An Old-Fashioned Tribute to Diversity

C634E548-70B1-4F19-97D5-C821011F64A4The last telegram in India was sent at 11.45 p.m. on the 14th of July, 2013. The telegram service in the country started in 1850 on an experimental basis, and was made available to the public in 1854. It connected us across the vast country, the harbinger of joys and sorrows. The arrival of a telegram definitely did give rise to butterflies in the stomach and a rise in blood pressure.

But there was a class of telegrams called ‘Greetings Telegrams’, which brought only joy. The Postal Department had kindly put together greetings-phrases to cover many occasions, and one had to only choose the number and the message would be handed over to the recipient in a specially-designed happy format.

What struck me when I recently went through the list of greetings telegrams was a sense of India—all our celebrations and special occasions—religious and secular, national and personal. The list obviously does not cover the entire gamut. But one can see the effort for inclusivity—whether of religion or community or region. And also a sense of evolving sensitivity. Additions of Parushan, Ravidas Purnima, Bihu or Ugadi at later numbers do definitely indicate this evolving sensitivity to me.

The intriguing ones are of course the ones on elections!

No. 100 on the list was a condolence message, something often needed but only informally on the ‘Greetings’ list!

Today, this list and its evolving nature might be called political correctness at best (tokenism, appeasement or pseudo-secularism would also definitely be bandied),  but for me, it is my India! Here is the list:

 

  1. Heartiest Diwali Greetings (1)
  2. Id Mubarak (2)
  3. Heartiest Bijoya Greetings (3)
  4. A Happy New Year To You (4)
  5. Many Happy returns of the day (5)
  6. Hearty Congratulations on the new Arrival (6)
  7. Congratulations on the Distinction conferred on you (7)
  8. Best Wishes for a long and Happy married life (8)
  9. A Merry Christmas to you (9)
  10. Hearty Congratulations on your success in the Examination (10)
  11. Best Wishes for a safe and pleasant journey (11)
  12. Hearty Congratulations for your success in Election (12)
  13. Many Thanks for your good wishes which i/we Reciprocate Most Heartily (13)
  14. Congratulations (14)
  15. Loving Greetings (15)
  16. May Heaven’s Choicest Blessings be showered on the young couple (16)
  17. Wish you both a happy and prosperous wedded life (17)
  18. Kind Remembrances and all Good Wishes for the Independence Day (18)
  19. Sincere Greetings for the Republic Day Long Live the Republic (19)
  20. My Heartiest Holi Greetings to you (20)
  21. Wishing the function every success (21)
  22. Many thanks for your kind message of Greetings (22)
  23. Best Wishes for your successes in the examination (23)
  24. Best Wishes for your success in Elections
  25. Convey our blessings to the newly married couple (25)
  26. Heartiest Pongal Greetings (26)
  27. Heartiest Gur Purb Greetings (27)
  28. Greetings on the occasion of Parvushan-a day of universal forgiveness (28)
  29. Heartiest Onam Greetings (29)
  30. Best Wishes on your wedding anniversary (30)
  31. Wish you a happy retired life (31)
  32. Wish you a speedy recovery (32)
  33. Heartiest Ugadi Greetings (33)
  34. Congratulations on your victory (34)
  35. Wish you a Happy Bihu (35)
  36. A Happy Easter (36)
  37. Heartiest Greetings on Buddha Jayanti (37)
  38. Heartiest Congratulations on Greh Pravesh (38)
  39. Heartiest Guru Ravidas Purnima Greetings (39)
  40. Heartiest Greetings on Navroj
  41. Heartiest Greetings on the Occasion of Jhulelal Jayanti
  42. Healthiest Greetings on the Occasion of Makarsankranti
  43. Healthiest Greetings on the Occasion of Chatrapatimaharaja Shri Agrasen Jayanti

 

–Meena

 

 

 

 

Just Deserts

I love deserts. Of all the ecosystems and landscapes, I have always felt the closest affinity to the desert. While I have trekked among hills and mountains, and have enjoyed the sea and seashore, it is the desert that makes me feel at once ‘at home’ as it were.

My introduction to the desert dates back many decades.

