Of Fireflies and Glowworms

When we were young, we used to see fireflies in the garden a few weeks in a year. What a magical experience it was! Like the stars had come down to visit us.

After that, I did not see them for many decades. Either I did not live in the right place, or I was not lucky enough to spot them in the short window that they glowed. But in the last few years, since we moved to Bangalore, I have been sighting a few. Year after year, the same two spots in our community hosted them—shrubby areas on the periphery. This year, for some reason, I am seeing many more . Each spot has only a couple, but from two, the number of spots has risen to six or so. That definitely sounds like good news!

But what are fireflies? Sorry if this takes the magic and romance away, but they are a type of beetle!  There are over 2,000 species of firefly spread across the world on every continent except Antarctica. However, in India, we have only eight. They are generally seen in the pre-monsoon season.

Why do fireflies twinkle? As is usually the reason for most beauty in the natural world, it is to attract a mate and reproduce! Fireflies use flashes as mating signals and the flashes we see are generally from males looking for females. They flash a specific pattern while they fly. If a female waiting in the greenery nearby is in the mood, she responds back with a flash. They will continue this flashy exchange till the male locates the female and they mate. Each species has its own pattern so that males and females of the same species can identify each other.

And how do they twinkle? Through a phenomenon called bioluminescence. At the risk of taking away even more romance, it is when two chemicals found in their bodies, luciferin and luciferase, lead to a reaction in the presence of oxygen, adenosine triphosphate  and other compounds, that they twinkle. The light they produce is called ‘cold light’– that is no heat is produced during the reaction. Which is a good thing, as otherwise not only would it waste energy, but also burn the poor creature.

This year was a lucky year, as I am seeing so many fireflies. Firefly populations are rapidly decreasing because of habitat degradation, light pollution, pesticide use, poor water quality, climate change, invasive species, and over-collection. In India, pesticide use may be the most significant cause of the falling numbers.

I was lucky enough to see another ‘glowing phenomenon’ — the glow worms of New Zealand. Of all my nature-travel experiences, I would count this as THE top! In an experience like no other, boats take groups of tourists through a waterway in an intricate web of caves. It gets darker and darker, till you are in the darkest-dark you will ever experience. The boat-captain guides the boat by pulling along ropes tied on the sides of the cave. Just as you start to wonder whether the sight you will see is worth the risk of being toppled into a water course of unknown depth in pitch dark which will make rescue impossible, you are rewarded with flashes of light which grow in intensity as you proceed. And then you know it is worth it as you see constellations of twinkling glow worms on the roof and sides of the cave!

These are glow worms—again, not actually worms, but in the case of those found in Australia and New Zealand, the larvae of fungus gnats, an insect that looks like a mosquito. Their bioluminescence works much the same way as that of fireflies, and they emit light from an organ near their tails that is similar to a human kidney. However, in their case, the glow is mainly used to attract prey. Smaller insects and flies are drawn to the light and fly towards it.

These special sparklers and their habitats are fragile. We don’t know what human actions can push them over the brink. We need to take care that our carelessness does not take the glow from our lives.

-Meena

Statues for Cities

Lock from collection of V. Raghunathan

The Manneken Pis or little pissing man, is arguably the most-visited public statue in the world. The symbol of Belgium and Brussels, this 2-foot bronze statue has, for some reason, caught the imagination of the world and is the center of attraction for the thousands of tourists who visit the ciy. The statue, which pisses into a fountain, has been stolen about seven times, often having to be restored at the end of such misadventures. What stands at the site which we visit– the junction of the Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat and Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraa– is not the original   by the sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619. The original (with all the restorations) is kept in the Brussels City Museum and the  statue we see is a replica which dates from 1965. The statue has around 1000 costumes, and his dress is changed very few days, according to a published schedule. There is no doubt the little boy adds a lot to the revenue of his host city!

There are several, several public sculptures across the world, which characterize the city they stand in, or give it character, including:

Fearless Girl probably the best known of contemporary public statues, this 4’2” little girl stands defiantly, arms akimbo, across from New York’s Stock Exchange Building. A fitting symbol of women empowerment, the chutzpah of the girl does not even need the slogan below which says ‘Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.’ Her stance and expression say it all!

