Where are the warblers?

Ever since I ID’ed them, ever winter I eagerly wait for the “chek-chek” sound of the Blythe’s Reed Warbler. And even if I don’t hear them from right next to my house, I know I will come across one somewhere in the area. And all these years I have not been disappointed.

Every winter, I also go looking to shoot pics of these birds. And they are extremely hard to shoot. And then out of nowhere you’ll have one sitting opposite your window when you are busy with something else.

IMG_4774 Continue reading “Where are the warblers?”

Books list from 2019

Again, time for the book list. This year’s count is the max I have managed. Ever. I finished with 53 books, and also with, exactly, 16000 pages! (What are the chances of getting an exact 000? Well, 1 in 1000.)  I read a lot more non-fiction this year and they come with a lot of Notes and References pages, but either way, only citing the pages count to say I did not get there by just reading smaller books.

Without much ado, the books, using last year’s format of classification. Also, if you just want the list on Goodreads, here it is. Continue reading “Books list from 2019”

The year of elephants

I remember the evening when I dropped into Goobe’s on Church Street. I don’t really remember what took me into the store, but I was there. I was probably looking for a specific book. Which one, I don’t remember. Maybe Schaller’s ‘Deer and the Tiger’. A cursory glance on the first shelf picked out a book for me “Elephant Days and Nights”, by Raman Sukumar. Now, Sukumar is one of the foremost authorities on Asian elephants, having spent a lifetime studying them. This would be good to read.

What followed was an immersive experience into the regions of Punjanur, Hasanur, Sathyamangalam, and most interestingly for me, Kyatadevaragudi (K-Gudi). 10 years of studying the elephants there, understanding their clans, their movements, the males, depredations on crops, poaching, and towards the very end, Veerappan. It was magic, and it was also tragic. This led me to Cynthia Moss’ study of African Elephants over 10 years, following the families of Teresia, Slit Ear, Torn Ear, etc over 10 years across the dusty plains of Amboseli. A study of how elephant populations grow, decline with the seasons, the pressures in the form of poaching. Again, magical.

I learnt more about elephants this year than any. But then, when I look back at the books read this year, it has been a lot more wildlife than other years. When my cousin brought books that I had ordered from the US, my nephew took a look at each book and had only this to say “All animals!” Of the 24 non-fiction books this year, 13 were on wildlife, and most of the rest having to do with nature in one way or the other. And I am not complaining. In fact, there’s more on the bookshelf waiting to be read.

When it comes to talking about nature itself, one book that I find difficult to slot is Timothy Wise’s “Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, family farmers, and the battle for the future of food”. The topic itself is pretty dry. Wise travels to different parts of the world, from Malawi to Ohio, Mexico and to India, looking at food, how it is grown in the modern age, and how it is affecting those who are growing it. Has the embracing of modern practices like fertilizers and pesticides worked out for the best for the farmers? Has it ensured more food on the poors’ plates? The jury has been in for a while, and farmers are increasingly turning towards organic farming, even if the yields tend to be lower. If anything, it offers them food that they can eat, and it doesn’t push them into debt traps with high input costs that they seldom recover no matter what the yields.

On the topic of organic farming was also Meera Subramaniam’s “Elemental India: The natural world in crisis”, which looks at the five elements – earth (soil and farming in India), air (vultures and their precipitous decline), water (water conservation in Rajasthan), fire (the future of cooking), and ether (where she looks at what it means to be a woman in India). It was a surprisingly positive book given how bad things are getting to be.  On goodreads, there are only 3 reviews of the book, one by me, and the other by T.R. Shankar Raman whose “The Wild Heart of India” was a favourite read this year. The book is a collection of essays written by him from and about different parts of the country, with a lot of them from where he lives, in the Anamalai hills of Valparai. A love of books, nature, and life comes through when reading the book. Definitely something to revisit over the years.

Speaking of revisiting, I reread Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”. It was as haunting as it was when I first read it, talking of the chytrid fungus wiping out frogs by the species in the Central Americas, and the white-nose syndrome doing in bat species across North America.

This was also the year of re-reading. I made it a point to re-read one book every quarter and the books that made the cut this year were : Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”, Amitav Ghosh’s “The Shadow Lines” and Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient” along with the one mentioned above. It definitely is a practice that I want to continue. I read so much into the English Patient when rereading than when reading it the first time.

