Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The beauty is a White Wagtail

 White wagtails summer in Himalayas and are common in plains of Indian peninsula during winter. I was at Topchanchi Bird Sanctuary located about an hour’s drive from Dhanbad in Jharkand. The forest surrounds a lake. I walked about 3kms into the deep, not a soul nearby. Unfortunately the birds were wary of human presence, and I couldn’t a get single shot, even common mynas were showing nakharas. Geez. It was while I was having tea at the only shop around, -run by an old man who talked about the golden days of the sanctuary, popular movies were shot here, now it has fallen to disuse and anti social elements (maybe I escaped that one!!), there landed the white wagtail, fresh as milk white with a hint of cream. Giving me ample time to focus and get some good pictures. Cheers to that!!      

To speak is to sing and to walk is to dance: meet the Munda tribes of Jharkand!!

Munda tribes are well known tribes that inhabit jungles of central west part of India. There is a settlement about 20km from Ranchi. I contacted the Tribal & Regional Language Department (TRL) in Ranchi University, few references were given. Basesar Munda was the contact person at Khunti, he arranged for a youngster belonging to the community, Jaganatha took me to the hamlet. Women were selling rice beer at the alley leading to the entrance, people sat scattered around in huddled groups. It was late afternoon. I was introduced to Pandu Munda, an ecstatic old man. Extreme respect is shown as people meet each other. They stretch their hand in sort of Namaste and Japanese bend, and say ‘jowar’. Indeed if you travel around Jharkand-Bihar region people many times use extreme reverence in their speech. For instance they tell a bus conductor “yahan rukiaga”; polite in Hindi is “yahan rukiye”, “rukiaga” is very polite. Contrast this with Delhites saying “yahan roko”, it is an order! 

Pandu Munda was really into music, couldn’t control himself he got up and started dancing! (visit http://youtu.be/2zNY9rypQNQ for Munda dance) Pandu he says means snake, and did a bit of snake act. He explained that songs in Munda are close to nature, and of course expressions of love. Jada rithu, Basanth rithu and Barsath rithu are three seasons on which most songs are based. He ridiculed the Christians (many Munda are converts) for having similar songs for all occasion. Hindus, they use ‘dikus’ (commonly used insult) that is filmi songs. That, he said, has no charm or sense.           
Munda tribes are one of the well studied tribal communities’ in India. Encyclopedia Mundarica is a sixteen volume work authored by Reverend John Baptist Hoffman (1857-1928) and other Jesuit scholars that described as “authentic account of munda land”.  Another book “The Munda and Their Country” - authored by anthropologist SC Roy, first published in 1912, is considered authoritative documentation of Munda tribes and is a classic in Indian ethnography.  The book is also referred for judicial matters regarding Munda tribes. Though must add his mention to Birsa Munda borders derogatory, as also there are unnecessarily lengthy, sometimes eulogizing, references to colonial Christian missionaries. I guess it falls into the pattern of pre-colonial sycophant Indian elite, clamoring for favor. Birsa Munda is a respected figure in Indian history as also in popular imagination of people. He fought against oppression and tyranny of colonial Britain. Indeed his name is used in India with reference. This picture is of a statue of him at Ranchi. Another book worth noting is Musical culture of the Munda tribe by Sem Topno.  
Munda language (Mundari) is Austro-Asiatic, there is a indication that Munda language was formerly spoken in Gangetic valley. There is a striking point of agreement between the Munda language and Kanauri (which is spoken in the neighborhood of Shimla). That the Kolarian tribes (includes Munda), Khasis of Khasi hills, the Sakei and Semang of Malay peninsula, the Mon-Khmers of Cambodia, the Anamese of Cochin China, the Nicobarese , the aborigines of the Malacca and the Philippines, and several aborigines of Australia all speak allied dialects which seem to an intimate racial contact in the past, if not of common origin. It is conjectured that before the Aryan invasion, the Kols (the Kolarian aborigine tribes, that counts more than dozen tribes, Munda being a major component) occupied much of Gangetic plains. Brahminical texts broadly refer Kol tribes as Asuras (indeed in the context of things Lord Krishna came quite heavily on aborigine tribes!). Mundas do find mention in Kurukshetra war as part of kaurava army, as described by Sanjaya. Aryan warrior Satyaki boasts mundanethan hanishyami danavaniv vasavah (I shall kill these Mundas as Indra killed the danavas). 

