Bless Us, Ganesha!

C9965879-3514-46E5-950C-07964DC42871Who can have a problem with someone whose mission is to remove obstacles from your path? No wonder then, that Ganesha is a God whom all love. Wise, witty, with a sense of fun, he is quite the favourite.

No wonder then that his birthday celebrations have caught the imagination of people across the country, and they grow larger and larger every year. I love it too, though I have a question. Is his birthday the day he was made by Parvati and given life by her, or the day that Shiva beheaded him and then brought him back to life again, though with an elephant’s head in place of his original human head. Hmm…maybe someone will explain it to me some day.

Elephants have fascinated humans for ever. The Pali Jataka stories, which go back to the period 600 to 321 BC have references to elephants. According to Buddhist stories, the night before Lord Buddha was born, his mother Maya is supposed to have dreamt of a six-tusked white elephant which came to her from heaven, with a white lotus in his trunk. This is why Buddhists consider the rare white elephant the holiest of all animals, and the embodiment of the Buddha.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata have many references to elephants in war and peace. Flourishing cities for example, are those with elephants. The descriptions of elephants in Ramayana are supposed to be detailed and fairly accurate.

Tamil Sangam literature (1st to 3rd century AD), provides a wealth of information about them. An old poetical dictionary from this body of work has 44 names for elephants, four names for female elephants, and five for baby elephants. Each part of the elephant is named.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra treats the study of elephants as a branch of study and prescribes the duties of mahouts, and approaches to management of elephant populations.

Elephants abound in folktales, proverbs, similes etc. As per a popular Indian folk tale, in the days of yore, elephants could fly. Apparently they were pretty playful. One day, a herd of elephants was gambolling in the branches of a banyan tree. A branch broke and fell (why am I not surprised?). And as to be expected, there was a rishi sitting beneath the tree. His worship was disturbed by the falling tree branch, and as was the wont of rishis, he cursed the elephants that never would they ever be able to fly again. And so it was.

Well, flying elephants would be quite a management issue! But will we at least let our elephants walk the earth? With depleting forests, their habitats are ever-shrinking and ever-fragmenting. The lure of crops as an easy source of food near their habitats is another factor that brings them out of the jungles.  And as a result, human-elephant conflicts keep increasing. Train lines, electric lines and roads across their homes have led to several accidents and deaths in recent times. The threat of poaching for ivory (and sometimes meat), never goes away.

Ganesha, the God of Good Luck! We pray to Thee. Bring peace and goodwill on earth—among humans, and between humans and elephants.

–Meena

The Sun Cooks for Me

Or at least it used to, for many years when I lived in Ahmedabad, where the sun blazed for 10 months of the year.

solar cooker

It was especially useful for boiling potatoes, dals, chana and rajma. Also for making nice kheer—the milk would thicken and thicken and turn a lovely creamy pink. And never ever burn and stick. Also some halwas like carrot halwa, doodhi halwa etc. For sure, food cooked in the solar cooker tasted amazing!

But….

The ‘buts’ were and are:

  • The cooker needs to be rotated once in a while to get the maximum sun. Difficult to do that when one is away at work all day.
  • Unexpected weather changes lead to disasters: Just the day when you have guests, You may come home to find that the chana is not cooked!
  • And if left too long, the food may dry out. So if you are going to be away for nine hours, don’t leave rice in the cooker.
  • Then the cooker has to be cleaned, closed and put away somewhere out of the dew each evening. And it was pretty large and clunky.
  • There can be no shade around the cooker, which means you need a large clear space, and is a bit of a problem when trees grew tall and branch out.
  • Service may be a problem. At one stage the metallic rod which kept up the mirror broke, and I could not find anyone to fix it. I tried propping it up with this and that, but not always with success.
  • Dogs may come and sniff at it.

Even with my enthusiasm, my use tapered off.

Now I live in Bangalore. It has many more no-sun days. But when I see how much cooking gas we use, I am tempted to again buy a solar cooker. I surfed and surfed. Many fewer suppliers than 25 years ago. And sadly, the design hasn’t changed one bit. It is still the same metal dabba, with four black-lidded dabbas to put the food in.

