Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I am abandoning this blog.
Best wishes to all the readers

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

White-tailed Stonechat: a rare find

In the first instance I thought I got a Common Stonechat, closer examination and it turned out to be White-tailed Stonechat (Saxicola leucurus). These are found along the marshy patches of Central and Eastern part of India till lower Assam and Manipur, though quite common is difficult to spot. Caught up with this one at the reedy marshy part of Okhla Bird sanctuary, towards the watchtower. 

A E Housman: Clunton and Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun are the quietest places under the sun!!

A E Housman (1859-1936) was a 19th century English poet. He worked for a while as a clerk in a patent office, pursing his classical studies in his spare time. It was on the strength of the articles that he managed to get published, he was appointed Professor at Cambridge University, where he remained until his death. His most popular collection is A Shropshire Lad. It is a cycle, or series, of 63 poems –incidentally available at The haunting but leisurely quality is what attracted me to write about him. Several publishers turned the collection down, resulting in him having to publish the poems at his own expense in 1896. It's been in print ever since. His long-awaited second volume of verse, Last Poems (also available at, was published  after his death.

The immortal part

When I meet the morning beam,
Or lay me down at night to dream,
I hear my bones within me say,
“Another night, another day."

 "When shall this slough of sense be cast,
 This dust of thoughts be laid at last,
 The man of flesh and soul be slain
 And the man of bone remain?"

 "This tongue that talks, these lungs that shout,
 These thews that hustle us about,
 This brain that fills the skull with schemes,
 And its humming hive of dreams,-"

 "These to-day are proud in power
 And lord it in their little hour:
 The immortal bones obey control
 Of dying flesh and dying soul."

 " 'Tis long till eve and morn are gone:
 Slow the endless night comes on,
 And late to fulness grows the birth
 That shall last as long as earth."

 "Wanderers eastward, wanderers west,
 Know you why you cannot rest?
 'Tis that every mother's son
 Travails with a skeleton."

 "Lie down in the bed of dust;
 Bear the fruit that bear you must;
 Bring the eternal seed to light,
 And morn is all the same as night."

"Rest you so from trouble sore,
Fear the heat o' the sun no more,
Nor the snowing winter wild,
Now you labour not with child."

"Empty vessel, garment cast,
We that wore you long shall last.
-Another night, another day."
So my bones within me say.

Therefore they shall do my will
To-day while I am master still,
And flesh and soul, now both are strong,
Shall hale the sullen slaves along,

Before this fire of sense decay,
This smoke of thought blow clean away,
And leave with ancient night alone
The steadfast and enduring bone.

Many of his poems didn’t have any titles…
When first my way to fair I took
Few pence in purse had I,
And long I used to stand and look
At things I could not buy.

Now times are altered:  if I care
To buy a thing, I can;
The pence are here and here's the fair,
But where's the lost young man?

-To think that two and two are four
And neither five nor three
The heart of man has long been sore
And long 'tis like to be.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

Now hollow fires burn out to black,
And lights are guttering low:
Square your shoulders, lift your pack,
And leave your friends and go.

Oh never fear, man, nought's to dread,
Look not left nor right:
In all the endless road you tread
There's nothing but the night.

From my scribble pad… 

Morning of the Blue tigers
Blue tigers cross my path
Not one, but two, but three, but four
wait there’s more.
Azure sky is bright blue tiger bloom
flicking like myriad thoughts
staining the heart here and there
some flying  high, some quite low
some an afterthought, some right away.
Ahoy here we marshal into the mountains. 

Common cold
Time has become too audible these days
like a freight train in the night
knifing the darkness
in a persistent linear clockwork.
The corpse that creeps under the skin
don’t feel or behave different.
It’s the chill that acts funny
Must be the cold

Indian Robin, does mind the intrusion
Where the dead stump ends
Stillness begins
Alert in all its senses
Alive to my careless stride
Off he goes into the wilderness 


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Laughing dove doesn’t laugh!

Quite a common bird, Laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis) is seen in dry scrub and semi-desert habitats. They have a characteristic call the reason for the name. While in sub Saharan Africa they are referred to as Senegal dove. Spotted this one at Bharatpur (Rajasthan), further away from the lake. 

