i thought Kalvi was a reference to its shy nature but later found out the bush under which these birds are seen is called kalvi! I was told to go to Sidavattam Fort and further few Kms from there is Sri Lankamaleswara Sanctuary. So early next morning i caught a bus and within an hour was at Sidavattam, talking to the locals (tried a mix of Hindi and Tamil...though i can get the drift of Telugu but sometimes it’s like entering dark alley!) though they have heard about Kalvi Koli (one fellow even told me that he caught one many years back and handed it over to the Forest Department, later found that nothing of that sort had happened!). They told me there isn’t any Sanctuary they know about in the near vicinity. Someone told me that about an hour further there is a possibility, so waited for the bus, it took ages to come, by that time i had few bottles of water and had started to drowse, the heat was unbearable. Next few hours i was moving from one place to another in hot sun without much success, at Condoor while i was sipping sweet bitter syrup- also referred as tea-someone gave me a phone no. It turned out to be that of  Rahim (a driver, who later i found had an amazing knowledge about local flora and fauna) who gave me the number of guys from BNHS (Bombay Natural Historical Society) who were camping at Badvel. An hour later i was with Rahul Chavan and Samant Mally, both researchers with BNHS (picture herein) and have been trying to track Jerdon’s Courser for last two years. They told me about Jerdon’s Courser and their project. The habitat of these birds is becoming increasingly scarce and fragmented. The dependence of the settlers on the area for resources, and the increase in the number of settlers, poses a serious threat to habitat through fuel-wood collection, livestock grazing, quarrying, clearance for agriculture, and to the birds themselves through increased disturbance. Accidental trapping may also be an issue. Following the construction of the Somasilla Dam, villages were displaced and relocated within the Lankamalai, Palgonda and Seshachellam areas, which were previously inaccessible. Suitable habitat for the species lying outside Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary was threatened by the proposed construction of the Telugu-Ganga Canal in Cuddapah District, however in 2008 the Supreme Court, having already halted construction work, approved a new route avoiding the remaining suitable habitat. Despite this, the remaining habitat is still under threat due to the expected increase of agriculture around the reserve as a result of the construction of the canal. I told them that the forest department need to make the people aware of the importance of Jerdon’s Courser since the people i had interacted were not aware. Mr. Chavan explained about awareness programs being conducted in school and so on.

In 2008 a workshop was held to draft a Species Recovery Plan. The identified priorities included: ensure protection of the species' habitat; to map potential habitat of the species within scrub forest using remote sensing; to capture and radio-tag individuals; to increase effort to identify new sites that may host the species and to raise awareness of the species. A final draft has now been submitted to the State Forestry Department and National Government for endorsement. Mr Chavan showed me the copy of the draft. Later next day we went to place one of the camera traps in the jungle. On the way they discussed about the shrubs and species in the region, it was interesting since they were trying to identify each and every plant they come across. They quizzed each other. Mr. Chavan told me this was to keep oneself abreast. Jerdon’s Coursers are plover like bird that is insectivorous- this was found by studying fecal matter and behaviour comparison with a related specie in Africa. 

A suitable patch was found and cleared; measurements were taken keeping in mind the height of Courser, the camera was adjusted accordingly and switched on. These cameras are sensitive to movements. Later i was shown the pictures taken through these devices, unfortunately and expectedly no Courser. Incidentally it was Mr. Chavan who saw Jerdon’s Courser-the last reported sighting in 2009!! He said “he being the last person on the earth to spot this bird was not a matter of pride since it only shows how precarious these species are”. There are estimated to be around 50 to 200 Jerdon’s Courser existing. By dusk we were sitting near a pond in the jungle and waited for the sunset (pic of a spectacular sunset), to listen to the bird callings. Each call was identified and noted down (it was first time i heard Nightjar calls so very clearly, quite magical ...i wrote a poem about it in my last blog). By the time we walked back to our vehicle it was pitch dark. What a memorable experience, i need to thank the guys from BNHS. 