I think I still will buy one. Even if I can use only it for 100 days out of 365. Even if it means a bit of uncertainty and inconvenience. But that does make me wonder—in our country where there is so much sun, why are our bright-brains not working to develop innovative cookers at reasonable prices? Maybe something that rotates with the sun. Maybe something with a back-up for low-light days. Maybe something which would ‘turn off’ after a set amount of time (or light). Maybe something with a ‘cook’ mode and a ‘keep warm’ mode. Maybe sleeker designs. Maybe service centres.

I don’t know…But I think with good design and a little more convenience, many more people would use these.

And that, I think is the tragedy of Indian science and technology. We don’t seem to set out to solve our own problems with our own resources. Who should be more interested in developing solar cookers than a country which has abundant sunlight, and for whom fossil fuel use is a concern? And which boasts some of the brightest tech brains!

Well no one. So let me see how to go about buying a twin of the solar cooker I bought a quarter century ago.

–Meena

World Honey Bee Day Greetings!

beeA day for honey bees? Does that seem to be taking things too far? Not really, when we pause to think how important they are. Bees pollinate around one-third of food crops and 90 per cent of wild plants (wild plants = food for livestock + all animals in the world, directly or indirectly!). Food for all life on earth will wind down to zero without plants propagating. And that is not possible without bees.

The economic value of bees’ worldwide pollination work is estimated at Euro 265 billion. But what intrigues me is, even if we could pay the price, how on earth would pollination happen? Surely we are not going to be able to do it manually or mechanically!

Bees–and by extension, we–are in trouble. It is estimated that one-third of UK’s bee population has disappeared in the last decade. 24 per cent of Europe’s bumblebees are threatened with extinction. In India, farmers in Odisha reported in a recent study that population of some bees had declined by about 80 per cent.

But why are bees declining? Habitat loss, climate change (research shows that pollinating insects are particularly sensitive to this), intensive farming methods and colony collapse disorder (CCD) are some of the major reasons. Some pesticides are the most direct risk to bee populations.

So what can we do? ‘Go green’ is the obvious answer. No pesticides, ecological farming, planting local flowering trees and plants are the mantras.

Interestingly Karnataka, where I live, is the first State to moot a State Insect. As per news reports, this will be the honey bee! The exact species it seems, is yet to be decided. But a good step forward.

And another interesting bit of information that I came across: India has something called a National Bee Board under the Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India. ‘The main objective of the National Bee Board (NBB) is overall development of Beekeeping by promoting Scientific Beekeeping in India to increase the productivity of crops through pollination and increase the Honey production for increasing the income of the Beekeepers/ Farmers.’

World Honey Bee Day (which began as National Honey Bee Day in the US), is celebrated on the 3rd Sunday of August.

The UN however celebrates May 20 as World Bee Day. It marks the birthday of Anton Jansa, 18th century pioneer of modern bee-keeping techniques.

I don’t have a problem with celebrating both. The more the buzzier!

–Meena

Calico Dome: My Introduction to the Genius of Buckminster Fuller

Born July 12, 1895. A tribute on his birth anniversary.

When I moved to Ahmedabad in 1984, one of the ‘must see’ places was the Calico Dome. So dutifully, I went there as part of the Old City sightseeing and shopping experience.

It took me quite a while to figure out what the big deal about the dome was.

….That the dome was more than a showroom for the Calico Mills. That it was more than a venue for a fashion show that Parveen Babi had once taken part in as a student. That it was a historic structure, the first space frame structure in India (today so common in airports, for instance). That it was a design inspired by Buckminster Fuller‘s geodesic domes, and designed by Gautam and Gira Sarabhai and inaugurated in 1962.

Well, so what? Nothing, except the geodesic dome is ‘recognized as the strongest, lightest, and most efficient means of enclosing space yet devised by man’.

A geodesic dome is composed of a complex network of triangles. These structures are extremely strong. They can withstand high winds, earthquakes and heavy snow, making them ideal structures for any type of environment. They are also efficient and sustainable. Due to their spherical nature, dome homes provide a large amount of living space, while taking up very little surface area. And due to their lower area-to-volume ratio, they require less energy for heating and cooling.

geodesic.jpg

The geodesic dome embodies all that Buckminster Fuller stood for— ‘Less is More’, and a constant effort towards sustainability through design. Dedicating his life ‘to making the world work for all of humanity’, his designs have continued to influence generations of designers, architects, scientists and artists working to create a more sustainable planet. He was the first person to use the term ‘Spaceship Earth’.