Itty Achuthan: 17th century Ayurvedic doctor and a pioneering botanist 

I was in Kerala, as I was flipping through the newspaper at the village reading room (that hasn’t changed in last many decades) I came across this news item related to declaring Itty Achuthan’s  ‘kuriala’, a small pagoda like wooden room used by the scholar almost three centuries back,  as a heritage site. I recall reading about Itty Achuthan, as also visiting an exhibit few years back at Natural Historical museum (Delhi) where there was an exhibition on Hortus Malabaricus. Next day I was at Kadakarapally (a coastal village near Cherthala town), about a kms walk is the Kuriala, it’s clear that the region had quite strong Buddhist influence before Shankaracharya (his birthplace Kalady isn’t far from here) advaithic philosophy, which unfortunately gave impetus to a pan-India resurgence to ritual driven deviance that degraded the religion as also the gave the foundation to mediocre and cannibalistic society. This need to be asserted since Itty Achuthan belong to marginalized section and his access to knowledge was possible due to a parallel stream of egalitarianism that existed in the society. Buddhism being the forerunner to this. Hortusum Itty Achuthanum - Sathyavum Mithyayum (by AN Chidambaram) cites a long list of vaidya tradition of Kadakkarappally, which had a notable Buddhist university and a large population of followers of Buddhism, going by the notes of Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang who visited India in 620 AD. 

The lady of the house, of the Kollat family, came out and explained to me about Kuriala's significance and so on. No she has no connection with ayurveda, her son later joined, he told me he does ‘some cable work’ as he took me to the Kavu nearby which is site of some rare plants. Next day I also visited the Hill palace in Thripunithara (kochi) where a botanical garden based on the plants mentioned in Hortus Malabaricus is maintained.  

Itty Achuthan was a 17th century Vaidyar (ancient traditional doctor -that is usurped under systematized ayurveda) who had precious understanding on practice of Ayurveda as also the specialized knowledge on rare endemic medicinal shrubs. Apart from his own observations the lineage, of hundreds of years of accumulated medico-botanical knowledge, that he kept in palm leafs became a rich source. He led the compilation and documentation work of Hortus Malabaricus –meaning Garden of Malabar, is a comprehensive treatise that deals with the medicinal properties of the flora in the Malabar region (that is now Kerala). Originally written in Latin, it was compiled over a period of nearly fifteen years and published from Amsterdam during 1678-1693, it was conceived, managed and financed by the Dutch Malabar governor Hendrik Van Rheede. The Hortus Malabaricus comprises 12 volumes of about 500 pages each, with 794 copper plate engravings. Over 742 different rare plants and their indigenous sciences are described and illustrated in the book, making it one of the earliest authoritative and comprehensive documentation of flora of the Indian subcontinent, it is arguably a pioneering effort from anywhere across the world. Itty Achuthan’s efforts were however lost in India, it was only when Hortus Malabaricus was translated into English/Malayalam (by Manilal, who also made efforts to focus on Itty Achudan’s significant contribution) that his greatness became apparent. Even then, he is being ignored, none of the Ayurvedic colleges nor any institutions are named after him (it is in this context you have to understand the profusion of Gandhi in all possible public places, he is being hoisted while some amazing people are willfully negated. These depraved Gandhians I have been cautioning against). It took the policy maker so many years to declare Itty Achuthan’s legacy as heritage. What a deviant society is this? Non-violently so!! In the meanwhile the West has honoured and cherished him by naming Achudemia –an entire plant family, in his name. This was done as early as 19th century! Such is our education system and culture that not many (even in Kerala) are aware of Itty Achuthan.

Itty Achuthan indeed is father of modern Ayurveda. It is his diligently acquired deep knowledge that once got published was converted into medicines and products not only in India but has become part of tradition in western countries too. Many of the knowledge related to uses of spices in Europe can be traced to not only his efforts but also benevolent nature, as he shared whatever he knew unlike the elites who kept it secret with whatever viciousness they could muster. His concern was preservation of precious knowledge, for this he got support and encouragement from a Dutch. Indians didn’t have much use of Achuthan’s knowledge is a devastating indictment of what Indian society is all about. Though must add the Cochin king did help the Dutch in the effort. Apart from specialized knowledge on flora Achuthan was also a multilingual and could converse in Portuguese this also helped his case. There were few elites from Konkan region too but their contributions were quite insignificant since they lacked practical knowledge, and were mostly superficial and techniques followed were based on weak foundation, the reason why Reede put faith on Achuthan. Achuthan’s methods of classification had context of social affinity and relevance. It should be pointed that much later Linnaeus adopted the same method of classification in 1740, as did many other scientists who followed. One could conclude that it was Itty Achuthan’s diligent observations and acumen that made Hortus Malabaricus possible, and so helped our understanding of our flora.  It wouldn’t be out of place to mention that he in many ways helped put the foundation botany as also knowledge related to it.

