How to destroy a lake

Mallathahalli lake was a place of refuge for me for years. I remember those days when I couldn’t deal with things at home, or construction noise when I’d just head to the lake at odd times. The day the bulbuls died, the parent killed by the cat, I went to the lake and watched weaver birds flit about their hanging nests. The wildlife there has changed a lot. No weaver birds are seen anymore. Common-hawk cuckoos, white-throated bulbuls, scaly-breasted munias are now in the past. As the City swallows its surroundings the wildlife keeps depleting. But there was always something hanging around in the sides. Migratory birds, myriad invertebrates, there was always life.

They came with JCBs, the bamboos were mowed down, it looked like typical carnage, except that it turned out to be even worse. It was painful writing this. I know the lake is now done for, it’ll take years for the old life to bounce back. But that is the price we pay. Even if we are protecting things at the micro-level, we’ll be losing more at a higher level. At how many levels are you going to fight? What’s the point of democracy if the Govts are constantly undermining your welfare?

Please read: https://bengaluru.citizenmatters.in/what-we-lose-when-we-lose-a-lake-mallathahalli-lake-experience-65851

Blank – VIII

Been a good week, a good ride with a friend and some fun conversations with cousins over beer. And then the Sunday crash happens. A headache that I have been nursing for a while, and all that I have been ignoring and dodging over the weeks, show up and demand that I address them. So much harder when every one of this is something you have been living with for close to a decade and are going to be for a good while with no end in sight.

I like to think there was acceptance of the situation at some point. And at some point during this year that seems to have broken. There were those getaways away from the situation which one lived for, that helped one get through the day. Those were gone with the pandemic. Maybe I thought I had more in me to withstand and be strong through it. And some days there are doubts in that too, questions on how long can one go on, and what if this “long” is too long? How much is too long in any case?

Sometimes the mind puts up best case scenarios, where things resolve by themselves, sudden change in luck, where you are set free to go be at peace. But those are events which you recognise are too much of a long shot, and you yourself have been working against that. Almost like digging your own prison. But then that is the nature of the prison itself, and your action defines you. Choosing something else, makes you someone else.

Fortresses were built over time, painfully, brick by brick, to survive and get through each day. But time has taken its toll, you close a few leaks and move on, more and more keep opening up. Eventually, you wonder if the fortress is itself unsustainable, or maybe the key here is to be constantly building fortresses and never assume you are done. You are done with one, you step back, move on and start building another. The sustainable part might be the building of the fortress, not the fortress itself. There is no rest, only building. The work is never done.

Sometimes I feel the best option is to just respond. Respond to the situation in front of you the best way you can and leave the rest to providence. Plans are always a tough beast to control, you start making them, your eyes lift up and you start looking longer into the horizon, not prepared for what comes at you from the sides. Or you end up doing worse, ignoring what needs to be dealt with looking only at your plans. Eventually it becomes about prioritising oneself or what is expected of oneself? That balance, I guess, makes one what one is. Maybe your choice here defines you. Again, choosing differently makes you a different person?

Such is life.

(This is a “Blank” post. Like all earlier Blank posts, I use them to cud-chew. Please do not worry. 🙂 )

The mantis and the wasps

Around a year back, I saw a huge Praying Mantis on the Mango tree. Curiously, she stayed around one spot for a few days, and eventually left an egg sac, called an Ootheca.

Praying mantis (Heirodula tenuidentata) with her Ootheca (egg-sac)

After this, the mother mantis was no longer seen in that vicinity and I kept an eye out for the little mantises to pop out. Except that, nature had a different idea.

What turned up instead was a kind of wasp from the family Chalcididae. These are known to be parasitoids and some members being hyperparasitoids (parisitising parasites). The specific one here was of genus Podagrion. These are known to be parasites of Mantises, laying their eggs inside Mantis Oothecas with the hatching young feeding on Mantis eggs inside the sac and emerging as full adults.

Podagrion sp. female (with ovipositor)
Continue reading “The mantis and the wasps”

The wasp and the spider

A few evenings back as I stood outside sipping on tea, I noticed a Cyclosa web on the Pongam in front of the web. I stepped out to check it out, but what caught my attention was something dragging something bigger up the compound wall.

On closer inspection it turned out to be wasp pulling up a jumping spider. The spider was slightly bigger than the wasp but the wasp tenaciously hauled her up. Wasps and spiders are old enemies, and wasps are notorious predators on spiders. There is even a family of wasps called Pompilidae which are called “Spider wasps” and specialise in predating on spiders.