He was a practical philosopher who contributed to many facets of life and has been called a ‘comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist.’. Just a few examples of how his work has contributed beyond architecture and design: Molecular biologists have now established that his mathematical formula for the design of the geodesic dome applies perfectly to the structure of the protein shell that surrounds every known virus. Several leading nuclear physicists are convinced that the same formula explains the fundamental structure of the atomic nucleus, and is thus the basis of all matter.

Other paradigm shifting designs include the Dymaxion houses, cars and map.

He visited India several time, giving the Nehru Memorial lecture in 1969. During one of his visits to India, he helped build a geodesic structure on the campus of Bengal Engineering College (now, Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur, West Bengal)

Happy that geodesic domes were something I encountered, including on drives to the airport at Ahmedabad for 20 years, at one of the garden-chowks!

—Meena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mills and shops closed in the 1990s and the dome went into disrepair. In the 2001 earthquake, the centre of the dome collapsed and heavy rains damaged the interior of the underground shop. Later the dome collapsed completely.[3] [4]

On liquidation of Calico Mills, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) bought it as a heritage property in 2006.

 

 

Putting their novelty aside, dome homes have the potential to solve many of our most pressing environmental and societal challenges. R. Buckminster Fuller’s ultimate goal in designing geodesic dome structures was to solve the housing challenges of an ever-increasing population. He set out to design human shelters that were strong, sustainable and affordable.

The geodesic design is a perfect marriage of the sturdy arch and the rigid triangle, which enables dome homes to be extremely strong. They can withstand high winds, earthquakes and heavy snow, making them ideal structures for any type of environment, especially in an increasingly volatile climate.

Along with their strength, dome homes are incredibly efficient and sustainable. Due to their spherical nature, dome homes provide a large amount of living space, while taking up very little surface area. And due to their lower area-to-volume ratio, they require less energy for heating and cooling.

Additionally, dome homes require far less building materials than traditional homes do, and can be made out of a variety of eco-friendly building materials. They’re also typically less expensive to make than traditional homes, and the fact that they are much smaller than traditional single-family homes also helps keep the costs down. These factors make them ideal for people looking to build an environmentally friendly home on a budget.

While the residential application of the geodesic dome is most heralded in American culture, the original Fuller domes—as well as many since—were actually constructed for commercial use.

In fact, the first dome that was constructed after Fuller filed his patent for the structure was part of the Ford Motor Company headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., in 1953. The Ford Rotunda was originally an open-air pavilion, which the company then retrofitted with a roof to create an indoor space. However, the building could not sustain a traditional roof, which would weigh more than 160 tons. Ford turned to Fuller to design a geodesic dome that weighed just 8 tons. Although the Rotunda was destroyed in a fire in 1962, it was proof of concept for many commercial buildings to come.

After the success of the dome used for the Rotunda, other clients came calling, including the U.S. military. The government looked to the Fuller domes for two reasons. First was for how impervious they were to wind and weather, as the military needed shelter for their radar equipment that could withstand the harsh conditions at the Arctic Circle. The dome shape proved to be ideal to withstand high winds with minimal maintenance.

And second, the U.S. government explored using geodesic domes for their light weight and ease of construction. The domes were used to create “speedy but strong” housing for soldiers overseas in the 1950s, according to the Buckminster Fuller Institute. In fact, the Marines went as far as creating a 30-foot dome that could be delivered by helicopter and assembled in just over two hours—and that could withstand a day-long barrage of 120-mile-per-hour wind gusts.

MODERN DOMES AND POTENTIAL IMPACT

Since the early days of experimentation with geodesic structures, many have been built, including Epcot Center’s Spaceship Earth (although it’s technically a geodesic sphere, not a dome), the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., the original hangar used to house the Spruce Goose, and the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station (from 1975–2003). As architecturally impressive as they are utilitarian, these domes allow their proprietors to do more with less.

This do-more-with-less mentality has also led optimistic individuals to use the geodesic dome shape to solve urban problems such as creating transitional housing in Silicon Valley. A recent proposal by the entrepreneur Greg Gopman aims to provide a small village of dome homes available to rent for just $250 per month.