Mundas to this day sing songs bewailing good old days…

Sato jugu Kale jugu, Sato jugu taikena
Sato jugu Kale jugu, kali jugu hijulena
Sato jugu taikena, ilige-ko nukena,
Kale jugu tebalena, rengetao goetana
Neaiting sanaiya, ilige-ko nukena
Chakating moninga, rengeteko goetana

Then was the satyug, -now the Iron age
O gone the golden age of old!
Then reigned the satyug, - now the reign of kal
On the earth hath come with woes untold.
Men in that blessed ancient age of gold
Had naught to do but drink their ale
Now that the cursed kali reigns supreme
Dire death from hunger doth prevail
Oh for the days when men no cares did know
But drank their fill of home brewed ale
Woe to this age when men on earth below
Do daily die of famine fell

Many names of north Indian villages can be traced to munda or other kol origin. Munda call themselves Horo. Slowly after age long wandering, after being uprooted by the Aryans, the Mundas settled in the jungles of chotanagpur, what is now Jharkhand –the forest country, finally confined to present district of Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand (indeed the name Ranchi originates from Mundari word aranchi meaning short stick used to drive cattle).  Walled by jungles they have been living in peace for past many centuries. The settlement was referred to as khunkutti hatu, and the boundary was clearly demarcated by the elders, beyond which was god’s land who kept vigilant. Within these demarcated land all property was common property, space of god is uncleared forest within the village (hatu bangako, was called sarnas. The supreme deity is “Sing Bongka” related to Sun). Gradually they became agriculturalist. The cutting of wood from the jungle was done on a chosen day and only some portion of jungle was used, in rotation. The head of the village was Munda, and he never had any superior rights but settled disputes. Even women actively partook in armed ventures under the leadership of Munda, as the situation demanded.  Gradually group of villages came together as group –as pattis, to ward off enemies (the Dravidian tribe Oraons being the earliest). Each pattis was headed by a Manki. They followed an egalitarian system wherein the Munda, even the Manki, was only a chief among equals not a ruler. Unfortunately though, with the passage of time these have become hereditary.  The mankis grouped to elect Raja, the relation was tenuous and slowly the rajas, and even the mankis, got hinduised and got themselves elevated to rajputs and clans, completely breaking the clan trust and values of equality. The Mundas repent their follies…

The thorn we have reaped
Are of the tree we planted
They have torn us and we bleed.
We should have known what fruit
Would spring from such a tree.

With passage of times during the medical period the zamindars started to oppress the Mundas, they sought refuge by converting to Christianity enmass. 
The favourite drink is rice beer or ili, each family brew its own ili. Made from boiled rice which is fermented and mixed with some vegetable roots and is stored for about five days before its ready for use. Dancing and revelry is another of Munda passion, Akhra or dancing ground is generally located in the middle of the basti.

Kote karambu dumang sari
Jige ho lilib litiba
Ho lilib litiba!
Barigara karetalsari tana
Kuram ho dopol dopola
Ho dopol dopola!
Kote karambu dumang sari
Senoge sunaia
Ho senoge sanais!
Barigara keretal saritanae
Bridge monea
Ho Bridge monea

The dumang sounds at Kot karamba
My heart leaps up at the sound,
At the sound
The kartal rings at Barigara
My heart with glee doth bound
At the sound
The dumang sounds at Kot karambu
O haste my dear to the dance
To the dance
The kartal clanks the barigara
O rise my dear from the trance
To the dance.

For Munda work and amusement go together in their life. They say ….

kaji ge durang (to speak is to sing),
senge susun (to walk is to dance)
kumuni dumang (fish traps is a musical instrument)

imagine a set of people for whom every action is song and dance, even the household items are musical instruments!!!

Asar chandu tebalena –
Dola maire roa nalate.
Haturen horoko do oronglena
Sobenka senotanako.
Midtarebu kamiabu panti pantige.
Singido dubuilena,
Dola maire alatalate
Rurungiabu mandiabu,
Honhopon tenda nuiabu.

Now asarh is here
O come my dear
Transplant the paddy seedlings green
The village call
Obey the call
Out streaming from the house seen
Together we
Will work in glee,
O sisde by side in rows so gay
When sets the sun
We will be gone
And take our wages for the day
Our wages taken
We’ll husk the grain.
Prepare and boil sweet rice for food
Our children dear
Will share the cheer
With us will quaff the gruel good.

