Tiger! Tiger!

Gujarat is aIMG_20190221_103219.jpgll agog with the news that a Tiger has been spotted within its political boundaries. Papers are full of speculation about where it came from and where it went. In the meanwhile the state has quickly laid claim to be the only one in the country with three big cats—lion, leopard, and now tiger!

The news led me to relook at a book the Matriarchs had done for teachers over a decade ago. Called Tales of the Tiger it was an attempt to create awareness and excitement about the tiger through providing interesting information and activity ideas for students.

Compiling information for the book was in itself an exciting and educative safari. It was not just looking at this awe-inspiring cat from the zoological point of view, but seeing it as an integral part of the ecosystem, as well as the social and cultural environment.

Beyond the roar to the lore, as it were!  Sharing a few fascinating facts.

Tigers do not simply roar, growl and snarl. They have a wide variety of vocalisations such as chuffing, hissing, grunting, and mewling. A ‘chuff’ or ‘prusten’ is a friendly and non-threatening sound made when two tigers meet. The ‘pook’ sound is a sound similar to the alarm call of the sambar, a favourite prey animal of the tiger. It has been variously interpreted as a way of locating prey, a mating call, or to announce its presence to other tigers. A tigress uses moans to communicate with her cubs. Tigers also use body (especially tail) language to show aggression, affection and curiosity.

Beyond the jungles, tigers have long been a part of folklore and literature in every culture. The tiger is variously feared, respected, admired, and distrusted, depending on the context. According to stories from Indian mythology the tiger is believed to have powers to do everything from fighting demons to creating rain; keeping children safe from nightmares, and healing. Tribal beliefs, arts and crafts often place the tiger as a central symbol of worship. For example the people of the Warli tribe offer a part of their harvest every season to the worship of the tiger. The people of the Bhil tribe believe that they have descended from tigers. Songs, proverbs and sayings in most Indian languages feature the tiger.

In India the earliest visual representations of the tiger are found on the seals and terracotta figurines on the Indus Valley Civilisation. A seal found at Mohenjo Daro, believed to date back about 5000 years shows a man sitting in a tree angrily addressing a tiger waiting below for him.

Even as scientists have studied and tracked tigers in an effort to understand them better, tigers all over the world are threatened and endangered. In India Project Tiger, launched in 1973, has been an important milestone in the history of tiger conservation in India. 

While the new sighting of the tiger may possibly turn into a contest of “Mine, Mine!” it may be wise to remember and respect that this magnificent cat knows no political boundaries. May it always walk in majesty, wherever it may roam.

–Mamata

 

 

Living in a Louis Kahn

A tribute to the architect on his birthday (Louis Kahn: Born 20 Feb, 1901)

When did it really strike me that I was living somewhere very special? Well, when one of my architect colleagues introduced me to his sister—another architect—as follows:

‘Meet Meena. She lives in a Louis Kahn.’

Wow! That’s the nearest I ever got to being a brand person! No one is going to ever accuse me of ‘wearing a Satya Paul’ or ‘carrying a Prada’. But this felt good!

I lived on the campus of IIM Ahmedabad, as a faculty-spouse for over 15 years. On an everyday basis, living in the IIM houses was/is about: ‘Oh God! The wall is seeping again’. Or ‘Why are these rooms so cold?’ or ‘This red brick is completely impractical for Ahmadabad. Look how they pit’.  I suppose it needs an outsider’s perspective and a bit of distance to help us appreciate things we take for granted or actively crib about!

Living on the IIM-A campus is something special—it’s being part of history and a special vision. A vision forged by the founders of the institution, and given physical shape primarily by the architect (because, frankly, there is no landscaping to talk about!!).

Some things about the campus never cease to surprise, for instance: How is that there are so many students around, but it’s still such a quiet and serene place? How is it that the lives of the families living on campus and the lives of students almost never intersect? The only time you see students is if you go to the bank or decide to walk the path going between the dorms to reach the main gate. The only time you hear students is when they do a particularly loud ‘Tempo’ shout. Considering it’s not a very large campus, how does this work?

The arrangement of houses is again something special. There is such a respect for personal space. At an everyday level, that translates to ‘You simply don’t have to ever see your neighbours unless you want to!’ But at the same time, there is the comforting feeling that the community is there when you need them!

