Monthly Archives: November 2009

What is Happening?

When someone asked the humorist writer Mark Twain which investment shall bring in the maximum profit, he had said “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore”. As always how true he was. The demand for land is rising and rising relentlessly. Our health quotient is improved day by day resulting in increased life expectancy. More people, more wealth they generate and with more wealth, everybody wants to live a life of comfort. Three basic needs: house, food and clothing are putting extreme pressure on our planet. Even though Sun is helping us in the synthesis of food, the area under agriculture is diminishing. As the demand is ever increasing, technologies are being developed to increase the yield of the crops. This invariably introduces bactericides and fertilizers which go towards harming our health in the long run. But modern humans have means to get treated, thus lending a big hand in the proliferation of medicines. Thus vicious cycles are being created every moment.

Where is the rural land going? The need to get the house to live in is the answer. We are so short of the land that we have begun to expand our living space vertically. We are thus loosing our touch with the soil from which we are constituted. We try to create replica of the gardens in our homes in the form of potted plants. The urban monster is like an octopus which is spreading its tentacles and grabbing the rural land ruthlessly. It is swelling day by day. The farmers are forced to sell their lands to make way for housing societies. The idioms like “How green was my valley” are getting redefined.

The prices of the land are increasing in an unthinkable manner and still there are buyers. There are financial institutions to make it possible and lure the people. In these circumstances, whole life of person goes into paying debts which are multiplied through installments and interest many times over.

In the featureless plains of Punjab, the land was as flat as drawing board. Not an inch of land is left which is not under the plough. The pressure on the land has been so heavy that its natural fertility has been reduced to almost nil. Now it has become simply a container in which unless you do not add fertilizers, water and other nutrients, you will not get anything. The water level beneath has gone down drastically. Whereas previously it was about 25-40 meters, now it has touched 100 meters. The agriculture has thus become an costly venture.

In the older times, in Punjab the girls when married generally never claimed their share in the parental land and it will go to the brothers after the father is gone. These are things of past now. With the land fetching exorbitant prices, there have been cases of husband sending the woman to go to her parents and ask  for her share. Even if she does not want, she is forced to. Some of the son-in-laws are threatening the parents of girls to keep the girls back or give her her share. There have been violent scenes at many houses. I know a family in which the woman had done the work in her in-laws place like an bullock. From morning till night, it has been all work , work and work. In addition, she had reared 5 children. The man had been many extra marital affairs which everyone knows. Despite all this, she had been happy and content. And now when her brothers sold their land, her husband sent her to get her share or otherwise don’t come back to his house. Such stories abound now.

Advertisements

A strange Food Chain!!!

To survive in this harsh world, one has to struggle and beat others. While in the world of animals the competition is really physical, the human beings take it to mental level. Humans have the ability to hide their emotions, they store their grudges against others and thus compete on a very different level. Most of their actions are covert in nature.

Animals have very hard life that way. Most of them settle their scores on the spot. They don’t keep it for the future. They even do not seem to repent the loss of their near and dear ones in the struggle as the humans do. They seem to be resigned to their fate and take the events as they come.

Since they have to face a fierce competition for their food, they are masters at conserving their energies, they don’t waste it unnecessarily. Since they don’t get much for over eating, they don’t need to exercise for their fitness.

Since many days, I am observing a strange thing. In the early morning, scores of crows dive into the garbage in the ditch outside the boundary of our colony. They dive and come out with bits of parts of the dead birds mostly chickens. With some morsel in their beaks, they sit on the nearby tree branches and many sit on the tops of the buildings of our office which is adjacent to the boundary.

I also invariably noted the presence of stray dogs standing below these trees and always looking up. I have the suspicion that dogs are waiting for the crows to throw away the discarded morsels and eat them. They hope that since crows are endowed with power to fly, they will not linger on morsel in the mouth longer. They discard them after eating small bits and then fly to get the new better ones.

Then, I noticed dogs sitting on the top of the wall of the building where the skeleton of a hoarding is situated and which is regularly occupied by the crows. This wall is facing the highway and first I thought that these dogs are surveying the traffic on the highway! But everyone knows that no animal will take the risk to go and sit on the ledges from where they can even fall down fatally. It dawned upon me that again the reason is the same. Getting the discarded and thrown away morsels of the offal.