IMG_20200618_110730
Illustration CEE’s NatureScope India  Discovering Deserts 

As a young trekker I was a member of a group called the Delhi Mountaineering Association. One year, the mountaineers decide to descend from the mountains and explore a new terrain and undertake something that was hitherto unexplored. The result was the Desert Expedition—the first-ever attempt (then) to cross the Thar desert in Rajasthan on foot. Eight strangers (5 men and 3 women, including yours truly), sharing a common urge to explore and discover, came together to embark on a two-week journey that touched each of us in so many different ways, and left behind indelible memories.

The walk commenced from the little village of Sam, about 44 km from Jaisalmer. This is where I had my first sight of the dunes rising from a sea of sand in the morning sunlight–a curious composite of the ripples of the ocean with the majesty of the mountains. And from here walked, our motley band of adventurers; day after sunny day, dusty winds, clinging bhurats (prickly thorns). From the sand, through the unending vista of flat arid miles stretching to the horizon, stopping to quench our parched throats with mathira the juicy wild melons, and communing with our accompanying camels. The utterly comforting feel of sleeping on the sand, under the canopy of the Milky Way, lulled by the unbroken sounds of silence. A unique bonding over seven days and 190 km (every inch traversed on blistered feet!), that left me deeply in love with the desert.

While I have not been able to go the desert as often as I would like to, serendipitously the desert has made its way into my life from time to time.

I am often reminded by my erstwhile boss that the only credentials that started me on my career as an environmental educator, was the fact that I had been on that desert expedition! My work in environment led me to study and understand (rather than only experience) the different ecosystems. When I had the opportunity to develop a teaching-learning manual on Deserts, I plumbed the depths of literature on the subject and was awestruck by the fascinating facets, incredible adaptations, and the innumerable strands that weave together create a vibrant ecosystem in a seemingly lifeless terrain. What was once intuitive was bolstered with intellect.

More serendipity! A collaborative project with Abu Dhabi, and an equally ardent desert lover transported me (after so many years) into a desert again—the Arabian Desert, also known as the Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali in Arabic). Being amid the immense dunes and endless stretches of sand, was like homecoming. I would never have imagined this, all those years ago in the Thar.

And then, a trip to Ladakh to experience the cold desert—that I had only written about till then. So different–the starkness, the skies, the silence, and the sheer scale, and yet similar.  Nowhere but in the desert have I felt this with such intensity.

My heart lies in the desert. Sadly I may not be able to recreate these experiences if I tried now. The once remote sand dunes of Sam are now a tourist hot spot. The dunes and dune life of Rub al Khali are being decimated by the sport craze for off-road vehicles zooming across the sand. The fragile cold desert ecosystem of Ladakh is being snowed under with overtourism. Deserts are disappearing, and no ‘development’ scheme can ever recreate them.

–Mamata

Ironically while the real deserts are under threat, human activity is leading to transforming non-desert areas into arid lifeless regions through the process of desertification.  June 17 is observed as The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification.

 

Prejudice and An Epic Production

D3962893-2848-4398-B173-3992ED5AACE1Over 30 years ago.

A stage adaptation of the Mahabharata opened in Paris. Directed by Peter Brook, it was the first-ever stage presentation of the entire epic, and ran to 9 hours. It had a multi-racial cast—21 actors from 16 countries. Mallika Sarabhai was the lone Indian on the cast, playing the central role of Draupadi.

While many art-forms tell stories from the epic, usually it is only parts or specific episodes from the Mahabharata which are staged. This was the first (and till now, the only) time, the whole epic was adapted for the theatre. First made in French, later there was an English version too.

It made history.

It toured the world.

It did not come to India.

Why? Because there were protests in India against people from Africa playing key roles and depicting the Pandavas and some of our other heroes and heroines. There were especially strong reactions to Mamadou Dioume of Senegalese origin playing Bhima. (There were no problems with an Italian playing Arjuna, or a Pole playing Yudhishtra though!)

Peter Brook saw the Mahabharata as a universal tale, transcending time and geography, exploring the human mind and motivations. The depths the human character could plumb, as well as the heights it could reach. He saw it as the story of the race of man. And in this context, the diverse cast made sense.

Alas, the protestors in India could not see this.

We do not often think of racism as one of the many isms that mar us.

But it is there!

