Monthly Archives: May 2010

Distant Relatives

The more I watch the nature closely and more I go through the literature, it is becoming clear how shallow is our knowledge of the world around us which the God has created. Sometimes I become more and more confused and become awestruck when some mystery of nature becomes clear to me. As we know that living things are related to one another at some stage or other during evolution though they must have diversified at some period of time but at least some basic properties resemble.

In the months of January & February, one can notice that Pipal trees which is very sacred tree of India, copiously shed their leaves. All day the leaves fall on the ground following zigzag trajectories. The wind forces them to float and it seems that they are reluctant to fall to the ground beneath the tree. Whole ground beneath the tree becomes strewn with leaves. Within few days, the trees looks as skeletons, completely shorn of  leaves. All the other trees around them have already acquired new green leaves. But it is matter of days. The new translucent leaves burst out of the branches and the whole tree is decorated with reddish brown leaves which seem to be very beautiful. One can notice the change which the tree undergoes and it is completely covered with lush green leaves. Then many birds are seen visiting them. They are there for eating the very small rounded green fruits. If you break this fruit with slight pressure of fingers you can see that inside is just like figs.

At the same time, there are other trees, the trunks of which are covered with similar type of fruits as that of Pipal. But these fruits are very numerous, bigger and become brown red on ripening. The ground is totally covered with these fruits and there is smell of food decomposition and formation of alcohol due to fermentation. Lots of ants roam on the tree and bore into the delicate fruits to eat the fruit inside. The fruit bear uncanny resemblance to Pipal fruits.

Otherwise, the look of both these trees is completely dissimilar. Leaves are different. While Banyan tree has cordate type of leaves, the Indian Fig has lanceolate kind of leaves. But in my mind, the picture began to became clearer that may be they were related. Internet queries revealed the truth. Both are ficus genera and are commonly called figs. The botanical name of Pipal or Banyan  is Ficus religiosa and other one is Indian fig.

Ficus Lutea

Pipal or Banyan

Fruits of Banyan

Day & Night

God after creating the world,

Sat and watched his creation,

Like an artist who examines,

his painting from afar,

He then appointed,

two dyers to color his world,

One He called Day and

other He called Night,

Day has vats of countless dyes,

and colored the world with them,

Night only has one dye,

one dye called black.

He colors every thing black,

While Day creates differences,

Creates distinctions,

Night dissolves the differences

Removes differences and distinctions

Devil’s Tree

Quite a few numbers of this tree are their in our colony. It is called Devil tree, Alstonia Scholaris. These are in prime condition, quite tall. They become very much noticeable when they bear the flowers which have very strong scent. It becomes very difficult to breath because of the choking scent which seems to solidify the scent. Many children develop the breathing difficulties. This elegant evergreen tree is found in most parts of India. The generic name commemorates the distinguished botanist, Prof. C. Alston of Edinburgh, 1685-1760. The species name scholaris refers to the fact that the timber of this tree has traditionally been used to make wooden slates for school children. Its is commonly known as the Devil Tree, as it is considered to be the abode of the devil, in popular imagination. In October small, green yet fragrant flowers appear. All parts of the tree can be considered poisonous. It is a tall elegant tree with grayish rough bark. Branches are whorled, and so are the leaves, that is, several of them coming out of the same point. The tree is really elegant whether it is flowering or not. The slightly rounded, leathery, dark green leaves form whorls of 4-7. And a very regular branching gives the tree a beautiful shape. The wood is too soft for making anything – so it is usually used in making packing boxes, blackboards etc. Its bark, known as Dita Bark, is used in traditional medicine to treat dysentery and fever. On the Western Ghats, tribal people are reluctant to sit or pass under this tree, for the fear of the devil.

