Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Marriageability : A dusky bubbly Bong gal's diary

Hi all !! I am an average looking, dusky, "well-fed" Bengali girl in my late 20s with "no" flat stomach and very little thigh gap. I am not complaining guys! Rather I am thankful to God for giving me a "better than average" central nervous system that enabled me to become a good academician. My vital organs like the brain and the heart confuse me a lot and so I have handed over the task of finding the "right" man for me to my parents. So, like many other traditional higher middle-class Bengali families, my parents have engaged themselves  to "arrange" "marriage" for me. They are, indeed, quite satisfied with the job as they were afraid, in the past, of me getting married to a "sabziwala" !
"Wanted a fair, slim, beautiful bride " - the most common tag-line of almost all matrimonial columns asking for brides. Ahh! I dont fit in there! It is much easier to qualify a national-level exam! I really dont want to get thin for someone unless I am sick. All the more, I cant change my skin color ! Isn't it childish to blame my parents from whom I have got the phenotype? Mom looks naturally worried. No child is ugly to his/her parents. Don't you think likewise if you are a parent of a dusky boy or gal ?
I think that there are very few good men on the earth who think "rational'. Most of them are stuck in between their imaginations and realities. They woo Kajol and want Katrinas in their lives. It is also an important thing for some Indian men to introduce their "pretty" "presentable" wives to their office colleagues. And education does matter if a girl earns a good out of it. I have even heard a boy's father asking my mom, "how many bucks does your girl earn?" Many people here imitate the Westerners aimlessly. They spend money on "fairness" creams and potions but do not ever wonder why the western people are eager to get tanned ! Even the voluptous Vidya is unable to create an irreversible impact and Sunny Leone remains their "dark fantasy".
I thank my mom for asking a priceless question to a boy's father : "will you tell your boy to divorce if my daughter grows healthy by your family's relentless care after being married to your boy?" Well mom, some people get silly issues to get separated that are beyond your assumptions. Finally, I like to stay positive and wait for a "WISE" man with a big .................. HEART. :-D

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Day At The Holy Ganges...

What can be a better choice of spending a weekend day if the Ganges flows nearby? I always prioritize upon exploring the surroundings of the place where I live in including its ecological & cultural aspects. Also, I shall suggest you people to do the same rather than visiting far-off places.
          It was 12th August (2012),in a weekend when I visited one of the “anonymous” ghats of the Ganges at my place, Batanagar (about 19 kms from Central Kolkata, West Bengal). The weather was partly cloudy and humid. A brick-made staircase made its way into the holy waters. Presence of less moss indicated that the ghat was regularly utilized by the locals for their daily activities like bathing, washing and other domestic purposes. I noticed three young guys with their fishing lines at the river bank, nearer to the ghat. Out of curiousity, I asked them, “Ki machch paao? (What fish do you get?)” They told that they were mainly interested in hunting for “Chingri machch” (Bengali meaning close to “shell-fish”) or prawns. Fishing has been one of my favorite hobbies and I made up my mind to put my rusted fish-hook to use next week.
A view of Ganges river at Batanagar,Kolkata

A Ganges Ghat


           There was low tide and the muddy stairs which were immersed deep slowly got visible as the water receded. Clusters of Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) were found floating far in the river water. Fresh, “clean” air was all around. The river banks were rich in silt & clay. Different kinds of macrophytes were abundant. The bank close to the ghat was dotted with two distinctly different crab species, namely bigger sesarmid crabs and smaller ghost crabs. Sesarmid crabs occupied the cracks and crevices of an adjacent brick-wall associated with the ghat away from water whereas the ghost crabs wandered merrily on the water-soaked mud-flats. Occupying different niches, they were engaged in their own activities like feeding, territorial & ritual fighting.