Among fiction authors, I discovered a new author to look forward to in Thrity Umrigar. Shashi Deshpande’s “The Long Silence” left me shaken with the quiet violence of the every day, and so did Perumal Murugan’s “Seasons of the Palm” where the violence of caste hides openly amidst the idyll.

For a change I did not get too many current books, sticking to old ones, and mostly used copies of those. I started being price conscious, tending not to spend 500 bucks on any book on a whim. The only books I spent much money on were those that I really wanted, like “The Wild Heart of India”. I got Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” at a good discount, and also Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman trilogy which was selling for a song at Blossom’s.

Shopping occasionally from Amazon did happen. Thing is, every time I feel like buying something after getting a bonus or some unexpected money, I tend to buy a book. This is a decoy buying strategy meant to avoid spending money on something that I don’t need, like upgrading my camera or phone unnecessarily. Most times you want to buy only to get the feeling of getting something new. So, instead of spending some 30-50K on a big gadget, I end up spending Rs. 500-1000 on a couple of books and the urge to spend goes away.  I hope to take this further and not buy any new physical books from Amazon next year. For older titles there is always Blossom’s or Goobe’s where I can get used copies, and for newer ones I’d rather wait it out for a few years. Most of the time there is a huge promotion machinery at action, especially on Instagram where I follow a lot of publisher accounts. Non-fiction tends to be expensive, but Kindle versions work out better for that.

Either way, I don’t think I’ll be beating the number of books I read this year, which I’ll put up when I put up the final list next month. This is just cud-chewing on the year. I expect to get to 40 and be +/- 4 in 2020. Let’s see…

Movies and TV – 2019

Unlike 2018, I managed to watch a fair bit of stuff. I managed to add myself to my cousin‘s Netflix account, which at Rs. 2000 a year is a bit of a steal, but definitely more expensive than the Rs. 1000 per year for the Amazon Prime. The content however, was mostly being churned out by HBO, so it meant a fair bit of Torrenting.

Anyway, starting with the movies:


Decent Kannada movie thriller. Keeps the pace going, and has got Anant Nag in it, one of those few actors playing his age. However, like all thrillers, it also suffers from too-many-coincidences-itis. A good one-time watch.

Angamaly Diaries:

Did not know what I was getting into. But a good noir-type crime movie. Keeps you on your toes, and excellent work on the technical side too!

Continue reading “Movies and TV – 2019”

Day ride: Bellur and Nuggehalli

Despite having a target of one ride per quarter, I missed the one for the July-September quarter. This quarter seemed to be heading in the same direction, but then I decided to change things and headed out on the 27th December, yesterday.

The plan was to hit up Bellur, not to be confused with the more famous Belur, near Bellur Cross where the Adichunchanagiri institutions are set up, check out the two temples there from the Hoysala timeframe and then head on to the more familiar Nuggehalli temple.

I started as usual between 7:00 and 7:15 AM. Instead of hitting Tumkur Road, I took the Magadi route. This route was comfortable till Magadi after which the road condition deteriorated rapidly. The bad stretch lasted for a few kms, after which it improved a bit, with occasional patches that bumped you up. Thankfully, after some kms of this, the road became ok, and for the most part it was a good ride.

I reached the Hassan highway just before Kunigal and turned left. Being a weekday I expected a quiet ride, but it was nothing close to that. The entire city of Bangalore seemed to have descended on the highways as it was close to the long weekend, and I was kept on my toes by zipping cars. The trouble is always when you run into slow moving trucks, which is when you need to overtake them on the one lane available to you. This becomes a bit of a pain as cars are already screaming aggressively into that lane, so you need to slow down at times, take stock and choose the right moment to overtake. These right moments are a lot more frequent when the road is empty than on days like yesterday. Thankfully, I kept my head, and reached Swathi Delicacy at 8:45 AM. Swathi, however, was brimming with people. The buffer they’ve put outside for such weekends was also overflowing. I decided to stand outside and had a quick idli-vada breakfast there and headed towards Bellur.