After all, what the geodesic dome—and its potential—shows us is the impact that architects and builders can have when they truly think outside the box.

https://blueprint.cbre.com/the-impact-and-importance-of-the-geodesic-dome/

 

  1. Buckminster Fuller was a renowned 20th century inventor and visionary born in Milton, Massachusetts on July 12, 1895. Dedicating his life to making the world work for all of humanity, Fuller operated as a practical philosopher who demonstrated his ideas as inventions that he called “artifacts.” Fuller did not limit himself to one field but worked as a ‘comprehensive anticipatory design scientist’ to solve global problems surrounding housing, shelter, transportation, education, energy, ecological destruction, and poverty. Throughout the course of his life Fuller held 28 patents, authored 28 books, received 47 honorary degrees. And while his most well know artifact, the geodesic dome, has been produced over 300,000 times worldwide, Fuller’s true impact on the world today can be found in his continued influence upon generations of designers, architects, scientists and artists working to create a more sustainable planet.

 

The Dymaxion Map, 1943

Not limiting himself to any one discipline, Fuller took on cartography with this invention – credited as the first two-dimensional map of the entire Earth’s surface that shows it without distortions.

To create the piece, Fuller projected the world map onto the surface of a three-dimensional icosahedron, which was then unfolded and laid flat.

https://www.dezeen.com/2018/08/27/eight-forward-thinking-ideas-buckminster-fuller-exhibition-los-angeles/

he Dymaxion map or Fuller map is a projection of a world map onto the surface of an icosahedron, which can be unfolded and flattened to two dimensions. The flat map is heavily interrupted in order to preserve shapes and sizes.

The projection was invented by Buckminster Fuller. The March 1, 1943 edition of Life magazine included a photographic essay titled “Life Presents R. Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion World”. The article included several examples of its use together with a pull-out section that could be assembled as a “three-dimensional approximation of a globe or laid out as a flat map, with which the world may be fitted together and rearranged to illuminate special aspects of its geography.”[1] Fuller applied for a patent in the United States in February 1944, the patent application showing a projection onto a cuboctahedron. The patent was issued in January 1946.[2]

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geodesic dome, which has been recognized as the strongest, lightest, and most efficient means of enclosing space yet devised by man.

 

Molecular biologists have now established that his mathematical formula for the design of the geodesic dome applies perfectly to the structure of the protein shell that surrounds every known virus. Several leading nuclear physicists are convinced that the same Fuller formula explains the fundamental structure of the atomic nucleus, and is thus the basis of all matter.

 

Gira and Gautam Sarabhai and his team designed the Calico Dome, inspired by Buckminster Fuller‘s geodesic domes. The dome housed the showroom and shop for Calico Mills, which opened in 1962. The first fashion show in Ahmedabad was organised in the Dome.[2] Indian actress Parveen Babi took part in shows in the 1970s when she was a student.[2]

Inaugurated in 1962, the 12-meter wide structure

It was the first space frame structure in India

The mills and shops closed in the 1990s and the dome went into disrepair. In the 2001 earthquake, the centre of the dome collapsed and heavy rains damaged the interior of the underground shop. Later the dome collapsed completely.[3] [4]

On liquidation of Calico Mills, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) bought it as a heritage property in 2006.

 

Nature Deficit Disorder

Among the many new medical disorders that have entered into our consciousness and everyday vocabulary in the last decade or so, a new one was added in 2005— Nature Deficit Disorder. The term was coined by Richard Louv as a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.

As we live in our concrete jungles, increasingly cut off from the sight, sound and feel of Nature, these senses are steadily diminishing. Increasingly medical research is now proving that our sedentary lifestyles or “epidemic of inactivity” is the cause of a host of appropriately-called ‘lifestyle diseases.”

Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder expressed his apprehension at the growing phenomenon of alienation from Nature, and built a case for consciously building closer links between young children and Nature, through opportunities to go outside, be in Nature, and learn from Nature.

