Posted in Environment

Welcome back Cheetah!

the fastest land animal Cheetah back in India after a 75 year hiatus.

On his birthday (today), PM Shri Narendra Modi ji presented India with a gift like none other: the fastest land animal CHEETAH, long lost to the country for over 75 years now. Driven to extinction thanks to relentless hunting by the British in team with the princely state Maharajahs of pre-independent India, the Cheetah’s exit has been lamented unanimously by the wildlife lovers across the nation.

the native Indian Cheetah hunted down to extinction in the Raj

Govt of India has reintroduced the African Cheetah back in India, as eight of them have been procured from Namibia after due quarantine and bureaucratic formalities. PM Modi released the radio-collared cheetahs this morning into the Kuna National Park, Madhya Pradash that will serve as the new home (range) of the felines. India is home to other big cats such as the (Gir) Lions, the Bengal tiger and the leopard. The cheetah has been sorely missed. India is also home to the Asian/Indian Elephant (Elepha Maximus) and other exotic wild(life) flora and fauna species. The world has very few bio-diversity spheres of staggering range like we have here in India. It is all the more our responsibility to see to that the wildlife are conserved well in our country so that we need not have to show our children tiger and elephant in science text books or zoos. May generations of Indians go on jeep safaris in our national parks to savour the natural sightings of our wildlife species. That’s an unparalleled life experience – an adrenaline rush that cannot be put into words. As someone who has sighted wild elephants although in the shoulder areas adjoining our wildlife sanctuaries rather than within the contours of our national parks, I can relate to what the cheetah means for India and our wildlife enthusiasts around the country. There are park aficionados among us and committed wildlife photographers devoted to their passionate hobby whose entire annual vacations are reserved for safaris in India and Africa. There are religious wildlife wardens who take their official duties rather seriously because of whose tremendous efforts, conservation is on track. And then there are those like me! Expressing my heartfelt gratitude to PM Modi for giving us Indians back the cheetahs, and sending him my birthday wishes. Our Forest department will take the best care of the cheetahs that have come home to us. Let us wait for them to settle down in their new natural environs where they will be sharing their range with lions and tigers and elephants and leopards of India. I wonder with their bullet train speed, how many states of India will they be setting their foot in through connecting wildlife corridors. Over 50 cheetahs to be introduced to Indian wildlife sanctuaries in phased manner the first leg of which was flagged off at Kuna this morning. Welcome back home CHEETAH!

Posted in Environment

Sonepur Elephant Fair.

The Haathi Bazaar

Sonepur Cattle Fair, the largest in Asia, attracts visitors and traders from all over Asia. But it is news to me that even elephants were once bought and sold in the fair. Normally the cattle fairs in India feature the bovines, the canines, the fowls with the rare camel thrown in to complete the scene. Believed to have originated in a Suryavanshi (forefathers to Lord Raam of Ayodhya) king’s time, the fair is referenced to have been held in Haripur during the reign of Lord Raam . The venue was shifted to present Sonepur at the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Ghandak presently in the state of Bihar, by the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb. Elephants were part of the fair even as early as the Chandragupta Maurya period when the world did not have Islam. Sonepur cattle fair is one more ancestral ethnic chainlink in India that has been passed on through generations without a break, having survived since the Ramayan days beating all odds. It endured the invaders from the Middle east, Turkey, Persia and Afghanistan. It was celebrated with a flourish in the British Raj when it became a highlight with the trophy hunters of the wildlife and the exotic species. The tradition of the mela continues to the present. The mela was held in the year 2018 with all the fanfare associated with it.

Haggling over prices in Indian village style hands clasped under a piece of cloth with the finger count, is some custom that has thrived over ages as well! This is how rural markets in India operate when it comes to dealings in livestock. The animals brought to the fair include dogs, Persian horses, donkeys, ponies, rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats, buffaloes, camels and elephants.

Elephants were traded in for the revenue resources they were to their owners, serviced by devoted mahouts. Captured from the wild and domesticated, they were leased to circuses and temples and festivals if not sold outright. Their tusks made for the coveted ivory, hardest over metals. A pair of ivories always made for a grand and matchless mantel piece in aristocratic homes be it the princely palace of our maharajahs or the well appointed English estate. No wonder the tuskers fetched an astronomical price. I just googled ‘ivory price today’ and there were entries screaming ‘ivory prices treble in China.’

Elephants are strictly prohibited from being bought and sold in the Sonepur mela which is a good move. The last year the elephants were traded in was 2004. During British era, hundreds of elephants were brought to the mela to be bought or sold. The numbers fell with the independence. Now the elephants mostly parade for the show. But the old clippings of newspapers reveal how highly prevalent was the elephant trade practice at Sonapur and how interesting that might have been. The pachyderms were the showstoppers of the Sonepur mela.

The Sonepur Cattle Fair may be held about once in five years. The last two were held in the years 2013 and 2018. The mela’s tenure may run upto one month during November-December.

Here are some interesting pictures from the Sonepur Elephant Fair that was an integral part of the Sonepur mela until twenty years back.