Bellur was reached easily and I found my way to the Mulé Singheshwara temple. This is an old temple, from 1224 AD, and it wasn’t ornate in any manner. There were a few edicts, but no carvings. The most interesting part was the emblem of the Hoysalas standing on top of the temple.
Hoysala emblem
Continue reading “Day ride: Bellur and Nuggehalli”

Hornbill spotting at Dandeli

Leave at 5 AM, reach by 12:30 PM was the plan. The route to Ganeshgudi is to take the Tumkur Road, get close to Dharwad and then move to Haliyal before making your way to Ganeshgudi. We even reached Chitradurga for breakfast at 7:45 AM. And then all hell broke loose! From Chitradurga to Dharwad the road is torn up every 10 kms, and you are “deviationed” into poorly maintained service roads. After getting deviationed for more than a couple of hours, we were ready to give up, and decided to take the much maligned Tadasa road. Except that what Google maps was showing was closed, and we had to take what looked like goat tracks, and then hit a badly potholed road to get to Tadasa. If that wasn’t enough, the road from there to Kalghatgi was another ordeal. We were prepared for the next ordeal, the biggest, from Kalghatgi to Haliyal, except that that was a lot better. Maybe setting our expectations really, really low helped. We eventually reached Ganeshgudi at 1:30 PM, just in time for lunch.

The afternoon birding there was a mixed bag. For S almost every bird was a lifer, as this was his first time there. For me and A, being the second time, we were more interested in getting better pics of those that missed out last time, like the black-throated munia and the puff-throated babbler. But I did manage a few lifers like the flame-throated bulbul, and also got to see the female of the white-bellied blue flycatcher.
Flame-throated bulbul White-bellied blue flycatcher, female
Puff-throated babbler Indian paradise flycatcher, male

Continue reading “Hornbill spotting at Dandeli”

Where old stuff go to rot

After 8 years of usage, my cot broke. The MDF sheet on which one sleeps cracked and gave away. Sleeping on it started giving me backaches (rather exacerbating my existing backache I should say), and I started sleeping in the other room on the old 90s cot which is just wood and plywood.

I called the Carpenter over, who took one look at it and said it’d cost a few grand to fix. That evening I walked around checking new cots. The gist from that walk was that cots cost a pretty penny, are all made of MDF which will wear out pretty soon, and the crucial thing: they don’t take the old ones, even for free. The ‘take away the one I have’ was my most important requirement as I didn’t want to have an unusable cot taking up space in the room.

I called the carpenter again. This time he suggested a quick fix. Take a couple of plywood sheets and lay them on the cot. The base skeleton could still take the weight. And we wouldn’t have to remove the existing sheet either. So a week later he brought a couple of sheets of plywood, measured them, cut them and just laid them on the cot. Matter over. It cost me Rs. 3000, with Rs. 2500 for just the plywood sheets. I also showed the carpenter the other cot that we have, to see if it needs any fixing. He laughed. That’s wood. Me: ‘isn’t this too?’. Apparently not. The old cot has lasted from the 90s.

Any furniture that you touch is now MDF. If you want higher quality stuff, get it made. When Urban Ladder launched some years back, I was surprised at the high price they were quoting for even basic stuff. I actually thought they were made of good wood. Turned out, the price was for the fancily named ‘design’ and the ‘finish’. The guts were all MDF. What about longevity? Again, turns out I was living in the last century. You have to keep refreshing your furniture and interiors, like you do with your wardrobe. No one expects to keep that furniture for more than 3-5 years.

And then again, to the point of exchange. The way I used to buy new furniture was, make a deal at the shop which would include the price for the old piece that this would replace. The amount would be nominal, and its whole purpose was only to get rid of the old stuff in a sane way. The assumption also was that these guys would know how to deal with them, and were probably recycling them. But then again, the key here was out of sight, out of mind.

Now, that exchange market has fallen through. Even if you want to replace your mattress, there is no exchange. So what do you do with a large unwieldy mattress which the new seller won’t take away? That’s where the city outskirts come in. My cycling route takes me through Vishweshwaraiah Layout(assuming that’s the latest spelling). Earlier they used to be empty roads with empty sites all around. Now it is empty roads, then garbage and then empty sites. Why take the trouble of dumping into empty sites, when just the road side will do?

Why it was empty earlier? That was because the outskirts as they were were much closer to me. Before hitting VW layout, I had to cross places closer to my home. Those had fewer houses and more dumping. Now, as houses creep farther out, the garbage line of the city moves farther out.

So this is where everything that you don’t see ends up – old mattresses, commodes, broken furniture, beanbags with their thermocol beads, you name it! A few years back the main garbage was chicken feathers dumped all over in sacks; now they are barely seen. Not that they are not there, they are just part of a bigger dump of garbage!