(Thanks is also due to Anthropological Survey of India, Nagpur for letting me use the library. It though would help if they open it on time, I lost a day). The picture herein of me sharing rice beer with Pandu Munda and Jaganatha

From my scribble pad…

In the twilight

There is time for happiness
and there is time for sadness 
and then there is a time between happiness and sadness
blurred feeling of life passing by
just about the dusk when the birds row to their home
embrace the setting sun
when the breath slows down 
 and a strange calm sooth the body


Monday, October 22, 2012

Lesser Goldenback aka Black-rumped Flameback

It’s always fun to watch a Woodpecker, and it does really make my day. I must have written about quite a few Woodpeckers in last many years. From White-rumped to Rufous to White bellied ...so on. This one here was spotted in the outskirts of Siliguri (North Bengal) sometime back, indeed one of the commonest Woodpeckers in India they avoid forest and are found near human habitat that has open space with garden and old avenue trees. 

Of Birds and Birdsongs” is a collection of essays written by M. Krishnan (forward by Zafar Futehally, edited by Shanthi and Ashish Chandola). I must admit that my knowledge of such a great man was rather sketchy, this book therefore was a revelation. What an amazing man.  In one essay he writes about our education system that still is devastatingly true (though the other day i was reading that schools with support of Agriculture department have taken up vegetable gardens so on rather seriously):

One of the chief defects of our education is that it fails to stir or inform the natural curiosity of every child in the life around. This failure is so sustained, so gradually asserted and insidious, that no one notices it –and then one is through with school, through with college, and wholly preoccupied with a life that is blind to the rest of creation. Few people realise how complete this lack is, for it is a lack not only in our education but in our culture too.

Krishnan as is evident was not only a great Naturalist but also an influential writer, his knowledge and experience found precise expressions in words that knit seamlessly into brilliance. This is one book you must have.

The cover picture (a painting) of this book quite coincidently has a Flameback (indeed a Black-rumped). These few interesting lines on Flameback Woodpecker in inimitable Krishnan style ...

I find these woodpeckers fascinating. They looks ornate and outlandish, like birds out of a fairytale; and they run easily up the shear surface, or slip down it, with no change in the rigidity held pose but for quick, sideway transposition, they do not look like birds at all. Their movements have that quality of change of place, without obvious, free use of limbs, that suggests clockwork. ....Actually, these woodpeckers represent no exotic, romantic survivals, but only extreme adaptation to a way of life. Their chisel-tipped beaks sound bark and crevices for grubs and wood boring insects most efficiently, and their stiff tail feathers serve as props in their precarious stance. At first it may seem strange that things as flimsy as feathers should bear body weight, but the weight of these woodpeckers is surprisingly little, and the tail feathers only help, in an adventitious manner, as a third leg. Woodpeckers are so used to vertical surfaces that movement along them is normal and easy for them –have even been observed asleep, stuck on to a tree trunk”.

The reclusive Muthuvan tribes of Western Ghats

Irittala kudi is about an hour’s trek from Marayoor (Idukki district, Kerala),Vijayan mashe was the local contact person who arranged the trip, of course permission was taken from the forest department. The trek has scattered elephant presence so one has to be careful. Overnight wind had brought down the crops that preceded the forest land. I was told that the sugarcane grown here are much sweeter, Marayoor jaggery is acclaimed for its unique taste. We did visit one shack where they were making the famous jaggery. On the way Vijayan mashe pointed to a crevice along the hill and said this was where a man was trampled by an elephant few months back. The man was drunk and ambled to his home late one afternoon. The elephant didn’t like it a bit and rest as they say is tragedy.  

One of the most reclusive tribes in India Muthuvans are found in the Adimali and Devikulam forest regions of Idukki district of Kerala, the largest concentration is around the Anamudi hills, the highest peak of the Western Ghats. The Muthuvan settlement is referred to as ‘Kudi’ and their houses are made of bamboo reeds thatched with leaves. They are mostly dependent on the forest products and cultivate essentials like ragi, banana so on. In some areas cash crops like ginger, pepper, lemongrass etc are also grown.  Though they nurture cattle they don’t drink the milk; meat even chicken is eaten only on special occasions.
The word Muthuvans is derived from the word "muthuku" which means ‘back’ in the Tamil and Malayalam languages. According to tribal legend when dynasty of Madurai was deposed, they crossed the mountains into Travancore and on their way the Muthuvans were the ones who carried the idols of deity belonging to the royal family on their backs. Another legend speaks of them carrying all their belongings and children on their back, even now unlike other people in the region the women carry their children on the back, therefore Muthuvans.
Muthuvans are one of the few tribes that actively try to avoid outsiders. Indeed they even evade eye contact and turn away their face from strangers. Muthuvans have a tradition of maintaining separate dormitories for unmarried males (the picture herein), and females. After they attain puberty they stay separate from families, and women, in particular, avoid outside males.
"Muduvans follow the matriarchal system and have an innate fear of outsiders and strangers. They used to be shifting cultivators of ragi and rice. They are also adept at hunting and trapping game. Over the years, they developed a symbiotic relationship with the environment. Their keen sense of sight, sound and hearing coupled with an innate fondness for animals made them skilful trackers…Muduvans are proud race and were unwilling to work in the restricting environment of the expanding plantations. However, from the inception of these plantations, they have served as guides, trackers and game watchers" (The Story Of Munnar by Sulochana Nalapat)
The law and order in the community is handled by a council of elders under the leadership of the Kani, the headman. Another headman ‘Thalaivar’ takes care of social issues. The language spoken is proto Dravidian closely linked to Tamil (visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mv18CDWqaI&feature=plcp for video on Muthuvan songs) .  

