Archive for August, 2009

21
Aug
09

Footslog’s Uttaranchal Diary

“…when an Aboriginal mother notices the first stirrings of speech in her child, she lets it handle the ‘things’ of that particular country: leaves, fruit, insects and so forth. The child, at its mother’s breast, will toy with the ‘thing’, talk to it, test its teeth on it, learn its name – and finally chuck it aside. We give our children computer games; they give their children the land.” – Bruce Chatwin ‘The Songlines’

Joshimath, situated on the confluence of the Saraswati and Dhauligana Rivers, is probably better known as a junction point for those going to Badrinath and/or Hemkund Sahib. The winter ski-slopes of Auli and the hot spring source near Tapovan too, have to be approached from Joshimath. It is also from this town that people travel to the Valley of Flowers within the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and the Nanda Devi National Park.

To reach Joshimath, one has to travel via Chamoli. The bus drive from Chamoli to Joshimath can be nerve-wracking. There are landslides everywhere and the mountains seem to be giving in to gravity. Hardly any tree cover left. The construction and widening of the state highway to cater to the Yatri season is killing the place. So is the Hydro-electric Project of J.P. Industries. Tons of rubble from the tunnelling work by J.P. and the road-widening work are being dumped into the Alaknanda River. The river is a mass of angry, boiling, muddy water. The place is a potential environmental time bomb and one day Joshimath itself, may collapse!

How do these projects get sanctioned? Or is it a redundant question to ask in our country?

But Joshimath is still here and so is Bhavishyabadri!

Map

Very few people, however, make their way to Malari and other areas upstream of the Dhauliganga – the Niti Valley – that has remained practically alienated from the mainland.

There are no buses to Malari and those without their own vehicles, are totally dependent on the share-taxi or rather share-jeep system. No fixed timings either. The jeeps leave as and when they are bursting with passengers or one could just start walking and hope for a ride. Hitchhiking may not be possible as the ITBP drivers will ignore you and there aren’t any ‘touristy-kinds’ on route and the jeeps are full anyway! Wouldn’t recommend rooftop travel either. The roads are rough and bumpy, the driving furious and boulders attempting to put their signature on your scalp!

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There are no hotels or forest rest houses on the Joshimath-Malari section except for the PWD rest house in Malari. Plenty of places to pitch tents though and most villages have a ‘Gram Panchayat’.

Be sure to check the road conditions before taking the Malari road. This section is reasonably motorable only after May and even then, the melting glaciers can force the Dhauliganga River to change its course and swallow large sections of the road. One could be cut-off (like me), for days!

Continue reading ‘Footslog’s Uttaranchal Diary’

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18
Aug
09

कुछ पल एक कलसे के संग

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14
Aug
09

Once Upon a Time on Elephant-back

dew

like dripping light sprinkled my body.

and a Khalij startlingly drew a

black line with its flight.

the lantana used its thorns to

protest against the invasion;

the shrike balanced on the tip of the

overloaded sarkanda…

somewhere the king moved and the langur

hacked its warning in tune

with the barking dear.

the jungle froze and with bated breath

i wait.

the moment passes.

It was getting a bit annoying – not being able to do our work because of the hordes of tourists that seemed to take over the place! No elephants were available for us to cross the river. The garbage around the riverbanks had to be cleaned soon.

Looking at the human animals, I wondered about the Homo Sapiens’s selfish and unreasonable fight for space with the world’s wildlife, which has to contend with hunting, poaching, pollution, pesticides – and most important, the loss of habitat. Very often, determination of dedicated people is all that stands between an endangered species and extinction. But why do they bother? Why should we bother about the tiger? Does it really matter if the tiger becomes an extinct species in India? Yes it does. Every animal and plant is an integral part of the environment… with a major role to play in maintaining the ecological stability of his or her delicate environment. Conservation is very much in tune with our own survival… the world would be a lonelier, poorer place without them.