Anyone who is interested to know about Jerdon’s Courser can go to Badvel in Kadapa (about 2 hours from city, buses are not infrequent) and contact them they are more than enthusiastic to not only discuss about this bird but even take you to the habitat. With permission i am putting their Phone no. 08569282506

Nectar ocean of Annamacharya

Tallapaka Annamacharya (1408-1503) was a devotee of Lord Venkateshwara, a saint composer, a lyrical poet par excellence. He composed 32,000 sankirtanas in the praise of lord, well our man did live quite long. It is no small matter some of them are still very popular and sung by none other MS Subbalakshmi. The CDs are available in almost any shop in south India. These were originally written on copper plates and were found in the cellar of Thirumala in 1922. Annamacharya was born in Tallapaka (now in Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh), he was the product of Bhakti movement that was sweeping the subcontinent. He used Telugu – language spoken by common people and not Sanskrit, one reason for its enduring legacy. A great soul who chose bhakti marga at the feet of Venkateshwara. 

I wanted to get the English translation of the Annamacharya’s sankirtanas (nearest translation is poems); somewhere i read it is available. At Thirumala (the abode of Lord Venkateshwara) in Tirupathi opposite the main temple is a book stall (next to Malayali swami’s shop!!) where the translations can be found. An effort by Ambika Ananth and Advitayee Dixit the book is quite voluminous. The translators admit difficulty in translating the elegance of the sankirtanas. I guess you can understand their difficulty if you can visualise MS singing Annamacharya in English!! They gave an example to elaborate “ translation it is common to use the word ‘cupid’ for ‘Manmatha’, but we believe that the word ‘cupid’- which is basically form Roman mythology, and is also from Greek mythology...the picture which comes to the mind when the word ‘cupid’ is used is that of a ‘naked winged child carrying a bow’ and may demagnetise the beauty of ‘Manmatha’ as we perceive from our Hindu mythology’s point of view”. But this blogger found the myth associated with Annamacharya’s birth and other stories of ‘divine child’ not that amusing. It is in the nature of vested interest to create aura, i won’t be surprised if these are influences of miracle and ‘revealed’ truths driven organised religion, it is amazing the construct. Then follow it blindly and what you have is crusaders, jehadis...zombies with ‘pure heart’ who create misery for common people. Every human has potential and are talented in their own way. The beauty of a person like Annamacharya is that he is just like us, therefore his achievement becomes a miracle. It is not the other way round. This blogger strongly dispute the attempt to show some as blessed as compared to others. It is a ploy to construct distinction, also seeds of disparities. This ordained edifice creation helps vested interest, it is true for every known popular figure in the history. Budha was against idol worship and they created idol out of him, he never spoke of god and they made him god!! Once the person is edified- according to their prescription (mostly the elite- it is mostly a self justification process), the business is on. Someone once correctly said if Jesus was to be born again he wouldn’t be Christian, he wouldn’t understand Christians. It is true to all the figures associated with all the major religions, they are being used to settle scores and gain mileage. I am wondering how prophet Mohammad would be looking at the violence that seems to be using Islam as justification, they have given misery to lot of people. Some beautiful people have been misused for narrow purpose. Of course it goes without saying that religion has been source of inspiration and empathy for lot of people throughout the history, but they are getting less in numbers.

I have been to Tirupathi few times, like all other temple towns (in particular Benaras, Haridwar, Guruvayoor) I love the ambiance of this place. Temple towns always have are so many happy excited people, so much hope. You really can feel the energy. But I rarely go inside the temple, I have problem with that. There are many reasons. The conception of god gets crass and grossly utilitarian, the money and gold ornaments on display, and of course bunch of threaded types and their rituals...all these sickens me. These vulgarisms percolate down to common people. I am told people pay huge amount to get darshan first!! Even if they give me money i wouldn’t like to go. I have my god inside me and i don’t need any powerbrokers. Yes there are moments of tribulations and uncertainties that can be exhausting but my god learns from experience, and yes i listen to people who are enlightened and try to get understanding.

Now for some translations (these are lyrical in original and is meant to be sung)

If understand, this itself is the teaching of the Vedas
At the beginning and at the end, Hari alone is the origin!

