Wednesday, March 31, 2010

White Breasted Kingfisher

Last week, I left home to pick Samhith up from school, and there, on a tree right in front of me, was a kingfisher! I fumbled for my camera, only to realise that I had left it behind! For the rest of the week, I berated myself for my stupidity, and took to carrying my camera everywhere, but it was too late - not a bird turned up to be photographed!

Finally, lady luck smiled at me, and this White Breasted Kingfisher turned up right opposite my house and sat still long enough for me to take a few pics... I wondered if I should put up just one, but then gave in to temptation and decided to put up all three....

So, now its up to you to tell me which one you like best!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Afsaneh: Bai se Bioscope Tak

Given a choice between a movie and a play, I would choose a play any day...... But ask me how many plays I have seen, and the answer is - negligible! There are many reasons, mostly to do with distance and timing, and in the past, the cost of the whole outing....But today, the primary reason is Samhith. I would love to take him along to plays, but for one thing, he does not have the patience to sit still for an hour (he can't even do that for a movie!) but more importantly, given the time plays are usually put up,and the distance from our place, it totally throws him out of gear, and that leads to problems for me.

However, all of a sudden, Shankar insisted that we go to see a play at the Ravindra Natya Mandir, and after a bit of argument, both, Samhith and I gave in..... Off we went to see Akvarious Productions' 'Afsaneh : Bai se Bioscope tak', staged as part of the Vinod Doshi Theatre Festival.

The play is actually a dance drama about the nautanki and baithak cultures, portrayed as reminiscences by the women who shaped them - Gulab Bai and Beni Bai.  Interspersed with music and dance in the Kathak style, the play talks about the highlights of the days when these artists were much in demand, and also of how the Bioscope, or the Cinema eventually replaced them. However, the play ends on a positive note, with the artists watching a film for the very first time, and feeling that the arts might have changed their forms, but that the arts themselves would live on forever, and that is what would eventually matter.

Seeing  a play after as long as I have, I am not competent enough to judge it, or even write a proper review, but I really enjoyed it...... especially since Samhith slept off within a few minutes of the lights being turned off! Having read a lot about things such as nautankis and baithaks, there were no surprises for me in the play. Still, I was moved by the scene of a young girl, a dancer in a group of wandering dramatists, doing her bit for the independence movement by inciting people against the British, going to the extent of slapping an officer as part of an act! That the act actually incited people to attack an officer just shows how much of an influence these dancing girls had! 

At the same time, it was a sad sight to see the plight of the same young girl, receiving so much applause and appreciation, yet looking just for a normal, day to day life with her husband and children. I also loved the portrayal of the 'other' women in these cases - the wives!  The director has beautifully depicted both, the jealous wife, who can't bear to see her husband go to another woman, but who isn't above warning her  rival that her husband has strayed yet again,  and also the one who comes to her rival asking her to please her husband!

The language was another thing I loved, especially the shifting between Hindi and Urdu..... The dialogues were great, and their rendering even more so....

While all the actors have done a wonderful job, due credit must go to the musicians, for it is the music and the songs which make the narrative as interesting as it is. 

It was a truly enjoyable experience, one which makes me want to take Samhith along to more plays, in the hope that, in time, he will agree with me and prefer plays to the inane movies one gets to see these days.....

Having said all that about the play, there is just one thing to add.... I just wish that the play had started on time..... There seemed to be some problem, and the play started almost half an hour late, with no explanations whatsoever. Punctuality is something Indians are not known for, but something I would expect at least from playwrights and dramatists of this calibre..... 

All photos courtesy Akvarious Productions Website
For more details about Akvarious Productions and their other projects, go to their website.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Skywatch Friday - Mountains on my mind...

Earth, Water, Sky and Mountains......... at Karjat just on the outskirts of Mumbai.....

Mountains occupy my thoughts as I head towards the mountains... for a short holiday. I am off to Delhi today and onwards to Binsar as Samhith's school closes this year. We have a week before school resumes for the new term, and we plan to make the most of it....  

I shall not be able to access my mails for a week... but please do leave your comments on this as well as the other blogs I have scheduled... I shall certainly reply as soon as I get back!!

For more skies around the world, go to SkyWatch Friday

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Handkerchief For Peace

Friday marked the end of the exams and we all heaved a sigh of relief! (not that we had worked too hard for the exam, but the fact that it was over was enough for us to rejoice...). The school diary came back full with instructions for the coming week - the last week of the current academic year. We have one week of freedom before we begin the new year...Samhith will go proudly to the second standard...after a much awaited holiday.. But more of that later....