The Sonepur Mela is happening Nov-Dec right this year 2022! A grand affair, the festival now is officially government sanctioned and sponsored, generating transactions worth crores of rupees. A tourist delight, the mela is a huge crowdpuller lacking nothing by way of entertainment. However I am limiting the scope of this post to the elephants that were the highlight of the fair from time immemorial to the turn of the century. Ban on elephant trade points to conservation efforts for protecting the natural habitat of the Elephas Maximus, with a view to checking the man-elephant conflicts, preserve the elephant corridors and see to that the Indian elephant belongs in the wild and not in the temples or in festivals or circuses. All these factors can contribute to pushing up the elephant population in the country. And India without the ubiquitous elephant is hard to imagine.

Posted in Environment

Daag Achche Hai. Extinction is good!

Does a leopard change his spots? Or was it the cheetah or jaguar or tiger. Leave alone the panther and puma, they are a different cat family altogether where they belong with the lion. For that matter how many of us know the crocodile from alligator or the gharial. Whale from shark and dolphin and porpoise. Comodo dragon from the monitor lizard. Ant eater and the tapir? By the way, I never expected tapir to be sooo huge, and another surprise was that its natural habitat is Malaysia (or south east Asia). Up close with the tapir in Seattle zoo for the first time ever 😀 How different are the deer, antelope and the gazelle? Eagle, vulture, kite, buzzard, falcon? Can you tell between the turtle and the tortoise. Wolves and foxes? And oh, the (siberian) husky I believe is the closest domesticated living relative to the wolf. What about the gorilla, chimpanzee and orangutans. The monkey family trees are way too many. Similar are the rodents. Birds are myriad and the sky is the limit for the avian genre. Bewitched by the African pigeon that was fowl size! The animal world is truly fascinating. Even giraffe has okapi from the family although both have distinct identities. The zebras may somewhat come as closest second cousins but then they have the ass and the horse lineages to blame their genes on. Nature has worked wonders with living organisms creating a spectacular and divergent array of species, and some including us human sapiens may still be ‘work under progress’ really. Yeah, we may not be finished with as yet. One of the flipsides of the evolutionary process is that, as species may interbreed, mutations could pave way to infertility and bring to halt some bloodlines. Thus the mule is non reproductive, just as the tigon is. May be cloning is the way forward?

Zoos are not happy places, that much I know. Its pathetic to view a bored lioness tearing at nothing just as you gaze a dozen bored and soft listless Bengal tigers pacing up and down their airconditioned cells in Dubai dry heat for instance., where wildlife even makes for pets to the richest Arabs. The apes have nowhere to swing to. The winged beauties cannot flee their nettings. The otter has to keep swimming in loop just like the penguins within the glass aquarium. The rhino pair just have each other and the manmade pond to wallow in. Yet I know the value and importance of conservation when it comes to endangered species. Sometimes, zoological nurseries become the only way out to stop exotic species from going to extinction. Or on retrospect, are we doing it right. To borrow from the ‘Sapiens’, should we be allowing the rhinos to go extinct in the bush rather than save them to live a miserable life staring at space. What have we humans done to the poultry that progenerate many million times every single day. After visits to half a dozen zoos around the world, and coming from India, home to a stunning range of wildlife, I am for afforestation to increase green cover. A single lion or elephant in the wild in India may require a minimum living territory of 400 sq km for instance. This is not just the breathing space for a predator but also its prey zone. So when we shrink the wildlife habitat, the population count drops. The least we can do is NOT take over the elephant corridors for development and/or encroach upon our sanctuaries and wildlife reserves for industrial expansion or mining. Our green cover also serves as our country’s lungs. Shrinking the forests will directly dent the ozone layer over India depleting the oxygen in the atmosphere.

Heartening to learn of giraffe birthing healthy young calves in Mysore zoo and to watch the radio collared tiger mom in Panna with her newborn cubs on Mother’s day. While the former is an astonishing breeding in captivity, life in the wildlife reserve will be tough for the tigress and her brood. Managing the delicate balance between sustaining wildlife in their natural habitats and development and progress of human society is a Herculean task. Zoos may still be a last resort only. One of the unshakable memories for me is listening in alarm to the traffic noise outside the Mysore zoo even as I stood admiring the gait of the Bengal tiger almost six feet long restlessly growling and pacing down the enclosure.

Posted in Environment

Review: Tipu, Sultan of the Siwaliks – Amritaraj Christy Williams

As someone passionate about wildlife and especially about the (indian wild) elephants, I searched for such a book to read in Amazon and was happy to discover that it is a very recent publication. Delighted to note that the author is from Kerala although not surprised. I do share his affinity for the elephants so I can deeply feel his emotions for the gentle giants. However, the wild elephants of India, i have had opportunities to watch from a distance only. I have spotted wild elephants in the shoulder areas adjoining the Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. Second time was in Munnar. Lastly two years back spotted a group grazing the Vazhachchal forests high in the blue mountains (western ghats) in the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. We were on our way to Valparai where we doublebacked to head to Thrissur wherefrom we had started the road trip. It was one super elephant corridor I must say, popular for elephant spotting. I did feel guilty for having stopped to take a good look at them an hour from Athirappalli, although the jumbos looked nonchalant and hardly took an interest in the human presence. A lot of passing sedans had parked roadside to take a peek into the tropical forests that flanked the highways, where the pachyderm families were partly hidden by overgrown grass and dense foliage. Plenty of fresh green fodder here for the elephants to feast on. My most cherished memories.