IIM houses, are to say the least, quirky! Anyone who has lived in different ‘regular’ houses (and believe me, we have!) would know that it is not possible to take it for granted that door and window curtains are transferrable from one house to another. Why do measurements differ from house to house? No one I know has an answer! And the door from the drawing room to the rest of the house! Some houses have wooden doors, some glass; the position is a bit different in each house. That ‘below the staircase’ storage space bang opposite that door and how to screen it visually has perplexed one and all!

And the completely non-uniform lawns! We’ve lived in a house with the most luxurious 3-sided lawn; one which had decent-sized lawns on both the back and front; and one which had a shamefully tiny odd-sized strip in the front, and a lovely one at the back!

Nature is very much a part of life on campus! Butterflies, dragonflies, birds nesting in the bushes, bats mucking up the verandahs! On and off, monkeys were an active presence in our lives—they would jump on the cars, topple over the scooters and kick over the dustbins. It was as if all these had been set up as a gym for them to use! And the famous campus crow, which has been much studied by Prof. Venkat Rao, and which took a malevolent pleasure in messing up his scooter. We always had lots of vultures. But what with the general decline of the species, they almost disappeared from the campus. Hopefully now, with the banning of the drug implicated in the decline, the campus too is seeing a revival.

I’ve written only about the physical aspects of the campus. But I believe that this actually governs to a large extent the other aspects, and is what makes the IIM campus what it is, and defines the community. Detached but supportive. Making one feel a part of something larger, a grand vision. Quirky and individualistic. And just a bit impractical!

–Meena

This is about the old campus only. I don’t relate to the new campus, having left the campus by the mid-naughts.

Pomelo in My Yard

I marvel when I see the pomelo tree in my yard. It is no higher than 6 feet, and doesn’t have very strong branches. More a bush than a tree, almost. But the number of fruits it bears at a time, and the size of those fruits! I spanned one of the fruits on my tree and the circumference was upwards of 18 inches! And a tree may have up to 20 fruits at any given time. I really wonder how the tree takes the weight!
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Pomelo or Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis is the largest citrus fruit, and all other citrus fruits have apparently been hybridized from this. The pomelo tree shares ancestry with the grapefruit.

The origin of the name ‘pomelo’ is uncertain. My mother used to call it Bablimass, insisting that this was the Tamil name. Probably a corruption of pampa limāsu, which means “big citrus”

Coincidentally, there is a GI link to the pomelo. The Devanahalli pomelo is a variety of pomelo (Citrus maxima) grown in the region around Devanahalli taluk, Bangalore Rural District, India and locally known as chakkota.

The Devanahalli pomelo is protected under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act (GI Act) 1999 of the Government of India, under the title “Devanahalli Pomello”.

The Devanahalli pomelo has a unique, sweet taste, unlike other local varieties which have a bitter taste. Five decades ago, this plant was crossbred with local varieties, and it was nearing extinction. A few old Devanahalli pomelo plants were identified in the area and then propagated widely, thanks to which the variety has been preserved.

A story goes that Mahatma Gandhi tasted this fruit when he visited Nandi Hills near Devanahalli. He liked its taste and suggested that the authorities conserve this variety.

I wish the pomelo in my yard was a Devanahalli pomelo. But due to the special soil conditions at Devanahalli and its GI status, mine is not and cannot be!

So though I am not more than 20 kms away, sadly mine is a Rajanakunte pomelo, not a Devanahalli one!

I only ever tasted a fruit from my tree once, and did not particularly like the taste. Oh, if only I had a Devnahalli Pomelo tree!

So near, yet so far!

–Meena

Promoting GI, Protecting Diversity

Last week, I happened to go to Goa (regretfully, not a holiday!). The airport, as many airports across the country, is full of shops.

Apart from the usual brand shops and the special Goa memorabilia shops, I came across a fascinating outlet here. It was a ‘GIs of India’ shop!

Oh, I have jumped the gun! GI could stand for any number of things. I am referring to Geographical Indication, which is “an indication which identifies goods such as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods as originating, or manufactured in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in case where such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality, as the case may be.”. GI is a type of intellectual property right, which certifies a product as having originated in a specific geographic location—for instance, that the Mysore silk you just bought is indeed produced in Mysore; or the Jaipur Blue Pottery is indeed from Jaipur.