Parijat

One of the many things which I miss about Assam is the flowers of Parijat. In its blossoming season, it is treat to watch these trees and ground beneath them. It is completely covered with its fragrant flowers. The flowers are very small with white sepals and one orange colored speck in the center. The children collect the flowers in little bamboo baskets. I asked them what they will do with so many flowers, to which they answered that these will be dried and added in cooked vegetables. The shrubs there are very healthy like all other vegetation which seems to grow literally before your eyes. The land has been laid down in seams of very highly fertile soil. All this is the dower given by mighty Brahamputra river to Assam. The river which flows very peacefully along the mountain from Mansarovar lake towards East but becomes very virulent when it enters the plains of Assam. Sometimes, during the monsoons, the river brings so much water with it that it creates floods in all the Assam and Bangladesh. The whole of area looks like a big lake. It uproots the islands and hurls them at different places. But it is all the blessings and anger of the river. The whole area is lush green and weather is entirely different from rest of India.

The shrub is called Nyctanthes arbor tristis in botanical jargon. It grows in India, Pakistan and South East Asia. The flowers occur in clumps of 2 to seven in numbers. It is also called tree of sorrow because of its short life span of one night only. In Indian mythology, there is story connected to the bringing of tree branch from heaven to earth by Krishna to appease his demanding wife Satyabhama.

The story goes that once Krishna and Satyabhama were invited by Lord Indra for a lunch. After lunch, Krishna and his wife were strolling in the garden when they happened to pass by the heavenly tree. Instantly, Satyabhama took a fancy for the tree and insisted that Krishna stole a branch and take it to their home and plant it there. Krishna despite his resistance had to pluck a branch. As he was hiding the branch in his clothes, Indra noted it and cursed not the Krishna directly but prophesied that the shrub will not bear seeds and propagate on the earth.

This does  not seem to be true, otherwise how so many trees grow in different parts of world. Incidentally, I have noticed that shrub grows hardly near Mumbai. Only in one house I noticed one plant. Another plant has been planted in our colony by a Bengali family. In Bengal, this grows in abundance and is called “Shiuli”. Here in Mumbai area, the plants’ main thrust seems to be on leaves which are wider than their brethren in Eastern India. The color of leaves is lighter in Assam than here.

I found a very beautiful link to auspicious trees. It is called namah te.

Nature in Panvel Colony

In the beginning when this colony was handed over to Estate, there were few takers. Such is the lure of Mumbai city where people come with dreams in their eyes that anyone who was transferred to Mumbai wanted to live in the metropolis. Stars dance in the eyes of the people coming here. Panvel being the remote village, poorly connected and far off place distracted the people at that time.

But during 1990 and 1991, when transfers happened on large scale, the colony began to swell with people. A stage came when there was not a single vacant flat. It so happened that transfers were few and far between, a sense of stability and belonging was ingrained in the minds of residents.

I preferred to live in this colony far away from the madding crowds of Mumbai. It has a very big green cover and lot of open space for walking and leisure. There is every conceivable kind of tree that is growing in the colony. There are mango trees which seem to date back from the time before the land was acquired. There are coconut palms, pepul, Jamun, banana and very old and majestic tamarind trees. Plantation of the trees has been somewhat indiscriminate and lopsided. On the one hand, there are beautiful Gulmohar, Amaltas, Barringtonia (Barringtonia acutangula), Jacaranda, Bottle Brush and other flowering trees. One very massive Simal (Bombax) tree is situated at the boundary near the small grass lawn opposite the gate of Kendriya Vidyalaya. It has big thorns on its branches and in February the tree is shorn of any petals and bears red colored flowers. All day mynahs, crows and other birds visit the tree sucking the nectar from the flowers. On the other hand, there are trees which don’t have any aesthetic value at all. These trees grow by leaps and bounds and are firewood trees. Many of them exude gum like substances which damage the vehicle paint very badly. Similarly, there are trees which in particular season flower and release such an intense sweet scent which can choke a person to death if he or she continue to stand overnight beneath them. Somehow these trees seem to belong to Rajnigandha or chameli family with only difference in size and copious quantities of flowers they bear. In the most elegant trees come the royal palms which have strange stately bearing with their bottoms thinner than their trunks. Sometimes they cause damage to parked vehicles when their dry fronds fall down with great force.

