Friday, April 27, 2012

Scandal in the woods

As the day breaks in the east there is a wail, horrendous screeches, whistling reprisals followed by conciliatory gurgles. The congregation of insinuative loud shrill is now back on the canopy of the tallest tree.  There is a scandal in the hills. As proletarian they get any Hill Mynas worth its salt will use its oral felicity to thrash out the issue. Their egalitarian worldview extends to include miming a hapless human going about his or her daily chore. The repertoire is impressive by any bird standard. I can believe anything provided it is incredible, said Oscar Wilde. So we believe !!

Overall green-glossed black plumage, white wing patches, obvious in flight but mostly covered when the bird is sitting. The bill and legs are bright yellow; there are prominent yellow wattles on the nape and under the eye. Hill Mynas aka Gracula religiosa is a member of the starling family. The one above is Southern Hill Myna (Gracula indica) that is found only in Western Ghats and southern Sri Lanka.

Gladys May Casely Hayford: poet of Harlem Renaissance movement

Gladys May Casely Hayford (1904-1950) alias Aquah LaLuah, her African name, was born in Ghana (previously Gold Coast), she was a writer, poet, musician, dramatist, painter and story-teller. Gladys was an influential poet during the Harlem Renaissance. She died of blackwater fever. 

My Africa 

Oh land of tropic splendour, engirded by
    the seas,
Whose forest-crested mountains lift heads
    unto the breeze;
May patriotism render its praise on sea
    and shore,
Till Africa, great Africa becomes renowned
    once more,
May God walk on her mountains and in her
    plains be peace,
May laughter fill her valleys and may her
    sons increase:
Restored be strength and beauty and visions
    of the past;
Till Africa comes once again into her own
    at last.
Destroy race prejudices, break down the
    bars of old.
Let each man deem his brother of far more
    wealth than gold,
Till tribes be merged together to form one
    perfect whole,
With Africa its beating pulse and Africa
    its soul.
O Lord as we pass onward, through evolution
May we retain clear vision, that truth may
    light our eyes,
That joy and peace and laughter be ours
    instead of tears,
Till Africa gains strength and calm,
    progressing through the years.

The Serving Girl
The calabash wherein she served my food
was polished and smooth as sandalwood.
Fish, white as the foam of the sea,
Peppered and golden-fried for me.
She brought me palm wine that carelessly slips
from the sleeping palm tree’s honeyed lips.
But who can guess, or even surmise
the countless things she served with her eyes?

The Cart-Horse
When blue becomes intense and dusks to grey,
Grey unto darkness shrouding the worn day,
I like to lie awake and gaze upon the
    cloudless sky
And hear the song of the cart-wheels as the
old cart-horse goes by.
The squeaking boards,
The rusty chains,
The clank of steel and brass,
The intermittent hoof-beats as the old
    cart-horse goes past.
When darkness turns to grey again and grey
    to light,
When little wrens awake prepared for flight,
I like to lie awake with the warm sun
    streaming in,
And try to understand the tune the good old
    cart-wheels sing.
The squeaking boards,
The rusty chains,
The clank of steel and brass;
Oh, I love to hear the music of the cart-
    horse going past!

Dawn for the rich, the artistic and the
Is beauty splashed on canvas of the skies,
The brushes being the clouds that float
    the blue,
Dipped in the breeze for paint, and washed
    by dew.
But dawn to those who bathe the night in
Squeeze sustenance from hard unyielding
Is full of strange imaginings and fears.
The dawn renews the terror of the day
Where harassing uncertainties hold sway;
And pain held in surcease through brief
    hours of rest
Roars up its head in its unceasing quest
To wear out body, brain and mind and soul
Till death is a resolve, and death a goal.
For those life holds no beauty, dawn no
For day is hopeless, dawn is struck with

The Ant 
 I met the daintiest little ant,
Her waist was slim and narrow --
    "I wonder if you've bones?" I asked,
    "And are they filled with marrow?
    Where are they situated,
    Is what I'd like to know?
    And are they lubricated
    Like people's bones or no?
    Surely you must have a skull,
    Protection for your brains,
    To know the rate and the exchange
    Of market goods and gains?"
But by the time I'd finished
My wonderful oration,
My dainty ant, distinctly bored,
Had changed her situation.

The Lizard
I met a handsome lizard upon the gravel walk,
And so I stopped politely and asked him for
    a talk;
He nodded once, he nodded twice to make his
    meaning plain,
Glanced up at me with wee bright eyes and
    nodded once again.
I said, "You live on flies. Do you eat them
    alive or dead?
And when you eat them, do they still keep
    buzzing in your head?"
He shrugged, then very haughtily inclined to
    me his ear
Insinuating it was time I made my meaning
"I'm sorry," I began, "but please, this
    question if I may;
Do you, Sir, shake your head for no and nod
    your head for aye?"
He glanced at me with cold disdain, ignoring
    me, until
He slowly and deliberately climbed on the
He turned, he nodded once, twice, thrice to
    make his meaning plain,
Glanced up at me, with wee bright eyes and
    nodded once again.

The Leaf
"I am still alive, I cling to my parent
A young leaf was crying.
    "I am still
But the night wind caught her and held her
    soft sighing;
He had chilled her heart.
She was

Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. It was also known as the "New Negro Movement” and though it was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, many black writers from African and Caribbean colonies were also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance. 
The Renaissance was more than a literary or artistic movement; it possessed a certain sociological development -particularly a new racial consciousness- through racial integration. The Harlem Renaissance helped lay the foundation for the post-World War II phase of the Black Civil Rights Movement. 