Times have changed—and not for the better. Almost fifteen years after Louv articulated his concern, the “wave from the West” has reached our homes in India, as it has most parts of the world. Children don’t seem to get as much opportunity to play outdoors and explore and discover independently anymore; meeting friends is usually organised and supervised in “play dates” rather than children spontaneously getting together and simply “mucking and mooching around!” Yes, there are genuine issues—safe spaces, security and time; but this over-protectiveness can actually be detrimental to children’s health, if they don’t get enough outdoor time and experiences. Difficult though it is, while we as parents, leave no stone unturned to give our children the best opportunities that money can buy for their all-round development, are we giving them enough exposure to the outdoors? For children and their development Nature is not “optional”, it is as essential as a healthy diet for growing up.

I do believe that the same formula applies equally to adults. Nature and the outdoors are vital for our physical and emotional development and well-being; it is only here that can we encounter all four non-negotiable sources for self-development: freedom, immediacy, resistance and relatedness (connection). In fact, it is for us to take the lead.

An even more alarming trend has been towards the gradual deficit of Nature, even in our language. Since 2007 the Oxford Children’s Dictionary has been dropping words related to nature to replace them with words that they felt better represented the present day and age. Acorn, Buttercup, Conker gave way to Attachment, Blog, and Cut-and-Paste. In 2015, some of the world’s most prominent authors composed an open letter of protest and alarm at this impoverishment of children’s vocabulary by replacement with words “associated with the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today,” and its consequent diminishment of children’s belonging to and with the natural world. A frightening manifestation of Nature Deficit Disorder. The authors expressed their distress that such culling of words would “deny children a store of words that is marvellous for its own sake, but also a vital means of connection and understanding.”

As one of the authors said, “If you can’t name things, how can you love them?”

–Mamata

crabs claw close 2.jpg
A flower by any other name…Crab’s Claw 

ACT NOW!

5 June! The date conjures up so many memories! World Environment Day—a day to remind ourselves and the world of the fragile planet that we call our home, and how best we could do our bit to make it a better place to live. This day marks the anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment held in Sweden in 1972 when the nations of the world gathered to share their concern over human progress at the expense of environment. Today nearly fifty years later, the world is sadly not a better place. A cause for grave concern, but not too late to act.

As young Environmental Educators with a passion, and sense of mission to spread this message, we worked in many ways. One of our lasting campaigns was Act Now—to share every-day tips to remind each person to do their bit. From the early 1990s, and through the next two decades Act Now remained the anthem for the Matriarchs.

We began our communications with a provocation: “Are you doing your bit to help save the planet?” “What can I do? I am not a scientist.” “Who me I am only a kid.” “It’s not my business. I don’t work in the government.” “No. I don’t really have time.” And then came the Act Now tips.

Sharing a few hacks (as they would be called now!).

Food for Thought: Get the family to eat together—its saves having to reheat food (thereby fuel) several times.

House Proud: You don’t have to tackle grease and dirt with hazardous chemicals. Mirrors, glass and windows can sparkle when washed with soap and water and rinsed with a solution of one part vinegar to four parts water, and dried with loosely crumples sheets of newspaper.

Grandmother’s Secrets: Remember the shining vessels and fragrant house? That did not come from a bottle. Copper scrubbed with tamarind really gleams. Brass shines when cleaned with a mixture of salt and flour, with a little vinegar added.

Every Drop Counts: Longing for a cool bath? Instead of letting the water run till it cools, why not fill a bucket and keep it to be used when needed?

Winter Warmth: Explore the possibility of installing a solar water heater for hot water needs.

Monsoon Measures: Place a few bricks under the rainwater outlets to prevent the soil from being washes away during a heavy downpour. Better still direct the rain water to storage tank or collect it in a large drum.

Water Wise: Rain water is pure, free and abundant. Store it and use it to water delicate plants with. Brass vessels washed in rain water retain their sheen for a longer time.

Bright Ideas: Cash in on nature’s power supply. Arrange your rooms so that work areas get best advantage of natural light. Why be cooped inside when you can use whatever outdoor space you have (even the steps) to read, sew, chop vegetables, or just chat.

Learn from the Banana: Consider the banana–neatly sealed in an attractive peel which keeps the flavours in and the germs out, and when discarded degrades to enrich the soil. Avoid over-packaged goods. Bring indirect pressure on the manufacturers by rejecting such products.

Take Stewardship: Look ahead using the wisdom of past experience and knowledge of current developments to explore innovative ways of ensuring the well-being of the earth. Let us do what we can, how we can, where we can. It can make a difference. Remember—There is no Planet B!