So the lucky job of being a wildlife biologist at Rajaji national park – how much ever offbeat that could have been and even if the research wouldn’t have paid well – still is an enviable position to me. I wish I was there.

This book comes close on heel to (reading) ‘the Elephant whisperer’ authored by Lawrence Anthony, the South African game reserve runner who is no more. He developed that unique bond to communicate with the tuskers that were under his custody and care within the park limits. But I feel more connected to Tipu’s real life story because it is based in India. The empirical evidence recorded by the wildlife biologist firsthand lends credibility, authenticity and scientific validation to any research or observation on elephant lifecycles and habitats (wrt the said period) in my opinion, in fast changing climes and environs.

I will have to agree with Christy that the Asian elephant population is massively hit and dwindling at an alarming rate. Their African cousins at least bask in global attention and could be doing better in spite of relentless poaching threats to wildlife in the Dark continent. The Asian elephants’ case is complicated by the dimension of domestication. In Thailand for instance, a vast majority of the jumbos could be domesticated with a very slim percentage of the elephants left to roam in the wild. The tragic saga of Indian temple elephants has not elicited the kind of attention or response that it merited.

The author is stationed in Dholkhand forest office station and carries on research on the Indian wild elephants in the foot of the Siwaliks in the late 1990s. Here he takes to personally radio collaring the elephants for the first time in Indian history for research purposes. Now that’s a stupendous job, hitherto unheard of, generating valuable data for processing and records that could go a long way in preserving the elephant territories and ancient corridors that are routinely taken over for urbanization by our government. The statistics probably later paved the way for resettling the Gujjar tribe from within the limits of the sanctuary to remote areas leaving the forests clear and free for the elephant population. The gujjars with their animal husbandry were competing with the pachyderms for the forest resources that were getting scarcer by the day.

The author’s familiarity with the elephants he collared with his team including Tipu, Shahrukh, Diana, Kiruba, Aishwarya, Topcut, Madhuri, Mallika, Malavika, Div T etc., is heartwarming. The wildlife expert records at least 23 elephants of one to two families in the Gangetic plains up to the foothills of the Siwalik, home range to certain lineages of India’s wild elephants. The immobilization of the mammoth elephants darting them with tranquilizers is one nerve wracking drama. Reviving the jumbos seems to be even more challenging and critical where and when things can seriously go wrong and defeat the purpose. This is so when an elephant goes down on its chest or stomach. The saving of the wild elephant’s life is an enormous responsibility and the researcher with the veterinarian team and assistants and forest officials seems to have executed his part to satisfaction. It is unnerving to learn that sometimes darting is done by teams on foot with the vet leading from forefront. Kudos to forest officers and wildlife biologists who are into this, foregoing material aspirations. Elephant Maximus is a matchless species and India, as per the author, is home to at least 50% of wild Asian elephant population.

Good one on Makhna, the male tuskless elephants although this piece of info is not news to me.

Kudos to wildlife biologist and senior to Christy, (Dr?) AJT Johnsingh who felt the need to move human-tribal settlements away from elephant corridors. This was apparently later implemented to good degree of success. AJT, the author avers, is India’s first mammal biologist. What a brilliant brainchild of AJT is this delinking of humanity from the wild elephant society! The man-elephant conflict can be resolved in a day if this works to perfection.

I virtually camped in Rajaji for a week turning page after page of the book where I was enchanted by a variety of flora and fauna, native to this particular park. Special mention: Sal tree. Others include Rohini trees, Khair (favourite of the elephants), Acacia, Ehretia, Mallotus, sharing space with the pied hornbill, chital deer, langurs, barking deer, rhesus macaques, gorals, leopard, tigers. The shrubs and bushes are the rau, the lantana and the colebrookia (biological term). How rich is my India!

One interesting fact about the Asian elephants viz-a-viz other domesticated species such as the canines (from wolves) is that, despite captivity of a record 4000 years (longest in human memory), (and unlike the African elephants that have miraculously escaped this cruel fate), the Asian elephants have not mutated into any sub species which is remarkable. The domesticated Asian elephants retain the exact DNA of their wild brethren.

Some cheer learning that in the elephant world, the males follow the lead of the females. Not news to me again, having grown up on a staple of Wilbur Smith. The elephant matriarchs always sounded to me like my own patti (grandma) hahaha. The author at the outset avers how it is entirely wrong lumping all elephants into one grey. Every single elephant is a different character, with a distinct personality. Christy seems to have a special something for Tipu, the sultan of the Siwaliks who is very mature and intelligent.

The musth season of the wild elephants is well detailed and covered in phases. Learning that the tuskers came to musth every year from one to two months or even five to six months in the case of mature bulls, I couldn’t help thinking about our temple elephants chained and tortured for life. No wonder they go on rampage through our towns and villages, confined to squatting space in musth season without company.