Itty Achuthan kept all his knowledge in palm leafs and kept it inside the cane basket, due to neglect and lack of interest they got destroyed over the centuries now only the basket survives. A lamp is lit every night at the Kuriala in memory of this great vaidyar, who should be remembered for his yeoman service in spreading knowledge and understanding of flora for the sake of humanity. He is undoubtedly father of modern Ayurveda.

Itty Achuthan’s whereabouts and what happened to him is sketchy. It is held that he was taken to Amsterdam where he died in 1670s, though no record exist to prove it.

From my scribble pad…
Hooded men
My apologies to the pause that precedes the violence 
The knife that search for the artery. 
For the black hoods that we have become. 
Anonymous lives and brutal fates fed to the gory specter 
Only the mating call of the bee eater breaks the eeriness 
Lungs gargle in blood that has lost its use 
The pain doesn’t spill but grows into an appetite. 
How have we come here, this far? 

Fragile, umbilical cord to the sleeping world 
Learning each step and being sure, very sure 
That the pause doesn’t make us listen 
Silence don’t make us searching 
Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rose-ringed Parakeets of Bodhgaya

The Thai Buddhist temple at Bodhgaya is a spectacular structure, it is as if on flame. The brilliance is awe inspiring and is worth the visit. It is while I was observing the architecture that saw these rather busy Rose-ringed Parakeets. Common throughout India these can be seen in parks in cities vying for grubs, thrown by walkers, with the squirrels. The below picture is a clearer one on a morning walk. 

 Bodhgaya is a great place to be in (I wouldn’t say that of Gaya), though I am not very comfortable with Budha being converted into God. Indeed he never even mentions about God in any of his sermons, in his scheme of things life was more important than the business of God. I have come to an understanding that religions have reached its saturation point; the problems these institutions carry are the anachronism of feudal-patriarchy and other deviant norms inbuilt in as tradition. That finds expressions as convenience of powerful. Religion may provide succor to some but overwhelmingly it carries the primitiveness and is quite entrenched in the psyche of the followers. They are therefore cause of division and strife, and the best effort of good people will be only artificial, as the basis is ‘us’ and ‘them’, and the collective hallucination of greatness. In the process the humanity and humanness is lost. Despite its professional garb Market and its nuances does carry missionary zeal, so does the definition of ‘freedom’ ‘choices’ as espoused by the West. Scratch modernity and you see the pits of Machiavellian crusaders, brute jehadis and cunning squatters. It is in this context ‘mindfulness’ is such an all encompassing thought. That makes Budha a great soul (definitely not a god, as there isn’t. Even if there is it shouldn't a concern. It is about awareness). There are many temples made by different countries as a tribute to Budha at Bodhgaya (again, I don’t go to pray, that will insulting Budha. I like the ambience). This one by the Thailand stands out…

 Subramania Bharati: life is well….well….well!!
This world is sweet; sweet is the sky and the wind.
The fire, the water and the land are sweet.
Youth and senility are sweet.
Saving is sweet; and so is being saved.
Destruction is sweet; and so is being destroyed.
Consumption is good; and so is being consumed.
Rasa is well; life is well….well….well.

I was at Puducherry (Pondicherry) with an intention of cycling to Tutikudi (Tuticorin), but what I didn’t factor in was arrest of the Chief Minister of the State. I could see the worst unfolding and decided to make a hasty retreat. In the meanwhile manage to visit the house (which was undergoing renovations) where Subramania Bharati stayed for more than a decade. Pondicherry was a French colony, and so provided a safe haven for those sought after by the British. 

 Subramania Bharati (1882-1921) was a poet, journalist (he ran a journal ‘Vijaya’), freedom fighter and social reformer popularly known as "Mahakavi Bharatiyar”, nationalist bard par excellence. His poems where known for its fiery patriotism, though it need be pointed out that themes of patriotism was only minor part of his works but the force is such that it became a defining part of contributions.

Endru Thaniyum Intha Suthanthira Thangam? 
Endru Madiyum Engal Adimayin Mogam? 
Endremathu Annai Kai Vilangugal Pogum? 
Endremathu Innalgal Theernthu Poyyagum? 