There is a season in the months of March to mid-May when almost all the flowering trees, most prominent being Amaltash, Gulmohar, Queen Crape Myrtle, Copperpod and Barringtonias, are in full bloom and there is riot of colors all around. Barringtonia flowers have a very short life span. The pods burst into flowers at night and early in the morning the flowers begin to rain down on the ground. Different trees begin to shed their flowers at slightly different times and the ground beneath the trees becomes carpeted with flowers of red and orange color. After giving the joy to the beholders, the flowers wither away under the scorching heat of sun.

There are many kinds of birds which inhabit the colony and its periphery. In the morning, we are lucky to hear their incessant chirping in different tones and frequencies. The sparrows chirp in the boughs of the trees in front of shopping center in the evening. There are reports that due to noise pollution and cellphone towers, the population of sparrows is diminishing in the cities. So it is matter of satisfaction that our colony still has good number of sparrows. One can hear the interminable babbling of these birds fighting and settling scores for their best branches to make their beds. Crows, the meanest and most efficient scavenger birds, begin to make noises earliest of all the other birds. Oriental magpie robins with their sonorous songs frolic on the telephone wires and trees continuously communicating with their companions through peculiar musical sounds. This incidentally is the bird which is the national bird of Bangladesh where it is called Doel. Koel sings in the branches beginning with low notes which become higher and higher pitched and reach a crescendo and then all of a sudden there is lull. Of course there are ubiquitous mynas and pigeons in plenty. Big Bats visit the colony trees for food in the night. They can be seen coming from the direction of Panvel town and perching in the trees in the avenue in front of School gate. Squirrels make bell like metallic sounds which can be easily mistaken for some bird’s calls.

Outside the boundary skirting the one side is the Kirki River which merges into Kalundare River just outside the boundary of colony. These two rivers have etched dreaded memories into the minds of residents of colony during 2005 monsoons when the flash flood was caused by big landslide into the Panvel Lake near Gadeshwar sitting in the lap of Matheran Hills spilling the already overflowing lake with great force and coinciding with the high tide. In the non-rainy season, these rivers are ribbons of water looking so innocuous. In the month of March and April, cormorants, water birds fly over the colony in beautiful formations, landing in the waters of these rivers and diving to forage for fish and other sea food and sit for drying their coats on the big exposed stones which look like mini islands.

I don’t think that such natural ambiance is available anywhere in burgeoning city where you have to travel a distance to take a stroll in some cramped park. All around there are vehicles honking indiscriminately stealing away your peace of mind. Beaches are badly polluted.

Some Trees in Our Colony

Copper Pod

Barringtonia

Bottle Brush

Fishtail Palm

Rubber Tree

Oriental Magpie Robin

I have noticed this bird many a times. They are particularly active during the evening when the light is barely present. They make very sweet sounds. The color of the feathers is black with white on sides and at the bottom side. It is slightly bigger than a house sparrow. Particularly it is very active in the evening catching the flying insects. If I am not wrong, I have heard their sounds at about two or three o’clock in the morning.

Little did I knew that this is the national bird of Bangladesh where it is called “Doel” rhyming with “Koel” the nightingale. It has been adopted due to its sweet singing. In fact, the bird belongs to passerine family which are perching birds and most of them are songbirds. That most of us take many birds, animals and trees for granted, we never care to know their names. Visually we know that it is a such and such type of tree: size, color of leaves and flowers, color of coat, beak and telons such like traits. The peasant does not know the names of many birds and animals living in the fields. This problem is very serious in cities where there is no way to know the names of trees on the roads because generally the trees are not named. Only in Dadar Mumbai I noticed the small metallic tags fixed to trees with the names prescribed on them.