Amongst all the organs present in the body,
for executing work, the head is the important one!
Amongst the numberless gods,
Hari, who existed from before, is alone the origin!

Among all the functional organs,
the thoughtful mind is the important one!
Here, how many ever doctrines exist,
amongst the trinity, Hari alone is the origin!

How many ever intellectual traits one has,
the supreme knowledge is the important one!
The name of Sree Venkatweshwara, which is with us,
That alone is the essence of all mantras!

Another one

If not for You, how under the influence of the rigid minded Sunyavadins
could wise people rise above and survive!

In the past, the worlds were filled with
the doctrine of nirakara!
Proving that it is untrue, by showing Your form of trivikrama
You established the authority of Vedas

Hearing the words of those who proclaim ‘aham brahmasmi’
All devotion had been blown away into the winds!
During that time itself, You showed to Prahalada, in front of Hiranyakasipu,
The difference between the ‘ruler’ and ‘servant’


The day to day existence is mere play,
The one which is perceived without being seen is salvation!

Birth is a truth, death is a truth,
in-between, our doing are but a play!
Right in front exists the world,
but the final destination is only salvation.

Food we consume, clothes we wear,
the deeds in-between are mere play!
The self acquired dual-karmas,
if we cross, only then is the salvation!

Binding are sins, inexhaustible are merits,
in-between, the passing time is but mere play!
High up is Sree Venkateshwara, the ruling deity,
there beyond the sky is the salvation!


For these kind of Jivas, where is the steadiness?
Until You, O Lord, bestow Your grace abundantly!

Thinking about one’s life duties at times
Quickly forgetting the same at other times!
Ardently listening to puranic stories at times
Nurturing only doubts (in the mind) at other times!

Having become vexed with Samsara, attaining dispassion at times
Becoming intoxicated by the same at other times!
Getting attracted and becoming a slave of the senses at times
Becoming fatigued and bowing down to the lord at other times!

Wishfully engaging in penance and becoming good natured at times
Becoming indolent at other times!
O Venkatesha, even when You reside within the heart
feebly, unto You, we plead only at times!

This last one is one of the many that was sung by MS

Lowly am i, lordly are you
Your magnificence is all pervasive!

I am neither aware of birth, nor of death
How can i ever know you?
Present within me fully, the indweller you are,
Whatever be my sins, you may protect me!

Hateful at times, sinful at times,
how then can i spontaneously think of Your grace?
You who never let go of me, Lord Venketesha!
till the very end, may you protect me

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nilgiri Flycatcher: another Near Threatened specie endemic to Western Ghats

It is not for reason that Western Ghats is considered as biodiversity hotspot. Here is one more specie that is endemic to Western Ghats and is classified as Near Threatened (IUCN). First impression of Nilgiri Flycatcher is that of Tickle’s Flycatcher, it shares all the characteristic of a typical flycatcher and could be seen perched on branch nearer to ground and making sorties to catch flies. Like other species endemic to this region these too face habitat destructions and fragmentation. 

The Badagas of Blue Mountains

The Gods looked down from heaven above-
Such sins must them provoke.
Even they had never seen before
Such wilful sinful folk.

Their wrath was great, like lightening burned,
It swallowed everything.
In one short week the wealth was gone;
They stood but in their skin.

The most numerous and prosperous indigenous tribe in the Nilgiris are the Badagas. Though no longer classified as tribes in official documents they have a unique lifestyle of their own. Spread across some four hundred villages they still carry their customs that has been in existence for thousands of years. There is a view that they migrated from north (somewhere from Mysore region) as they are referred to as Badagas meaning ‘northerners’. Their villages are called Hattis and houses generally face east and share common wall making them a close nit community. The principal deity of Badagas is an ideal woman Hethe venerated as ancestress Goddess (Basava is also a significant deity, Hinduism influence is telling). The offerings are scared sticks commemorating the stick she wielded with her buffalo herd. Badagas have a distinctive way of dressing and prefer white clothing, women generally have white bandanas while men mostly wear white turban like headgear. I couldn’t get the time to go to Badaga hatti- will try it next time, but did manage to get few songs. Incidentally the badaga dance is quite foot tapping, fun to watch.

