Posted in Environment

Ganesh Visarjan in Tamil Nadu is imported culture from Mumbai from ’90s.

Our Ganesh Visarjan in the 1970s and 80s was always on third day or fifth day after Ganesh Chaturthi at either Kapaleeshwar temple tank or Chitrakulam temple tank in Mylapore. This is how we bid goodbye to the Elephant god traditionally as we did not have a deep well at home to drop Him in. I remember the rare times we took Him to the marina to immerse Him in the sea. The visarjan was a very private thing or family affair. I don’t think we clubbed the occasion with anyone or anything. No big fuss about it. Mostly my father would carry the Ganesha a bit unceremoniously in a bucket bag to leave Him in the steps of Kapali temple tank or if they permitted, immerse Him with his own hands in the tank water. Locals always favoured the nearest temple tank for the visarjan.

Even after I married, in my in-laws home, we always dropped our Ganesha in our house well that was in the backyard.

This is how for decades we celebrated Vinayak Chaturthi in Chennai or perhaps in entire Tamil Nadu. NO STREET PANDALS. NO TRAFFIC BLOCKS. NO LOUDSPEAKER BLARE. NO MAMMOTH COLOURFUL PLASTER-OF-PARIS GANESHAS, NO PROCESSIONS, NO CROWD, NO POLLUTION, NO DONATIONS but truly in the spirit of the festival the way it must be. Such a homely one in my memory.

Come the festival season, our guys are upto it again. They kick up a storm that the government is preventing Hindus from celebrating Ganesh chaturthi that has always been celebrated with such a fanfare in the state. Excuse me, just who are you kidding??? Not even a single colour coated Ganesh in the city up until at least 1992-93. It is after 1995 or from an year or two before that the Ganesha pandal culture established itself in Tamil Nadu. And now we are going gungho about it as if we were always born and bred in this Ganpati Bappa Moriya milieu. Just what is our problem. Why do we want to invent more crowded gala events as if our calendar is not full as such? Who do we want to bait?

Are the literate in the state even aware of what a pollution the visarjan in the sea of the coloured Ganeshas made of plastic and plaster-of-paris is causing already. The marine life is facing the brunt and the entire fragile marine ecology is on the verge of a collapse as year by year the debris keeps mounting. The natural surroundings in the coastline suffer damage and it is not unusual to spot dead fish litter in the beach for days after the visarjan. The olive riddley turtles approach the coromandel east coast for nesting during their breeding season. What a havoc the visarjan can wreck to their reproduction cycle.

What kind of blind faith is this. What kind of sick ritual is this. It is time we stop this nonsense that is now degenerating into mob hysteria and a law and order problem . Years back our Ganeshas were made of clay and they left no negative impact on our environment. A few Ganeshas nowadays are eco-friendly. Like we have even the seed Ganesha pumped in with specific plant seeds when on immersion in a local water body or soil or just in a house plant pot can help germinate the seeds and sprout young saplings. However this percentage of eco-friendly Ganeshes could be far less than 0.01 percent. The majority that have insolvable components made of toxic material end up in our ocean waters, destroying marine life, polluting the coastal sea shelf, rendering irreparable damage to our ocean resources.

India has a very weak and poor sewerage treatment record as such. We are complicating matters for ourselves, nothing more. We only have to compare the fish size in India with that in foreign port cities. In the navigable waters of India, for instance, the maximum size a Red snapper (Sultan basi in arab and sankara in tamil) can grow into is seven to eight inches. I am seeing dining plate diameter size (twelve inches) red snappers caught from middle east coast line here. It means, India’s fish are getting smaller and smaller in size. Is it dwarfing? Or is it that we are not allowing our fish to live their full lifecycle. Are we netting our fish before they can reproduce. Or is our marine pollution affecting our fish breeding and population.

Every single Hindu has to ask this question to his/her heart. What are we doing to our motherland in the name of Dharma? Separating baby calves from wild elephant herds, their mothers and torturing them in our temples. Polluting in the name of Ganesha our seas and land apart from the noise pollution we generate. Such a plastic glut. Clutter that is not organic. The waste we generate in our festivals, a good majority of it, will not decompose. Neither are they recyclable. So where do they end up? In the bottom of our ocean floors, where else.