Their method is to inject venom into the spiders and paralyze them. The spiders are then sealed inside a wasp nest where eggs (an egg?) is laid. When the eggs hatch, they have a “live” prey to feed on immediately.

Needless to see I ran to get the macro attachment and click videos and pics. The spider here is a jumper of Hyllus sp. a female. The wasp is of the family Pompilidae.

I tried to get the ladder to see where the spider ends up, sealed inside the wasp’s nest. But by the time I got back, they had disappeared! Oh well, another day then. Till then, read this excellent piece by Karthikeyan: http://www.wildwanderer.com/parental-care-in-wasps/ and a live experience with another family of wasps: https://www.wildwanderer.com/the-industrious-mud-dauber/

Making sense of Bangalore Covid death counts…

The second wave is now abating in Bangalore. Whether due to natural peaking or due to the lathi-handed lockdown will be something to debate and discuss over time. For now, there is a much lower sense of numbness and helplessness as the cases seem to be climbing down every day. There is a mild hope over the lockdown being lifted, even partially. The hospitals continue to be full, but one hears that this is because of people from outside the city, not from within. At one point, people fled Bangalore looking for beds in other cities. Now, the trend has reversed.

What it leaves behind is another story. The daily bulletin from the Health Ministry continues to show around 200-300 deaths per day for Bangalore. This seems to suggest an exceedingly high CFR, but you need to look into the deaths data to realise that deaths that happened over the past month are being recorded every day. May 29th’s bulletin, for eg recorded 278 deaths, of which around 5 were from April, and the rest in May, spread all the way from the start to the end of the month. How does one make sense of Fatality rates with this?

As April deaths are winding down in May bulletins, this is a good enough time to take stock and see how badly Bangalore was hit, at least as per official figures. Official positives stand at a total of 321913 cases recorded over April. This, by itself is a ridiculous figure. On April 30th the 7 day average of per day cases stood at 20000 cases! Going by deaths recorded, however, there were 1756 deaths recorded giving a Fatality rate of 0.55% which is pretty good considering the number of cases. Except that a closer look tells otherwise.

Of the 1756 deaths recorded in April, around a 70 were from March, leaving us with 1682 deaths that actually occurred in April. This can be found from the Annexure recording the date of death in the daily bulletins. May continued to record deaths from April, and the number eventually doubled. As of the May 29th bulletin, there have been a total of 3320 people who have died in April officially of Covid. This brings us a fatality rate of 1.03%, almost double of where we were! Given the carnage that ensued in Bangalore with crematoria running out of slots and breaking down with the load, and people having to burn bodies in mass pyres, your guess is as good as mine about what the true numbers were. As per this same official data we were seeing on an average around 230 deaths per day during the last 5 days of April, due to Covid.

May continued to be bad, but the worst seems to be over. May 5th recorded 337 cases and continues to add numbers as the data keeps coming in every day. But the worst seems to have been the 1st week of May recording 280+ cases per day on average. Again, the data continues to come in. I will have to do another post summarising this end of June. So far, it looks like a carnage.

Given how hard it was for many to find beds, to even get tested in time, the number of deaths due to Covid is a gross under-estimate. I wonder if we were seeing upwards of 1000 deaths per day during the first week of May. To say that a death was due to Covid is itself contentious, hanging the cause on the thread of an RT-PCR or RAT test. Many with other healthcare needs were denied access due to overflowing hospitals. The only true accounting would be the excess deaths that happened between mid-April and mid-May 2021 as compared to the same period in 2018, 2019 and 2020.This will happen based on death certificate data from BBMP, once the dust settles.

As of now, the count of deaths that happened between April 16th and May 15th stands at 6470 for an average of 215 per day and a CFR of 1.22% (528620 positives). This is a ridiculous figure and it will show up as an increased fatality rate across age-groups. And this increase in fatality rate due to higher load on the system clearly implies that a system that could’ve handled the load better could’ve reduced a lot of deaths. For 528620 cases, a fatality rate of 1% is 5286 deaths, a difference of 1200 deaths already! And we’re still not done counting May deaths!

***

How easy is it to detach oneself, to view deaths as just a number. It needs reminders that this a calamity on a scale never seen before in Bangalore, that every death was someone’s family and friend. And given the nature of the disease, it is very likely that many families were hit with multiple deaths too.