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Madurai Sungudi is GI registered

India enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in 1999. The first GI product to be registered was Darjeeling Tea. Now there are 330 GI registered products—a fascinating range, from the usual suspects to the completely unexpected—from Kanpur Saddlery, to Beed Custard Apple; from Coimbatore Wet Grinder, to Varanasi Glass Beads!

The shop at the Goa Airport was very new, just being set up. But the staff were extremely enthusiastic and eager not just to sell their products, but also share information on the concept of GI shops. They said that a large chain of these was coming up across the country.

Indeed an exciting way to create a market for these amazing products, and preserve the diversity, both natural and cultural.

I’ll be on the lookout for these GI shops, for sure!

–Meena

CityScape SnapShots

Air–the poison we breathe Ads that sell Aspirations

Buildings Business Busyness 

Concrete jungles Crash Clatter Clash and Clamour

Dreams that draw millions from far and wide Dust and Depression

Emissions foul from Energy sources

Fast food Fast life Fast lanes at work and play

Garbage Garbage Garbage burying the Greenery

Heritage Habitats Hotels and Hovels

Islands of heat Islands of Isolation Islands of luxury amidst seas of slums

Job seekers Jump starters Jugaad makers

Kaleidoscope of colours, cuisines, communities and callings

Landfills Landladies Latchkey children Lifestyles

Malls and Multiplexes Mobile towers and Middle class aspirations

Noise Nightlife Non-functional essentials Nature in decline

Overload Overconsumption Overreaction…Over the top

Plastics Pavements that aren’t Parking battles where Parks used to be

Quality of life? Question mark indeed!

Roads with Roaring traffic Risks to Rare Ramblers

 Skeleton Scaffoldings Scavengers and Smog

Traffic jams Towers grow where Trees once stood

Ugly urban settlements Unplanned spaces Unruly crowds

Vendors Vandals  Vistas Vitiated

Windows that look out onto other Windows Water more precious than gold

Xerox shops at the corner X-ray shops   Xamination-prep shops   Xtremes of everything

Yuppies Yearnings Year-end discounts

Zero tolerance…road rage, warring neighbours, violence in speech and deed.

–Mamata

Cleaning up the Abode of Gods

Lessons on Sustainable Tourism: Sudha Priscilla, continues..

Yuksom currently serves as the gateway to many of India’s most beautiful and difficult treks. Recognised as the ancient capital of Sikkim, the town is of historical importance as the first Chogyal (king) of Sikkim was crowned here in 1642 AD.

IMG_20181101_154529On our drive to Yuksom from the airport, I noticed a garbage bag provided in the taxi. This gave us our first insight into their environmentally conscious mind-set. Despite the invasion of visitors, Yuksom has retained an abundance of green spaces and public spaces are all remarkably clean. Every street is equipped with a well-placed litter bin.

Through my travel, I tried to find out more, and here is some of what I learnt. Truly inspiring

In order to thwart degradation of the fragile ecosystem caused by increased tourism, the community formed the Khanchendzonga Conservation Committee in the ‘90s. KCC played an instrumental role in banning the use of firewood previously used for cooking, heating and camp-fires. They also run a garbage management centre that segregates garbage collected on the trekking trails and recycles it.

IMG_20181102_122801The local gram panchayat has also formed an informal association of shopkeepers known as the ‘Bazaar Association’. One of the activities they undertake is sending a family member each week to collect trash from the streets of Yuksom.

During the off-season, members of the Yuksom Tourism Development Committee comprising of stakeholders from the tourism industry, trudge back along various trek routes to collect trash that may have been left behind by travellers. Most of the collected waste is then recycled, thereby reducing pollution.

Additionally, most reputable tour agencies offer clients portable pop-up toilet tents that act as pit latrines. The tent and toilet seat is pitched on a flat surface and placed over a shallow pit with a hump of mud outside. The pit is then used by the client who in turn covers it with mud ensuring that the waste seeps into the ground.  This prevents trekkers from defecating near water bodies.

The town is truly at the helm of the movement promoting sustainable tourism.

ABODE OF GODS

A Christmas Guest Longread from a friend and colleague, Sudha Priscilla . This should get you planning your 2019 Autumn break now!