Let me tell you about what marked a beginning of Samhith's free time..... he made a handkerchief for peace! Confused????? To read more about Samhith's handkerchief for Peace, click here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tulika Blogathon 2 - Water

Tulika’s blogathons are giving me lots of things to write about, more importantly, topics which I relate to. This week’s topic is their book ‘Water Stories from around the world’, launched just recently. Take a look at the slideshow about the book. The topic triggered so many things, I just had to write about it at once.

Warning! This is going to be one long post, with no photographs at all! these are a compilation of my thoughts at the moment, not all related to the book, but to water, in general, a topic which is very much at the forefront of all my thoughts these days…….

When we first came to Bombay in 1980, it was a wonder to see water flowing 24 hours a day, since we came from Delhi, where water cuts were a regular feature, and something we were used to. In no time at all, we were so used to the constant water supply that if the water did stop, all we did was rush to call the watchman, and ask what the problem was. Usually it turned out to be something connected to the pump, which was quickly rectified, and we would be back with our uninterrupted water supply. Those days, Mumbai monsoon meant 4 months of constant, pouring rain, but no holidays. In fact, we looked forward to wading through knee-deep water on our way to school. It also meant a visit to the Powai Lake when it overflowed – a beautiful sight etched on my mind forever – the excess water flowing in cascades, people from all corners of Bombay reveling in the sight, after all, there were no water parks in those days. The Powai lake overflowing was the nearest we came to a waterfall or a water park.

Now fast forward to twenty years down the line, when the rainfall has decreased considerably – yet the city floods at the slightest shower, and everything comes to a halt, including offices and educational institutions, something unimaginable for us! Powai lake no longer overflows, and when it does, there are few who visit it – there are so many water parks now where the same thrill can be had any time of the year, no matter what the season! As to the water supply, the less said the better! We are among the lucky ones who still receive water 24 hours a day. And even as I write that, I wonder how long this state of affairs will last! Most areas already see a water cut as well an electricity cut, and things only seem to be getting worse.

Just last week alone, some of the most eye-catching articles in the newspaper have been related to the acute water shortage faced by the city – The first topic that caught my attention was that a pipeline had burst in Bhiwandi. The pipeline in concern was an ancient one, at least 70 years old, laid by the British to supply water from the Tansa Lake to Mumbai. One of the oldest pipelines in the city, this also was one which supplied the most water to our island city. We were not directly affected by this leak, since we get water from another pipeline, but our concern increased when the same paper reported the next day that another leak had appeared in the same line after the first one had been repaired! And these are not isolated incidents. For the last few months, there have been so many reports of leaking pipelines that it sometimes seems a wonder that we receive any water at all! To add to this are the reports of water theft and illegal bore wells, one of which has actually resulted in the whole area getting flooded, and water supply being cut off for a week. The man responsible for this was arrested and fined a huge amount running into lakhs, and now feels sorry for his act, says the paper.

The water shortage has certainly made more people realize the importance of water conservation. Whether they do anything to conserve water, is another matter entirely! In my son’s school, for instance, they have been trying to make the kids more aware of the problem. Swimming classes, for example, have been seriously curtailed, thanks to the municipal corporation’s request to close down the pool! Of course, the school doesn’t have its own pool, so it was the gymkhana with whom they have an arrangement who did the needful, but the teachers explained to the kids that they would have no swimming classes since there was a shortage of water. My son came home bursting with the news and curious about why people were cutting down trees, when they knew that no trees meant no rain, which meant no water! I could only agree with him that the people who cut down trees were really foolish! Another change this year was Holi – a much awaited festival, which was celebrated in a dry manner, much to my happiness. They were originally planning only to play with flower petals, but gave in to the kids’ demands, and played with organic colours too, but stayed away from water. Even at the school sports day, they performed a short skit describing the water shortage, and means to combat it, and asked the kids and their parents to take an oath that they would try to conserve water at home.

Much as I appreciate these ideas and attempts to educate people, I can’t help feeling that these things just remain on the surface, and nothing much comes out of it. There are few people who actually go home and put them to use, even less who strongly feel the need to take active steps to make a point!

In such a situation, it was a pleasure to read a news item today in our local paper – the Chembur-Ghatkopar Plus, about a group of school kids who took steps to reduce the wastage of water in their school. All the kids did was to calculate the quantity of water being wasted everyday, just from leaking taps in their school, and how they managed to convince the school to change the taps. A small step indeed, but just read the article to see how much water was saved by this small action!

I had logged on to link to the article through my blog, when I noticed Tulika’s second edition of the blogathon, with water stories as the topic. It seemed to be such a godsend, that I immediately decided to sit and write this piece down!