My curiosity arose when an incident happened. There was a small baby of this bird which was floundering and was caught by an crow which are so mean and ruthless in killing and eating the weak and ill and injured. They are the efficient agents of Darwin for sparing only the fittest of the living beings like the nature. The fledgling was about to torn to shreds when luckily it escaped the clutches and fell on the ground. My wife who was looking at this drama, immediately rescued it and brought it to home. It was wounded in one leg and was not able to stand properly. We were at loss how to feed her something for its survival. I dipped its beak in the water and it reacted positively. Then I opened its beak and my wife put some water with a spoon. Then I thought that it must get some food but what?. We broke one egg and were able to push small quantity into its mouth. First night we left it as such in our bathroom. In between, we noticed that it was answering calls of its parents who were outside in the trees where they are the regular visitors. But during night we were worried about its survival. Next morning, we again gave it some food and wet its beak with water. Then we put it in a cardboard box in which we made some holes and placed this box outside in our balcony. Our surprise knew no bounds when we saw the strangest thing happening. In general, it is believed that the baby birds which are touched by humans are shunned by the parents. It proved to be totally myth. The parents located the child and began feeding it through the holes with insects. Whole day this went on. In the evening we purchased a cage from the market. It was very good cage but it proved useless for feeding. This was because the baby bird was sitting inside out of the reach and it would not budge from where it was sitting. It kept opening its beak and as the feeding failed the sharp noise of desperation was visible. We again had to put it the cardboard box.

In the night we brought it inside putting it into the cage. It was sleeping peacefully even as the lights were on. Due to care and feeding by its parents it became strong and there was great action it made inside the box to break free. In the next morning, I put it outside in the balcony and its parent began bringing the insects. It was making so strong efforts that it was coming half out of the hole. I began becoming ready for morning walk, but when before leaving for walk, I noticed that the bird has flown out. We looked for it in the outside trees where the marauding crows usually sit. After sometime we were relieved immensely when we noticed that it has joined its parents and was flying freely.

The bird is found throughout the world but most commonly in South Asia. It is not in the endangered list of birds but in Singapore its number has greatly declined.

Parvathy Baul

The name is a fusion of two cultures, two art forms.  The proper name Parvathy belongs to south India and the suffix is the title of the wandering mystic minstrels from Bengal. Actually the real name of the girl is Moushami and she belongs to Bengali Brahmin family. Bauls philosophy is that like the end result, journey is equally important. They don’t need any instruments or the usual rules controlling the songs. They sing what comes from the heart without any care  of anything else.

When she was a student, she happened to listen to a Baul singing in the compartment of the train she was traveling in. That was the beginning of transformation towards Baul music. The result is that she began living with the Bauls and adopted them as her family.

Kerala resembles Bengal in few things like communism, literacy and greenery. The resemblance does not too far though. While Kerala has been stable politically, the Bengal has dipped down economically and industrially thanks to the policies of communism which took the state as their own personal property and destroyed the industry ruthlessly.

Moushami’s mind was not at rest. It was longing for expanding the art repertoire. She traveled from Bengal to Kerala in this quest. She met the puppeteer and photographer Ravi Gopalan Nair, who became her soulmate and partner in creating the fusion of art of Kerala and Baul music. She was rechristened as Parvathy Baul.

She is now considered as the leading Baul singer of the country. She dresses like the Bauls. She makes trips to her home state to attend the Baul functions. Recently she participated in the “Aman Ki Asha” a joint peace effort by leading newspaper publishers namely Times of India and Jang of Pakistan. The functions in which artists from both countries performed at different venues across India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s popular folk singer Arif Lohar and India’s baul singer, Parvathy, sang at the Aman Ki Asha Concert at Chowmallat Palace in Hyderabad on January 22, 2010.

For more details about Parvathy click here.

Panvel Floods of 2005

The memory of flash flood on the evening of July 25 2005 and destruction in its wake sends chills in the spine of anyone who had witnessed it. Although it was raining very heavily for three days continuously, although a thick solid sheet of rain was battering the land, no body expected that it would turn into a nightmare. Within minutes the area around Panvel was under 10 to 12  feet of water. It looked as if the Arabian sea has expanded and and gulped the pieces of land lying in its vicinity. The loss of property was huge though human lives were spared by the nature to some extent.