From my scribble pad…

Dear butterfly that flits on my lap
The brazen butterfly beautiful
carries all the burden in its light colours
to attract, evade, dalliance with
and caress fickle life
in all its nuanced fullness.
Still to remain the same
in the face of everyday gnawing death   

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

White browed prowl

There is a Zen saying “If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are”. So is the case with Kerala Laughing Thrush alias Grey Breasted Laughing Thrush. The laugh you may say is ominous, so you may say.  The fipple flute is an accompaniment of allegro, so you may speculate. This white browed bandit unmindful of appraisals forages the undergrowth for wild raspberries, with a nimbleness of a connoisseur, testing for correct ripeness -for its rather evolved palate. Occasionally hopping out into the opening, from the ruckus assemblage of high antioxidant feast.  Unmindful of the garrulous queries of Red-whiskered Bulbuls the culprit has moved on and vanished into nearby shrubs leaving some striking memories of a bird that is found only in this part of the world.

Kerala Laughing Thrush aka Garrulux Fairbanki is an endemic species. Dwindling habitat has seen to that it has become Near Threatened (IUCN). That truly makes it a rare sight.

Hill Pulayas of Marayoor 

Marayoor is known for its sandalwood forests and dolmens, what is less known is the significant population of Hill Pulayas in the region. I met Murugan the moopr (headman) of the settlement (of Karavazhi Pulaya). The Hill Pulayas are also referred to as Malapulayas. The origin and history of Hill Pulayas is ambiguous. There are no legends which explain their origin. They seem to have migrated from Madura and settled in the forests of Devikulam taluk. Hill Pulayas have suffered worst discriminations over the period of time. Murugan explained till about few decades back they weren’t even allowed to enter restaurants and were given tea in coconut shell. With communist wave sweeping Kerala, Hill Pulayas aligned with the comrades. Murugan relates how for the first time in his life he entered the restaurant in 1958; incidentally eleven years after India famously got its ‘independence’. (Whose independence was it anyway?). There were few comrades with Murugan as he entered the hotel but he was singled out by the owner and was asked to leave. The comrades made it clear they will destroy the shop if he tries any stunt (nothing Gandhian about it!!). The sissy shop owner agreed immediately. “I couldn’t believe my eyes that I was sitting on the bench sipping tea from kuppi glass” he was visibly elated as he related these. The camaraderie with comrades lasted for few decades but the tribes soon realized that comrades were taking them for a ride and in actual sense sucking on them. ‘Pattaya’ is an official document that gives authenticity to the landowner, the intricacies of which tribes were not aware of. They were made to clear land, while someone else got the document. Things came to crossroad with comrades trying the same trick. Murugan went to the MLA, who pretended ignorance, all the while actively conniving. It was then that they broke their association with communists. Quite ironically, much later in 2002, it was Congress that gave them ‘pattaya’. Murugan says “despite cheated by comrades we still are with them, atleast in our mind. We are indebted to them”. Indeed early period of communism in Kerala had paved way to substantial breaking of social barriers and awareness of individual rights. Though one need add communism as it exists in contemporary context in India is quite a sham, as much as capitalism is. It runs on opportunism and nepotism, broadly called ‘networking’. Monetary corruption is only secondary. Murugan is an old man now; he says he has enough experience to fill up all books in libraries. One need add here that the community is still one of the poorest sections of the society, and the settlement (kudi) is as much a slum. He lives in a partially constructed house. 

I was introduced to Vellachi. She is about 80years, and been ill for some time. I was told that these songs are now not known to many people. This song is sung by Hill Pulaya women while cutting grass and collecting wood in the forest. It serves the purpose of keeping them occupied as also ward off wild animals. The song is about relating their sadness to a stranger girl who is passing by the way. Please visit the video.
The Hill Pulaya has their endogamous groups like Kummba Pulaya, Karavazhi Pulaya and Pampa Pulaya. Kurumba Pulayas are called by this name as their early occupation was sheep rearing and they were engaged in tending a particular variety of sheep known as 'Kummba' sheep. Karavazhi originated from their agricultural occupation of 'Kara' (land). It is also possible that the name is derived from the combination of the words 'vazhi' (route) and 'Kara' (land) which shows that they came by land route. I was told that Kurumba Pulaya’s don’t eat meat of domestic animals, this after a dispute with Karavazhi Pulaya. 

The Hill Pulayas consider themselves to be Hindus and worship many of deities of Hindu pantheon. The deities worshipped by both Karavazhi Pulayas and Kurumba Pulaya are Kali, Mariyamma and Chaplamma. Besides the Hindu Gods and Goddesses usually worshiped, they also worship forest deities such as Karappaswamy and Kannimari who are supposed to protect them from all evils. In a temple called Arunakshi Amman koil situated near Marayoor, offerings are performed by Karavazhi Pulayas during festive occasions. The temple where Chaplamma is worshiped is located near Chinnar river and is most important temple of Kurumba Pulayas.
The Dolmens of Marayoor

Just about 5Km from the Marayoor junction is a rocky mountain; the vicinity and surrounding are the setting for the prehistoric structures called dolmens (Muniyara in Malayalam). Dolmen means ‘stone table’, and there are large numbers of these located in this region.  Unfortunately the megalith at the mountains, where most tourists visit, is vandalised. Broken liquor bottles and used plastic glasses filled the place. It was a sad sight, it’s unfortunate that most tourist place has this problem. The least that is expected from authorities is to keep the sight clean.
   Huge boulders of rocks were arranged in little huts like the one children make. Rough cutting of stones, i read, indicates these are before the Iron Age as no tools were used. These were the burial ground of noble families of the time, later these were used by tribes and so on.      

from my scribble pad...

Artist in the dawn  
Hues of delight in the dwindling dark  
floats and merge at artist’s quirk.
Beyond the mortal sight
a caring hand does all the trick.
Unmindful of the witness
tiring in the morning haste.