Along with:

Communalism

Casteism

Sexism

Regionalism

And many others.

And I don’t think any one of us is free of some prejudice or the other.

It is the time to dig deep and surface our biases, recognize them, and then grapple with them.

Not easy, but as we are becoming increasingly aware, life is not easy!

–Meena

A Browser Laments

Browser

*a person who looks casually through publications or at goods for sale

*a software application used to locate, retrieve and display content on the World Wide Web, including web pages, images, video and other files

*an animal which feeds mainly on high-growing vegetation

I fall firmly in the first category. I am an old-fashioned browser of books. For me, the two pleasures greater than actually buying a book are the delicious anticipation of a visit to a bookstore or library, and the time spent there browsing the books on display before making a selection.

Fortunately, as I see it now, I grew up in a time when physical books, and places where books were kept were an integral part of life. Birthday and other presents for oneself and others were always books. Going to a bookstore was the most pleasurable pastime, initially accompanied by parents and later, with friends or by oneself. A library membership card was a precious possession. And having the time to spend just wandering around and looking through the books on the shelves was the ultimate indulgence.

This has remained true for me through all the phases of my life. The childhood summer vacation treat of visiting the small bookshop in our hometown to choose from the few English language books, or the hole-in-the-wall neighbourhood lending library which provided a selection of well-thumbed Mills and Boons. The membership of the Children’s Book Trust library with its colourful colours and cool interior where one discovered Shankar and Children’s World (that I later wrote for myself); and later that of the American Library where one was introduced to contemporary authors and literature. My years as a high school and college student in Delhi were highlighted by long stopovers at the legendary Galgotia and Sons in Connaught Place with its high ceilings, dusty tomes and old-fashioned shelves (replaced in the last decade by the brightly lit steel and glass façade of H&M). And later, by the just-must-go-to bookstores in Khan Market and South Extension which exuded a comforting familiarity even as stores on both sides became more and more glitzy.

One did not go walk in and out of these shops, or librarIMG_20200609_102020ies, just to pick up a book. One went to feast on the shelves lined with books, to run one’s eye across and up and down, pulling out a familiar name, or a new unfamiliar one; to peruse the blurbs on the cover to get a taste of what was within. One went in, sometimes with the certainty of coming out with a specific title, but equally the expectation of discovering new authors, or new works by familiar authors. It was the exploration that was the real fun, not so much the final selection.

And then, there were the book fairs and book sales. A veritable paradise for a bibliophile like me. The joys of wandering in Pragati Maidan in the mild winter sun, rubbing shoulders with hundreds of fellow book browsers created a sense of community like no other. Here the excitement of exploration and discovery was multiplied many times. Even today, in another time and place, I get the same frisson of excitement when I read of a bumper book sale. It is hard work, sorting through literally mounds of pre-owned books, sweating in the airless hall; but worth it all to stagger out with a sackful of bargain books. And the ultimate thrill of uncovering some classic authors and titles at a throwaway price. The right rewards of patient browsing.

Sadly over the last decade bookstores are closing everywhere. People now ‘browse’ the internet, and order books online. Why, they no longer need physical books as they can store a thousand on a slim Kindle. Now the last straw—social distancing. No crowds, no touch, no wander—no browse. Read what you get on your Smart phone. What a loss; what we are missing! What will a future without book browsing be like? What will it mean for humankind?

“And if anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space, in a single house or a single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books.” Herman Hesse

–Mamata

Anarkali At My Window

BFCA646E-31A4-47A9-AB75-B961DD704B3ELockdown has certainly make us more observant and has given us new ways of looking at things. There is a pomegranate tree whose top I can see from my window—and considering I spend eight or nine hours working in that room, it is very central to my vision! It is currently flowering, abuzz with bees, and fruits have started forming.

I have always wondered why Anarkali*, the beauty who stole the to-be Emperor Jahangir’s heart and brought him to loggerheads with his father Emperor Akbar, was called so. Was the flower so beautiful that our most famous beauty was named for it? I never did think so.

Well, my recent close encounters with the tree and flowers have given me a greater appreciation of the beauty of the flower. Bright waxy orange blossoms which stand out against the green of the leaves, and a nice shape. And bees drawn to them by the dozens, as maybe men, young and old, were drawn to Anarkali (one version is that she was part of Akbar’s harem, and that rivalry between father and son for her favours was at the heart of the dispute).

