A road for your thota?

Last Saturday as I returned from my round of tennis, I saw 2 JCBs standing at the end of the road, ominously. Post-lunch (theirs) they started. They began ripping out the road which hadn’t been repaired in 8 years and had gone to a state of no-return. We stood guard to ensure that they never got to our water pipes that were passing 6 inches under the road cutting across it. Thankfully, their work was only at a one-inch level.

They got past the neighbour’s, two houses down, and spared the (illegal) fenced garden outside the house. We were slightly relieved. A few minutes later, the contractor came over and barked orders to pull down everything from storm water drain to storm water drain.

I rushed into our thota (garden), moved all the pots to the top of the covered storm water drain. The bird feeder was brought in. No birds had yet discovered it. The curry leaf tree(Murraya koenigii) was slowly dismembered of its leaves. I started breaking it down, taking more and more branches with their leaves inside. A visitor was given one branch. The workers stopped me as I passed them. “Inga konjam kudein?” (give me some, no?) they asked. I passed along largish twigs, enough to last a week for an average household. Some were distributed to the neighbours. The neighbour’s thota was reached. It was ripped out mercilessly by the JCB.

They came to ours soon and slowly brought it down. The flower bushes were pulled out – the pink hibiscus plant, the kakada bush, some turmeric. And finally the curry leaf tree. The tree was pulled out and flung aside easily, and the workers stopped work for a while. It was brought back, leftover leaves plucked out and distributed amongst themselves before being thrown away. The JCB driver called out for his share to take home.

They got to the red hibiscus bush after clearing the fencing. One worker asked the driver to spare it. “Has grown so well, and is close to the edge, why remove it, let us leave it”. They then got to the two trees standing inside – the Mango tree and the Parijatha tree(Nyctanthes arbor-tristis). “I’ll remove the Parijatha tree, and spare the Mango” the driver offered. The trees were a few inches apart, almost growing attached to each other. They were at least two feet from the drain, so I knew I had some convincing to do. The thing in my favour was that these trees were in the same line as the Sampige tree(Magnolia champaca) in the corner and 2 feet from there too. I told them that since they would be sparing that tree in any case, bringing down these two trees makes no sense. “It’s not like a vehicle can pass here!”

The driver’s argument was that his instructions were to pull down every tree that wasn’t BBMP’s! I pointed out that a tree is a tree, whether it is BBMP’s or not, and now that it was in the road, it hardly belonged to us in any case. Of course, it’s a different matter that the same BBMP doesn’t turn up to fight for its trees when they are pulled down when houses are being constructed!

After much convincing, and coaxing, he agreed to let it be. “If someone asks, don’t put the blame on us!” and he conceded the tree. The thechi(Ixora coccinea) in the corner was also pulled out and that was it. Then they began digging out the soil, to bring it to the same level as the road. “Bag irukuda?” (have a bag?) asked the workers. What for? “Mannu” (soil).

***

The thota itself was a “gift” from our contractor. He brought in 2 truckloads of red soil, created a barbed wire fence and left it to us. The parents planted the trees and the plants that they needed for their daily use. It was predominantly floral because of that. The mango tree came up by accident. After eating a mango, Appa tossed the seed in there, just to see if something comes up. Something did.

For me, more than the loss of the plants itself, it is what those plants meant. The hibiscus bush once hosted a nest of Red-whiskered bulbuls. Spring is heralded by purple-rumped and purple sunbirds chirping all over the garden. Tailorbirds bathed on the leaves in summer in the excess water from the overhead tank after it overflows. Great tits, Warblers tweeted and clicked around. The odd Signature spider turned up in August. Monsoons brought out snails, toads and slugs. Caterpillars spun their cocoons on the bushes and emerged as butterflies.

It wasn’t just a thota, it was an ecosystem in itself. Yes, it was illegal. We had taken over what was earmarked as footpath space. The road had three layers – the storm water drain, space for the footpath, and then the road itself. The current demolition of gardens is scary in a lot of ways. The storm water drain, which lies around 9 inches above ground is expected to serve the purpose of footpath. Never mind that it is barely a foot in width, and is 9 inches above ground. What used to be the footpath is now taken over by the road, so that people can park their cars outside. The glut of cars all over has meant that passing cars barely squeeze through the gap between parked cars. But this was on the perpendicular roads, where there were no gardens in the first place.

Yes, I try to justify the thota. It was illegal, on public property. I wish we had larger space to be able to make a thota inside the property, but that’s not possible. Pots don’t create the same wilderness as a rooted ground. But it was a green space, in a locality where trees are being cut down by almost every other new house, and if not, pruned by BESCOM as they continue to refuse to move electric wires underground. Trees now grow slanted, away from the wires, and in some cases, like a ‘Y’, letting the wires pass in the gap. Who said trees are not intelligent?!

I already miss the toads that used to hop all over the roads when it rained. The day after a rainy night you could see carcasses of toads littering the street, flattened by passing cars. There were also sparrows and babblers that my parents used to leave rice for. You miss a day, and they’d remind you, sitting on the grill, calling out. There were fireflies flitting around, occasional pulses of light in the darkness.

There are no sparrows left near my house. I see them in an older area as I walk to the bus stop. What used to be once a village, with houses that also have cattle sheds, where people sit outside washing vessels or combing each others’ hair. Sparrows chirp around while calves walk the streets.

I had left a bird feeder on the mango tree, it was untouched. The birds that visit come for the flowers and the bugs. I had hung out a bird house behind the hibiscus bush, but none came. At one point a neighbour remarked to my father – “Haven’t seen you in a long time, don’t see your house these days also.” It was covered behind bushes and trees.