And today, the whole thing hit closer home. As I headed out early morning, I saw that the opposite site had what looked like a large bed/cushion. On closer inspection, it turned out to be some dumped bag with a lot of cushion inner material. There were two more pieces of furniture lying around in the same site hidden in the undergrowth. How much can one deal with! I managed to extricate the first bag, and have the garbage auto take it away (after paying a small fee). What he will do with it is anybody’s guess, and most likely it will end up somewhere else, just not my immediate problem anymore. In a normal scenario where a seller exchanges the old product, it would probably still have ended up in the same place as this will now. Either you get your hands dirty, or someone else does it for you.

It feels like a constant battle against a system that insists on piling up more and more stuff without providing a mechanism to remove the existing ones that get replaced. I used to believe in not replacing stuff that is not broken. But how much does that make sense in a system where things are made to fail/break periodically, so that you end up having to replace them?

I did not bargain to replace a TV 1.5 years into its life. Neither did I bargain to replace the smartphone, whose battery is fixed inside and costs a bomb, in 2 years after its battery started swelling. Even if you don’t want to replace things, you end up having to whether you like it or not.

The solution seems to be to not have stuff. Remove dependency on TV, you end up not having a TV. Remove dependency on car, you end up not having one. The direction might be not towards replacing stuff when it breaks, but towards stop needing something when it breaks.

The softer option is to buy used. You might not end up saving the world, as the problems with quality still remain, but in some cases it can help. A phone that is built to last 3 years, if bought used after 2 years will only last you an year, whereas gently used furniture can probably last you a lot more, if they are built to last. Again, everything comes down to the quality of stuff. Given that some people buying used stuff will directly affect the margins of the producing companies, it only makes sense for them to lower the quality and increase the marketing, like Urban Ladder, or name your favourite smartphone brand.

I have been trying the used mode for years now. It is not only cheaper, it is insane the way people buy and sell! I got a sigma lens for 80% of the cost, and it was unused too. Reason? Man bought for his wife, and she found it too heavy; the lens is 2 kilos and cost him 65K! I got a phone, again brand new for 75% of the MRP. Reason: Guy does not like the concept of e-sims. An iPad for less than 80% of the price. Reason: Man got a gift from company, and does not want his child to get addicted. The only sane reason I found. But then, why are companies randomly gifting gadgets? For furniture, there is gozefo which offers products at different stages of use, and give you an offer to sell it back in a year (hint, hint). They also offer refurbished phones and other electronic devices.

But at the very end, the only real solution is to not need stuff. To not need big lenses, or iPads or expensive smartphones.

Will this year’s rains ease Bengaluru out of water scarcity?

Wrote something for citizenmatters after a while. Mostly, used the data I had garnered for the earlier post – Trendifying Kaveri and projected it towards Bangalore. Except that, the good folks at CM wanted it the other way around, and this is what emerged. Do have a read. It is a pain inserting images in wordpress, so I’ll just leave the link here:

Will this year’s rains ease Bengaluru out of water scarcity?




Trendifying Kaveri

It’s been a weird kind of Monsoon. The rains started late, and then they got stuck in Kerala, not quite making their way up to Karnataka, at least if you believe IMD. And once they started in Karnataka, they’ve been stop and go. A lot of rains, a gap of a few days and then back again. Mornings, when you look at the satellite images in the papers, you can see how some clouds are approaching, they stay for a while and then there are no clouds. Rinse and repeat.

The Kaveri reservoirs, of Harangi, Hemavathi (both of which pour into the KRS), KRS and then Kabini (whose outflow goes straight to TN) started with around 12 TMC of live storage early June. The pre-monsoon showers had been a let down. And 12 is neither here nor there. There have been better years and there have been worse too, within the last decade itself. I expected things to pick up as June progressed, but nothing happened.

End of June I though I’ll pull some data and see how the total storage across the 4 reservoirs stacks up against the previous years. KSNDMC (http://ksndmc.org) has data starting from 2011. At best, I could see what was happening over this decade, which really isn’t much to go by.

But then, I was pretty surprised to see how things stacked up.