The man-elephant conflict is also dealt with neatly on first hand experience. Yet the author does not lose sight of the fact that IT IS THE ELEPHANTS THAT ARE FIGHTING THE LOSING BATTLE. The railway accidents and power lines are taking a heavy toll on the wild Indian population. Christy hopes the situation is improving with afforestation afoot, but I don’t share his optimism at all.

The author does a remarkable job of not merely doing math of the headcount of the wild Indian elephants in Rajaji in late ’90s, but also tracks and tags and studies the elephant families acquiring valuable research material and info. Particularly impressive is learning of the way the mother elephants guard the newborns, how the elephants trumpet, rumble, mock-charge for various emotions or communications and how even the erring among them get chastised by the senior matrons. The bull elephants almost always are on their own, parting from the group when they reach puberty from which time they are in the company of wise old bulls who show them the ways of the elephantine life.

I particularly loved reading about how the group of wild elephants fell asleep on their backs on top of the gorge and then woke up on clockwork precision only to turn on their sides and go back to sleep! So cute and so far unobserved fact I guess that even Lawrence Anthony did not get to discover about African elephants! Oh what a sight that must have been! I do guess this Tipu book is full of vital info specific to the wild Indian elephant. I like the geography with native trees and other wild species that find a mention. It is interesting to note how the ecology is maintained with the arrival of monsoons.

Christy who joins the newly established Wildlife Institute of India as a greenhorn biologist is also working on ‘Project elephant’ mooted by govt of India. He goes on to submit his research paper at Arizona state univ., in the US after which he joins WWF that takes him to Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia etc., to study the wild Asian elephants.

Shattered reading about the train accident that killed three female wild elephants. Moved to tears learning how the elephant mother sacrificed her own life throwing herself at the speeding engine to save her baby – so much humanlike.

Christy meets his future wife Kashmira in Rajaji National Park and shows ‘Tipu’ to her when she says she would like to marry Tipu! Well, Christy I would have loved to, as well! The author getting connected to ‘Tipu’ is too very understandable. As I said, I share his emotion.

The book ended with a first person (imagined) account of Tipu who seems to have lost hope for his progenies on Planet Earth. The future seems bleak from his point of view and I feel a sadness realizing the truth in his fears and doubts. I hope the book is read by leading industrialists and especially the self-certified gurus of India as well as our government and bureaucracy and planners and decision makers. Is India only for human Indian citizens? What about our wildlife. Can you imagine India without the elephant. Next time, do when you screech ‘Ganpati bappa moriya.’ The chants sound shrill to my ears when you dislodge the Elephant maxima from their natural environs, take over the elephant corridors for ashrams and factories, destroy forests and build in their places ugly cities. May be what is stated in the ‘Sapiens’ (Yuval Noah Harari) is perfect. The species that go extinct are the most fortunate as they do not profusely regenerate and populate to live a miserable life. Whoever went before us the homesapiens, went with grace having lived life well when it lasted.

Posted in Environment, Political History, Science Engineering Technology

The Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022

Until the Antarctic Bill was passed in our parliament very recently, I wasn’t aware that India hadn’t even bothered to table it all these decades. India’s interests in the south polar region were until now circumscribed by international laws, not desi. Kudos to Modi government for keeping matters official, documenting and filing for reference, record and history. After all, this is some legacy we may be leaving for our future generations. The bill renders legal validity to India’s claims in the Antarctic. This streamlining discipline is something India has lacked culturally in my opinion.

Dakshin Gangotri and Maitri are India’s permanent stations in the Antarctic. Established in the Indira Gandhi era, the last troubling news from the Indian base in the Antarctic was that, the ice shelves had begun melting-disappearing with global warming at an alarming pace. Antarctica is nothing but glaciers galore.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/dakshin-gangotri-in-antarctica-is-disappearing/story-HvwlpfeGyoifHozTNMACCI.html

Various Indian expeditions have made it successful to the south Pole over years keeping the tricolour flying high on the continent of penguins.

We have an impressive read here: This is very informative.

With the Bharti Research Station in the Antarctic, India belongs in the elite club of nations with research facilities in the south pole. The lab houses Indian scientists, botanists, geologists and others who carry on essential studies on environment, climate etc., for India making the nation proud.

https://www.businessapac.com/indian-antarctica-bill/

With the introduction of the Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022, India legitimizes her jurisdiction over part of the Antarctic. The Bill validates forty years of Indian interest in the south pole.

Posted in Environment

Metropolitan

The Doha Metro has given some of us women who are home birds who do not drive, an excellent opportunity to explore the cityscape like never before. The fares are too very modest. The metro stations are at strategic locations. From any point in the city, there are shuttle services operating that pick up and drop commuters at the metro stations for no extra charge. The metro network, just like in my hometown in Chennai, is part underground and part overhead. I guess, I have commuted more by Doha metro than by Chennai metro up until now, even if I live within a kilometer of my nearest underground CMRL station in Chennai. I have used Chennai metro for commuting to domestic airport with just my hand baggage. The connectivity is too good, saves time and energy and is economic. Some use the metro even for international terminal if they travel light. To put it in a capsule, the airport link and the city central bus terminal link and the central railway link are the highlights of the Chennai metro. However, I don’t think Doha metro plies to airport.