But maybe more than just the beauty of the flowers, it is the associations that the ancient fruit has, that makes the pomegranate so much part of the imagination. It is one of the few fruits which is mentioned in the texts of many religions.

Starting from ancient Greek mythology–in the story of Persephone’s abduction by Hades, lord of the underworld, the pomegranate represents life, regeneration, and the permanence of marriage.The story is that one day while out gathering flowers, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and taken down to his kingdom. By eating a few pomegranate seeds, Persephone tied herself to Hades.

Pomegranate is mentioned in the Vedas and is an important part of Ayurveda. It is a symbol of fertility and abundance, and one of the nine fruits offered to Goddess Durga.

In Buddhism too, it is significant. The Buddha received many valuable gifts from wealthy disciples. But it is said that a poor old woman’s gift of a small pomegranate was the one that delighted him most. It is also said that he once offered a pomegranate to the demon Hariti, which cured her of her alarming habit of eating children.

It finds a place in Zoroastrianism too. In Persian mythology, Isfandiyar eats a pomegranate and becomes invincible.

In Islam, the fruit is considered a symbol of harvests, wealth, and wellness. Legend has it that each pomegranate contains one seed that has come down from paradise. Along with olive, dates and figs, it is one of the four sacred fruits in Islam.

In Judaism, it is believed that each pomegranate has 613 seeds—one for each of the Bible’s Commandments. The Song of Solomon compares the veiled cheeks of a bride to the two halves of a pomegranate.

1A6133BD-4C41-49AA-BA38-4EED5DB8E6ADThe pomegranate is a symbol of resurrection and life everlasting in Christian art, and the pomegranate is often found in devotional statues and paintings of the Virgin and Child, as in Bottecelli’s ‘Madonna of the Pomegranate’ shown here.

I shall delight in the beauty of the pomegranate flowers for now. I shall try to get a few fruits before the parakeets get them all. And I shall let thoughts of all the health and prosperity they will bring me help me through the Lockdown!

–Meena

*Anar= Pomegranate. Kali= Flower

 

Virtually Missing

Six years ago, what now seems to be another time and another place, I transitioned from full-time paid employment to ‘independent freelance worker from home’. Today WFH is the new buzzword! For someone who had gotten up and out to go to work for over three decades this was a big change. The most obvious was the change in the mental and physical routine. Rushing back and forth between work and home, often hugely stressful, one developed the skills of keeping the domestic and professional arenas distinct, while still maintaining a suitable balance between the two. My new phase of WFH demanded equal skills to keep the two domains separate within the same physical setting. Over time, with some practical planning, some experimentation, some creativity, and a sense of mission I got myself into a suitable groove. Today when I see a barrage of ‘tips and hacks’ on WFH, I cannot help but be amused, with a sense of ‘been there, done that.’

What is new for me however, is the technological take-over. And here I feel “Haven’t been there, don’t want to do that.” Neither my long professional Work From Office life nor my WFH years have been entirely ‘remote working’ experiences in any way. They were not marked by day after day of zoom rooms and virtual meetings. My teaching-learning experiences have not been ‘online’ through artificial screens. My conferences have not been video-linked. My DIY instructions have not been over YouTube. My news has not come from the mobile phone, and my entertainment has not been watching plays, films and concerts on my laptop. I have (barring the last two months) regularly browsed for books in a physical library or bookstore.

For this I am so very grateful; and about this I am now greatly concerned. What is life going to be like in the days to come?IMG_20200526_112241 How much will be lost in terms of simple human contact? When I see members of zoom rooms, each with their own coffee mugs in their own physical rooms; when I see news anchors casually sipping from teacups as they analyse another day of gloom and doom, I can almost taste the consistently  undrinkable tea that I sipped with my colleagues, rubbing shoulders across a small office table. This is what I most acutely missed, and continue to do, in my WFH life.