This whole phenomenon seem to prove that even crows can feed the dogs. Thus a new food chain is created.

Fresh water Dolphins

We will talk about 3 fresh water dolphins that are native to the Ganges, Indus and Irrawaddy rivers. They have adopted themselves to live in these rivers and scoop the food from the bottom of the shallow rivers.

First one is the Gangetic Dolphin, known scientifically as Platanista Gangetica Gangetica. As the name suggests it is found in river Ganga down to Sundarbans delta. But they are also found in Brahmaputra river. Locally they called Susu and has been declared national aquatic animal of India. The females are larger than the males and the size of these dolphins varies between 2.3 to 2.6 meters. The dorsal fin is like a ridge and very insignificant. These dolphins lack eyesight which will be of course of no use in the muddy waters of these rivers. That is why they are sometimes called blind dolphins.

They locate the shrimps and fish by echolocation. They are said to swim in tilted manner. This may be due to the fact that they may be using this technique to sense the bottom and locate themselves in the absence of eyesight which would have helped them to see the Snell’s window and orient themselves.

Second type of dolphins in this category are the cousins of Gangetic dolphins. They are called Indus dolphins and scientifically known as Platanista Gangetica minor. They differ from their cousins in the length of their tails which are smaller in size. They have long beak and poor eyesight. In fact they are subspecies of the Gangetic dolphins. They are found in the Indus river in Pakistan.

Third and last variety is found in Irrawaddy river of Myanmar. Known as Orcaella Brevirostris scientifically they are found in discontinuous water bodies in Bay of Bengal coast and estuaries. These have a rounded head with almost no beak. They are the relatives of Orca and due to very short beak are called Brevirostris. In the Irrawady river, they are said to herd the fish catch towards the fishing boats. In return the fishermen share some of the catch with them. They use very powerful jets of water to stun the fish. Sometimes they have been found to playing with stunned fish and discarded them after wards.

They are known by many names like Labai in Burmese and Khem and Khera in Oriya. In fact they it was given its name Irrawaddy  dolphin by Sir Richard Owen in 1866 based on a specimen found in 1852, in the harbour of Vizag on the east coast of India.

Mynahs

It was the month of November 2009. At about 6′ O clock in the evening we reached the Chandigarh railway station to catch the train to Delhi. November is half way but surprisingly it was still hot. Weather is undergoing changes and becoming unpredictable. It was not cold as should have been. We were dropped by three wheeler on the wrong side of the entry gate and we have to cross the over bridge chugging our heavy suitcase.

As we were descending the steps to the platform No.1, I was taken by big surprise. A deafening noise was issuing from the roof of the platform. As we reached the platform and were walking towards our coach through the chaotic crowds, we could not hear anything but that sound. On looking up the roof, we found hundreds of mynahs sitting on the supporting rods. They seem to competing to occupy the best places to rest for the night. Whenever a new entrant came near, there was fighting and rearrangement of the sitting. It went on incessantly till the time our train commenced it journey. It was 22 minutes past 6 in the evening.

Soon everything was left behind. Surroundings were rushing past in the opposite direction. The noise was still buzzing in our ears. The train entered into the darkness and hurtled along towards Ambala. I was happy for one assurance that in the present times when many species are simply vanishing from their established locations, there were lots of mynahs at least. With this assurance in my heart, it was a happy journey towards the capital of India.

Dehradun: Then & Now

I recently visited Dehradun which has become the capital of recently carved out state of Uttrakhand. Earlier it entire area lied in Uttar Pradesh. Many things have changed since the time I lived in Dehradun from 1978 to 1978 during first posting of my job in ONGC. At that time the place was so peaceful, full of greenery and weather was excellent. While traveling  to  Dehradun from my hometown at Chandigarh, as soon as the bus entered hills leading to the valley, a perceptible change in the air will be felt. The breath become easier away from the dust of the plains as the bus meandered the sinuous road leading to Dehradun.

It was rather a sleepy town with people in no hurry whatsoever. There were leechi gardens everywhere. Initially, when I was unmarried, I used to travel by foot long distances with my friends. Everyday, after the office, we used to while away our time walking across the Rajpur Road and Paltan Bazar which was even at that time crowded. Another good spot I frequented was the campus of Forest Research Institute (FRI). Dense population of deodar trees looked so clear that they looked like a solid wall of bluish hue. There were so many places around the city which were ideal picnic spots. I can mention Shiva temple at a place called Tapkeshwar near the Garhi Cantonment. There is a cave in which the water seeped from the roof formed of limestone forming Stalactite hanging from the roof. The place was so cool and peaceful.