Singing Ringing Tree, a 10-foot-tall sculpture made of galvanized steel  pipes which resembles a tree and is placed in such a way that when the wind moves through it, a song is produced. Located in the Pennine hill range, England, the sculpture was designed by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu.

Bridge Over Tree located in New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park, is made up of a 91-foot-long bridge and a set of stairs at the sculpture’s midpoint. The stairs go over a small evergreen tree, and visitors are forced to interact and cooperate as they pass over it. It was designed by the artist Siah Armajani.

Ayrton Senna  in Barcelona, Spain commemorates  Formula-1 driver Ayrton Senna who was killed during a 1994 race in Italy. Created by Paul Oz, the statue was unveiled on May 8, 2019, the 25th anniversary of Senna’s death.

My city, Bangalore, has its share of public installations too. They run the gamut from whimsical to arty to cute to ghastly.

Lock 1
Lock from collection of V. Raghunathan

Here are a few:

On the perimeter of the Kotak Mahindra Bank’s main office overlooking MG Road stand seven bronze re-creations of ancient Indian locks, complete with their intricate carved details. An unusual subject for street art, it makes sense as locks and banks both stand for safety and security. With the metro line passing overhead and the heavy traffic, the visibility of these is also not as good as it could be. Maybe raising the height of the pedestals would give the commuters a pleasant sight.

Commissioned by Café Coffee Day and set up outside their outlet on Lavelle Road, this is an arrangement of five men and a small boy. One man holds and umbrella, a second carries and briefcase, a third holds a cup of coffee. There is a fountain too, which drenches the sculptures when it is on.  Very squat, it is not always visible to commuters on this busy road, but surely gives a lot of character to the square.

The recently commissioned installation of cars (appropriately dubbed ‘car-kebab’ by a friend) at Yelahanka is a stack of several colourful old cars. An small amphitheatre has been built opposite. Though one is not quite sure why this installation here, or whether there is a risk of rusting and bending if there are strong rains and winds , there is no doubt it adds a pop of colour.

But sadly, the statue put up by BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) at the prominent Windsor Manor Circle, which is part of a major beautification drive and supposed to symbolize ‘Make in India’, is not something that is going to put Bangalore on the map of cities with statues to boast about. It is a poorly executed lion which 22 feet in length, 10 feet in height and weighs 1,000 kg. It appears to be made of cogs and gears, and stands on a rotating elliptical platform (which some say is the Titanic!). Lights and water fountains play around it. If ever there was a piece of ugly municipal art, But unfortunately it is this.

But let us not lose hope! Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

–Meena

Monumental Tragedy

Thanks to COVID and the search for not-too-popular sights, we ended up visiting the Chikkajala Fort last weekend. On the way to Bangalore Airport and not too far from my home, we have been meaning to go for a long time.

‘Fort’ is a misnomer today—what stands is a temple with what once must have been a beautiful, deep temple-tank in front of it, and a few long corridor-like stone structures. The site of Chikkajala is a prehistoric one apparently. It is likely there was a ‘vassal fort’ but it no longer stands. The estimates of the age of the temple and extant structures range from 300 to 950 years!

Apart from the general ravages of time and the overall neglect, apparently some parts of the structures were demolished for road widening after the new airport came up.

Whatever the reasons, it was sad!  To see a construction which must have a thing of beauty, lying in rack and ruin. The structure just falling down as it stands. Carvings defaced. Trees growing on and through the buildings. Cows grazing and leaving behind generous piles of cow dung. The temple tank completely overgrown with vegetation.  Plastic water bottles and discarded chips packets.

It was particularly poignant because only last week, Karnataka announced its Tourism Policy for 2020-25. The State aims to be among the top two tourist destinations in the country. I confess I have not read the 104-page document completely, but what I have read leaves me completely confused! While it talks at length of developing tourism infrastructure, ‘products and services’, I am amazed that it says nothing about the core of tourism—the sights that tourists go to see. What is to be done to preserve and enhance the condition of the cultural artefacts and natural heritage. Agreed, this is in the purview of other departments, but does a tourism policy not have to be in sync with these other departments, and should the synergies not be laid out as a part of the Policy?