Hoots of shrill laughter interrupted my musings. Looking across the chaur, I spotted Anarkali, the cow-elephant returning from the forest with a group of tourists.

“Kuch dikha?” I asked the mahout, as the elephant came towards me.

“Sirf hiran aur junglee sooar”, whined the man in the designer jungle-suit, “Hum toe tiger dhekhne aaye theh!”

Anarkali blew an agitated “paruuff” and I exchanged a private look with the mahout. His dark and angry face betrayed his thoughts. How could these people ever expect to see anything with the noise they must have made during the trip? They were lucky to spot the ‘hiran and junglee sooar’, and also fortunate that the mahout had been able to control Anarkali’s nervousness.

I feel that all those who visit National Parks, Sanctuaries and Reserves must undergo a day’s orientation programme on ‘human behaviour’, before they are allowed to enter.

Anyway, here I was with time on my hand and tigers on my mind.

Well, one particular tiger!

Rahim Chacha, Rambha’s mahout had spotted Badshah’s pugmarks across the north chaur towards the watchtower. Yes, THE Badshah! There was general excitement in the air as

Badshah was the elusive tiger – a massive beast known for its majestic size and craftiness. Few had sighted him but many had heard his roar that curdled the blood and turned firm legs into jelly! Known for his stealth, this big cat’s stories were narrated by the elderly mahouts. It was believed that Badshah was a forest spirit. Remarkably, there were no stories of Badshah ever attacking any human. The old hands of the jungle gave him the respect he deserved.

Those who were fortunate to spot Badshah spoke in hushed and awed tones of its size and power. Rahim Chacha was the only mahout who had seen the animal. According to him, the tiger had materialised out of no-where and looked at him, as if asking a question – wanting to know what Rahim was doing in his domain?

Chacha was the one to give the tiger the name Badshah. He would also whisper a prayer each time he narrated this incident and in the same breath blessed Rambha for standing firm.

That night, little Razia, Chacha’s granddaughter came over to inform me that Rambha would be free the following evening. I was overjoyed with the prospect of the tourists leaving and the elephant available. I had been rather dismayed with the authorities’ decision to deny us the elephant. More so, because the re-allocation was based on the fact that it had ‘politically more important’ trips to undertake… daughter of some high-ranking government official was on a visit with her incredibly noisy Hindu College classmates. Later, a mahout had complained of being thrust into a potentially dangerous situation during a forest trip, when the said collegians disregarded the mahout’s advice.

There was another VIP family too, with a gun-toting security guard. It was ludicrous to watch the overweight MLA and his entourage being followed everywhere by the gunman!

By 3 o’clock in the afternoon the forest seemed to settle down. I made my way to Chacha’s house. Rambha had just returned from the river after her bath and her skin was glistening. She had been given a good scrub by a stone. Her eyes were twinkling and her gait was sensuous. She kept blowing air gently and stayed as close as possible to Chacha. I have always marvelled at this wonderful relationship between the elephants and their mahouts!

“Huzoor! Nadi kal paar Karengay,” said Chacha, “Charakat bimaar hai aur jungle janaa parega.”

I was still contemplating this new eventuality, when Chacha asked, “ Aap saath chalengay?”

My blatant glee was so obvious that Chacha could not suppress his smile and tried to hide his amusement by filling his mouth with tobacco.

We set out on Rambha around 4 o’clock and crossed the slightly elevated ridged valley that has the river coursing through it, breaking into many subsidiary streams running in all directions to cut-up the sandy, shingley valley bed into innumerable little ridges and ravines. The nullahs and ravines that go deep into the tree forests are of great importance to the animals. These hold brake of bamboo along their margins and also thick shrub growth, useful both as fodder and as cover.

Chital scattered out of our way and then cautiously resumed their grazing. A wild boar snorted somewhere and a jungle fowl scuttled in the undergrowth. It felt good to be here. I shifted my position to adjust to the elephant’s gait and slowly allowed myself to listen to the forest.

