Steppe Eagle: Endangered Bird

Steppe Eagle is also known as Aquila nipalensis in the scientific language is a scavenger. This species breeds east in European Russia from across Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan, China and Mongolia. Birds winter mainly in south and south-east Asia.

The bird is placed in the Red List by IUCN in the endangered category. There are many reasons attributed to the decline in population to such an extent. Some are like loss of habitat and exposure to radioactive radiations in its basic habitat.

Bird winters in South and South East Asia. It has suffered in Pakistan and India due to the presence of a drug Declofenac in the carrion of the dead animals which these birds feed on. This drug is used extensively in the treatment of cattle in these countries.

Thus these birds suffer both at the original residence as well as their temporary stay in Asia.

I chanced upon a ditch amidst the bushes where the carrion are being dumped. One can observe the eagles flying over the area. Earlier there were mostly Egyptian Vultures but now a group of these Steppe Eagles have landed here.

 

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Gohana’s Jumbo Jalebis

India is a country of vast diversities. People of different regions have come and settled here from time immemorial. They brought with them their cuisine. As they settled here and generations passed, sense of belonging to this land pervaded. This mingling of the different elements of different cultures gave rise to fusions.

Over the time, some areas developed their unique specialties in the small corners of streets of even small towns which became a hallmark. Many such specialties particularly at small town may not be known widely as these become in the cities and big towns. You must have heard about some such shops in cities and towns across India. They’re written about often.

One such specialty is Jalebis from a town called Gohana in Sonepat district of Haryana. Some 52 years back, Haryana’s Gohana qasbah pioneered jumbo-sized jalebis. The Gohana shop is still known by its famous offering, Matu Ram ki jalebi that weighs 250 gm each. Matu started selling these giant jalebis in 1958 at Re 1 per piece. Prepared in pure desi ghee, the jalebi stays fresh for 15 days. Now, with special packs of 10 and 20 kg available. 

The Jalebis are prepared using Pure Desi Ghee for which Haryana is famous. They don’t add any artificial coloring. And 250 grams for 1 piece and sturdy and hard working village folks used to eat 4 or more in one go. These Jalebis remain fresh up to 20 days. The present owner, grandson of Mathu Ram, comment that these days four people eat 1 jalebi. Not only are these Jalebis popular with the masses, even with leaders and rich people. The former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal was very fond of the delicacy and would get them packed for self and family whenever he passed by the shop.

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For example, this Sunday chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is holding an election rally at Gohana. Already Jalebis have been ordered by the Sarpanches of villages for the participants which they will bring to the rally. The police personnel who have come from other places for duty have already purchased the sweets to avoid the last minute rush.

Monsoon in Mumbai

Indian continent experiences a number of weathers. Even there are vast differences in the weather along the length and breadth of India. Unlike Europe, the weather changes are rapid and during the year one can experience biting cold and searing heat at one place. This is particularly true in the Northern plains.

The weather along the sea coast remains humid and moderate. During summers, the humidity and heat becomes unbearable.  In Bombay, everyone prays the rain gods for being benign and lash the city with rains to cool the heat and bring succor to people, animals and trees. The hot summer months climax to monsoons in the end of June.  First place which comes to mind is the otherwise serene Marine Drive. marinedrive

It is the favorite of tourists all round the year particularly in the evening with lights like necklace in the Malabar hill. It is beset by the sound and fury of a monsoon high tide. Tides beat against tetrapods and embankment in beautiful patterns. Then there is picturesque Gateway of India looking hazy in the mist of water and boats standing near the Gateway with rain beating the sea water.

gateway

If you are an outsider, then you will be intimidated by the rains and rains can harass. The rains usually are accompanied by strong winds which throw your umbrella heltor skeltor. If you happen to be at a railway station, you will see the sea of umbrellas jostling each other. Clothes are drenched with water.

Worli Seaface faces straight across the Arabian Sea, with no land between it and Oman. Rows of bungalows and expensive apartments overlook the sea. In the late afternoons, this is a place for daydreamers. The sun is coming down and the day looks as if it is just beginning, as people take their evening walks and rendezvous with friends. There are amusement rides for children, streetside eateries for teenagers, and benches for seniors. During the monsoon the most coveted seat is the one right next to the statue of the Common Man the creation of famous cartoonist R K Laxman.

Haji Ali is the popular dargah constructed in memory of the Muslim saint Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The dargah is connected to land by a narrow causeway. Even in the day, the path is submerged in the water during high tide. So in the rains, the journey becomes a project to be attempted with care.

hajiali

The Mumbai monsoon is an experience, but monsoon weather is often unpredictable. What begins as a mild rain may suddenly turn into a heavy downpour. Then it is no longer safe to be near the sea. The tide is strong enough to pull a person into the sea and away from the shore. During the worst weather, a hot, sweet cutting chai and crunchy, salty, home-made bhajias complete the monsoon experience. They are best enjoyed in one’s own home.

During last few years, however, due to building activities, the drainage system has come under a severe pressure. There is flooding, water logging and train disruptions due to submerging of tracks. Life for poor becomes very difficult. With a large population living in the shanties along the train tracks, there are hardly any civic amenities. In fact, during 2005 monsoons, flooded the city, paralyzing it and warning the greedy builders to stop poaching the natural networks of sea drainage.

mumbai_deluge

We were living in a place called Panvel when the 2005 flood strike the Mumbai and Panvel. Panvel is on the way to Pune and Goa from Mumbai. It is in the Konkan region and every year experiences strong rains. Near by Panvel is a dam which overflowed and its gates were opened causing a flash flood in Panvel and near by areas. We are witness to the harrowing experience people underwent. The experience is described in Floods in Panvel.