Although I love Doha Metro, I have been given tour of the Chennai metro when the project (phase 1) was underway. The men in my family witnessed the tunnel boring etc (for their interest in execution). In Chennai, we have the Coovum river flowing underground in some sections. In the junction at Central, Chennai Metro is operational at three levels – one is the MRTS from Velachery, the second is from the suburban from Tambaram with the third level being the Metro. We have to note that not all the three are metro. The first two are from the older railways networks of the city that have been conveniently merged with the Metro with options for interchangeability. The beauty is, at this point at Central and upto Egmore, the levels are above and under the Coovum river under terrain! The engineer in charge beautifully explained the technicality of this and the engineering precision to achieve this aspect! The course of the river stream is left untouched apparently! My only concern is, to make the route underground waterproof, how much moisture has been permanently sucked out of Chennai earth. How many downstream currents and water channels have been blocked. Some even blame the metro network (underground) for the city going under deluge in recent monsoons. Overhead metro is preferable for this reason. As Chennai metro is expanding nonstop adding more and more kilometers to serve far flung suburbs, the city is shrinking no doubt. The common man stands to benefit. Hopefully the new connections will be overhead. Mass transport is the only way ahead for metropolitan cities like Chennai.

Doha unlike Chennai need not have to be concerned with unprecedented monsoons or rivers and streams. It must have been that much easier to establish the network here.

Quality of service in both cities is impeccable. In Doha I noticed the ‘gold’ carriage for discerning commuters. I am delightfully the ‘aam aadmi’ but I do prefer traveling in the family coach.

Qatar national library is easily accessible with metro. And so are other landmarks. Shopping is far more convenient. Most of all, I am independent finally!

Interestingly, both Doha metro and Chennai metro were feared to be non viable commercially in the initial stages. However, they now register impressive gross breaking even since long.

The driverless metros that are automatic, are not merely engineering marvel, but are also pollution free. One good reason to expand the metro network.

Its not just about the connectivity. Metros are more about catering to the masses. World class facilities that are made affordable and accessible to the general janata of our nation finally. This can work wonders for economies.

I am seeing school kids and college goers and service staff and sales people and bosses rubbing shoulders here in Doha metro. Never do you feel on equal footing with everyone around you as you do when you ride the metro. A great equalizer. A big decongestant of city traffic. Life saver I must say!

Doha metro maintenance is par excellence. Would it be too much to expect the metro networks in India to maintain their standards sans dilution? Tolerance for vandalism must be zero.

Posted in Environment

Go Green This Diwali.

Agreeably it is not possible to entirely go green for Diwali but we can still try to reduce the noise pollution and air pollution, restricting the firecracker hours and volume literally and by quantum. The popular argument is that, Why cannot we switch off air conditioner in that case. Why not you sell your car and take public transport. Why is NYC lighting up for new year’s eve blah blah.

The fact is that, year after year we in India are doing worse,9 with air pollution reaching abnormally high levels. When Rama returned to Ayodha with Sita defeating Ravana in Sri Lanka, I don’t think the townspeople lit the Sivakasi pataka. For centuries, Hindus lit the organic and chemical free firecrackers in celebrations that were not environmentally hazardous. Now after seeing Delhi choking with blinding pollution, if the rest of the country still wants to carry on with this dynamite business, I do not know what to say.

Why should we be comparing ourselves with the Abrahamics. Let us each answer this question to ourselves: do we need this. Why this rush of affection for Sivakasi. We have outgrown so many industries in the past. It is time perhaps we wean out of this firecracker manufacture as well. Are we still stuck with cassette tape or VCR or floppy disk fellow Hindus. Firecrackers are not the only source of income for Sivakasi workers in any case. Their chief cottage industry is matchstick making, a connected business.

My mother-in-law is 84 and for every Diwali keeping her away from the firecracker noise is a big task for me. She is healthy for her age but says, the noise makes her heart pound. Don’t we have a concern for the elderly and the sick at all. What about the street dogs and stray cats. The mongrels suffer the most fleeing our streets to take refuge in garbage dumps. Birds shriek. Whatever rain clouds gather disperse. Temperature soars when it must be low. Then finally the poison laden burnt cracker paper rolls end up in our waterways. And this tradition we have to continue because, some liberals and leftists pronounced against firecrackers. As dutiful Hindus we are up in arms, not for a thousand more important issues such as caste prejudice or rising unemployment, but for something which doesn’t need tutoring.

What the heck Priyanka Chopra says. I don’t care whether she has asthma or whatever. But I care deeply about my country, about the smoke hanging in the air, the pollution, the greying of our greens. To me nature and wildlife and all flora and fauna of this world matter more over these frivolous celebrations.