Into the thick Sal forest, Rambha ambled through thick and thorny lantana, occasionally pausing to inspect an interesting tree. Her trunk would then coil around to snap-off juicy branches.

Suddenly, I realised that the forest had become very silent and Chacha’s quick hand gesture held me back from asking any question. I saw him tighten his grip on the rope and push his feet firmly behind Rambha’s ears.

The sound of the langur’s hack made my hair stand on edge. Chacha pointed to his right and I strained my eyes to see what he had seen. A sambar called out a warning adding to the langur’s agitation. Rambha was nervous and Chacha bent forward to murmur soothing sounds into her ear. The forest went deeper into a strange silence and I crept close to Chacha.

Continue reading ‘Once Upon a Time on Elephant-back’

09
Aug
09

The Colour of my Dreams

One fine wintery afternoon in the Nilgiris accompanied by two of my dearest friends – the husband and wife team of Meghana and Abhishek, I was rummaging through the heady scent of books at Higginbothams. Meghana and I chanced upon a fading and obviously ignored copy of ‘The Colour of my Dreams and other poems’ by Peter Dixon. I snatched at it first and fell in love with the poems within!

“Aare! Dekhne to do na!” protested Meghana. Baring my fangs and exhibiting my claws, I grudgingly allowed her to read some poems and at the same time watched for any ‘running away with the book’ signs. Unwillingly, she returned the book said, “Missed it by a second!” I was filled with remorse and wanted to give her the paperback, there and then – but I didn’t. Each and every poem seemed to talk to me about that carefully protected child inside me.

from The Colour of my Dreams

I play my world of make-believe

I play it every day

but people stand and watch me

but don’t know what to say.

They give me diagnostic tests

they try out reading schemes,

but none of them will ever know

the colour of my dreams.

poet_dixonPeter Dixon is a well-known poet who has published extensively including such titles as ‘The Penguin in the Fridge and Other Cool Poems‘. He wasn’t any good at school and failed to master spelling, grammar, comprehension and the other (supposed) roots of writing. More or less by accident he became a senior lecturer in education.

Problem Solving

Our teacher likes to

solve problems.

But I don’t like

solving problems.

That’s my problem.

I would like to invent

a way to make my teacher

disappear.

I try hard

but cannot find the right solution.

Another, close to my heart!

Wildlife

Why do we say wildlife

When wildlife isn’t wild?

It’s mostly soft and gentle,

It’s mostly meek and mild.

We don’t see lions bombing

and tigers driving tanks,

platoons of pink flamingos

or regiments of yaks.

We don’t see wars of blue whales

or rabbits flying jets,

walruses with shotguns

or parachuting pets.

To me wildlife is gentle

it loves to hide away,

it’s mostly shy and silent

it likes to run and play.

It’s really us that’s wildlife

our lifestyle’s really wild

bombs

and bangs

and burnings.

father, mother, child.

Dixon has written poetry since he can remember but says he still can’t spell! He focuses on the way in which children learn. A long standing champion for the cause of children being allowed to be children. “They are not miniature adults…and a 4 year old is not a 14 year old who has not lived quite so long.” His poems emphasise in a generally incisive manner our responsibilities to recognize children in their own right and acknowledge and understand their thought processes.

I’m buying Meghana a copy.

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05
Aug
09

Paradigm Shift

Twenty-three days ago, I tried in vain to send my views to Mr. Jairam Ramesh through ‘Contact the Minister’ page on the MoEF’s website. Finally, emailed him on July 22, 2009. Of course, being an ordinary citizen of India I shouldn’t even hope for an acknowledgement of any kind.

Anyway, it is still early days but I am beginning to feel uneasy and recent developments make me wonder if my communication to the Honourable Minister was worth the trouble?  What perturbs me, are the proposals to re-introduce the “Cheetah in captivity and, sooner rather than later, into the wild as well” AND the re-introduction of the tiger in Gujarat!