–Mamata

The Danseuse and the Turtles

May 23 is World Turtle Day. And this is my turtle tale!IMG_20190523_095146.jpg

It was an unlikely subject–not one that I would have volunteered for! Among the diverse subjects that I had an opportunity to learn about when I was developing a series called NatureScope India, Turtles happened to be the subject of the next issue. That was going to take some research on my part! As it turned out, I found out a lot about turtles, but also had the wonderful opportunity to meet someone extraordinary–Dr Priyambada Mohanty-Hejmadi.

Dr Priyambada was a member of our Governing Council in the early 2000s. Sarees being a greater passion for me than turtles, I always admired this elegant lady who used to wear the most beautiful handwoven sarees from Odisha. Then I found out that she was one of India’s foremost authorities on turtles! And that she was also one of the earliest and well-known proponents of the Odissi dance form. What an awesome combination!

Over 60 years ago, Priyambada was already learning Odissi, when as a student she represented Odisha at an Inter-University Youth Festival in New Delhi and gave a performance of Odissi. This was perhaps the first time that the dance was performed outside of Odisha. The audience was rapturous, and a review by a Hungarian dance critic, put Odissi on the pan-Indian map. Today this dance form has found a niche in the international arena.

Priyambada continued to dance, but also to pursue her studies in Zoology. She moved to the United States on a fellowship to pursue higher studies in Zoology. Though her dance workshops and learning continued, her academic work took precedence. Her research on marine turtles has been globally recognised.

Of the seven species of turtles in the world, five species are known to occur in Indian coastal waters—the Olive Ridley (the smallest), Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Green, and Leatherback (the largest). Sea turtle females come ashore to lay their eggs. Orissa is the only state in India which has three large rookeries or turtle nesting sites of which Gahirmatha is the world’s largest known sea turtle rookery.

Priyambadaji has been at the forefront of the efforts to protect the Olive Ridley Turtle. Not so long ago these turtles were endangered due to the disturbances in the areas where they nested.  With the active campaigns and efforts of a number of groups, and with inspiration and support from people like Priyambadaji, there is now a resurgence of nesting turtles. This February-March it is estimated that nearly four lakh turtles came ashore for Arribada—a Spanish term for mass nesting, to lay their eggs on beach at Gahirmatha that was declared a marine sanctuary in 1997 by the Odisha government.

Advocating policy changes, supporting local NGOs to create awareness, and guiding plans for protection, while also pursuing academic research and writing, Dr Priyambada has been an inspiring supporter of the Turtles.

Dr Priyambada’s work in science earned her a Padma Shri. Her academic excellence saw her as the Vice Chancellor of Sambalpur University. Her passion for, and life-long immersion in dance has led her to write a number of books and articles on Odissi and related subjects.

I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to have interacted with this inspiring lady, who so graciously took the time to give her comments and guidance on the draft of the NatureScope book on Turtles. Priyambadaji truly demonstrates an interweaving of Science and Art, as beautiful as the sarees she wears!

–Mamata

 

Something to Buzz About!

Today is World Bee Day, designated by none other than the United Nations!honey-311047__340.png

This would have gone unnoticed had I not been reading about Bees for a lesson I was writing for a textbook. Having discovered that there was an international day dedicated to this small creature made me dig deeper–and unearth some delightful nuggets of information.

How did this come about? This was proposed by Slovenia (find that on the map!) on the initiative of the Slovenian Bee Keepers Association, and supported by the Slovenian Government. Following three years of efforts at the international level, on 20 December 2017, the UN Member States unanimously approved Slovenia’s proposal, thus proclaiming 20 May as World Bee Day.

Why Slovenia? Slovenia has a long and rich tradition of beekeeping as a major agricultural activity. Known as a Nation of Beekeepers–one in 200 of its inhabitants is engaged in bee keeping, and there are many levels of Beekeepers Associations. It is known for its unique wooden painted beehive panels and traditional beehive architecture. Even today, most Slovenian beekeepers use a traditional beehive called the AŽ hive, which was created over one hundred years ago.