We don’t do cyclones here, nor the kind of crazy excess rains that batter other Metros. We don’t have earthquakes, and the pollution benchmark has been lifted too high up North for us to make a squeak or try to think of excess deaths attributable to pollution. We haven’t been ruled by genocidal despots like some states, yet. Our worst problem is our traffic, which kills around 2 people a day. Covid-19 is by far the worst calamity to hit Bangalore, and we are not done yet.

The vaccination is ramping up. For the 70+ age group there seems to be a marginal decrease in proportion in total deaths as compared to April. Can it be attributed to vaccinations? Only time and more analysis will tell. For now, the hope is that the next wave can be prevented by vaccination. But will we get there in time?

The branding of politeness

First up, let me get this straight off the bat – I don’t like advertising. I don’t like the idea of someone selling me stuff and have never been comfortable with it. If I need/want something I’ll do my research and buy, and if someone has to convince me to buy something, I definitely don’t need it. A buy has to be initiated from my side, not from the seller. Every time I’ve broken this rule, I’ve regretted it.

(Also, second up, all non-conversations in quotes are air-quotes. So “lounge” should be air-quote “lounge”, ok?)

Now, to get to the point. Twitter has been abuzz about this ad. It’s an ad for a product called CRED (whose use is still not clear, more on this later), featuring Rahul Dravid (for no reason other than his being a celebrity) and is tweeted by Virat Kohli. (pretty sure it’s not an “lol, I found this funny video” share) Continue reading “The branding of politeness”

Trying to make sense of the second wave

First of all, I’ll admit that the current second wave of Covid cases in India, Karnataka and Bangalore came as a big surprise to me. I have been number-watching every day since at least June 2020 and I thought we had plateaued for good at the 200s. I could not see what could drive the numbers up again. The crowds have been everywhere since at least September, mask-wearing has been poor since at least August. If, despite all this, the numbers could stay at 200, what would drive them up again?

This kinda put me in multiple blindspots. First,  as mentioned above, despite zero precautions from the general populace, why were the numbers so low? There was talk of seropositivity being high, high asymptomatics, etc etc. Which kinda leads you to believe that most of the people had been infected and herd immunity achieved. Which then leads you to the second blindspot, where did the second wave come from? Health-care staff had been vaccinated, elderly were being vaccinated. Masks had been down for months. Then, how? Continue reading “Trying to make sense of the second wave”

The 10 year job and other ramblings…

Many years back, before this friend/colleague got married and moved to the US, we would meet once every month over beer and dinner, to chat and crib about work. One of the topics that we’d regularly return to, especially when well into the alcohol was about code as art, truth and having beauty by itself. There’d be mention of a few lines of code, so perfectly written that they never had to be touched again. We’d then move onto “My Name is Red” and the ruminations there about what is art and what is beauty. And then finally the purpose of code, which is where we would hit the philosophical roadblock.

The code we wrote ran in routers which were deployed by Internet Service Providers(ISPs), not your average ACT, but those who aggregate the traffic across the world, basically the backbone of the Internet. This market is dominated by the big players like Cisco and Juniper, leaving a 2-5% share that is fought over by many other smaller companies, including ours. So, a minuscule share of the Internet would pass through our code, and of that, we shook our heads, a majority of the traffic is porn. So, all this beauty only to power some porn? We’d drown our miseries in beer. (Of course, there is much to dispute about this statistic, but hey, think beers.)

Continue reading “The 10 year job and other ramblings…”

Argiope days

For the past few years life has been about building walls around myself, and focusing on fewer things, with increasingly shorter time horizons. Nothing brought that necessity to the fore more than 2020 where everything got upended, but strangely remained the same. It was again about hunkering down and surviving, but in different and more difficult ways.

It was also strangely a time of peace for me. The lack of traffic all over, the lack of school buses honking through the mornings, the lack of the every day commute (which I actually miss), but most importantly the lack of a constant urge to be somewhere else was strangely becalming. It was easier to just be and not have to worry about being elsewhere. Days with less expectations and planning, with a premium on getting through each day.

Through this time, the world seemed to reveal itself in ways that I hadn’t bothered to observe before. The more often I walked around, the more I just stood around, watching and observing, the more there seemed to be to observe. I was discovering a whole new world in the small 6 ft X 6ft space in front of my door, where the iron railings separated my house from the Pongam (Millettia pinnata) tree.

In this tiny world, in September, I saw a colony of wasps coming up just above the gate – paper wasps (Ropalidia cyathiformes), and such nests are common around houses.

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Continue reading “Argiope days”