All very exciting and gets the heart a-pumping and the blood coursing more rapidly. Can you imagine the magnificent tiger roaring again in Gujarat and the extraordinarily beautiful cheetah over grassland? What a fantastic picture is created and then, suddenly, reality strides in and trumpets loudly.

There are some real problems with the proposals – Man the Marauder, paucity of suitable areas and prey-base being on top.

Where in Gujarat will the tiger be re-introduced? The leopard is finding it difficult to hunt and stay alive; the wolves are being hunted out. There is hardly any breathing space left for the Asiatic Lion and the Gujarat Government’s asinine attitude of not allowing the ‘Pride of Gujarat’ to survive outside the State has more-or-less struck its death-knell with genetic inbreeding eventually taking its toll.

The ‘Let us get the cheetah back’ lobby must really contemplate what M. Krishnan had to say. Where are the luxuriant and lush grasslands for this cat to survive and hunt? How will we be able to bring to a halt man’s uncontrollable lust to over-populate and establish their colonies, communication links, industries etc? How are we going to solve the man-animal conflict that is on the rise even as I write this? We cannot save our grasslands by simply making them cheetah-friendly. Also, to the best of my knowledge, Iran is the only country in the world where the last of the Asiatic Cheetah still survives – in very less numbers and they are not giving away any. So, this lobby really is talking about a sub-species to be sourced from Namibia! What are we trying to prove? The MoEF and its ‘think tank’ ought to be utilizing their time; resources and finances (the tax payers money), towards saving whatever still continues to exist in our country.

Here is the letter sent to the Minister:

Mr. Jairam Ramesh,

Minister of State (Independent Charge)

Ministry of Environment and Forests

Government of India

Dear Mr. Jairam Ramesh,

Please accept my sincere congratulations for the Independent Charge that you hold now and of course, for spotting “a tigress and a half” – great moment indeed! I know the experience and believe me, the feeling remains the same whether it is the first time or there-after.

I feel that the country may have the right person to handle this post, but how ‘independent’ you allow it/will be allowed, is something I am concerned about. And, Jay Mazoomdar has a point http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Opinion/Editorial/TOP-ARTICLE–Its-A-False-Debate/articleshow/4649864.cms plus the agenda mentioned in Prerna Singh Bindra’s interview puts a lot on your shoulders especially the plugging back of tourism money. I don’t see why India has to be so dogmatic about taking hints from South Africa, Australia or even Nepal, for that matter. Annoying to constantly have ‘experts’ pompously declare that “this is India”! Of course it is, but wildlife and forests do not have nationality brands. They are Nature’s gifts to humanity in the universal sense and it is crucial that we make all attempts to put an end to the dreadful conditions that we are continuing to cause. The Indian situation is critical and for some species and areas – too late!

Continue reading ‘Paradigm Shift’

03
Aug
09

Opening Thoughts!

My journey in search of home in this country of mine has kept me living on the very edge of a fringe.

There are innumerable memories and images that constantly haunt me. Events, which for me, were so powerful and potent that I often found myself living in no-man’s land, where reality merged with fantasy, as a tool to block out the pain and noise. And, to remain sane in the midst of all insanity I unendingly moved into the forests and was ever so often prolific in keeping notes.

From the forests into the concrete jungle with its specialised networking animals, I have a transient need to share some of my thoughts – times of yore and on-going. For someone who still refuses to be part of the now customary social online-communities, the opening of this blog-space itself is a very uncomfortable feeling. Why am I doing this? Is it because the system is slowing down and moving towards an eventual shut-down and I want to – what? I question myself each time I decide to post something…and delay the posting! How long will I be able to maintain this exposition is a query that does not have an answer yet.

So where do I start from? Innumerable things have happened in my life that have been extremely turbulent – emotionally, physically, professionally and of course, financially.

Allow me to meander as it could be therapeutic. Not so for you, dear reader!

