Monkey at My Window

Yesterday, the results of the Delhi election were declared. Aam Aadmi Party romped home with a thumping majority.

And this is a piece about monkey business, not politics. (This is a statement of fact. Nothing tongue in cheek).

If so, then why start the piece by talking about politics?

Because monkeys taking over parts of Delhi including Parliament and high government offices is often in the news. And there was a statement made by an AAP MLA that “Monkey problem never became a poll issue”! In spite of that, the issue was serious enough that before the Assembly elections, the Delhi government planned for a census of monkeys in the city, for area-wise identification and tackling of the issue. They have roped in Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the country’s premier research institution on the subject.

So it is not like monkeys and elections don’t have a link. How could I resist the temptation?

monkeyAnyway, to get to the matter on hand. For the last month or so, a group of Rhesus Macaques has been visiting our small office in Bangalore every once in a few days. The first reactions were of course ‘so cute’, and ‘shall we give them biscuits’. But as days went by, and the visits became a regular feature, they became bolder. They sat outside the door and snarled when we went to shoo them away. Several times they entered the office. And a few days ago, one of them snatched a tiffin box, went out, enjoyed the contents, and threw away the box.

The erosion of natural habitats is pushing wildlife including monkeys out of their homes. Where do they go except to cities? And our cities are very conducive for certain species. For instance, in the case of monkeys, our unorganized disposal of food and organic waste, and lack of garbage system lead to plenty of food being available, and they thrive.

 

Many means have been tried to keep monkeys away. In Delhi, Langurs were actually employed by the government to visit offices turn by turn and scare the Rhesus monkeys away, till this was stopped as it raised concerns about cruelty to animals (i.e., the Langurs being put to work). Following this, the government is hiring people who can mimic Langur sounds, and they go around doing this, with some success in keeping Rhesus away. A few days ago, there was a news item that Ahmedabad Airport was deploying a man dressed in a bear costume to keep away monkeys. In Bangalore, vegetable and fruit vendors often have large stuffed tigers on their carts for this purpose. (This is what we are going to try in our office too!).

Delhi has also tried translocating monkeys to forests and protected areas. But that obviously has its limits in how many can be accommodated. Himachal Pradesh has spent large sums on sterilization programs, but experts question the efficacy. Now, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has launched a programme with the help of National Institute of Immunology and Wildlife WII to develop a new immuno-contraception technique which will inject a vaccine to prevent female monkeys from getting pregnant. Some experts feel this is the way forward. But when this will be ready, how it will be deployed at large scale across the country, and whether it will ultimately work at scale are questions that remain.

In the meantime, the fundamental solutions remain the age-old ones: (1) vigorously prevent the destruction of natural areas, forests and habitats, and (2) manage waste better.

Not like we don’t know the answers. But …

-Meena

 

 

Uncle Moosa

When I saw the name Sathyanaryanan Mundayoor on this year’s Padma Shri list, a recognition for playing a ‘seminal role’ in spreading

Uncle Moosa.jpeg
Photo credit: Bapenlu Kri 

education in Arunachal Pradesh, I was delighted. He epitomises for me a true passion for books and reading, and an inspiring story of a lifetime devoted to this mission. I first heard of him and his library mission, over a decade ago, from my old colleague and friend Ambika Aiyadurai. I sent him some of the books that we had developed in CEE, and over the years we corresponded sporadically. I have not yet been able to meet him in person, but truly hope to do so sometime. In the meanwhile I feel that his work needed to be shared. What could be better than a first-hand account from Ambika who has known him and seen his work over the years.

Thank you Ambika for sharing this!

–Mamata

I first heard about Sathyanaryanan Mundayoor, way back in 2006 when I started my research work in Arunachal Pradesh. School teachers, students, engineers, administrators, doctors and local villagers in Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh suggested I meet him. In Lohit and later Anjaw district, where I started my field research, every one fondly spoke of ‘Uncle Moosa’, a name that people of Arunachal had given him. It was only after two years, in 2008, that I had a chance to meet him at Wakro (Lohit district). My accommodation was in the Circuit House, and he had come there to meet someone. With a pleasant smile, a gentle, fragile-looking man greeted me with a ‘namashkaram’. What struck me was his dress. That evening, in the chill of October, all Uncle Moosa had over him was a sweater and shawl, and a cotton veshti. In fact, I have only seen him in a veshti all these years.

Uncle Moosa invited me to visit Bamboosa library the next day. The days were short, so I decided to visit the library at 3 p.m. A group of children was in the library, sitting on a carpet on the floor, reading books. Few sat on chairs placed along the wall. Soon, another set of students arrived. With an assortment of books neatly arranged on the shelves, this single room is a wealth for local children. Students were free to choose any book, read on their own, or in groups. This library in Wakro is a result of Uncle Moose’s mission to inculcate reading skills and promote a reading culture among children in Arunachal Pradesh. And he has spent the last 30-odd years on this mission to connect rural children of Arunachal Pradesh with books. Starting with the Bamboosa library in Tezu, followed by Apne library in Wakro, and Hutong library in Yatong in Anjaw district, by now 13 libraries have been set up in the state, as part of the youth library network.