This brings me to the book itself – ‘Water Stories from around the world’. The book comes at the correct time, for all over India, people are facing acute water shortage, and something needs to be done soon. Talking about it serves little purpose except sharing ideas and popularizing concepts, but what is needed is action – small things like shutting the taps and using less water wherever possible. How useful the book will be, is something that remains to be seen. But ‘stories about water, from all over the world’ sounds extremely interesting. As to the questions the book promises to answer, I especially look forward to the part relating to ‘Who owns water?” When states fight for water, kids really need to understand that water belongs to one and all, and also no one, in a way….. Ever since the book has been launched, I have been wondering about the stories… maybe the book will answer many of the questions my son asks, but which I am unable to answer satisfactorily. It is certainly a book I am looking forward to reading!

As I mentioned right at the beginning, this has been a really long post, and I hope it has been engaging enough for some of you to have come so far…… I have written as the thoughts came into my mind, not necessarily connected to the book or to the topics covered in it….I can go on forever, writing about the situation of our rivers, which I love, but hate to see the mess we are making of them, of the beautiful lakes in the place I call home, most of which are just stagnant pools today..... the topics which peeve me are endless, but this post has to have an end, so I choose to end it right now..... Maybe I should write another post about it sometime... Meanwhile, if you have come so far, please do leave your comments and tell me what you think….

P.S. Just saw this on the internet today.... since it is related to the topic at hand, I just thought it would be apt to feature it here....

The April issue of National Geographic is FREE (for 2 weeks) in honour of World Water day. Click on the link below to download your free copy.... its fantastic!!!!! You have to register for this, but it takes barely a minute, so its really worth it!!!
So, here is the link :

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wishing for rain..... Skywatch Friday

Summer's here in no uncertain terms for its just too hot to manage, and the fan is just not enough! I went out to pick Samhith up from school, and the heat was too much to bear... Some people wore sunglasses and sleeveless kurtis, but perspired in the heat... some waited in the comfort of their AC cars,blocking the road and being a nuisance to others..... the kids came out from the cool comfort of the classroom to the glaring midday heat.... happy that the exams were over, but the heat getting to them, tiring them out within minutes......

Faced with such heat, we wished for rain.... hoping for an early and a good monsoon... we are already facing a water shortage this year... and if this heat continues, things can only get worse. In such a scenario, it is difficult to be cheerful and optimistic, so I tried to improve my mood by looking at some of my pics from the monsoon.... Here are a couple of photos taken at Sringeri in August 2009

The clouds make me wish they were right here, right now.... Wonder when I will see them again......


For more skies around the world, go to Skywatch Friday

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Junior Wanderer

Samhith has been taking up quite a lot of space on my blog recently.... After all, my life does revolve around him and his activities.....He is the main reason I am at home and have so much time and matter to blog! Well, of late, I have been feeling that it is time to give him his own space, at least on the WWW and allow him to express himself. As of now, he has the least inclination to write anything himself, but then he is just six and a half, and has just about learnt to write......But he loves seeing his name and his work on my blog, and loves all your comments and encouraging words. He knows most of your names, at least your screen ones, and asks about some of you regularly...... 

 Anyway, I have finally decided to start a separate blog just for him and his doings.... As of now, I shall be doing all the writing, and simply putting up his work...... mostly as an encouragement for his creativity.... and an effort to make him sit in one place for at least a little while....  I have transferred some of my posts about him to the new blog... which is also on blogger, by the way......

The first new post on the blog is up, so please do head over and take a look. He isn't really happy with the title, but we have been unable to think of a better one..... We have thus arrived at a compromise - the title stays till we think of a better one....

So, head over to The Junior Wanderer and take a look. Please do leave your comments, and tell us what you think......

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pictures of 7 Cat Species Found in 1 Forest - A Record

I stumbled across this as I was surfing through the net, aimlessly as always...... and then my eyes fell on this, and I was absolutely stunned!

This article from the National Geographic News tells us of a rare sighting of seven different species of cats - one of which was totally unknown there. But what was really surprising was the location - Assam! Yes,  in our very own country!!!! Hard to believe isn't it, considering the state of our forests?? Maybe everything is not yet lost....Let us salvage what we can while we still have it.

You can read the whole article here.

Meanwhile, I couldn't resist downloading the pics onto my blog..... All the photos belong to Kashmira Kakati, the wildlife biologist whose research led her to this wonderful sighting. Thanks to Kashmira and National Geographic for these wonderful pics..


Leopard Cat

Clouded Leopard

Golden Cat

Jungle Cat


Marbled Cat

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Talking of Languages..