A Sesarmid crab
A Ghost crab
A traditional place of worship involving a massive Indian Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis L.) caught my attention. The tree was old and had dropped its huge props wherever possible for support. The base of the tree was covered in concrete without harming it. The locals worshipped the tree & protected it for many years. Few women gathered with their offerings to God. An old woman said, “Let the Goddess know your wishes, she will get your desires fulfilled.” A cemented structure meant for Pujas was shining like silver. I got close and found surprisingly numerous one-rupee coins embedded deep into the cemented surface forming specific designs. A priest said, “Many people come and dedicate these coins to God. The summed money is used in maintenance of the place while the excess of those coins are used in this bedi (the structure on which Puja takes place).”There was an aroma of incense sticks and sweet-scented flowers that added to the holy ambience. By detailed observation, the big stout trunk was a home for thousands of invertebrates including diverse ant species & vertebrates like birds, rodents, bats & reptiles. Figs also formed a major perennial component of diet of many animals & birds. It was really good to see how a keystone plant species with its associated fauna was being conserved by religious sentiments. The cool shade provided by its canopy and the calm atmosphere was soothing enough to make you spent hours at that place.
The traditional place of worship

The Deity

The Props

A woman with her offerings

Sculptured with one-rupee coins

          Altogether, it was a different day for me, rejuvenating my mind, body and soul.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Palamau Story: Day 3...

It was again a cold foggy morning..around 4:30 a.m. The birds were chirping endlessly and we were all set for our first elephant-ride. Anarkali was waiting for us. I found the elephant-ride to be one of the most comfortable rides on earth (if you donot have slipped discs!) but at the same time it was lazy and sleepy. Above all, as soon as I made myself comfortable on Anarkali’s back, I felt almost like a “Maharani”!
:-) There was a touch of royalty.
The routes for elephant rides were completely different from that of jeep-routes. I must say they were wilder! As we started off, Anarkali was moving with a “rock the cradle” rhythm, breaking all the tree branches in her way with her mighty trunk, following Mahaut’s instructions. The Mahaut was tapping his feet behind her ears, uttering specific words. She picked them up fast and moved accordingly. We kept on looking thoroughly around us. The forest was denser and greener. I was screening the tree branches as Forest Uncle told me to remain cautious about the presence of leopards. The aroma of leaves of a diverse vegetation was soothing and refreshing. The path was evidently trodden only by these giants. We finally reached at the base of a stony hill. A stream was flowing nearby silently and its water was crystal-clear and sparkling like jewels with the first rays of the sun. As I was not expecting Anarkali to climb up, she forwarded her feet. O my God! It was quite a steep slope and we all got scared. The Mahaut said seriously, “hold on tightly!” I whispered, “God, I wanna see more in life..hope this is not the end..” Anarkali was very flexible and cautious and took us to a natural stony cave. The Mahaut said, “it is the tiger’s den”. Suddenly, a troupe of langurs started shouting..”The tiger may be nearby..the langurs are giving alarm calls”, we were informed. Anarkali was made to stand there for few minutes stealthily but she behaved to be cool and calm eating away the leaves of a tree close to her. The langurs stopped calling within minutes indicating “the course is clear”. Though we considered ourselves to be unfortunate of not having the king’s glimpse but I loved every moment of anxiousness and fear as we waited for his arrival with baited breath. The only sounds I heard at that time were “Lubb..Dupp” :-)

I can describe it as a “happy ride” in few words. We were going to stay at the tourist lodge of the Forest Department that day. We took few of the necessities from Naihar, had awesome bath in the purest warm waters and were extremely hungry. Viru, the care-taker cum cook of the lodge, surprised us with yummy chicken curry made from ‘desi murga’ brought from the nearby village. Not a single rice grain was left on my plate! Meri tummy khush huyi.. :-) (Hope the ‘Hindlish’ was right.)
After a tasty meal, I sat on one of the chairs at the verandah and was getting warmed up in the afternoon sun. A herd of spotted deer was about thirty feet away down the slope. I found them quite acclimatized with human presence. They were least bothered about me and carried out their activities normally. Many of them were busy in salt replenishment at the salt-licks. Two males were testing their strengths after sharpening their antlers against tree trunks. Another group of three to four were standing beneath a big tree, all of them were staring upwards (seemed like they were watching an interesting soap opera!). I kept on wondering what could be up there on the tree. All of a sudden, the tree shook vigorously and few broken branches full of tender leaves fell from it. The deer-group started munching. ‘Patience’ was the key word that I remembered (Biswanath’s first lessons) every time when I got impatient. Few minutes later, I discovered to my utter surprise, that there was a troupe of langurs who were helping them out by breaking off the branches and throwing them down as the upper tree branches were inaccessible for the deer. Thus, I summed up two significant roles of langurs in the survival of the deer-race: giving alarm calls when a predator is nearby and providing them with food when needed. The harmonious interaction between these two species was a delightful sight.
As I became a little thoughtful about it, I heard an intermittent barking sound. Looking around, there was no dog nearby! After sometime, Viru knocked to come in to serve tea. When asked, he said, “Those are the barking deer (Indian Muntjac), Munni. They all remain together and move together for safety while foraging. They bark during fights and when they sense a predator.” Ahh! Deer that almost bark like dogs! Viru added, “The jeep for your jungle-safari is almost ready. The last trip is around 4:30 p.m. It will be dark and cold by the time you return.”