When will this thirst for freedom be quenched? 
When will this slavish infatuation cease?  
When will our Mother’s handcuffs vanish?
When will our troubles end and become illusions? 

He avoids jingoism (if you put it in context of the time, it is quite remarkable) and works towards political utopianism with spiritualistic flavour –a mix of Vedantic thoughts and Shaivite Bhakti (unlike Vaishnava Bhakti –Gandhi being one of the proponent in modern India, Shaivite had much raw energy and vigour), that had a lasting impact. The reason why he still remains quite popular among Tamil communities across the world, including, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore so on. 

 I recall being taught about Subramania Bharati in school, the song Odi Vilayadu Pappa is quite etched in my memory. What was funny was this was taught by a Punjabi woman, who had no idea about Tamil, as she used to take singing classes! I too wasn’t aware of the meaning, and as is the case in schools everything was included as part of torture. Ironically the song spoke about freedom to children, that I came to know only recently. So much so for education system!!

Run, run and play around my little one,
You should never sit idle ever,
Play, play together with all, my little child,
You should never chide another child.

Like a little sparrow dear,
You should fly, come, my little one,
Seeing birds of varied colour, my little one,
You should fill your mind with joy.

That hen pecks and hurts, but my little one,
Join with it and play my little one,
That crow extends and steals, my little one,
But you should have pity for it my little one.

That cow rains milk and gives you, my little one,
That Cow is a good one, my little one,
That dog wags its tail and comes, my little one,
He is a good friend of man, my little one.

The horse which draws our cart, my little one,
The cow which works in the rice farm , my little one,
And the goat which lives depending on us, my  little one,
Should be all supported and cared for, my little one.

Study as soon as you get up, my little one,
Then sing songs which make you merciful, my little one,
And play all the evening my little one,
Make these a practice, my little one.

You should never tell a lie my little one,
You should never tell bad about any one, my little one,
God is forever for our help, little one,
And so nothing bad will come to us, my little one.

There are castes in this land, my little child,
Telling one caste is high and another is low,
Is very bad, my little one,
Those who are just, brain and education,
Are those who are great, my little one.

You must love all beings, my little one,
You must know that God is truth, my little one,
You must have a heart as firm as a diamond, my little one, 
And this is the way to live, my little one.

 (Translated from Tamil P.R.Ramachander)

 Subramania Bharati died at quite a young age, as a result of a mishap with an elephant in a temple. He died much before India attained freedom, he remained an idealist and optimist. Pondicherry was a place of inspiration for the poet Bharati, there were many solitary haunts that created an atmosphere of close communion with Nature. He also came in contact with Sri Aurobindo here, as also his reading of Swami Vivekananda and Upanishadic thoughts made him more inwardly.

Moonlight, the stars and the wind,
By placing them in front
And drinking the honey thereof-
A poetic frenzy seizes us;
That atomic thing called Mind-
We shall let it roam free.
Should one wonder at the bee that sings
While imbedded in a tasty fruit?
Oh, Mind! Go hence to join
The jewel of stars.

Panchali Sapatham 
Thou sky within sky, thou element 
Of the elements, earth, air, water, fire; 
Thou who lightest the hearts 
Of sages in deep meditation; 
Thou the first of all beginnings, 
Share and centre of all knowledge, 
Thou light of all lights
Krishna, thou flame of truth, 
Thou rich immaculate grace, 
Hear me, save me!


He constantly turned his attention on ills of society

Brother, mind is the world.
Arise, arise, arise,
Away, upwards, and far, far away.
Burst with laughter at the sight of
old superstitions, fools who are trying
to hold their positions by mean of ropes.
Let there be wings for you! Fly away !..

The Drum

The lord who tends to welfare of this world
has endowed womankind with wisdom;
which a few ignorant idiots have wrecked,
burying female brain in dust.

Of the pair of eyes given to us,
to stab one and spoil our sight –
does that make good sense?
Where we to cherish intelligence of women
ignorance would vanish from earth.  

I am putting only these translations here as there is dearth of good translation materials. Translation is a difficult matter particularly when it is from language that is used with much tenor and musicality as Tamil.

From my scribble pad…

The Window
Thunder a tumult, the retreating wind the vigor
And so the night was another affair
That hit the glasses of the window first
Hissing the gaps, going about the walls and roof
The outside world was playing the inside
And the inside was tightening in knots
You could tell it from the tremble of the little finger