I was reading about the Badaga ceremonies associated with death, how they dance around the body for hours and then the sins are read out and ‘transferred’ to a calf and let loose. The calf is supposed to carry the sins to eternity. Earlier writers have speculated about origin of these customs and like Todas they too resemble the rituals of ‘lost tribe’. “Counsel from the Ancients: Study of Badaga Proverbs, Prayers, Omens and Curses” by Paul Hocking is a seminal work.

The dead has sinned a thousand times.
Even all the thirteen hundred sins
That can be done by mortal men
May stain the soul that fled today.
Stay not their flight to God’s pure feet.
Chorus-stay not their flight
He killed the crawling snake.
Chorus- it is a sin.
The creeping lizard slew.
It is a sin.
Also the harmless frog.
It is a sin.
Of brothers he told tales.
It is a sin.
The landmark stone he moved.
Put the poison in the milk
It is a sin.
The strangers straying on the hills
He offered aid but guided wrong
It is a sin.
The glorious sun shone warm and bright
He turned his back towards its beam
It is a sin.
Ere drinking from the babbling brook
He made no bow of gratitude
It is a sin.
He bound with cords and made to plough
The budding ox too young to work.
It is a sin.
The weak and poor called for his aid,
He gave no alms, denied their woe.
It is a sin.
When caught by thorns, in useless rage
He tore his cloth from side to side
It is a sin.

The chamber dark of death
Shall open to his soul.
The sea shall rise in waves,
Surround on every side,
But yet that awful bridge,
No thicker than a thread,
Shall stand both firm and strong.
The dragon’s yawning mouth
Is shut-it brings no fear.
The palaces of heaven
Throw open wide their doors.
Chorus-Throw open wide their doors.

The thorny path is steep,
Yet shall his soul go safe
The silver pillar stands
So near-he touches it.
He may approach the wall,
The golden wall of heaven.
The burning pillar’s flame
Shall have no heat for him.
Chorus-Shall have no heat

Oh, let us never doubt
That all his sins are gone,
That Basava forgives.
May it well be with him!
Chorus- May it be well!
Let all be well with him.
Chorus-Let all be well!

From my scribble pad...

To listen to the Nightjar
In the dim light of the dusk
awakens a distinct song of joy
replaying a controlled rapture.
A pebble dropped by an invisible hand
on an invisible device
at the right note
just about the right time.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Black-and-Orange Flycatcher

What delectable name! The bird too doesn’t disappoint indeed no bird does, it is always thrilling to come across new species. A charming little colourful bird that found the morning quite exciting and was seen flitting around with loud cheeerrirr. What makes the rendezvous memorable is that Black-and-Orange is Near Threatened specie (IUCN), endemic to high altitudes of Western Ghats. Though tolerant to modified habitat they are severely affected by large scale destruction of Shola forests since it prefers shady damp secluded place in dense woods. But must say even though its status is near threatened this bird- though difficult to spot, is not particularly concerned about human presence provided one is silent and motionless throughout the period of observation. Once you gain trust these birds can be observed at close range, a lively charismatic bird. I am really am quite concerned about habitat destruction of these birds. I was watching one of these programs on TV (very likely BBC) wherein they were giving instances of how human species could learn from designs of other species (right upto molecular level) to increase efficiency -these are outcomes of billions of years of evolution. There is lot to learn from Mother nature (oops using words like these nowadays can easily classify you as anti secular by Indian liberal powerbrokers!), and vanishing of species are colossal lose not only to the ecosystem but also our potential to understand mysteries of nature. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