Get, set, go..That was our last trip to the jungle.

The sun was looking like egg-yolk in the plate of sky; its rays were making the best of their efforts to reach the ground through the gaps of sal forests. A jeep was returning from its trip and stopped by our side. The driver told, “do number mein haati mila aaj” (“we saw elephants in No.2”). No.2 referred to one of the road branches that I clarified later. “Haati!!!”..My eyes sparkled with joy.. :-) Mom was getting hinted about the budding ‘wildlife lover’ inside me and smiled. The afternoon breeze was like a soothing balm. I still have the smell of those woods..it was heavenly. Our driver, being informed, was driving stealthily. As I was looking at the anonymous white flowers in the bushes by the side, the jeep stopped suddenly. My head made its way to the front-glass of the jeep and my eyes startled at what I saw. A massive lone tusker stood blocking the jeep route. What a magnificent sight! But the male elephant didn’t seem to be alone as we felt movements and rumbling trumpets in the bamboo bushes on both sides. Our driver was quite nervous and was afraid to put off the engine. “In case of an engine failure, we will be smashed by these giants”, he said. But I felt the elephants getting more alarmed by our presence because of the jeep sounds. Biswanath told Zakir (the driver’s name), “engine bandh karo..hum sab abhi mare jayenge”..Seemed like we were stuck in the middle…there were two elephant groups on either sides in the bamboo bushes with the guarding leader standing in front of us. As those big fellows were having feast, we heard the sounds of breaking bamboo stems and felt the vibrations reaching all our senses. There was feeble light and Papa was about to click the tusker. Biswanath told, “Dada, aap flash use na kare to achha hoga.” Thinking about the impending danger, papa clicked without the flash. We stood still for about thirty minutes when the male finally went into the forest clearing our way.

I was so overwhelmed that I remained occupied with the thoughts quite for sometime. The sun was about to set. There were chirps all around as the birds were returning their homes too. On our way back, I suddenly saw a deep brown shadow at the distance in the woods. “I think there is something out there,” I said. The driver slowed down. To my utter surprise, it was a massive Indian Bison or Gaur (locally they called it a ‘bison’) !! As the temperatures went down, it was already cold. Vapors were being emitted along with loads of mucous from its nostrils.. :-) Its fur-coat was shining and the horns were quite thick with sharp ends. Leaving the gaur undisturbed, we headed back. God heard me at last. The last trip strengthened my jungle-love..which grew stronger and stronger..with each passing day of my life..

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Palamau Story: Day 2..