When G and I met in 2014, we quickly bonded over our passion for the Himalayas. He had just completed the Leh-Ladakh bikers’ circuit on his KTM Duke 390, and I had backpacked across Nepal with a close friend.

Fast forward to 2018 and we’re now married, having shared many adventures along the way. Most recently we formulated an ambitious plan that included trekking and camping for 8 days in West Sikkim and then exploring East and North Sikkim on an Enfield.

Putting plan into action, we got in touch with Mingma Sherpa, proprietor of ‘Mountain Tours, Treks & Travels’. His family has a rich legacy in the field of mountaineering. His grandfather, Namgyal Sherpa was part of the first successful Everest expedition in 1953 alongside Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. He was the expedition companion of the then expedition leader, Sir John Hunt. The dynamic duo played a critical role in opening the route towards the summit of Everest.

Faced with many options, we zeroed in on the ‘Goechala’ trek. The steep trail allows one to view Mt. Kanchenjunga from up close. Having finalised the itinerary with Mingma, we were left with three months to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the trek.

We got our first glimpse of the mighty Himalayan range as the flight prepared to land in Bagdogra. At the airport, we met Manzil, a young lad who drove us to Yuksom which serves as the gateway to many of India’s most beautiful and difficult treks.

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The next day, we met Mingma who was busy planning the return journey, for a client who suffered from Altitude Sickness The client in question was an experienced trekker who has even summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, he was struck by AMS halfway through the Goechala trek, and had to be carried down the mountain by his team on a stretcher. The oxygen tanks that his team members carried made a huge difference to his life. Once in Yuksom he was rushed to a nearby hospital where his health improved.

This episode left me worried. On observing this, Mingma handed me a strip of ‘Diamox’ tablets, which is commonly used by mountaineers and trekkers a few days before their steep ascent in order to prevent AMS. He also went through the gear we brought along and offered me a down jacket, which was insulated with soft, warm feathers.

Early next morning, we were introduced to our experienced guide. He was accompanied by a very capable team which included a cook, cook’s helper, porter, Yak herder and 4 beautiful Dzos.  Dzos are a hybrid between yak and domestic cattle, possessing the desirable characteristics of each animal. Our heavier backpacks were mounted on the Dzos along with food supplies and the required logistics. This included a two person A-shape sleeping tent, toilet tent, dining tent, kitchen tent, dining table and sleeping bags.

Before we set off, Mingma presented us with beautiful silk scarves to wish us good luck. We were filled with excitement as we exited Yuksom and entered Kanchenjunga National Park.

Day 1- The first day of the trek was long and arduous. We had to reach Tshoka  13 kms away and perched at approx. 3050 metres. The trail was picturesque but steep. Lunch consisted of a boiled egg, potato slices, juice and chocolate, aimed towards restoring depleted strength. Enroute we met a couple of dejected trekkers who were headed back to Yuksom. They were exasperated at not being able to get a clear view of Mt. Kanchenjunga due to inclement weather.

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An hour before arriving at Tshoka, Ashok signalled us to remain quiet. We heard what sounded like a bark coming from inside the jungle. ‘Barking Deer’, said a gleaming Ashok. Though tired, this incident propelled us along.

By the time we reached Tshoka, it was around 8 pm. The rest of our team members who reached a few hours earlier, greeted us with a heart-warming dinner consisting of vegetable soup, rice, dal, sabzi, rayosag fry (local type of spinach), papad, ginger tea and a banana.

Day 2- We headed out to Phedang (Approx. 3550 metres), only 5 hours away. The trail was laid with pine wood logs, and meandered through Rhododendron forests. During April and May, the trail is apparently set ablaze by colourful Rhododendron blooms. G spent most of the day spotting birds such as the Himalayan Magpie and the Himalayan Eagle through his binoculars.

At the campsite, we were greeted by our team who offered us hot orange juice and pakoda. The treat was laid out neatly on a dining table surrounded by the glorious views of the Himalayas and the Rhododendron forest.

On Day 3-After a hearty breakfast that included muesli, ginger tea, steamed banana and toast with peanut butter, we left for our upward march towards Dzongri. Perched at approx. 4300 metres, it is surrounded by the mighty peaks of the Himalayan range. The landscape changed dramatically from forest trails to open mountain meadows rich in juniper shrubs. The plant is mostly used as incense in Buddhist monasteries, in order to purify the air of any negativities ahead of a puja or arrival of an important guest. We reached our campsite by noon.