Over the years many intellectual types have asked me what I do and/or if I have a formula/secret that I use for my work. I have never been able to respond adequately and the questions have left me more perturbed. How to simplify and come back with something that would satisfy people, make them shut-up and spare me the anguish of constantly trying to make others understand and attempt to carve a personal space within the given Indian society. I didn’t really give a hoot then and don’t give a damn now! But, there were days when I wished I had a satisfactory social image of a ‘recognised and respected’ profession.

As someone who does not believe in the concept of God, I can’t even say, “It is God’s grace.” I guess I was born with a special sensitivity towards young people and I worked by instinctively tuning in to individual minds.  This particular linking process cannot be explained by me and the same progression has kept me actively involved with wildlife. Bunions of the mind! Check www.sacredfig.wordpress.com

My parents sent me to a school (Shiv Niketan), which was different from the other educational institutions. I thrived and that experience laid the foundation to what I am doing today. Unfortunately, aunty Gauba’s Shiv Niketan was not even a middle school then and I had to leave that haven and move to the so-called ‘normal’ schools. It was traumatic and I hated every living moment till my 12th standard. On those occasions, when I bunked regular school and walked miles just to be able to stand weeping in front of Shiv Niketan, it was she who used to come down, cross the road and hold me.

I try, through my work, to give children and young people, the same positive inputs that Shiv Niketan gave me.

There are many pictures in my mind that haunt me and I try to come to terms with them through my work.

Random Picture #1. Watching a hungry child lick the dry vomit off the side of a bus.

Random Picture #2. Kachchh earthquake – not being able to dig any further to reach the buried person. Holding the delicate hand till life slipped away.

Random Picture #3. Spotting my first tiger at the age of six.

Random Picture #4. Being thrashed by a teacher for asking a question.

Random Picture #5. Parents of two different communities teaching their children how to make cement spike-balls to kill each other.

Random Picture #6. In the cold upper regions of Uttarakhand, just below the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve; peering into the shy and tearful eyes of Bhutia girls returning from PWD road repair work – their fingers and palms lacerated and bleeding.

Many years ago, when I started The Playhouse the idea was to give the young people of this country an opportunity to channelize their energies positively; to give them an environment of learning that was not threatening; an atmosphere where they had the courage to take their minds for a walk and ask questions; a place where they learned to respect each other; a comfort zone where they could think and relax; an interactive area where they learnt to apply a self-imposed discipline; a meeting ground of minds where they realised that aesthetics was a process of thinking; where they learnt about Freedom – that there was a condition to it. That to achieve freedom to do something they had to know what it was they wanted to achieve – a theme! A place where they came to terms with the concept that it took discipline to achieve freedom BUT also that discipline did not mean regimentation. It just happened to be the power over the mind.

The Playhouse nurtured the Intelligences of the young people because these were the individuals – boys and girls – who hopefully would bring about a change in our society. The tasks became tougher but we continued to look beyond the various rigid frames.

All this meant that there was never enough money to fill the household kitty and my idealism did not really impress the people who I thought cared. I found it difficult to explain to explain to them that

hoping to give
birth
before the feeling
died,
i conceived a still-born
idea and
kept it alive
by my soul’s
umbilical cord;
i painted
colours and fed
the foetus
phantasmal pictures
without frames or
borders,
so that the spirit
would soar and
in the
eventual sublimity
i shall merge
my breathing.

My work took me across Europe, Asia, parts of Africa and Australasia…and each time I returned to my country rejuvenated and with strength to continue. I travelled through the lands of India and worked with people of all ages. The process of learning took a greater dimension with wildlife and conservation issues running hand-in-hand with other concerns.

That is the way the cookie has been crumbling, ever since and today

Like an empty sponge

I move from

person to person

situation to situation,

absorbing

everything,

retaining nothing

for

I sense so much

but feel

no more.

My demon is private;

and as I slowly

empty out and exhibit the

skeletons, I

realize

from the stirring of a long

forgotten memory

that the cupboard

will soon be bare, and then

maybe I will

fill it again and tie

the demon with my tears,

so that I can

feel

again.