I have lived in Islamic countries where I have observed that celebrations need not have to be loud and raucous. We can have a quiet and peaceful Diwali like they have their Eid. Their biggest festivals in this part of the world are celebrated without a whisper. In fact, there are animal sacrifices but i have never encountered anything disruptive or uncomfortable and upsetting in the public. In the middle east, i haven’t even caught the drift of the meat smell much, good for my vegetarian senses. Any festive occasion, apart from the religious part, is marked by greeting your friends and family first in bright new clothes, then exchange of sweets and food, visiting friends and family and then spending the evenings in picnic spots or wherever or by engaging in social entertainment/activities. The workers are plied with goodies. For fasting month, always for fast breaking i have seen the arab men at traffic signals etc., handing out gift boxes of snacks to one and all. I have come to like this very down-to-earth observance of festivals and I happen to think, this is how it must be. Where is pollution here. Do we Indians have the kind of money to burn like the arab sheikhs. Yet they keep it all toned down. The real happiness is in relaxing and unwinding. Luv this festival and holiday spirit.

An important lesson i have learnt here in life is: to not disturb others when we intend to celebrate. I don’t need a temple here, I don’t need to light fire crackers, yet I find such a harmony in the more meaningful observation of my Hindu religious festivals in middle east. My concentration is unwavering. In Malaysia too our Diwali celebrations were different and without firecrackers. There we used to have ‘open house’ although I never had one. Focus was on hanging out with family and friends dressing flashy and gorging on the goodies. My Hindu friends in India would be shocked to discover how much Malaysian Tamils cook up for Diwali. Tins and tins and tins of murukku alone, then pastries, then traditional sweets. These women also would be working women. Their energy levels omg! They used to call me ‘sissy’ because I could never catch up with their pace. In a chettiar family friends’ home in KL, for open house the malay-chinese crowd came nonstop in queues. Finally aunty closed the kitchen fatigued after midnight 2 am. The kitchen fires were on until then and the men went out to buy more and more groceries-provisions. Never was anyone turned away. Such a hospitality. I have seen the best of Diwalis in the south east Asian country. Modhalla veettukku koopdaraangalaanu paaru Deepavalikku – in India these days. Avangalukke paththaadhu.

I am used to this idea of satisfying yet quiet Diwali although last year I did go for firecracker shopping because it was Thalai Deepavali for my kids. I view this as an exceptional case. I do shop for minimum firecrackers. I gift most of even that to my househelp. A token firecracker will do for me because I do not want to dampen the spirit of the elderly in the house who insist that, ‘Deepavalikku kadaaila ennai kaayanum. vedi vedikkanum. thalaila ennai vekkanum. pudhusu podanum.’ It is true, once upon a time in my life I was also firing up a lot of crackers adding to the noise and pollution.

At Disney world in Orlando for a Christmas, I was impressed how even in the US celebrations are muted and noise pollution free. In fact we were there for the midnight laser show. Such a disciplined crowd. Yes fireworks lit up the sky in ethereal formations but this is just one holiday spot I am talking about. Other than that, I saw some houses decorated with lights and xmas themes. Barring this, I did not encounter any outrageous kind of celebrations like we have in India at the drop of hat for everything. Sometimes I think we Indians are frustrated and we seek release in this pompous unruly street celebrations that are only on increase over years. We care the damn for environment. It is perfectly okay for us to block traffic and litter our streets. We just want the world to know we Hindus have the right to celebrate Hindu festivals the way we want to. Others can go to hell.

For new year that year I was in Vegas, the hottest place you can imagine. Given its reputation. Even this tinseltown did not match up with my expectations and in no way compared to mass street celebrations we have in India from Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi to Navratri and Diwali. Every religious festival for us has to be necessarily environmentally damaging. We have to immerse chemical dyed deities in waterways and kill marine life. Why leave out the air just with vehicular smoke. Add the Diwali bonus to it to complete the picture.

I find it nauseous that we have reduced our religious rituals to such crass levels as this: mass hysteria hijacking harmonious and familial occasions and commercialization of the festivals. This to me, no more has a meaning or relevance. This potta potti with christians and muslims – is shocking.

Our commitment, our responsibility, our duty is towards our nation first. Why should what the activists or media guys report influence us. Are we not capable of taking a conscientious decision. Are we not educated on our increasing levels of air pollution and the toxicity in our waterways. Industries – we cannot be without as they provide our masses with gainful employment. But what we can do without, why cannot we. How can lighting the earthen diyas reverse pollution or reduce it. Down south, even the diyas we lit only for Karthigai Deepam, never for Deepavali all these years. Suddenly we have Sangeeth, Mehendi, Diyas for Diwali, Dhanteras, what not!

Look at the campaigns for Diwali this season. Why should we want to communalize and/or politicize trivial issues. Looks like we are waiting for a chance to pounce upon someone for their anti-hindu tirade. We want a reason to unleash our fury on anyone who dares to question us even if it could be justified. As for Fabindia or Tanishq, dear Hindus, how many businesses of yours hand over porridge for fast breaking to muslim customers who go shopping in T Nagar showrooms, for instance. Business means business. We have to get value for our money, whoever it may be from. If we have to bring caste and religion into everything, all of us from the US, Europe and Middle east have to be ready to pack up and return to India.

What should you react for: when elephant corridors and forest ranges are taken over for yoga ashrams and ayurvedic companies. But when the offending parties are Hindus, we prefer to play it down, right.