I shall never grow up !! This would have been the exact childish way of describing a memorable trip if i had penned down in 1997..! I want to represent the child very much, who had seen, smelt and felt nature for the first time and i cant help if you people get bored..
With the plans of staying at the lodge tossing in heads, we prepared ourselves for our first jungle trip. It was 4:45 A.M. We waited for the gate to be opened up. I still remember the design of the gate - a colourful iron plate shaped in the form of two gaurs having a fight ! It was cold but less humid..flooded with songs of birds..known and unknown. We had Biswanath as our guide. He was a short, dark and shy guy with a muffler around his head and neck. The forest official, whom we got introduced on our first day, allowed our jeep into the forest after making some official notes. I used to call him "Forest Uncle".. Infact, I was the happiest person when the wheels rolled into the forest. It was a kachcha road of red loamy soil with tall grasses growing in between the wheel trails. I started off with a casual conversation with Biswanath and within minutes, he felt quite comfortable in our company. Biswanath advised me how to become a good wildlife watcher. "You have to be silent, patient but have to keep all your senses active. You may also have to be agile under necessary circumstances," he said. I listened to him like his most obedient student.
The jeep was only covered on top to give the visitors a wide view of forests around. We came across an open lush-green grassland dotted with few unidentified trees with good canopies. Then we drove along a big water-hole. Suddenly, Biswanath instructed the driver to pause. I peeped out as much as i could in curiousity but was not allowed to leave the jeep. There were fresh footprints of elephants along with their dung beside the pool. Biswanath, with his expertise, examined the dung and informed us that the big tuskers had left few minutes ago after quenching their thirst. I was a bit sad but still never less excited. So, with big hopes, we again started off. There were massive sal trees on both sides and a layer of fog floated few feet above the ground. During my careful screening, i noticed numerous heaps of soil, about 3-4 feet high on the ground, in between the tree trunks. It seemed like some kids playfully scooped out and piled up soil in the form of cones. Biswanath quickly understood my confusion and exclaimed, "these are the termite mounds!"
The stretches of sal disappeared almost abruptly as we came to a place full of bamboos on both sides. I had questions in my inexperienced young mind about this sudden change of composition of forest but the bamboos did not look like artificial plantations. At this spot, the ground was distinctly elevated and the road looked slender flanked by two hills. The driver said, "these tender bamboo leaves form a favourite part in the elephants' diet." In this way, while enriching ourselves, we moved on stealthily with chirps of birds ringing in our ears and reached a tall watch-tower beside another water-pool. The tower was in concrete. The road, leading to the tower, had dense bushes and shrubs and according to our Biswanathji, they made excellent hide-outs for the "King of the Jungle". So we were escorted with utmost caution and care to the tower-top. It was a breath-taking bird's eye view of the forest ! Winter dictated the trees either to shed off their leaves or turn yellow. The sun's first rays lit up the alternating green and yellow patches of the forest and flocks of parakeets, bathed in sunlight, flew above the forest, announcing the beginning of just another day.. There was a mixture of sounds with a grave silence underneath. We waited for about half an hour at the tower but there was no luck! Finally, conserving and gathering more of our patience and inhaling the pure breeze, we decided to return. Just opposite to the gate, there was "Chacha's dukaan". At the shop, there was a big kadai of buffalo's milk simmering and thickening with time. Chacha, a Muslim old man, used to prepare the yummiest tea (the best tea i ever had till now!) with thickened milk from his kadai and a pinch of elaichi. The tea, when served, had the milk casein floating atop. Biswanath screamed from a distance, "Paanch tthho chaayein, Chacha...!" He was a different man after the trip..