Two years ago in this space, I described this simple but invaluable ritual thus:

‘Twice a day, as the footsteps heralded the bearer of the teas, it was literally and (later) figuratively ‘pens down’. Time to cluster around, a time for sharing—news and views, happenings and unhappenings (propah English not mandatory, and language khichdi quite delicious!), cribbings and crabbings–and above all, energising. There were snacks too—“hey taste what I baked yesterday,” “oh great, banana chips all the way from home state”, “guess what, I discovered this new naasta shop with 50 flavours of khakhra….”

Tea table became the venue for easing in the newcomers; teasing and ribbing the old-timers; there were no hierarchies and no bosses. The agenda was whatever the mood of the table—sharing, admonishing, admiring, agonising and venting, and yes, laughing a lot.

It was an important support system in so many ways. After just 15 minutes, one returned to one’s desk feeling much better. You weren’t the only one who struggled to keep going as you juggled work and home; your child’s behaviour was not as worrisome as you imagined it was; and yes, in-laws happened to the best of us!’

The world going the way it is, such memories will remain just that—ancient history of another era. This is only one of the many simple joys of physical interaction with fellow humans that we took for granted. Others included the delicious anticipation of meeting friends for coffee; choosing the restaurant for the next birthday lunch; dressing up for an evening of theatre or music; wandering and jostling in a crowded market, and walking amidst fellow human beings on a busy street.

For many like me, the new normal is sadly so abnormal. To live in a virtual world is bereft of meaning, of everything that makes us what we are and what keeps us going. They say that people will get used to this. They say that we must adapt or perish. I am not sure how much I can adapt, so perish I must!

–Mamata

 

Will Our Children Ever Visit a Museum?

60741174-E9F0-4271-8CC5-20144451BD0CWhy the sudden question? Well, because May 18th  is International Museum Day—observed as such since since 1977. The idea is that on this day, museums engage with their stakeholders and highlight the importance of the role of museums as institutions and the role they play in society.

And as with everything else, Corona is forcing us to re-examine many things that we took for granted.

Statue of Artemis, Ephesus Museum, Turkey

 

And museums are one of them. A museum is ‘a building or place where works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed’. There are over 55,000 museums in the world.

How many will survive COVID?

Museums by their very nature are places which need to be visited by the public—in other words, queues, groups, crowds. What shape will that take in the post-COVID world? Surely there will be a fall in numbers visiting.

Moreover, of recent years, many exhibits in museums are interactive—requiring you to press buttons, handle things, etc. All of that will have to be re-conceived. That will cost money. Financially, some may be able to survive, while others may be forced to shut down.

And there is another threat—the threat to the security of artefacts and exhibits during this time. Already, on 6th April, thieves  forced open the glass doors of the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands and made off with its most valuable exhibit, a Van Gogh oil painting called “Spring Garden, the Parsonage Garden in Nuenen in Spring”. The theft highlights concerns of having high-value items in unattended locations as entire regions lock down.

On the other hand, many museums are re-inventing themselves, and taking the occasion of lockdown to go online. Several already had virtual tours, but many others are putting their exhibits online and developing virtual ways for audiences to see and experience them. Many including the Smithsonian have already made a number of tours available online.

Even more interesting is the effort of some museums to study and preserve the experiences of COVID even as it is happening. The Victoria and Albert Museum for instance is preparing to launch Pandemic Objects, an online series examining how a range of unremarkable items have become charged with new meaning and purpose. The exhibition will capture things like the variety of homemade signs cropping up in shop windows around the world, explaining new delivery services and warning people to keep 2m apart. Another focus of this exhibition will be to examine if the pandemic is revealing something new about things that are normally taken for granted. For instance, the upsurge in baking and related activities. The series is likely to examine why this should be so—it is not as if bread is not available. Why then has baking become so popular—maybe the ‘tactile and meditative quality of the process, along with a desire to feel self-sufficient’ asBrendan Cormier, senior design curator says?

There will be a new normal in museums as in everything else. Museums as buildings to be visited may go down in popularity, but the re-interpretation of “museums as an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples” will become even more relevant than before.

–Meena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orange is the New…

5218618B-E3FF-4DD6-8514-CF97668775D6In the case of demarcation of COVID zones in India, Orange is the New Freedom! Lucky enough to fall into this zone, I can now do some things I could not last week. But since my neighbouring zone 5 kms away is Red, there is nothing very exciting I can do. But I suppose it is all in the mind.