To-day we make the poet's words our own,
And utter them in plaintive undertone;
Nor to the living only be they said,
But to the other living called the dead,
Whose dear, paternal images appear
Not wrapped in gloom, but robed in sunshine here;
Whose simple lives, complete and without flaw,
Were part and parcel of great Nature's law; 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) is another of American poets who taught in Harvard (this apart from Elizabeth Bishop i discussed in the blog before this). He was probably the most popular English poet across the English speaking world during mid 19th century; his admirer included Lincoln, Dickens so on. He belonged to the group that was referred to as “Fireside Poets”. Poems by these poets adhered to poetic conventions therefore making it suitable for poetic rendition. It became popular through memorisation and recitations in schools and homes. More importantly it became source of entertainment for families gather around fire (in case someone is wondering why would family gather around fire...well its snows there, so meant to keep themselves warm. The only time i sat around a fire with people around was during lori festival-while i was schooling in north- almost everyone in housing colony used to turn up, sang songs, danced and ate sweets). Longfellow’s poems are rather charming something meant for the heart. When Walt Whitman heard of his death, he wrote that Longfellow’s poem "brings nothing offensive or new, does not deal hard blows. He comes as the poet of melancholy, courtesy, deference—poet of all sympathetic gentleness—and universal poet of women and young people. I should have to think long if I were asked to name the man who has done more and in more valuable directions, for America."

The Children’s Hour

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

Hymn to the night

I heard the trailing garments of the Night
Sweep through her marble halls!
I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light
From the celestial walls!

I felt her presence, by its spell of might,
Stoop o'er me from above;
The calm, majestic presence of the Night,
As of the one I love.

I heard the sounds of sorrow and delight,
The manifold, soft chimes,
That fill the haunted chambers of the Night,
Like some old poet's rhymes.

From the cool cisterns of the midnight air
My spirit drank repose;
The fountain of perpetual peace flows there,—
From those deep cisterns flows.

O holy Night! from thee I learn to bear
What man has borne before!
Thou layest thy finger on the lips of Care
And they complain no more.

Peace! Peace! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!
Descend with broad-winged flight,
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
The best-beloved Night!

The Day is Done

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me,
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

Song of the owl

The owl,—
The owl
The great black
Hi! a! haa!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Indian Blue Robin

This is my second sighting of Indian Blue Robin, the first sighting was more than a decade back. So one can say with much certainty that it was a remarkable stroke of luck that i could not only take some good pictures at close range but could observe this bird for few minutes. Previously thought to be a thrush (similarity with Orange throat is not unnoticed) Indian Blue Robins are migratory birds breeding along the forests of Himalayas and Burma and wintering in hills of Western Ghats and Srilanka. A pleasant looking insectivorous bird, it could be seen foraging on the ground of dense and dark forest. Found this one in the middle of Shola jungles

Elizabeth Bishop

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) a significant American poet had a tragic childhood, rarely though these are revealed in her poetry. She rejected the confessional, politicized bent of her contemporaries (She refused even to be included in anthologies of women's poetry). Her meeting with Marianne Moore was turning point in her literary life and she took up poetry as a vocation. Elizabeth Bishop’s poems are remarkable in its stress on details in ordinary. 

The big fish tubs are completely lined
with layers of beautiful herring scales
and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered
with creamy iridescent coats of mail,
with small iridescent flies crawling on them.
Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,
is an ancient wooden capstan,
cracked, with two long bleached handles
and some melancholy stains, like dried blood

Bishop shifted to Brazil, unfortunately the relation ended with her lesbian partner suiciding (One Art is a remarkable poem). She later took up a teaching career at Harvard. The beauty of Bishop’s poem is that it reveals in different layers every time you read, it needs constant rereading. She once said that writing poetry "is a way of life, not a matter of testifying but of experiencing. It is not the way in which one goes about interpreting the world, but the very process of sensing it."

A Miracle for Breakfast

At six o'clock we were waiting for coffee,
waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb
that was going to be served from a certain balcony
--like kings of old, or like a miracle.
It was still dark. One foot of the sun
steadied itself on a long ripple in the river.

The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river.
It was so cold we hoped that the coffee
would be very hot, seeing that the sun
was not going to warm us; and that the crumb
would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle.
At seven a man stepped out on the balcony.

He stood for a minute alone on the balcony
looking over our heads toward the river.
A servant handed him the makings of a miracle,
consisting of one lone cup of coffee
and one roll, which he proceeded to crumb,
his head, so to speak, in the clouds--along with the sun.