The love and respect I have for my nation need not have to be explained with the firecrackers for Diwali. The reverence I have for my Dharma i need not have to proclaim from rooftop, I am still a devout Hindu and a patriotic Indian. I don’t have to speak Hindi and I haven’t been to Delhi so far. I am the most unconventional citizen you may ever find in Bharat, and there are very few of my kind in our country. All that wouldn’t make me any less Hindu than you are or less of an Indian.

Happy Deepavali!

Posted in Environment

Read The Price Tag

There is so much talk about new energy sources such as solar power. Could the manufacturing process of the solar power panels be entirely environment-friendly when the cells cannot be destroyed. The solar panels are made of toxic chemicals such as arsenic which find their way to landfills on decommissioning. Solar power, the end product, could be energy efficient and economic but what about the hidden costs. What happens to millions and millions of lithium batteries we dispose off. Are green buildings truly safe and nontoxic. A quick recheck into chemical emission from in and out of the structures may speak of a different story. The eco-friendly green structures with glass facade may be energy saving bringing in daylight and cutting short our electricity bills, but what is the cost we pay by way of exposure to chemical compounds that the building materials are composed of. Glass specifications may demand a matching support system. Glass may be sustainable and least toxic though. But is the effort worthwhile as against conventional concrete and cement structure. So much is spoken about desalination. Many view it as a problem solver with decreasing rainfall. Desalination of sea water removes salinity from the water by chemical process. This water then is recyclable including for consumption purposes. Nations have desalination plants pumping in water from their territorial waters, well within their boundaries, demarcated from international waters. What happens when salts get removed on repeated chemical processes? Desalinated water later undergoes further treatments of various levels fit for different types of consumption. The untreated water may be released to civic bodies for upkeep of public parks etc. The treated water filtered to specified degree of purification is certified potable. However, as the salt from the sea water close to shoreline gets desalinated, the residual salt content adds to the territorial waters which may make it super-salty than before. This extremely salty sea water is contained within a nation’s oceanic boundaries, by international maritime agreements. The salt mounds on desalination pile up within the territorial waters. With increased concentration over time, the salinity of this coastal sea water could rise to a level unsustainable for marine life in that geographic region. Ecology collapses. However, now technology keeps updating quick and the processes get more refined and superior by which minimal damage is accrued, nevertheless the build-up of salinity in a nation’s territorial waters as a result of desalination cannot be completely eliminated. Even wind energy has it pros and cons. The windmill blades are non bio-degradable as well like the solar panels we use for solar power. Imagine landfills over landfills filled by used and defunct solar panels and windmill fan blades. The power from the windmill turbines is of course not environmentally hazardous. Probably windmill energy could be the purest form of energy produced by humans. Dams and reservoirs dry up rivers and their courses as salinity from sea water enters land via arid low level deltas during monsoons. This can play havoc with fertile strips of land making cultivation and native vegetation unsustainable. No way can we substitute cleared primary/secondary forests with afforestation in new tracts. There is a factor called soil strength and composition. Native flora and fauna are specific to geographic locations. We cannot just like take over elephant corridors and plant alien vegetation species in river banks by way of substitution. Nature does not work that way. Nothing can be right when we go against nature. We the humankind calculate the short term gains and forego the long term benefits. Seamless transition from one energy source to another is next to impossible. Hybrid interluding phase precedes a total transfer. Almost nothing that goes against nature comes free. We will have to foot a hefty bill one way or other.

Posted in Environment

Vanity In Pet Breeding.

After having white lab rats (not hamstrings) (bred especially for rearing as pets), it is time for (my grownup) kids to go for salamander fish (axolotl) in their aquarium (not really a pretty sight just like the lab rats however smart they may have been). We have had this conversation months ago and we are at square one on this yet again. How can the hyena be viewed vicious and the lion crowned the king of the jungle. Prejudices of many shades exist in our mindspace. One of the biting truths about pets we want on our home rug is that, most of us would like to have them for their vanity. Very few of the canines are bred for the watchdogs they are. Not many of us may be aware of the transitional journey our canines have had to undertake to grace our lives in the present, with their silky fur and satiny skin. The Pug for instance has been crossbred for over a century like any other canine so that what we have today is flat nosed, highly prone to obesity and heart disease and arthritis. The obsession to breed the perfect canine first surfaced in the American Kennel Club over a century ago. Ever since, countless canine lineages have been selectively crossbred and mixed bred that many dogs we have in modern times such as the German Shephard have very little in common with their ancestors from just a century before. The watchdogs of today have descended from the wolves of the forests, carefully domesticated and crossbred to alter their physical appearance and behaviour, to serve us as our friendly companions. The popular canine breeds such as the Cocker spaniel, Doberman, Dachshund, Golden retriever, Labrador, Lhasa etc., just to name a few, of present times have had a remarkable cosmetic makeover in last many decades. Selective crossbreeding brings with it its own share of health woes for the dogs as organs are mixed and matched, with the animal psychology or behaviour going for a toss. The new breed has to rewire the brain mapping and re-evolve. The results may always not be favourble even if aesthetically pleasing. For the pug as we see, the flat nose is the reason for serious breathing problems which in turn can put the life of the dog at risk. The Alsatian no more has the curved back but has gained pounds, all the time becoming less ferocious. A perfect manmade balance seems to have been struck here in taming the wolf to our advantage: less menacing, yet watchful and alert with a keen intelligence and sense of smell and ‘right’ canine looks. The human race’s infatuation with the purebred or the pedigree is equally harmful for the canines, as multiple congenital disorders are rampant leading to organ failures and a shorter lifespan. Human greed for pure bloodlines that are prized breeds has led to relentless (and at times commercial) inbreeding among the pedigrees that the purebreds today are not mostly immune to deadly infections. High mortality among pedigrees is a recorded fact. Whether selectively crossbred or mixed-bred or pedigree, the canines of current times have not had it easy to pamper our homes and make our lives more tolerable and easy. This is a good reason why we Indians must go for country dogs and strays among whom mixed breeding may occur naturally. We slam bodyshaming, but what have we done to man’s best friend over time. Exotic (amphibian) pets are fine if they are not intentionally harmed for breeding or when their species is not threatened with extinction . A big NO to wildlife especially the endangered as pets!