Also, note that the data here is total storage, not Live storage, and in TMC ft (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) Total storage also includes the Dead storage of the reservoirs, whereas the useful component is only the Live storage. For the total of all Kaveri reservoirs, there is a around 10 TMC dead storage. So, if you see 30 TMC as total storage in the graph below, the dead storage is around 10, and Live is around 20. Different reservoirs have different dead storages, so you cannot assume 2.5 dead for each either. It basically gives you an idea of the trend, since the live and total storage have a constant gap.Kaveri-June 30th

2018, as expected was a great year. But that was an anomaly. 2015 was a drought year, we did not hit much, but then, that also turned out to be a surprise as it showed a strong June. The real fun, I found out, came later. 2011, 2013 and 2014 were good years, and they showed interesting graphs by end of June.

But then according to this graph, we are closer to the bad years – 2012, 2016 and 2017. Would I have been happier if it was higher? Can’t really say. 2015 turned out to be a drought year despite a strong opening. While 2017 went on to be an OK year, especially considering how bad 2016 was. Basically, there really isn’t much to go by at end of June.

This naturally got me thinking, how bad were these years? And how good were the good years? This meant that I had to plow through a lot of data on an interface which gives you weekly levels for one dam, one year at a time. I decided to check the values for every dam, every year from June 1st to Oct 15th, every 15th day. Basically, 10 data points for each year. And 9 years of which 2019 is on-going with only 4 data points so far, and for 4 reservoirs. A total of 336 data points!

And this is what it showed, with all the reservoir storages added up:


The whole system seems very chaotic. 2015 had a great start, but never quite picked up post-July. 2014 had a weak start, but things picked up between mid-July and early July. 2016 got going till mid-July and then pretty much dried up. I remember the year, and the sinking feeling that stayed with me the whole year; there was the bone dry Bhadra, and the Kabini backwaters early next year with water gone farther and farther from its banks. Because of that, 2017 started at one of the lowest levels possible, but managed to end up a middling Monsoon. Of course, we don’t remember it that way as it was also the wettest year in Bangalore and SIK itself. Also, note that different years see different flows to TN also, you can probably assume that TN had around 80% of it at the end of the year. For every 100 litres that flows into the Kaveri, 60 is with us and 40 goes to TN, well approximately.

Where does this leave the current year? It seems closer to 2014, but I don’t see the level of rises that happened in the second half of July happening this year, but then there are 10 more days, let’s see what they bring. But it does seem like if you are not going to cross 100 TMC by early August, you are not going to get to full that year. Whether something like that has happened in earlier years, I don’t know.

Now, one wonders how much of a role El-Niño played in all this. There was a weak one between 2014-15 and a strong one 2015-16. This explains the dry year of 2015, especially the second half of the Monsoons, and the pretty dry 2016. 2014 itself was considered a drought year in India, just that things worked out fine for the Malnad regions, with the rain not going too far from there. Inverse to 2016 when it was considered a normal year for the rest of India, but South India was bone dry. We are coming off a weak one now, but that weak one ensured a dry NE Monsoon in 2018. So there is a chance we might register better rains as the year rolls forward. Here’s hoping for that.

The data is shared here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/0edx2sccnczm16d/kaveri-reservoirs.xlsx?dl=0


Bike ride – Nagalapura

Continuing with the idea of exploring Hoysala temples that are bikeable from Bangalore, the place next on my list after Basaralu was Nagalapura. Nagalapura was put on my radar by someone who we got chatting with near Turuvekere when visiting it along with Aralaguppe. Turned out there are two temples in Nagalapura, walkable from each other.

The plan was to visit this much earlier(June 21st), but I had to postpone it after weather forecasts predicted rain. This week(28th June), S was also available, and he was at my place by 7:30 AM. The plan was to head to Nagalapura, with breakfast at Swati near Yadiyur, and then be home for lunch by 2 PM.

We reached Swati by 9 AM, finished breakfast and were off by 9:45 AM. The route involves taking a right after Yadiyur, but after reaching Mayasandra, you take a left towards Adichunchanagiri, but an immediate right at the first village. After that it’s a series of lefts and rights. Given that S had his bluetooth headphones on, we ended up using Google maps and him leading.

We reached Kedhaareshwara temple around 10:30 AM. It was set back from the main road, and was all the more pleasant for it. The gates were open and so was the temple.
Kedaareswara temple, Nagalapura

Continue reading “Bike ride – Nagalapura”