The strategic intervention as mentioned by the Policy, and which seem to me to sadly lack so many, many critical elements, are:

  • Position Karnataka as a preferred tourism destination at state ,national and international levels
  • Facilitate improvement of Infrastructure, Tourism Products and Services
  • Streamline processes for obtaining approvals and clearances
  • Prioritise Human Resources Development & Capacity Enhancement
  • Promote ICT based initiatives for providing timely and reliable information services to tourists
  • Create institutional structures for effective implementation of the Policy
  • Provide attractive concessions and investment subsidies for various tourism

Admittedly I know nothing about Tourism or Tourism policy. But I do know when an ancient monument next to my house is falling to bits. I do see that a monument right on the main road to the airport can attract a lot of footfalls. I can gauge that it is about some money, but  much more about caring.

A small piece of heritage in a country which has so much that we can’t be bothered about any of it? A tiny blip in a list of monumental tragedies?

–Meena

PS: A lovely spider sighted in the ruins. About 5 inches across, it had spun a web which was about 4 ft across. Maybe Nephila pylipis, but I am not quite sure.

Photo credits: V. Raghunathan

Distances Are Measured In..

Musings as the monsoons approach….

 

How strange to live in a world (or shall I say, a city)

Where distances are measured not in units of length

But in units of time!!

So that when Kiran says

“I am at Bannerghatta. How far is your place?’

I say not ‘10 kms or 12 kms’

But ‘40 minutes–keep your fingers crossed’.

 

And distances depend on time of day and day of week!

So that when Pramod asks me on a Sunday afternoon

‘How long will it take me to get to your place?’

I say ‘I will put on the tea. You can be here in 10 minutes.’

But when his wife calls on Tuesday evening and asks me the same question,

I say ‘Oh, oh! Our other guests will be here in 15 minutes,

And its going to take you at least 45!’

 

They also depend on time of year

For after the monsoons, when the roads are more holes than road,

A 1 km stretch is a 15-minute ride

While in winter, with the roads freshly—if superficially—done up,

It is a whiz-past of 2 minutes!

 

And did you know, distances depend on who is in town?

For when the PM or the FM or any other M visits,

We count distances in hours, not in minutes.

 

My science teacher, who poor soul,

Lived in as high an ivory tower as is possible,

Will be most deeply disturbed

Because it seems

That nothing is absolute anymore!

 

–Meena Raghunathan

 

PS: I live in Bangalore, most notorious of all cities in regard to traffic. But many others are not far behind, unfortunately. When will we plan for sustainable cities?

Art Mart

20190106_120410

A dramatic 6’x4’ acrylic on canvas by Mahadeva Shetty

The first Sunday of January is marked down in every Bangalorean’s calendar as Chitra Santhe Day, the day when the busy Kumara Krupa Road is taken over by artists exhibiting and selling their works.

20190106_111151The Sunday just gone by was the 16th edition of the Chitra Santhe. About 1500 artists from 16 states of India were there, and 400,000 people visited!

As a regular visitor to the Santhe, it is something I look forward to. More than the art even, the festive atmosphere, people taking the time to look at paintings and talk about them, mothers and fathers discussing art with their children….

20190106_113620

Grateful to the organizers and the city for this opportunity. And since it is about art, less words and some pics this time!

–Meena

Sights That Make Me Smile As I Walk By

Our Indian cities don’t have much by way of street art. And what there is, looks typically municipality-commissioned.

Which is why i thought i should share a few examples of street art that ticks all the boxes of what this should be–creative, imaginative, quirky and brilliantly executed.

So I am going to let the pics speak for themselves!

A brilliant 2-level piece, partly on the compound wall, and partly on the building wall. (Note the line across the boy’s shoulder. Below that, is the the portion on the compound wall, and above on the building wall). Yelahanka, Bangalore.

2E61621F-9F75-4954-9F46-955590FBF2F7

Compound wall of a house. Yelahanka, Bangalore.

bd744ad6-bc93-4e87-9255-21e9fbc1be89.jpeg

Discarded dish antenna. GMR Institute of Technology. Rajam, Andhra Pradesh.