Mccluskieganj-Little London in India

Mccluskieganj is a village in the Jharkhand. It is situated about 40 miles north-west from state capital Ranchi. It was established by Timothy McCluskie on the 10,000 acres of land he got from Ratu Maharaj who was local ruler. He wanted to establish a place where  Anglo Indians could live together.

McCluskie was a property dealer based in Calcutta. He used to visit some villages in the area for hunting, and even built a hutment at a place called Harhu. His friend PP Sahib worked as the manager of Ratu Maharaja‘s estate. And it was PP, who convinced the maharaja to lease out the land to McCluskie.

So, in 1933, Colonisation Society of India Limited was formed and the maharaja signed an agreement with it.

It was decided that the Anglo-Indians could build their settlement in nine villages on land not occupied by the original rahiyats (tenants) of those villages. It was also agreed that the settlers would not be allowed to acquire the rivers and the hills.

The Colonisation Society acquired 10,000 acres of land spread across the villages of Harhu, Duli, Ramdagga, Konka, Lapra, Hesalong, Mayapur, Mohulia and Baseria. The society was registered as a company and started selling shares to the Anglo-Indians who wished to settle at the new colony.

It all started off well. Thousands of shares were sold and around 350 families came to settle down. The Anglo-Indians had dreamt of founding a city here, a homeland of their own. It was a Utopia, the dream of a visionary — a dream that never came true.

Today, McCluskieganj is just a rundown little village, a ghost from the past. Past glory is over. The dream is gone. Of the 350 Anglo-Indian families which settled here in the 1930s, only about 23 are left. It’s a place where — like many other Jharkhand villages — the Maoists rule the roost; where venturing out after sundown is not really safe. People here have got used to the sounds of country bombs and bullets.

Harappa Culture Continued

In the last post on Harappa Culture we described some features of the civilization. Science and intuition of some extraordinary men have enabled us to understand the Harappa Culture and its people.

English: Harappa Pakistan Indus Valley Civiliz...

As mentioned the cities streets were straight and very broad. Then as usual there were side streets running into the houses. Houses were in general quite large and built on a uniform pattern. There was a large courtyard and on its three sides were rooms and kitchen. Courtyard opened on fourth side to the street. Thus the windows opened against the walls of the houses on the opposite side houses presenting a monotonous vista. There were baths without showers. People took bath standing pouring pitchers of water on the them as we still to today.

Drainage system was the most important innovation of these people and emphasized once again the desire for cleanliness. There were drains running from houses to the bigger drains running on the sides of the main streets.

There were bigger public bath tanks. The bottom was covered on stones and sealed with bitumen. On one side there was a drain opening for draining off the water during cleaning operations. There were steps leading to the water and people bathed on the lowest steps. There were rooms along the periphery of the baths. This indicates that these baths might have been used for religious ceremonies and rooms were where priests lived.

There were granaries for storing the agricultural produce. Rows of quarters have been found near these granaries indicating that these were living places for the labors who pounded the harvest and worked the crops. One granary of the size 150X200feet discovered at Harappa stood on a high platform to protect it from inundation during flood days. It is divided into many storage blocks of 50X20 feet size to store corn.

The main crops were wheat, barley and sesamum, the latter still an important edible seed for extraction of edible oil. Many domesticated animals were buffaloes, goats, sheep, pigs asses, dogs and fowls. Although it is doubtful that horse was a domestic animal but few teeth of horse had been found in Baluchistan‘s Rana Gundai indicating that nomadic migrants from West began roaming the area. Bullocks were probably the beasts of burden.

On the basis of thriving agricultural economy these people built their rather unimaginative but comfortable civilization. They lived in good palatial houses. There was a well organized trade. They traded with village cultures of Baluchistan which were their North-Western neighbors. But their precious metals came from distant places. They imported conch shells from Saurashtra, silver, turquoise and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and Persia and Jade from central Asia.

We shall continue the story………..

Lascars: Indian Sailors on European Ships

Lascars were sailors on the European ships mostly on the British ships when the European powers were locked in great tussle for taking control of the routes and spices found in India. The British finally ousted all others and took control of India, first as East India Company and from 1857’s mutiny onwards for almost 100 years as British India Empire.

The term “Lascar” is derived from Persian word “Lashkar” which means army or a group of soldiers. They worked on the foreign ships under Lascar agreement which gave the owners more powers under which lascars could be shifted from one ship to another and also to work continuously on a single ship.

Lascars were mostly drawn from Silchar in Bengal, Goa and Gujarat coastal areas. The number of Lascars increased sharply on the ships because of their being better adaptability and sturdiness than their European counterparts. So much so that the British Government was alarmed and passed a law according to which a minimum of 75% crew should be whites.

Many of these Lascars settled in England where they intermarried white women despite the scorn shown by many British people. Many of them went out of job and became very poor and lived in squalid conditions.

The ranks of Lascars were different from their counterpart Europeans. For example equivalent of Bosun on the deck was Serang in Lascars, quartermaster’s equivalent was seacunny,  carpenter was mistree, Lascar cook was called Bhandari. Over the years, Lascars developed a unique language of their own.

Lascar’s life has been described most elaborately  by the writer Amitav Ghosh in his great novel “The sea of poppies”.