Ganesha must be regretting the Vinayaka chaturthi festival. Why can’t we give Him just modak and lots of our love and be at peace. We can still have the earthen Ganeshas and take him to the sea individually at our ease, as and when we can, like we used to until the imported pandal culture made things worse. In all this melee, where is a moment to think of Ganesha.

Now wonder, who is anti-Hindu.

Posted in Political

The Right To Sit.

How many of us were not moved by the Tamil flick ‘Angadi Theru’ that was a candid picturization from the floors of certain departmental stores and showrooms in Chennai that employed high school dropouts from backward districts, in hoards. Paid meagre wages, bunched together in pigeonhole living places and fed substandard rations with no privacy for showering or even a square inch of personal space , the young girls and boys in their teens and twenties had to stand for hours upto twelve or fifteen day after day, for years, with their paychecks directly mailed to their BPL families back home. Tragedy is, there is an endless crowd willing and waiting to slip into their shoes if they quit, even today in the real world. I couldn’t help wondering how the business owners did not slap the producers of the picture with a libel suit. There is a character in the film of a middle aged man with swollen legs due to gangrene owing to years of living on foot working for these multistoried cavernous shopping malls with not even adequate or well placed safety exits in case of an emergency. The critically acclaimed film went on to win quite a few awards for the year. In one of my previous blog posts years back, I have highlighted their never ending trauma. At the end of the day, they retire in their thirties, having paid with their health for short term gains, frustrated and unfit for employment elsewhere.

Tamil Nadu passes the landmark Right to Sit Bill

But long before the movie happened, I understood from teachers on supervision posted for board examinations about the hardship they faced, even if for a very brief duration such as the length of the exam hours. Three hours on foot without a seating for the lady teachers in their forties and fifties was no easy task. While they were supervising candidates sitting for examination, they were overseen by an official on rounds checking whether the teachers rested their backs on the one single table provided in the exam hall! Personally I had experienced this difficulty when I opted to supervise a batch of exams in my early twenties for a correspondence course graduate degree exam. There were plenty of electives and therefore I had a fifteen day serving duty. Even in such an young and fit age, walking the hall without a single moment of respite was difficult for me. I could understand the board exam supervising teachers’ predicament. Like general election duties (or juror duties), in India, no teacher serving a state/central board school can refuse supervision duties for board exams (or even paper evaluation duties) that are mandatory (although on rotation basis picked by management/government). It is the middle aged women teachers who are hit most by the rule. There has to be a concession to their age. Oral advice can be given to supervisors to remain on foot as much as possible. However, I am not certain about the current scene.

Finally we have an ordinance that is coming to the rescue of these hapless showroom workers who have to be on their feet for more than twelve hours a day, six days a week. What a boon this is to women workers especially. These young girls are in their most fertile age. I always wondered how the girls would manage their cycles standing whole day long without a minute to sit down. Imagine the harm they could be doing to themselves, their internal organs like kidneys and uterus. I am not sure whether the gangrene character in Angadi Theru was based on a real life victim. But I am somehow inclined to believe him.

Providing seating to your serving staff is such a basic requirement. Work ethic. Employers are obligated to extend such a provision for their workers who mint profit for them, at least on humanitarian grounds. Denial of these rudimentary comforts are in gross violation of human rights. Finally such a sensitive issue has found a solution with the Tamil Nadu government introducing a bill that bestows the right to sit on store employees. There would be no necessity for enforcing such a law, if only the showroom owners had had an ounce of basic decency. What kind of ruthless money making machines do we have in our midst. Profiteering at any cost, with not a bother for staff welfare. Grotesque capitalism for you here.

I don’t expect our desi news channels to report the news just as they never reported the introduction of OBC Archakas and female Oduvar in our Agama temples. Good Gandhi and EVR Periyar did not have to face these hypocritic brigades as well to fight for equality among fellow humans.

Posted in Books

Review: The Elephant Whisperer – Lawrence Anthony.

My awareness of Lawrence Anthony’s work was purely incidental. I would be looking out for elephant news and he was always there in You tube in a time when we still did not have whatsapp or google. I am sure i have watched the video of elephants mourning his demise. What a blessed life. He could have lived longer, but the stress of running the reserve must have told upon his health. This we understand as we turn page after page of his book ‘the elephant whisperer.’