Since we were not surrounded by trees, our tents lay exposed to winds that seemed to strengthen as time went by. G and I took a walk around, but we didn’t get too far since oxygen levels were much lower at this point and every step felt tedious. Lunch that day included boiled apples.

The night sky was lit by a million stars, but we were unable to fully enjoy it as temperatures plummeted.

Day 4- It was just about 4:00 am when Ashok woke us. After snacking on ginger tea, biscuits and popcorn, we set off for Dzongri Top. Popcorn also known as ‘Natural Diamox’, is said to increase one’s oxygen capacity. It was a constant snack throughout our trek.

We braved the heavy winds to reach Dzongri top at around 5:30 am, just as the amber sun rays hit the top of Mt. Kanchenjunga and its surrounding peaks such as Mt. Pandim and Mt. Kabru Dome. The magnificent view injected our tired souls with much needed energy. As the winds picked up, we headed down to the valley for yet another breakfast and then headed out to Thangsing.

Situated at 3,930 mtrs, Thangsing is a beautiful valley that can be reached via a short climb to a ridge followed by a rapid steep descent through yet another Rhododendron forest. The highlight of the day was the apple pie that our remarkable cook, Purna, served us for dinner.

Day 5- We took a gentle 3 hour walk to Lamuney (Approx. 4,200 metres) alongside the Prekchu River. The trail goes past stunted rhododendron bushes, azaleas and a Buddhist prayer wall. According to legend, years ago, a trekker of foreign descent was passing through when he ran into a lady. He repeatedly asked her the name of the place, when she answered ‘Lamuney’ meaning ‘Female Monk’. Not knowing English, the monk thought he was asking her name.

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This campsite was by far my favourite. It had the best views of Mt. Pandim, Mt. Kanchenjunga, and Mt. Tenchenkhang.

Day 6- The ever conscientious Ashok woke us at 2:45 am. We quickly got ready and met our team members who fed us biscuits, popcorn and loads of ginger tea. Armed with head torches and flashlights, we headed out in the dark to Goechala (Approx. 4,950 mtrs). Temperatures had dipped to -15 degrees, but the down jacket coupled with a shawl made of yak wool kept me warm. We trudged upward along the moraine path by the side of Samiti Lake to view the East face of Mt. Kanchenjunga. Towering at 8586 metres, the sunrays hit Mt. Kanchenjunga peak first, and slowly spread across the peaks of Kobru, Tenchenkhang, Pandim, Jupono and Rathong. We munched on popcorn and drank hot chai as this scene played out before us.

Ashok explained to us that as a gesture of respect for the religious sensitivities of the local people who regard the mountain as a deity, the Indian govt. banned expeditions to Kanchenjunga and seven others sacred peaks surrounding it.

Trekkers were earlier allowed to proceed to a second viewpoint, which now remains closed due to sightings of the elusive snow leopard. After basking in the sun for an hour, we headed back to Lamuney for breakfast. On our way down, Ashok pointed out towards the upward ridge, where we could see the silhouette of a Bharal, commonly known as the Himalayan Blue Sheep.

After yet another hearty breakfast, we headed down to Kockchurung campsite (Approx. 3700 metres). We slept at the trekker’s hut that night instead of pitching our tents by the riverside. Purna managed to make us pizza for dinner, which he aptly christened ‘Mountain Pizza’.

Day 7- We headed back to Tshoka, our final campsite. We enjoyed going at a slower pace choosing to spend more time with our team members. Lucky for us, we also stumbled upon a flock of ‘Blood Pheasants’ (the state bird of Sikkim), scurrying through the tree lines.

As it was our final night together, the team surprised us with a steamed cake that said ‘Thank you Visit Again’. This gesture reflected how we were cared for by our team. They were patient, kind, humble, witty and understanding of us throughout the trek.

Day 8- The following day we were escorted back to Yuksom, by a young guide named ‘Buddhist’, as Ashok had to accompany a couple from Canada back to Goechala. His introductory line was ‘My name is Buddhist but I’m a Hindu’. He was a jovial lad, who hoped to visit Goa someday.