But as promised, this blog is not going to be Corona-obsessed. So moving on, it is about traffic lights—where the COVID classification zones in India seem to have had their origin.

Traffic lights were actually invented much before automobiles., to control the movement of horse carriages. (Tongas, camel carts etc. in India sometimes follow traffic lights and sometimes do not. I have never quite figured out if the same rules and fines apply to them as to cars and scooters. But maybe not, for after all, such things come under the Motor Vehicles Act!)

On Dec 10, 1868, the first traffic lights were installed outside the Houses of Parliament in London—red for ‘Stop’, and green for ‘Go’. The idea itself was borrowed from the railways, which had been using lights for its traffic control for quite some time.

The very first traffic lights were gas-fuelled, and were manually controlled by a policeman. But being gas-fuelled, though they prevented road accidents, there were incidences when the traffic lights themselves exploding. It is not known if this led to fatalities, but considering that horse-traffic accidents themselves may not have led to too many fatalities, it may have been a close-run competition.

The early 1900s saw the invention of automobiles and a significant uptick in road traffic, and the need for better systems of traffic management was becoming clear. It was in 1912 that an American policeman Lester Wire, came up with the idea of electric traffic lights, and the first one, based on his design, was installed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914.

The very first electric traffic lights, like their gas-fuelled predecessors, had only the red and green. Some of them had a buzzer sound in place of the amber light to indicate that the signal was going to change soon.

It was in 1920 that another American policeman William Potts invented the first three-coloured traffic lights and Detroit became the first city to implement them.

But why Red, Green and Orange (or Amber)?

RED: This colour is probably used to symbolize STOP because in many cultures, red symbolizes danger. It makes a lot of sense scientifically also, because Red has the longest wavelength of any colour in the visible spectrum and hence can be seen from a greater distance than any other colour.

GREEN: Originally, in the railways, White was used for the all-clear signal, but train   mistook the light of the moon or stars for the “all clear”. This led to derailments and train collisions. And hence, a change was required from White. It seems that it was decided that now  Green (which till then used for ‘Caution’) would be used for GO. Also, the green wavelength is next to yellow on the visible spectrum, meaning it’s still easier to see than any colour other than red and yellow.

YELLOW/AMBER/ORANGE: When the Green switched over to mean GO, then it was decided that yellow would be used for caution. Also, yellow is very distinct from the other two colours and hence suitable.

Here is wishing all a rapid move to GREEN and SAFETY!

–Meena

 

Tuk Tuk

Tonk tonk tonk…it starts before dawn has broken. Even before the crows start their warm-up caw-caws, and the magpie robin tunes up to launch into its melodious repertoire. 

IMG_20200430_111905.jpg
Spot Tuk Tuk! 

A steady metronomic metallic sound—like the hammer of a coppersmith softly hitting the metal.  The Coppersmith of the avian world is awake and ready for another call-marathon.

Last week when it first began calling, I rushed out to look for the source of the sound. It seemed to be all around—almost like sound-surround! But I know where look for it–the remains of the big rain tree that once overlooked my kitchen wash area. The tree died naturally last year, but its skeletal remains continue to invite so much other life–to perch, to play, and to pause awhile. This is the Coppersmith’s favourite post. And sure enough there it was—on the highest point of the tallest bare branch—a speck against the blue sky. Almost invisible, but certainly not inaudible. It puffed up its chest, and raising and bobbing its head from side to side (perhaps the secret of the sound surround!) called out like a muezzin from the minaret.

The Crimsonbreasted Barbet, as it is ornithologically called,

IMG_20200430_110942.jpg
Cover bird of my favourite bird book!

is a small bird with a loud call. It  is just a little bigger, but chunkier, than a sparrow, but certainly not as drab. It dons a striking combination of brilliant colours—grass-green top feathers and green-streaked yellowish underparts; a crimson forehead and patch on its breast; vibrant yellow throat, and concentric eye rings of red and yellow. It has distinctive whisker-like feathers around its stout black beak, and a short truncated tail.