As Anthony makes it clear at the outset, the elephant whisperer is not him but the elephant in question that spoke to him. This book has been on my reading list now for years. Finally got my hands on it (kindle version). Comes second to Tanya James’ ‘the tusk that did the damage’ on the elephant scene in India that centers around the menacing poaching issue we have in the country for the precious tusks of the elephants. (Same is true of Indian single horned rhinos as well in the state of Assam, similar to the precarious situation of the double horned rhinos of Africa that are nearly hunted down to extinction already. Anthony’s ‘the last rhino’ is on the rhinos). Until this book happened I believed, the Indian wild elephant escaped poaching even if unhealthily domesticated at an alarming rate.

My introduction to the Zulus and Bantus, the native tribes of South Africa happened in my ninth standard I guess, when I read for the first time a James Hadley Chase novel ‘the vulture is a patient bird.’ It is because of the content i remember the title and the tribes. I can say this may have been a chief reason for my interests in Africa including its wildlife. Later on of course, there was Wilbur Smith. Literally every single trilogy or whatever of his I read with, mainly for the wildlife info even if it was all fiction. ‘The elephant song’ of his was special. The matriarch comes through in Smith’s works. I would like to skip his latest works that I wouldn’t attribute to him, probably penned under his name by someone else (like in the case of Sidney Sheldon). They don’t carry the same Smith stamp. If you have been reading Wilbur Smith, you must be familiar with entire Africa from Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia to Congo, South Africa, Zaire and Zambia (both of erstwhile Rhodesia) and more. You learn of the languages such as Swahili. You discover the native tribes, the shortest men, the yellow men, the spear throwers, the trackers etc. You develop a deep respect for the dark continent that has been mindlessly exploited and now made a complete mess. I agree with Anthony on the violence aspect about Africa which has to keep with its wild nature. Apartheid is long since over. Afrikaners and the other remaining whites are doing a wonderful service to the conservation causes in Africa in the present, even if it was their ancestors who nearly brought the native wildlife to the brink of extinction in the first place. Still the current conservation efforts must not be underestimated or disrespected. This is very much the need of the hour.

Unlike fellow Indians, I am totally against domestication of our Indian wild elephants for Hindu temple service and for gala events like Navaratri-Dusshera celebrations in Mysore palace grounds in the name of culture, heritage and traditions. I have been vociferous over this capturing and taming of wild Indian elephants from the jungles, earning quite a few adversaries in the process. But here end my feeble protests. NGOs for wildlife and elephant lovers have to take the mantle from well-wishers and whistleblowers (!) like me at this stage.

My piece on temple elephants in India captured from wild for domestication, inspired by Lawrence Anthony’s ‘the Elephant whisperer’

I wish India has someone like Lawrence Anthony to save our wild elephants from poachers, regain the lost elephant corridors and conserve the population from going to extinction inevitably in a century or two.

wild Indian elephants faring no better…

The book is a treat to elephant lovers and naturalists and conservationists. It is enjoyable and good learning guide for anyone for that matter. Those of us who are keen on safaris must know what it takes to run a show.

Lawrence Anthony confirmed what I had read about the pachyderms over years: that the elephants communicate very intelligently in a unique way both physical and metaphysical, with their stomach rumblings in a very low frequency inaudible to human ears that therefore fail to pick up the jumbo communication. So that way, quite like the whales, the elephant community too may be much more evolved than us homo sapiens when it comes to tele communication. It is not without a reason that these giant mammals have survived and roamed planet earth many millions of years. The other way the elephants communicate is by tactile contact in the bush. The infrared waves of elephant whispers probably serve as transmission conduits to reach over herds spread across entire landmass of Africa which is stunning! Science may prove theories in labs but here was this dauntless conservationist living the experience to relate his story to the world. To me his well lived life and real time observation suffice as authentic proof to elephant telepathy we talk about including the long elephantine memory. The tuskers’ moving vigil for two days on Lawrence’s demise is the testimonial ultimate for what Lawrence recorded in his book: “The most important lesson i learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves.