The day ended with G and me rushing into the hotel and competing to hit the bathroom first. Our first shower in many days!

The next day we headed to Gangtok and met with Tsewang, owner of ‘Biker’s Hub’. He advised us to rent the Enfield 500 cc for the second leg of our journey.

Over the next few days, we rode to many touristy places such as the high altitude lake of Gurodongmar (Approx. 5180 metres) and zero point situated close to the Indo-China border.

The highlight of our ride was visiting Nathang valley. Located at approx. 4100 metres, the valley is located along the old Silk Route. The Silk Route in Sikkim is an offshoot of an ancient trade route which originated in Lhasa, Tibet and ended in the sea ports of Bengal. Interestingly, horses and tea were the most treasured items traded in this part of the route and not silk.

What was supposed to be a 3 hour ride from Gangtok, ended up being 8 hours due to snowfall and ice covered roads. I spent half of the time walking since it was impossible for G to manoeuvre the slithering roads with a pillion. We stopped midway in a guesthouse for a hot cup of chai and Maggi noodles. The friendly owner, led us to the bukhari in her house so we could warm ourselves. The bukhari seen in many homes here, is a traditional wood burning stoves that act as a radiator and a cooker.

We also passed a lot of army camps along the way, as the route ran along the border of China. At one point, I was even offered a lift by an Army officer in a jeep. He obviously took pity on the scrawny figure who was waddling through the snow just moments earlier. I would like to mention that the army officers we met in Sikkim were extremely helpful. Apart from helping us tweak our bike when we had trouble with the headlights, we saw a couple of bikers take shelter in an army camp as one of them unexpectedly suffered from AMS.

We finally reached Nathang valley around dusk and took shelter at a local homestay, where we were treated to a hot plate of rice and chicken curry. Rest of the night, we chatted away with the owner on the history of Nathang and my hopes of collecting a yak bell on this trip.

The next morning, the owner promptly greeted me with an antique yak bell that was just lying around as scrap in his home. I was beyond thrilled!

We then returned to Gangtok via Dzuluk, which has approximately 32 sharp hairpin bends. This was the perfect end to our adventurous tour.

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Merry Christmas to all our Readers!

Take the Time to Look at the Squirrels

I had the good fortune to work for two decades at Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad. Apart from the work and the work environment, the campus itself was a boon. 14 acres of both ‘groomed’ and ‘wild’ spaces. A variety of trees, undergrowth, lawns, water-body and the attendant birds, snakes, small mammals, rodents, butterflies, etc. etc.
IMG_20181217_114832We were an earnest and idealistic bunch. We had the benefit of mentoring by some of the wisest of people. One of them was Dr.PR Pisharoty, Father of Indian Meteorology and Remote Sensing. On one of his visits in the early days, he listened to all of us presenting our work and holding forth. With a gentle twinkle in his eyes, he told us: ‘You are all doing wonderful work. But I hope you don’t forget to take time off to look at the squirrels.’

We took that lesson to heart. Being immersed in nature at the workplace is a luxury few have today. But I think, looking back, that this made a difference to our work, our interactions and us as people and an organization. Being ‘distracted’ by a bird call in the middle of a meeting and the whole group rushing to look through the window or refer to ‘the Book’ (Salim Ali of course), broke up many a tension. Waiting for a monitor lizard to amble across the path as one rushed from one dept. to another was a good way to get a sense of ‘Nothing is that urgent. They have survived without rushing for millennia’. When ideas dried up, gazing out of the window at the squirrels chasing each other usually did the trick and the brain got unclogged. Feeding the fish at lunch brought people from unconnected work spaces together.

Did the campus make us more creative? More strongly bonded as teams? More lateral-thinking? More empathetic as people? I like to think so!

Business case for green campuses made! After all, today nothing can get approved without a business case! And by green campus, I don’t mean manicured lawns and potted plants. But a bit of wildness and a bit of wildlife!

–Meena

Illustration credit: CEE

Toxic

The word of the year is Toxic! Crowned by the Oxford Dictionary this word was selected as the one “judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”

The claim to fame was gained by the word not only on the basis of the number of times it was searched, but more for the sheer variety of contexts in which it is being used today.  “Toxic” has been used to describe workplaces, schools, relationships, cultures, and most recently has become a keyword in the #MeToo movement.