Many a times afterwards, I wondered where did so much water come from. I did some analysis thanks to Google Earth imagery. The area around Panvel is full of geographical features with uneven landscape and so many hills all around. Just after the Panvel town flows a river called Kalundre so named after the village on its bank. It seems like a sinuous ribbon of uneven thickness in summers and winter. It is season river. On tracings its source, it is found that it flows from the hills and is made of two rivers joining together. One is Kundsar lake and another is Panvel lake situated under the foot of Gadeshwar. Water is fettered at both places by barrages. Beyond the Gadeshar are Chanderi hills and one can approach Matheran through this area on a road leading to Dhandheri village from Panvel.

There is another very insignificant river which is known by the name Kirki the origin of which I could trace only to Shedung. I am not sure of that. Many people believe that ONGC colony which is like an island between these two rivers was inundated by this river. This may not be very true, because the capacity of this rivers is very less. I surmise that very heavy rains threatened the dams up the hills and their gates were opened. The another factor was that Panvel being very close to the sea, in the event of high tide which was there at this time made it impossible for the area to bear the brunt of so much water coming like a demon on the town.

Next few days were so bad and depressing, that many people left the colony and searched for the safer houses on the upper floors. It is also a bitter truth that we are ourselves responsible for these disasters. By snatching the land which belonged to sea, where it dumped its extra water in the times of high tide through a network of channels of water all around. We have filled these channels and constructed the houses. Nature does not care about the differentials, its justice is done on an integral scale. Builders make profits and enjoy at safe places whereas the poor people bear the brunt of nature’s fury.

Bhupen Hazarika

During the course of my postings in different places of the country, I was in Sibsagar, which is very important town in the upper Assam. It was once upon a time the capital of Ahom Kings who entered the Assam from Myanmar. They established their capital first in a place called Cheraideo which is nearby Sibsagar. Sibsagar itself was established by the Ahom king Shiv Singh. All around Sibsagar you will see many temples called Dols and Lakes which reminds you about the times of Ahoms.

From this land of mystery and pristine natural beauty hails the most original composer known by the name Bhupen Hazarika. Long back I purchased a music cassette of the songs sung by Bhupen Hazarika which had been rendered in Hindi. Songs were written in original Assamese language by Dr.Hazarika and were translated by poet Gulzar. Dr.Hazarika has a unique voice and the music is heavenly and imagining that the musician is from a place which is totally isolated and not well off economically than rest of the India, one can simply say that music is the God’s gift. Dr.Hazarika is the most original creator of the music.

He write the poetry which encompasses the pathetic condition of the poor masses who are suppressed by the affluent and powerful and used for their own purpose from centuries. They are living the life of slavery. In one song from that Album “Dola he Dola”, this sentiment  of helplessness is expressed by the oppressed who are the bearers of the palanquin of the mighty king. There is stark contrast between the living condition of the oppressor and oppressed. They are exhorting one another to be very careful while treading the path else if one of them slips and king falls their heads will roll. While the king is sitting inside the silky cocoon, these people have not seen the proper piece of cloth  on their bodies be it winter, rain or heat. The song is really heart rending.

His music is entrenched in the milieu of Assam with tea gardens and women working there, natural beauty, festivals like Bihu. Although he has traveled a lot. I saw him on local channel attending functions in Sibsagar. He has become a father figure in Assam.

He got his chance to broadcast his music to world from Calcutta. He is equally at ease in Bengali and Hindi as in his mother tongue. Though I can’t speak or write in Bengali or Assamese, but I can follow these languages. And I thoroughly enjoy his songs rendered in multiple languages. The song about Jugnu and Lachhmi, the husband and wife, working as laborers in tea garden called Ratanpur is very beautiful and graphical in nature. Whether this Ratanpur really exists or not like Malgudi the fictitious place in R.K.Narayan’s writing, I am not sure. I tried to ask from my friends from Assam but they seem to be unaware. Many of them even did not know that Hazarika was born in Sadia.

Then there is another song in which metaphor  of river Ganga is used for woman. He is exhorting  the river, who is supposed to wash away the sins of others, to cleanse the system which is reeking with conceit. He complains why otherwise she is flowing and not feeling ashamed. Has she become so indifferent?