I managed myself to sit on a slender wooden bench and cherished the tea..All of a sudden, trumpets were heard from a distance..We discovered two elephants enjoying a banana treat near the government tourist lodge..I ran breathlessly towards them to have a closer look.. The Mahaut or elephant keeper was standing beside them. I was informed that the elephants were trained to give rides to the visitors inside the forest.."Do they have names?", i asked. The Mahaut replied, "Yes, one is named Juhi and the other one is Anarkali". Though i had seen elephants at the zoo before, but they were a special sight for me..Their health inferred that they were well-fed and well-kept.They shook their heads and ears and it seemed they were trying to interact with me in their own language. Papa followed me to the spot. I asked, "Can we go for an elephant-ride tomorrow in the earliest hour?"Papa agreed. Mom has been my darling always and she supported too.
In the afternoon after lunch , i was sitting in the hotel veranda, bathed in warm sunlight. A  group of black ants was busy in carrying off a dead millipede to their nest - a feast indeed. A tailor bird was feeding its nestlings. Two squirrels were playing hide-and-seek on the branches of a nearby tree. Bees buzzed from flower to flower. In the meantime, I got attracted to a big black spider with great legs who had just finished off building its web. It was exceptionally busy in keeping its web tidy. With a desire to see its actions, i intentionally threw a small piece of paper into its web. The spider became alert by its vibration and rushed to explore if it was edible. But, after a thorough examination, it concluded the paper piece to be a "waste" on its web and dropped it finally by unwinding. Its reaction reminded me of hardship of cleaning my own room and throwing off unwanted things into the dustbin. There was also a small pool in the garden with floating water-lilies and a troupe of langurs came from nowhere to drink from it. Thus, it was an active afternoon where I discovered myself to be the only idle organism but a very patient observer! Biswanath's teaching was, to some extent, getting fruitful..! Yes, i am proudly announcing it...
Got some good news in the evening..Papa had booked a room at the government tourist lodge for the next day. We decided to go for an elephant ride in the morning and a jungle trip by jeep in the evening. Since we were not allowed to leave the hotel premises after 10 P.M. for security reasons, we decided to finish off our dinner fast and go for a walk along the road parallel to the forest area. My mom stayed at the hotel room. Papa and me, feeling ourselves to be brave-hearts, went for a night-walk with a not-so-efficient torch. Naihar and the forest were separated by a metallic road followed by a wide trench. Just after five or six steps we flashed the torch at the forest area. About a fifty eyes sparkled all at once!! "Papa, it will be good if they are deers and not dhols (wild dogs) !", i said in a low voice. Our rods adjusted to the dark and cons to the torchlight and finally found the eyes to belong to a herd of spotted deer foraging. Their coats were shining with health and the males displayed the finest of horns! Turning the torch towards our way covered by tall trees on both sides, we proceeded further. I was really feeling scared for the first time. My father was afraid too but pretended to be fine. It was too cold , dark and foggy.. My nose freezed almost and became numb..Hoots of an owl added to the uncanniness of the then atmosphere. Papa said quite confidently, "the deers are foraging peacefully..so there are less chances of presence of a tiger over here". I replied in offense, "there are lots of tiger-food over here.. a tiger may be stalking in ambush"..Both of us stopped our conversation when our torch suddenly started winking. "Papa.. i dont think it's safe to proceed..", i uttered in a trembling voice. Papa quickly replied, "exactly!" and we both turned back together..At that point of time, we felt some movements in the dry leaves beside the road..and before further exploring it to be a snake or whatever, we both ran breathlessly towards the hotel gate...What a brillant night-walk! We were, truly, courageous!

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Palamau Story : Day 1..

It was in December, 1997 when i discovered my passion for wildlife...I was in the seventh standard in school. My papa is totally aware of my zoophilia since childhood and arranged for a trip to the Palamau Reserve, now in Jharkhand. We boarded the Shaktipunj Express and reached our destination around 4-30 A.M. The morning was chilled and so foggy that i could only see what's in front of me upto 2-3 feet. A man waved his hand with a torch and asked papa, "Kya aap Betla jaaoge?" My papa agreed and we started off in a jeep..The road was dark..the headlights of the jeep struggled their way through it..All of a sudden, two eyes sparkled at a distance..the driver applied brakes..i asked, "Is that a deer?"..The driver smiled and replied, "naa Munni, ek gaai thaa"..The road was packed with trees on both sides and it was too dark to explore..I was tired by the journey and dozed off on mom's lap..When i woke up finally, i found myself in a well-decorated room of Naihar..it was 10 A.M. by the clock..I was curious and went to the veranda...O My God! It was like heaven..a very colourful garden with the rarest of flowers in bloom..and a flock of jungle warblers in their business..I had a breakfast and started walking with papa towards the point of entry into the forest.We got introduced to a forest official in duty and after knowing about my love for wildlife, he advised me for a jungle trip in the earliest hour of the day as greater chances of viewing wildlife lies in the early morning..A government tourist lodge on a tilla beside the forest-gate caught our attention and we went there to have a look..A plate displayed, "Last tiger seen by : Vikram Kumar on 24.11.1997". I was overwhelmed because the sight of a tiger would be a treasure of a lifetime. A care-taker approached and we expressed our interest to see the rooms for staying though we already booked rooms in our current hotel.One room was enough for three but the lights were inadequate..Papa was excited and said, "This will add to the awesome feeling of staying in the wild!!" The balcony protruded into the jungle at the back..and we found some salt-licks tied to the trees there. The care-taker informed,"Yahan hiran aataa hain".. Hearing this, there was a sparkle of happiness in my eyes as i was feeling the presence of wildlife with all my senses for the first time..