04AD7BC1-8698-4AE9-8D94-4A94F29005E2

–Meena

An Avian Tale With A Happy Ending

bird

Our office in Yelahanka Bangalore is small and homely. The second floor place is surrounded by lovely trees, and we can see thick foliage from our windows.

Last summer, every now and then, we used to hear loud thuds. Not too often, but often enough for us to wonder what it was about. To begin with, we couldn’t figure out what on earth those were about. But then we realized that birds were crashing into our windows. Generally, it was crows. One day, a female koel hit her head. They all banged into the windows and then fell onto our narrow balcony. It did not seem to affect them too much. They just rested for a few minutes and were on their way again.

But one day, there was a huge bang and thud. We rushed out to our balcony, to find a small bird lying on its back. It seemed to barely be breathing. We panicked. We had no clue what to do. Anuradha and Sudha got busy talking to friends who might know what to do. But no clear suggestions came. They then tried calling animal shelters, NGOs, the Forest Department. Some numbers were old and out of commission. Some didn’t respond. Some didn’t have any solutions. The Forest Dept. was helpful. They suggested we could take the bird to their shelter. But unfortunately, that was 25 kms away. A drive of 2 hours during morning hours in Bangalore. It was unlikely the bird would survive the traffic and drive.

We did not want to disturb the little bird, but noticed some crows circling around, and figured it needed to be moved indoors. So we found a cardboard box and put it into it. It was still opening its eyes once in a while, so we held on to hope. We put it away in a quiet, dark room, with a bowl of water by the side. We restrained ourselves with great difficultly from going into the room every two minutes to check on it. We used the time, and a little help from friends, to figure out that it was a juvenile brown headed barbet.

bird 1.PNG

We gave it half an hour and then went in. And lo and behold, to our great relief and joy, it was sitting up. Still looking dazed, but definitely alive. We once again closed the door and left it alone. After another half an hour, when we went in, it was sitting on the window sill.

bird 3

Now the challenge was to get it out of the office and out on the wing. It was extremely confused and kept flying away from us and the door. It took 10 minutes but Vinod, a colleague who luckily was visiting the office that day, managed to gently catch it. Then the release ceremony! We took it outside and with a gentle tap, it flew into the tree top.

What a relief!

But the morning was so traumatic, we felt we couldn’t go through such an experience again. So we tried to work out out why the birds were crashing. Finally, we figured that it was the tinted glass windows. The trees and thick foliage around were reflected faithfully in this and it looked like open skies, so birds seems to continue flying forward, not realizing that there was a barrier. We were not sure, but since it was the only possible solution we could think of, we decided to replace the tinted glass with plain glass. Before that, we went through elaborate trials, when we called for various types of glass, propped them up and checked the reflections.

Since the day we replaced the glass, there have been no bangs, thuds or accidents, so looks our problem analysis was right.

Though I have to admit, my room is uncomfortably sunny on some days! Well, a small price to pay.

DISTANCES ARE MEASURED IN?

How strange to live in a world (or shall I say, a city)

Where distances are measured not in units of length

But in units of time!!

So that when Kiran says

“I am at Bannerghatta. How far is your place?’

I say not ’10 kms or 12 kms’

But ’40 minutes–keep your fingers crossed.’

 

And distances depend on time of day and day of week!

So that when Pramod asks me on a Sunday afternoon

‘How long will it take me to get to your place?’

I say ‘I will put on the tea. You can be here in 10 minutes.’

But when his wife calls on Tuesday evening and asks me the same question,

I say ‘Oh, oh! Our other guests will be here in 15 minutes,

And its going to take you at least 45!’

 

They also depend on time of year

For after the monsoons, when the roads are more holes than road,

A 1 km stretch is a 15 minute ride

While in winter, with the roads freshly—if superficially—done up,

It is a whiz-past of 2 minutes!

 

And did you know, distances depend on who is in town?

For when the PM or the FM or any other M visits,

We count distances in hours, not in minutes.

 

My science teacher, who poor soul,

Lived in as high an ivory tower as is possible,

Will be most deeply disturbed

Because it seems

That nothing is absolute anymore!

–Meena