Anthony also in the course of his writing introduces us to the lush and rich spectrum of his natural reserve Thula Thula:

  • mongoose, warthog, tawny eagle, martial eagle, impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, nyala, baboon, black mumba, black python, bark spider, leguaan (african monitor lizard), duiker, southern white rhino, honey badgers, crocs, barbel (fish), cape buffalo … and of course elephants
  • (noctural creatures): bush pigs, giant eagle owl, vondos, bush rats, nightjars, bats, bushbabies, hyenas, leopard, lynx, serval
  • reptilians: Black mumba, puff adder, mozambican cobra
  • trees native to Africa: Acacia robusta, marula, boerbeen, fig, umbrella thorn tree
  • the winged nesters: plum coloured starlings, european rollers, bush shrike, narina trojans, gwala gwala, vultures

What a spectacular life Anthony lived! Added bonus was his elephants whispering to him accepting him as one among them. Nana and Frankie, the matriarchs in particular shared a wavelength with Anthony, able to reach him. Here i have to mention Anthony’s intention of keeping the wildlife feral and so his deliberate breaking up of connection with the tuskers so that the herd moves deeper into the bush far from human contact for their own sake. This was also necessary as Anthony felt that this way, the elephants will stay wary of poachers (or any humans for that matter).

When I was reading about the way Anthony was spending long and perilous nights in the bush to safekeep the elephants in the boma when they were traumatized, rowdy and tyrant, i couldn’t stop myself from admiring the man for not only his courage but also for his big heart that did not hesitate to sacrifice creature comforts to settle down the disturbed gang in his reserve. The herd mistrusted human beings having been subject to witnessing massacre of their family members. The move by truck and darting (with tranquilizers) had dazed them and made them more violent and edgy. Anthony however focused only on rehabilitation of the elephants on their new home winning their confidence and trust gradually. In the process he did not lose his patience or hope even for a minute. He believed sincerely, the elephants deserved a chance. It was a painstakingly done work worth its rich dividends. You have to be gifted for sharing such a compassion for wildlife to be going this extra mile. As Anthony himself says, one has to probably grow up in the bush with the right mindset to be able to work or live in this kind of nature’s setting. It is a tough but rewarding life for those with a passion for conversation. Only that, your physical fitness must match the demanding conditions of the life in the veldt. And African tribes like the Zulus of warrior blood naturally fit in their roles as armed rangers of the reserve. Having to share their living space with Africa’s rich wildlife and having a history, they are the natural choice for the maintenance and running of the Zululand sanctuary in the heartland of South Africa.

Anthony speak:

  • Living rough in the wilderness is a salve for the soul. Ancient instincts awaken; forgotten skills are relearned, consciousness is sharpened and life thrums at a rich tempo.
  • No matter how heart-wrenching the situation, we never interfered with nature. Brutal as the food chain is, that’s the balance of life in the wild.
  • Interesting observation on fright-flight distance, innovative game keeping methods, round the clock alertness and an equally enthusiastic team of rangers, merit a mention. Bush piloting and crane lifting on darting are familiar with us in India where latter methods are employed when it comes to dealing with the tuskers.

    What I consider firsthand research material about Anthony’s work may be the elephant communication information and Askari (male elephants led by an ageing patriarch) observations in particular apart from breeding habits of different fauna. Valuable input for future wildlife studies and conservationists. Kudos to his diplomacy with the native tribes. In today’s highly jingoistic egoistic material world, we need this kind of trendsetter. In another part of the book, Anthony says, it is the elephant who is the tone setter for the relationship shared between him and the herd. He goes on to narrate how each and every member of the family enriched his life and added dimensions to his perspective on the African elephant.

    Serious poaching threats from armed gangs and sharpshooters fitted to their teeth, the uneasy relationship Anthony shared with Nkosi Biyela and the Indunas in general whose ancient zululand is the reserve, the epidemics waiting to devastate wildlife if unchecked, the brutal forest fires, the rogue beasts on prowl (like the male elephant Mnumzane in musth that had to be put down) endangering not only safaris but also other wildlife (with Mnumzane shearing white female rhino to death with his tusk), natural disasters such as river flooding and breaking banks, the maintenance of full length electric fence with low voltage just to stun the wildlife from crossing over but not kill, the challenge of balancing the wildlife population that ensures the survival of the fittest in accordance with the food chain, nerve wracking dealings with the superstitious African tribes not antagonizing the sons of the oil, the law and order issues to be taken up with law enforcement, the follow up with KNZ of whatever, the wildlife departments and reserve sanctuaries of South Africa, … and much much more need to be addressed on day-to-day basis running a wildlife reserve as vast and teeming with diverse wildlife as Thula Thula.. And if the reserve is to boast of a safari lodge like Thula Thula, the challenge is many more time magnified, keeping in view the safety of the tourists. The days start well before dawn for a safari and end with the last of the tourists hitting the sack as Anthony explains. Lawrence’s wife Francoise now in charge of Thula Thula seems to have lent a French touch to the holiday resort with her exotic cuisine, a big draw with the visitors naturally. Game sighting is adventure like nothing else. Only those who have sampled this heady brew of thrill will know why nature and wildlife can be such a humbling and invigorating experience at the same time, making one even spiritual. You connect with your basal instincts when you confront all forms of life from the millipede, centipede and scorpions and spiders to the crocodiles and rhinos and bucks and antelopes and the giant elephants under trees as ancient as you can imagine, with their gnarled roots and spread branches sporting myriad coloured winged nesters. A profusion of life in the natural element. Nightlife in the wild is another symphony. What a welcome break from the cacophony of our urban materialistic life.