My bird book tells me that this bird is mainly a fruit eater, and is commonly found wherever there are fruiting trees, especially fig or banyan. The closest trees around my house are Gulmohar and Copper pod, which are also in full bloom, but not with the fruits and berries that this bird likes so much. Perhaps it finds these in the park next door. Although it baffles me, given the very short breaks between the continuous metronomes, how it manages to partake of sufficient nourishment to sustain its energy to call non-stop.

As the sun climbs higher, other birds fall silent as they seek refuge from the heat in the foliage of trees and hedges. But not our relentless caller. Under the blazing sun, on a high bare treetop, it goes on and on. Funnily, nowhere could I find out why it calls—is it to attract a mate? Difficult to know as both male and female look alike! Is it to warn of predators and danger? But then, why call continuously? Or is it for the sheer joy of being alive and and sharing its song each day? I rather like to think of it this way!

Last evening during a lull, I scanned the tree and spotted it perched woodpecker-like, using its strong beak to excavate a hole in the dry branch. I discovered that it nests and roosts in these small holes.  I am glad though that it has chosen to make its look-out point, and perhaps its home, on our tree. It is nice to have a Tuk Tuk for a neighbour!

Tuk Tuk is one of the common Gujarati names for the Coppersmith.

–Mamata

 

What an Irony!

…Or contradictions in the time of Corona.

Confession. I belong to the age of dinosaurs! Not so old as to reminisce about the freedom struggle, and World War 2 (which my parents did), but old enough to remember one short war, night curfews and blackouts, and shortages. Old enough to remember a time when gymming, pubbing, clubbing, beauty and retail therapy were not considered to be critical to one’s physical and mental health. When staying indoors as a family was not unheard of, and what to do with one’s time was never a stress-inducing problem.

It is in the last month, as they say, “the world as we know it had changed.” Coronatimes newspapers, and especially the Lifestyle and Leisure supplements reveal that yes, the world has changed, but in different ways for different people. I cannot help but think back, and chuckle a bit at the contradictions!

Then and Now…

‘Staycations’ were the trendy way to spend your holidays; but now staying at home for free becomes ‘confinement’.

People went to expensive health spas for detox stints; now have DTs at home without their sustaining substances.

School vacations were a time of simple self-devised ‘time-pass’ activities (or lack of activities); not a time of huge stress for parents as to how to keep the children “engaged”.

Summer holidays were marked by hours spent playing cards, ludo and carom with relatives of all ages; now newspapers feature pictures of this as a wonderful sign of how indoor games lead to ‘family bonding’.

‘Social distancing’ was a cause for concern and counselling, as people addicted to virtual reality could not relate to real people; now when it becomes mandated, people want to break it.

Page 3 celebrities fill pages with pictures of “doing the dishes” or “playing with baby”; while numerous stories of unseen unsung heroes who are risk their own life to save others are inconspicuous among the headliners.

People have to be taught how to cover their faces when outdoors, something the two-wheeler female riders of Ahmedabad have been adept at for years.

Now Kitchen Hacks on innovative ways to make provisions last longer, and replacements for quinoa and parsley; when generations of homemakers have learnt and practised ‘living within their means’ with some saved for a rainy day.

While some eagerly await the resumption of Swiggy and home delivery from restaurants, many middle-class housewives wake up early every day to join the voluntary cooking efforts to feed the homeless and hungry.

Glossy pictures of designers displaying their designer masks; news items of hundreds of ordinary women sewing for hours to make and distribute masks made from old clothes.

Once people had to wear masks when the sky was grey and smoggy; now everyone has to wear masks when the sky is clear and blue.

Then, health and well-being pundits urged and cajoled people to get off the couches and walk; now people are risking fines and arrests to go out for a walk.

Now we need Life Coaches to tell us how to spend our day from the time we open our eyes to shut-eye time; then people did not have time nor leisure to need such coaching, but a lot of basic common sense to guide in how to live, and thrive.

Then we scoffed at mothers and grandmothers who judiciously planned, saved and put away things that “you never know when these may help”; now we remember with nostalgia and regret (or gratitude) that ‘old ladies’, old fashioned’ advice.

SARS CoV-2 did to CO2 levels what 25 Climate Change COPs could not do!

The virus of fake news spreads much faster than the Covid-19.

 

With gratitude and humility for those of us who are lucky to have the wherewithal to lead the life we do.

–Mamata