Why 20 May? This is the birth date of Anton Jansa (1734–1773), a Slovenian beekeeper, the pioneer of modern beekeeping and one of the greatest authorities on the subject of bees. Jansa wisely said “Amongst all God’s beings there are none so hard working and useful to man with so little attention needed for its keep as the bee.”

What’s so special about bees? For most of us it is ‘Think Bees Think Honey’. Besides honey, bees also produce high-quality food like royal jelly and pollen, as well as other products used in healthcare like beeswax and bee venom.

While bees are the only animals that produce food that is eaten by other animals, as well as humans, we do not realise that every third spoonful of all the food we eat depends on bees. It is bees and other pollinators that pollinate nearly three quarters of the plants that produce 90 per cent of the world’s food. When bees go, we lose much much more than a spoonful of honey.

Bees are vital for the preservation of ecological balance and biodiversity in nature. They also act as indicators of the state of the environment. Their presence, absence or quantity tells us when something is happening with the environment and that appropriate action is needed.

So why should we worry? The number of pollinators is in decline around the world. In some parts, this situation has become known as “the pollinator crisis”. New reports are raising the alarm about the rapid decline in bee species and numbers that will pose a direct threat to food production and food security. The time has come to heed the words of Albert Einstein “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

What can we do? For those of us bitten by the honey bug, we could take up beekeeping.

In India Government organisations like the National Bee Board under the Agriculture Department, and Central Bee Research and Training Institute IMG_20190516_115618.jpg(CBRTI) of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) provide training to not just farmers or those who wish to commercially supply honey, but also to anyone who is interested in beekeeping. They can be contacted at cbrti.pune@kvic.gov.in.

For the rest of us, we can do our bit by making bees welcome. We could provide fresh, pesticide-free drinking water; bees need to regularly drink water, especially in hot weather. We can also grow bee-friendly plants. Trees like gulmohar, champa and amaltas, and flowering plants like marigold, sunflower, rose, and hibiscus are ideal for attracting bees. Vegetable and fruit plants like ladies finger, onion, mustard, coriander, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, brinjal, tomato, chilli, papaya, lemon, mango, guava and pomegranate are also good at attracting bees.

While we can’t all transform into a Slovenia, maybe it’s time that we saw that bee as more than just a passing buzz!

–Mamata

May 22 also marks the International Day for Biological Diversity. Let’s start the celebration with a Bee!

 

 

The Naming of Cyclones

T.S. Eliot said, about the naming of cats:

‘The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games’

The naming of cyclones is surely at least as serious!

We have just been reckoning with the damage caused by Fani. Thanks to the excellent predictions and forecasts, as well as the concerted efforts of government authorities, damage has been minimized. Yet, lives have been lost and there is much rehabilitation to be done. We all need to do our bit.

But why was the cyclone named Fani? Why do cyclones have names at all? Doesn’t it sound a bit like trivializing a serious matter?

Well, no. Cyclones are given names to simplify communications and avoid confusion. It is important for forecasters to keep in touch with each other, and for governments to give information on cyclones to the general public. Since the storms can often last a week or longer, and more than one cyclone can be occurring in the same region at the same time, names can reduce the confusion about what storm is being described. The normal practice is that once storms produce sustained wind speeds of more than 34 knots, names are assigned from predetermined lists depending on which basin they originate.

Every region forms a committee of nations who are more prone to cyclones or hurricanes. For the Indian ocean region, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand form the Committee, and the governing body is the Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RCMC), New Delhi. This is the body which assigns names for cyclones originating in our region.

Each nation making up the Committee prepares a list of ten names which they think are suitable to be assigned to a cyclone. Out of each country-list, RSMC selects eight names and prepares eight lists which consist of the names approved by the governing body. The names of cyclones are not allocated in alphabetical order, but rather, the countries are arranged alphabetically, and the names selected from each country in the list, one by one.

Fani is a name contritued by Bangladesh. Names contributed by India are Jal, Agni, Vayu, Akash, Bijli, Lahar, Megh and Sagar.

Starting World War II till about 1979, cyclones were generally named after women. This practice was modified in 1979 by adding men’s names. Now names are by and large not personal names. Most are names of flowers, animals, birds, trees, or even foods, etc, while some are descriptive adjectives.

So at least in this matter, some amount of gender sensitivity has been brought in, and destructive forces are not tagged with exclusively feminine names!

–Meena