Uncle Moosa’s first visit to Arunachal Pradesh was in the year 1979 as part of a Vivekananda Kendra Vidyalaya mission. He took this up after quitting his government job in the income tax department in Mumbai. Till 1996, he worked with VKV, dedicating his entire time to the library movement, and never went back to Mumbai nor to his home state of Kerala. In addition to running libraries, Uncle Moosa would invite scholars and other visitors to give a talk in the library and interact with the students. Uncle mentored senior students to become reader activists and there are several events organized during Gandhi Jayanti, World Environment Day and Independence Day where students affiliated with the library movement would perform plays, skits, reading sessions and poem recitals. Those who have known him for several years tell me that Uncle Moosa would carry books in small trunks and suitcases to remote villages to set up reading camps. Hopping onto state transportation buses, and in places with little road connectivity, he would walk for several kilometers to reach a village.

Not many know about Uncle Moosa’s frugal living. A small single room with a bed and a shelf was his accommodation in Wakro. His day begins at four in the morning by doing yoga and meditation. His favourite breakfast is upma, and he prepares his own food himself every day. Full of energy, and with a kind, ever-smiling face, talking with him is a joy. His dedication to the library movement and helping students with their education has earned him love and respect, both from adults and children. He continues to live in Arunachal Pradesh, and is now based in Roing. Many years have passed, and I have completed my PhD, but every time I go back to Arunachal Pradesh, I look forward to meeting Uncle Moosa!

Uncle Moosa has dedicated his life to promoting education and fostering a culture of reading in the remote areas of the North-Eastern state. May his tribe increase!

Ambika Aiyadurai

 

 

 

 

Swollen-headed

CBCA14C8-CCB2-4EE8-BE0A-E137CB978119At 11.11 by the clock, on the 11th of November every year (pretty palindromic, isn’t it?), at Mainz Germany, the Fools’ Constitution is proclaimed from the balcony of the Osteiner Hotel. This marks the start of the City’s Carnival, which is characterized by people wearing oversized papier-mache heads roaming around the crowds. It seems that this practice started about 80 years ago, but I could not find references as to why “schwellköpp” or ‘swollen-heads’ are an integral part of the festivities.

dolls 2

Equally mysterious to me is why shops these days have “schwellköpp” mannequins. I really can’t see why anyone would want to buy garments modelled by such weird looking dolls. I know it is all about attracting attention, but surely, there could be better ways to do this than having swollen-headed guys with multi-coloured hair? Fortunately, all the schwellkopp mannequins I have seen have been male. I fear female versions would be really too much.

The practice of using mannequins to model clothes goes back to 15th century France, but those were miniatures. The use of full size dummies started in the 18th century, and these were made of wicker. Later, mannequins were made of wire-work. In the mid-19th century,  papier-maiche dummies took over.  Today most of these figures are made of fibreglass or plastic.

Mannequins are also used by artists (lifeless figures hold a pose much longer than live models!). They have sundry other uses, for example in crash-testing and in testing defense equipment.

The use of these dolls in medical education dates back to the 17th century where ivory manikins were used by doctors as a teaching aids. Even today, medical simulation mannequins are used extensively in education and for teaching first aid.

I can only hope these mannequins are normal-headed. I would hate my doctor to have been trained on a schwellkopp!

–Meena

Wisely, Towards Spring

D268048C-DD39-4287-B9B7-279D6073FAE4Basant Panchami went by last week. The mustard fields of Punjab must have been a riot of yellow, but my own little shrub was beautiful too!

Basant Panchami falling 40 days before Holi, marks the transition towards spring. As always, the festival is celebrated differently in different parts of the country. In some parts of India like Bengal, and even as far afield as Indonesia, it is marked as Saraswati Puja. Apart from the fact that it is the time of flowering of many plants like the mustard which has yellow flowers, the colour yellow marks this festival because of its association with Saraswathi, Goddess of Learning.

I could not really find what the exact association of Basant Panchami with Saraswati is (being a Tamilian, I celebrate Saraswati Puja during Dusshera). But I did come across one very interesting story linking the two.

The story of Kalidasa is well known. He lived in a country with a princess renowned for her intelligence and wit. The princess set the condition that she would marry only the man who answered a series of questions she put to him. Many a man—king, prince, warrior, commoner—tried and failed. The people of the country were fed up (and a lot of male egos probably smarted). A bunch of them decided to teach her a lesson. They set up the village idiot for this. They knew the questions, and tutored him as to how to respond to them—basically not to open his mouth and exhibit his ignorance, but simply show hand signs.

The ruse worked and Kalidasa married the princess. (Actually, he was not called Kalidasa then, but acquired the name later). It did not take the princess long to figure out that her husband was a dolt. She threw him out.

Depressed, he wandered about. In most versions of the story, he went and prayed to Kali in a temple, and she blessed him with brilliance and wit and eloquence (Maybe on behalf of Saraswati? Or asked Saraswati to bless him with these attributes?). There is however a lesser known version of the story that he was kicked out of home and hearth around Basant Panchami, and on the day of Panchami, he tried to drown himself in the Ganga. Saraswati saved him and endowed him with her blessings. Thanks to which he went on to become Sanksrit’s greatest playwright, giving the world such gems as Abhijnanashakuntala , Vikramorvashi , Malavikagnimitra,  Raghuvamsha, Kumarasambhava  and Meghaduta.

So happy journey towards spring! May Basant Panchami bring wit and wisdom to all of us, as it is said to have brought Kalidasa.

–Meena