Tulika Books has come out with a blogathon, and here is the first topic……

How different are the written and spoken forms of your first language? If you want children to become familiar with their first language, which form would you look for in children's books - formal or informal? Why?

The minute I read this, I wondered what to write about my mother tongue, which I speak, but barely…. read, just about, and write, not at all…. Contrast this to the fact that I can speak, read and write English, Hindi and Marathi very well, can read and write Sanskrit, and even talk passably good French, in addition to writing and reading well in the language. Add this to the dream I have of learning German some day…. and you will wonder if I ever wanted to learn my mother tongue, which is Tamil.

Growing up in Delhi and Bombay, my mom tried her best to teach me Tamil. My summer vacations were devoted to learning the language with her, and she even brought me loads of books from T.Nagar on our yearly trips, just to tempt me to read, but somehow nothing worked. I picked up the alphabets, and that was just about all I ever learnt. After a few years, seeing my indifference, she gave up, and I must say, I was relieved.

My interest in Tamil re-kindled only with the advent of Sun T.V., by which time I was in college. I struggled to read the names of the films, some of which I enjoyed, and my mom smugly refused to help me out, saying that I had chosen not to learn the language. Well, to cut a long story short, after a lot of trial and error, I managed to recognize enough alphabets to string them together to make sense, but that is all I managed to learn. Today, this helps me read the destinations on buses or boards when I am travelling in Tamilnadu, but no more than that!

It is only off late that I have even become aware of the beauty of Tamil literature, and there are days when I curse myself for not having had the patience to learn the language in spite of a willing teacher, when I picked up foreign languages so quickly. I guess it is never too late, but I hope to learn the language soon, and also teach my son. That brings me to the current topic.

Living in another city, one where we rarely get to hear our mother tongue spoken by others, we speak in such a colloquial way, that it is sometimes difficult to understand the pure language spoken down south. On our annual trips, there are many instances when I actually wonder if we are speaking the same language. Under such circumstances, it is not going to be easy for me to get my son to learn the language. Like me at his age, he is sure to wonder why he should learn the language at all…..

The only solution I can see for the problem are bilingual and audio books, with stories he can relate to…. stories which are simple and easy to understand, but also stories which are unique to the land, which talk of its greatness and importance. Only when kids read local folk tales and historical tales in the same language that they are written, can they appreciate the real beauty of those stories. Of course, this involves some great translation skills, which can make the story come alive in the other language too….. not an easy task, by any means….The language also needs to be more informal so that people like us can relate to them.

Recently, the south-Indian temple in my locality has started Tamil classes for adults and children, which is probably an indication that I am not alone. There are probably many more like me who rue the fact that we are not fluent in our own mother tongue…… This is more than can be said of the days of my childhood, when we were the few who could at least speak the language in spite of having little contact with it. Most of my friends can’t even speak or understand their mother tongues… hopefully things are changing, and for the better. Here’s to hoping for a revival of interest in our regional languages!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Utterly Butterly Amul....

These days, reading the newspaper hardly gives me the pleasure it used to, which is why I barely scan through it as I have my coffee, a habit which continues simply because it is hard to break.....In today's newspaper, there was just one item which captured my interest - here is a link to the same... take a look.

It is an obituary to Eustace Fernandes, the creator of the Amul girl, and words are simply not enough to describe the importance or the beauty of his creation. An ad that started way back in 1966, almost 10 years before I was born, is still going strong enough. I am not qualified to write an obituary for the creative man, but I thought of putting up some of the beautiful hoardings which have brought a smile on my face every time I set eyes on them...

First escalator at Chowpatty seaface, Mumbai

On compulsory sterilisation introduced during Indira Gandhi regime.

Indian Railways introduces cushioned chairs in the first class compartments. 

Proposal for 90% reservation for SSC students admisssion to colleges in Maharashra - June'09 

Amul congratulates the success of the first test-tube baby. 

Tribute on the untimely death of King of Pop - Michael Jackson - June'09 

Inauguration of the Bandra Worli sea link in Mumbai - July'09 

Longest and most spectacular eclipse of the 21st century - July '09 

Growing popularity of Facebook - July'09 

The recent move by a few to divide and create additional states - Dec.'09 

Bill for 33% reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies gets passed by Rajya Sabha- March'10 

If you still haven't had your fill, please click on the link below to go to the Amul site, where they have each and every hoarding put up between 1976 and today.... You won't know how fast the time passes!

Amul Topicals through the years

The Amul Topical Story

Skywatch Friday

Sunset over the concrete jungle of Mumbai

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sunbirds in the garden

Bombay has no winter to speak of. For us, it is winter when there is a slight chill in the air late and night, and early in the morning, and that too, thanks to living in an area full of open spaces and lots of trees. Which is why, I was surprised to notice that most of our regular winged visitors were missing for the past few months!