    birth control not for Indian wild elephants…

    Hopefully land acquisition for expansion of Thula Thula is now done with, which can provide the wildlife in the reserve more of room to amble about. Anthony also gainfully employed the local manpower which is mutually beneficial. Let’s see. I have always dreamt about a Kenya or Tanzania or even an Uganda or Zimbabwe safari, but never South African. My interest in South Africa got piqued with the Netflix serial ‘the penguin town.’ Now I have ‘Thula Thula’ too in my bucketlist! Hopefully i can make it with my entire family there in a couple of years, along with my grandchildren in tow! How i would luv to show my grandkids Nana and Frankie!

    My first ever elephant write-up. The original draft may be from over 10 years back…

    Anthony not a serious contender for Noble prize in lit still his south African lingo is something! Good sense of humour there. That supersized vacuum cleaner of an elephant trunk! Menopausal rhino!

    Rounding up with Lawrence Anthony quote: THE BEST CAGE IS NO CAGE. Om Shanthi!

    Posted in Pictures Foreign

    Review: The lighthouse of the Orcas (Netflix)

    Just finished watching this heartwarming flick based on true life story of an Orca conservationist from South America and couldn’t wait to post the review. Filmed in breathtaking locales of Patagonia in Argentina, the beachside shack where the orca park ranger Beto is posted is far cry from civilization with not a telephone in vicinity or cell phone tower leave alone a decent flushable toilet. Yet the man pursues his passion, relating to the magnificent and mesmerizing sea creatures that roam the oceans in this part of the world, the Pacific. How this reserve officer, lover of wildlife, draws out the autistic Spanish boy who flew in with his mother from Spain watching him in tv show is the story. Strongly recommended. What a landscape. Tough but peaceful life. Why should everyone walk by the beaten path. Offbeat is good! I really want to see South America, as i am also concurrently watching the Magical Andes. This massive continent from southern hemisphere hardly receives its fair share of attention except when it comes to soccer. How different lifestyle is in every single part of the world. Sometimes it is irritating to listen to cultural rhetoric of fellow Indians. We need to go see the world, see it for what it is, and see how too very insignificant we petty ourselves are in this vast universe. Conservation of nature to me is the hallmark of most civilized and cultured societies that have truly evolved. Heritage is not always showcased in ancient architecture like we view in India or in masterpieces hanging in Rome or Paris or in the operas of the west. Orcas seem to be darlings of the sea and they seem to relate to Beto is a special way, just like Lawrence Anthony, the elephant whisperer of south Africa could communicate with wild elephants Wow, what a gift, like none else. As is mentioned in the flick, may be the autistic kids can pick up some very feeble vibrations from the orcas that emit low frequency communication waves just like the their terrestrial counterpart the pachyderms roaming the forests of Africa and Asia. It did seem to have helped Tristan, the boy in the picture at least..

    ‘In the heart of the sea’ on whaling is not about wildlife conservation yet a compelling watch.

    If an orca is to approach the marina in Chennai, our guys would be drooling over orca biriyani omg! What kind of people are we. I liked the gentle hero the orca man, the survivor mom Lola who is so courageous to risk it for her special kid in a godforsaken barren place half way around the world. But that is what mothers are… aren’t we. I am familiar with autism. No, I don’t pity the autistic children, rather i guess they are merely different. As Beto says, these kids see the world through better glasses than ours. However, easier said than done. Not at all a fairytale. Patience stretched for parents and even marriages suffer. But the naivety of the autistic kids can melt your heart. With orcas they can be deadly combo! Lovable, lovable, adorable! Feelgood factor for me. World needs to hear more of this kind of stories.