Was the man crazy? What under the sun
was he trying to do, up there on his balcony!
Each man received one rather hard crumb,
which some flicked scornfully into the river,
and, in a cup, one drop of the coffee.
Some of us stood around, waiting for the miracle.

I can tell what I saw next; it was not a miracle.
A beautiful villa stood in the sun
and from its doors came the smell of hot coffee.
In front, a baroque white plaster balcony
added by birds, who nest along the river,
--I saw it with one eye close to the crumb--

and galleries and marble chambers. My crumb
my mansion, made for me by a miracle,
through ages, by insects, birds, and the river
working the stone. Every day, in the sun,
at breakfast time I sit on my balcony
with my feet up, and drink gallons of coffee.

We licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee.
A window across the river caught the sun
as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony.

I am in need of Music

Each day with so much ceremony
begins, with birds, with bells,
with whistles from a factory;
such white-gold skies our eyes
first open on, such brilliant walls
that for a moment we wonder
"Where is the music coming from, the energy?
The day was meant for what ineffable creature
we must have missed?" Oh promptly he
appears and takes his earthly nature
instantly, instantly falls
victim of long intrigue,
assuming memory and mortal
mortal fatigue.

More slowly falling into sight
and showering into stippled faces,
darkening, condensing all his light;
in spite of all the dreaming
squandered upon him with that look,
suffers our uses and abuses,
sinks through the drift of bodies,
sinks through the drift of vlasses
to evening to the beggar in the park
who, weary, without lamp or book
prepares stupendous studies:
the fiery event
of every day in endless
endless assent.

(maybe there is some mistake here don’t know what “vlasses” means)


This celestial seascape, with white herons got up as angels,
flying high as they want and as far as they want sidewise
in tiers and tiers of immaculate reflections;
the whole region, from the highest heron
down to the weightless mangrove island
with bright green leaves edged neatly with bird-droppings
like illumination in silver,
and down to the suggestively Gothic arches of the mangrove roots
and the beautiful pea-green back-pasture
where occasionally a fish jumps, like a wildflower
in an ornamental spray of spray;
this cartoon by Raphael for a tapestry for a Pope:
it does look like heaven.
But a skeletal lighthouse standing there
in black and white clerical dress,
who lives on his nerves, thinks he knows better.
He thinks that hell rages below his iron feet,
that that is why the shallow water is so warm,
and he knows that heaven is not like this.
Heaven is not like flying or swimming,
but has something to do with blackness and a strong glare
and when it gets dark he will remember something
strongly worded to say on the subject. 

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.


The tumult in the heart
keeps asking questions.
And then it stops and undertakes to answer
in the same tone of voice.
No one could tell the difference.

Uninnocent, these conversations start,
and then engage the senses,
only half-meaning to.
And then there is no choice,
and then there is no sense;

until a name
and all its connotation are the same.

What a charming poem this one, if you have observed Sandpipers you will readily identify with the apt description. Such a busy bird sieving through “millions of grains” 


The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

- Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

I love this quaint little poem “Mannered”...

(For a Child of 1918)

My grandfather said to me
as we sat on the wagon seat,
"Be sure to remember to always
speak to everyone you meet."

We met a stranger on foot.
My grandfather's whip tapped his hat.
"Good day, sir. Good day. A fine day."
And I said it and bowed where I sat.

Then we overtook a boy we knew
with his big pet crow on his shoulder.
"Always offer everyone a ride;
don't forget that when you get older,"

my grandfather said. So Willy
climbed up with us, but the crow
gave a "Caw!" and flew off. I was worried.
How would he know where to go?

But he flew a little way at a time
from fence post to fence post, ahead;
and when Willy whistled he answered.
"A fine bird," my grandfather said,

"and he's well brought up. See, he answers
nicely when he's spoken to.
Man or beast, that's good manners.
Be sure that you both always do."

When automobiles went by,
the dust hid the people's faces,
but we shouted "Good day! Good day!
Fine day!" at the top of our voices.

When we came to Hustler Hill,
he said that the mare was tired,
so we all got down and walked,
as our good manners required.