My own association with the word dates back over 30 years when I started as an Environmental Educator. We used the word mainly in the context of something that poisoned the natural environment—air, water, flora and fauna. This was based on its dictionary definition as meaning ‘poisonous’, with its roots derived from the medieval Latin term toxicus, meaning poisoned or imbued with poison. Environmental Educators worldwide tried to create awareness about what makes things toxic and how this affects the environment—through ‘gloom and doom’ scenarios, through motivation and action, and even through humour!

An interesting example of the last one was a limerick competition run by the English newspaper The Observer in association with the Friends of the Earth inviting limericks that reflected the (then) toxic state of the environment. The competition was open to all, from ages 5 years and up!

Although this was almost 30 years ago, on revisiting these limericks, I felt that they are as relevant today (if not more, than ever before!) Here is a taste…

Said the seal to the salmon and otters,

Did God really design us as blotters,

To mop up the oil

From the sea and the soil

Spewed out by those corporate rotters?

 

When politicians say they are green

One wonders what they really mean,

For all their hot air

Only rises to share

In the Greenhouse Effect it would seem!

 

An ostrich from a tropical land

Once buried his head in the sand.

The move was a riot,

They all had to try it—

Evading the issue was grand!

Fast forward to 2018. Has anything changed? At least not for the better, alas! The word has simply exploded in scope and toxicity. As Oxford University Press’s president of dictionaries, said: “Reviewing this year in language, we repeatedly encountered the word ‘toxic’ being used to describe an increasing set of conditions that we’re all facing. Qualifying everything from the entrenched patriarchy to the constant blare of polarising political rhetoric, ‘toxic’ seems to reflect a growing sense of how extreme, and at times radioactive, we feel aspects of modern life have become.”

To sum up, cannot resist this one…

A girl with a problem was faced

Rushed off to her doctor in haste.

He said with a laugh

As she broke into half,

‘My dear, you’ve got toxic waist!’

–Mamata

 

Festival of Farming

20181117_120113_resizedThe annual Krishi Mela is an event Bangaloreans look forward to. Organized in November every year, the 3-day Mela showcases the latest in agriculture and livestock related developments—from technologies, to equipment and tools, to new varieties of seeds, to green farming.

First a word about the Gandhi Krishi Vignana Kendra (GKVK), the venue of the mela. This amazing 1300+ acre campus has a hoary history. More than a century ago in 1899, Her Excellency Maharani Vani Vilasa, Regent of Mysore donated 30 acres of land for an Experimental Agricultural Station at Hebbal, which initiated research projects related to agriculture. In 1963, the Government of Mysore decided to establish University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) along the lines of Land Grant College system of USA and passed the University of Agricultural Sciences Bill. It granted 1300 acres to the GKVK Campus.

UAS was inaugurated by Dr Zakir Hussain, then Vice President of India, on 21st Aug 1964. Speaking at the event, he set the institute a lofty mandate: “By bringing about significant improvement in every phase of rural life, by much needed change in methods of production, by influencing the whole outlook of the rural community and rural home, by giving them a new vision and new hope, this university will be able to make great contribution to national welfare”.

The Krishi Mela sees visitation in the lakhs—from farmers to students to urbanites interested in agriculture, it is a joyous (though somewhat hot and tiring) occasion.

For farmers, it is an opportunity to see the latest advancements in the field of agriculture; to interact with agro-business companies and see demonstrations of agricultural implements; to get advice from university researchers on best methods of farming for a particular crop; and be exposed to practices like biological control of insects, organic farming in polyhouses, setting up biogas plants and extracting biodiesel.

For a layperson like me, it is an occasion to buy seeds and gardening implements; get some advice on how to look after plants; get to know something about the complexities of farming; marvel at things like a 70 kg bunch of bananas and a magnificent Gir bull; and gawk at sights like a drone which can be used for spraying pesticides. Also to partake of a traditional lunch (Menu: ragi muddu, palya, rice-rasam, curd-rice and a sweet) at Rs.50!

For me, the best thing about bringing such a mela into the heart of a city like Bangalore is the value it has as a reminder to us of who feeds us, and the challenges they face to do so!