Posted in Environment

mission miyawaki

Someone from a club i am associated with has been instrumental in creating a small patch of what is called ‘the Miyawaki forest’ in a public park within city limits, pumping a little more oxygen into poisoned Chennai airs. That set me thinking.

Akira Miyawaki, the Japanese botanist, thought of this great idea of greening in bits and parcels wherever and whenever, creating tiny sustainable forests of native vegetation.

The Harrington road, the Spurtank Road, Shastri Bhavan road and even the Boat club as I remember from my school days are a far cry from the parched reality we have been calling our capital today. We chopped down trees in our own home. My in-laws place had at least two coconut trees, four Ashoka trees in the front and banana, mango trees and greens and flowering plants in the backyard quarter a century back. My parents surrounded their dream house with seven coconut trees, neem, mango and curry leaf trees etc. Not a trace of that green foliage exists today. Not only did we cut down the trees, we also cemented the ground so that monsoon downpour has no chance of percolating underneath the sedimentary topsoil layer, blocking any rainwater retention for ground water-table rise and moisture content. That is how good old Madras transformed into the concrete jungle we live in today as destructive transformation such as ours in every homefront changed the city for worse, polluting our waters and airs forever. Any breathing space was converted into spare bedroom without a thought.

That brings to my mind the lungs of the city our public parks and the dried up lakebeds, that metamorphed into housing colonies and private estates including lucrative professional institutions.

Green cover is shrinking at an alarming pace not only in our metro, but in entire India as the pressure on land is increasing steadily with elephant corridors and even the protected scheduled forest areas taken over for industrialization and/or urbanization. The promised afforestation is not happening. We cannot take over prime and secondary forests and then try to substitute them with tree saplings along river banks by way of compense or like an afterthought. Things simply don’t work that way. Native vegetation cannot be replaced by foreign species even if that could be teak. Teak cannot stand for neem or banyan. (By foreign, here is meant anything not local or native geographically to a particular area. In India, localization may be as specific as a district or state.)

the miyawaki forest-vertical garden in gn chetty rd, chennai, one of the many in the city these days…

But the little bit of greenery that caught my attention in city roads by way of kind of vertical gardening made me wonder if this is Miyawaki forest attempt as well! Other cities like Bangalore are far ahead in trying to infuse little of oxygen into atmosphere compared to Chennai, I know, but somewhere we have to have a beginning.

Terrace gardens are another big way to go green, even if that may fall far below desired level of greening. We have to remember that trees have to be replaced by trees and not with mere potted plants that do not root out and trap moisture in soil. Our city must have native neem, mango, peepal or the sacred fig, banyan and ashoka trees planted more not merely the aesthetically appealing flame-of-the-forests for street side shade.

Gardening is no more a leisure activity, it is our dire necessity. Forestry is our basic requirement today. There is an ongoing debate on commercial forests about which I am skeptical as it can encourage more prime-secondary forests falling prey to development agenda. Native vegetation also may come under threat with commercially viable alien species becoming popular choice.

I am resident of an Arab country where they are greening their arid landscapes expending millions of dollars that the city I live in middle east seems far more greener than the city I come from in India. From transplanting Amazon trees to virtual desert lands to creating fresh water lagoons from the sparse drizzle that hardly graces these parched limestone terrains, the locals and government go out of their way to ensure a little quality oxygen content in their airs, which is admirable. For this, we have to love nature first, we have to care for our environment. We have to love and respect our country first as well. We must cringe at damaging and destructing mother nature as we do in India so ruthlessly. Alas, in India, we have government and gurus who happen to think economic progress and God can be found by deforesting and industrializing, what do we do!

how about a hanging garden for Chennai…

Let each and everyone of us at micro range create our own little Miyawaki today that at macro level we can bring in a transformation in India over a period of time. We read of inspiring stories of how individuals raise forests, sustain vegetation and preserve waterbodies even in India. It is time we do our bit to giving back to Mother Earth what we have taken from Her.

A typical Miyawaki we have already been having in Hindu temples by way of ‘stala vrksha’ – the native tree and vegetation for centuries. The concept is really not entirely new to us. All we need to do is expand from here by and large to cover more and more tracts with greenery.