Finally, with the slight chill too having disappeared, some of the birds are back. A few days back, we noticed that the sunbirds have returned, and yesterday, one of them sat long enough on a branch for me to photograph it... So, here's a Purple rumped Sunbird, and hope more birds return soon.....

Purple Rumped Sunbird

Purple Rumped Sunbird

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A jungle crow in my backyard

Every day, we put out food for the crows and other birds before we begin eating. This has become so much of a habit that the minute we hear a crow sitting and cawing outside our window, Samhith says, "Mamma, haven't you given the crow its food today?"

The crows themselves are bullies and extremely choosy. Not only don't they allow any other birds anywhere near the food till they have their fill, but they don't eat all thats kept for them. Samhith is sometimes less of a problem! For one, the crows want Curd Rice all the time! If there is no curd rice someday, they make so much of a racket that sometimes we talk to them the way we talk to Samhith, and try to explain that we are sorry, but there is no curd rice at present, but we shall give them as soon as we cook! Thank Goodness we have no neighbours on that side, so there are no curious witnesses to this exchange.... otherwise, we would surely be classified as 'weirdos'!  The crows then have to be pacified with rice or something else, or they just keep tapping on the window panes till we do so!!

Now, with such a relationship with the local crows, we have, off late, started noticing individual crows... the one with the high forehead... the one with a short beak.. one with a torn wing...... etc.... you get my drift...

Well, sometime back, we had another visitor - a jungle crow. To those who wonder what I am talking about, apparently, there are two types of crows - the house crow and the jungle crow. While the former have a slightly grey coloured head/neck, the jungle ones are all jet black, all over. This information is thanks to a few birding enthusiasts I know, and also thanks to Salim Ali's bird guide. Well, getting on with the story, I tried to take a photograph of the crow, so that I could confirm this, but was unable to. There seemed to be a number of them around, but just one which came to eat on our window sill. At least, only one at a time.... the house crows converge on our window in a group - sometimes as many as 10 of them!

Yesterday, I was surprised to see our jungle visitor again, this time alone. He seemed unaccompanied by his friends, and after tasting the curd rice we had kept, he simply went to sit on a nearby branch, giving me ample opportunity to take pictures. So, here is the result of my efforts. Well, I did take many photographs, but only this one turned out to be reasonably good enough to be posted.

I hope I have been correct in my identification. All you birding enthusiasts out there, please confirm. And can anyone explain what a jungle crow is doing in the middle of the city??????

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wildlife on Marine Drive

Wildlife? In the midst of the city? I am sure all of you must be wondering what I am talking about. So, read on to see what I noticed last weekend when I spent hours on Marine Drive....

To begin with, I spent quite a lot of time sitting on Marine Drive, thinking about all the kinds of stuff the Forum was bringing up. The sea always has a calming effect on me, and I find myself thinking much straighter. The waves seem to talk to me, and I am at peace with myself and the world. All I usually notice when I am at Marine Drive are the waves and the horizon.... nothing else seems to matter. I usually even discount the scores of people walking, running, jogging, skating, cycling... along the promenade. 

However, this time, having too much time on my hands, I suppose, I started noticing all the kinds of things happening around me. While most of my attention was still riveted by the sea, I noticed a few people walking among the huge boulders and breakers at the sea shore. Curious, I watched them for a while, and only then realised that they were catching fishes and crabs! Only then did I notice that there were so many crabs all over the rocks! There were so many just over a small area that I could see from my place. When I inquired, I was told that these crabs were inedible, and weren't the ones being caught. Those chaps were trying to catch some edible crabs and other marine creatures which made their home along the most expensive area of Bombay!

While I didn't manage to get snaps of the creatures caught by the men,  I did manage to get quite a lot of shots of the crabs there... Take a look, and remember - each pic is of a different one!

On my third day, I was early, and reached the place when the tide was still out... the water was a bit farther than usual, and more of the crabs were on the rocks... And among them were some birds. I think this one is a sandpiper, but am not sure. There were many more such birds, but this was the only one which came close enough for me to take a photograph!

There were also a lot of sea gulls sitting on a rock. I wondered why I hadn't seen them before, and only after a while did I realize that the rock was seen only because the tide was low. As the tide began rising, the birds flew away to settle on a larger boulder a bit further away....

When the tide was fully in, all the seagulls were settled on a boulder too far away for me to get a clear pic. But here is what I could manage. You can just get an idea of the numbers. 


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