from my scribble pad... 

Dissection of a Rat

Dissection of rat was a subject of study in school
disemboweled internals were identified and tagged
systems –Digestive, Respiratory, Excretory so on.
It doesn’t differ from us.
When the rat is cut, it dies
and stays that way
without any attempt to be alive.
Just like us.
We live and die
never making an attempt to be alive.
Where we differ from the rat
is never taught in the school.   

Scimitar Babbler: early morning boom

There is one bird that I hear quite often is Scimitar Babbler, its call is rather fine tuned Caucal. They have curved bills almost like a Scimitar, hence the name. It is rarely seen in the open so difficult to spot. Like all Babblers they are seen foraging the undergrowth mostly in mixed feeding flocks.   

Kaifi Azmi: the pinnacle of Urdu poetry 

Kar chale hum fida jan-o-tan sathion
ab tumhare hawale watan sathio

These lines are so much etched in the collective memory of Indians that it is difficult to think of any song that defines patriotism. Kaifi Azmi happens to be one of my favorite poets, his lines are straight from heart, and carry much subtlety and nuance. It is such an experience to read his lines…

Many years back I used to keep away two weeks for one poet, so that I took lot of time to read each and every line, and then ruminate over, re read so on. It was an amazing experience to enter poet’s world at its own pace. Kaifi Azmi is one the poets whom I have spend substantial amount of time.  Apart from being a poet he was an amazing human being. His concerns were always well articulated, it was a treat to listen him talk. Few months back I happen to see a documentary on him in DD. It is amazing that his close friends included some very common people in the village. We have, as a society, lost that inclusive and innocent world, it is a terrible loss. I also think that his presence in movie Naseem was one of the most endearing.   

Many of his poems are available on the Net, also I had one book by Pavan Verma translation (there is much to be desired), I am here taking two poems (one an incredibly popular song from a movie) from the Net….let’s not spoil it by translating!!    

वक्त ने किया क्या हंसी सितम
तुम रहे तुम, हम रहे हम

बेक़रार दिल इस तरह मिले
जिस तरह कभी हम जुदा थे
तुम भी खो गए, हम भी खो गए
इक राह पर चल के दो कदम

जायेंगे कहाँ सूझता नहीं
चल पड़े मगर रास्ता नहीं
क्या तलाश है, कुछ पता नहीं
बुन रहे क्यूँ ख़्वाब दम--दम

Another one, that is my favorite… 

मैं ढूँढ़ता हूँ जिसे वह जहाँ नहीं मिलता
नई ज़मीन नया आसमाँ नहीं मिलता

नई ज़मीन नया आसमाँ भी मिल जाए
नए-बशर  का कहीं कुछ निशाँ नहीं मिलता

वह तेग मिल गई जिससे हुआ है क़त्ल मेरा
किसी के हाथ का उस पर निशाँ नहीं मिलता

वह मेरा गाँव है वो मेरे गाँव के चूल्हे
कि जिनमें शोले तो शोले, धुआँ नहीं मिलता

जो इक ख़ुदा नहीं मिलता तो इतना मातम क्यों
यहाँ तो कोई मेरा हमज़बाँ नहीं मिलता

खड़ा हूँ कबसे मैं चेहरों के एक जंगल में
तुम्हारे चेहरे का कुछ भी यहाँ नहीं मिलता

From my scribble pad


Truth is a house
without any occupant.
Innocent idealism stays as tenant
till existential realities knock the door off.
Later its a hideout
from remorse and chastening.

Occasionally someone is locked in
and called a martyr