It was a very nostalgic visit to the city where I got my first job. After becoming the capital of the state, the real estate property prices have soared sky high. It is not possible even to think of buying a house there. I got a surprise this time we visited the FRI. A ticket has been imposed on the visitors. The bus stand has been shifted to Majra about 8 kilometers from the city. In the day time, we rode a three wheeler, which took about 40 minutes to reach the spot from Clock Tower.

There was a beautiful open canal running parallel to the road from Garhi Cantonment towards Ballupur. The road has been broadened and the canal has been buried underneath. In the older times, there were hardly any cars and scooters. Mostly people used bicycles. Now the vehicles have multiplied exponentially causing the terrible traffic. It is not possible to walk along the roads without being fully alert to the vehicle whizzing past.

Tapkeshwar temple has now acquired commercial look. Many small temples have come up. Good echelon have been constructed to reach down the temple from the road above. Another legend has been added to the place. It is that of Guru Drona staying and meditating here for years. The pictures of the Drona has been put in small temples. But the stream still seems beautifully purling along.

Like every other place, this beautiful city also has succumbed to overcrowding, pollution and other vagaries associated with the big cities.

Bats

I live in a place called Panvel which is about 50 kilometers away from Mumbai. I am serving in ONGC and am not the original inhabitant of the place. But I have lived in this place for the past 16 years. This place has rich history. Its municipal corporation is the oldest in the Maharastra. It is a junction for going to Goa, Pune, South India. It is full of geographic features. Hills dot the panorama all around. There are many rivulets. It is on the sea coast. The soil is hard and rocky and is not fertile. Once upon a time, Shiva Ji, the great Maratha King, had a jetty and naval unit here. The express highway going to Pune crosses this city.

Today, when I was on my way to home from my office, it was getting almost dark but still it was twilight. Street lights have not come up yet. It is November and the weather is getting slightly cooler in the mornings and evenings. By the standards of North India this cannot be called cool. For some reason, I was not feeling like going to home.

What a person do in such settings? I was looking towards the heavens. There were stars here and there. If you continue to look longer and concentrate at a particular location in the sky, the stars seem to being born like the seeds sprouting. Soon the whole sky will be covered with the crop of stars.

Anyway, leave aside this poetical musings. I noticed a very strange phenomena. Huge bats, the size of big crows, were heading towards the colony from Panvel city side. Some of them were flying so high and crossed the colony trees which are in plenty. Though I was quite sure about the identity of these creatures, I for a moment confused them with crows. Also, I thought that they may be some stray animals. But they kept coming. As I reached beneath the big tress-again I am sorry I don’t know the name-some of the them were landing on the branches of these trees. Some were making sorties between the trees. There were sounds of nibbling and falling of the partially eaten fruits which these trees bear. These fruits are not palatable to humans, but they are favorites of parrots in the day time and bats in the night. You will always find the partially eaten fruits beneath the trees.

These bats were not of the small size usually found in the cities which were also there in few numbers in the trees.  These might be Indian flying fox variety which gorge themselves on fruits. It is known that these bats live in the coastal areas which are many here because the Panvel is coastal area. I suspect that these bats must be sleeping inside some holes of older trees or rocks and visiting for food in the night on the trees in our colony and beyond where there are more trees in the rural areas. Because our night is day for them and our day is night for them.

The bats are true flying mammals belonging to chiropetera order. Forelimbs have developed into webbed wings making them unique mammals capable of sustained flight in contrast to flying squirrels, possums which don’t fly but glide in air for short distances as the distance between two trees. I have seen the squirrels in Assam jumping a distance of about 8 feet from one tree to another.

Bats are awe inspiring creatures and frequently mentioned in literature especially mythology. There are vampire bats whose diet is blood. They suck the blood from the animals like buffaloes during night time. Bats locate their pray through the echolocation technology which is also employed by dolphins and whales.

There are certain moths, tiger moths to be precise, which also emit ultrasounds  by clicking warning the bats that they are chemically protected and thus fool them and avoid being becoming the food of bats.  I think I will look for them again tomorrow to confirm there activity.