***

Moving on, I hope to put up a terrace garden. But that wouldn’t have the kind of wilderness a thota has. The birds that visit won’t be the same. Once the road is done, I need to think up some way to grow some plants again, just for the birds, the bugs, the snails, slugs and the spiders. A place that they can visit. “Laws” be damned.

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Zen in the city?

Have you been woken up at 1 AM? By the sound of large 100 Kg stone slabs being dropped? Trust me, it’s not nice. First there is denial – “this can’t be happening”. Then there is annoyance – “WTF?!”. Then there is anger. You walk out, confront them. Turns out it’s BBMP this time delivering slabs to cover the storm water drains. But surely, there’s a better time to do that?

“We’ll be done sir, only 20 stones to go” he promises. You call the police. The police control room forwards the call to the local police station. The local police station calls you. “Should we come over?”. You hand over your phone to one of the workers. The police have a chat, and they talk to me. “He says only 10 minutes, what do you want us to do?” I agree to give them 10 more minutes. They finish in 7 and leave, not before giving me a cheeky “Sorry for the disturbance”, in English.

Fun part is, despite so many houses all around, not one even opened a window to as much as check what’s happening. It could’ve been someone stealing stuff, or dumping stones from other places in your area. Would you care? Would you speak up?

A few weeks back, I opened the window to talk to a neighbour who’s car reverse horn just rendered a full version of Vandemataram at 1:15 AM. “Dude, WTF?” He thinks I am referring to some stray dogs shouting near him. “What can I do?”, I ask him to tone down on the vehicle. “Not my car boss, company’s and they’ve installed it.” Well, at least don’t park on reverse when you’re late! “ok” he agreed grudgingly. He followed it for a week, then doesn’t bother. I know I can’t push it too far, people can be touchy about their cars, and being asked to pipe down. The threatening “Ei!” comes out sooner than later.

The fun part is that reverse horns have been banned since 2014. A lot of cars still get sold, brand new, with these horns installed by the showrooms. A complaint with the traffic police got a “Check with RTO” as response. RTO isn’t easy to communicate with. Means, you just suffer idiots taking their cars out early in the morning, or parking it in late in the night.

What is it about people that makes them lose all sense of civic sense when it comes to cars? The number of times I’ve had to hurriedly shield my mother from being knocked down by a speeding car which refuses to slow down, even though we’ve entered a part of the road which is too narrow and can’t get out before he reaches us! I even signal him to slow down as we can’t move anywhere. He doesn’t care. It’s scary! People die. And someone actually complained on Twitter that pedestrians are at fault for coming in front of vehicles. Yes, get killed in 1000s per year and get blamed for it.

I wonder why am the only person who seems to be bothered by this ridiculous noise pollution at odd hours. Surely others would also wake up because of this noise? The answer seems to be a case of “neevoo maadalva?” (don’t you also do this?) The entire city suffers all things thrown at it, in the hope and need that one day they’ll have to do something similar and don’t want to be disturbed at that time. Better not be the first stone thrower.

As more people buy cars, it is unlikely there’ll be any respite from this nonsense. People seem to leave their brains at home, and drive only on ego. The solution might be to train the brain to ignore noises, especially when sleeping. The direction am taking seems to be the opposite. Reverse horns seem to bring out some stress in me, that my brain is recognising as an alarm call to alert me about. This results in me being woken up in the middle of the night even from deep sleep, and in a sense of agitation that makes it harder to get back to sleep. Normal horns sounded as some vehicles pass by don’t seem to have the same effect.

The entire city runs on saying “don’t care”. Got woken up by some noise? Give it a few minutes and you can sleep again. No noise lasts for ever. Maybe there is some Zen in the way people respond to disturbances. Should everyone be emulating this? But when do you take a stand? How much is too much?

This and that

Well, it’s been a while, but I knew this day would come. A day when I’d be staring at an empty post, needing to fill it in, and not having any pictures to describe. Nope, I haven’t gone gallivanting anywhere, so no photos to share. My bike is running good, so no problems there. Touch wood.

If anything, my stomach is throwing a lot of burn. A bad infection does that to you. And medicines to fix that. I guess they are working, as the pain and incidences of it have been reducing with each day. I am staying away from coffee, with just tea and milk.

Not sure where I got the infection from though. Depends entirely on how long a bacterial infection takes to show itself. If it’s a few days then it would be something from Saturday evening. I really doubt Sunday evening, as no one else seems to have been affected. Even Saturday sounds a tad doubtful cos of the same reason. Could it be a water based one? But the symptoms of those are a lot different! Oh well, enough discussing my stomach problems, I’ll plow on with a bit of pain in the stomach.

June has traditionally been the month I fall sick. The onset of the monsoons and the change from summer to a cooler weather does things to me. Or maybe it is plain bad luck. Can’t beat last year though! That has to be the worst, needing a whole week off from work. To save a day’s leave I tried to get myself up to work on the Friday. Couldn’t manage more than a few minutes.

The arrival of the Monsoons also means that I put on hold all travel plans, except for Monsoon specific plans. It doesn’t help to go get drenched anywhere. It’s not a time for safaris, nor a time for beaches. Treks are interesting and I am really keen on trying one out this Monsoon, maybe one at Agumbe with the leeches. Need to see.

I miss the times spent around the Jog belt in 2013 and 2015 though. The 2015 one was depressing, with not a spot of rain, dried up rivers and waterfalls, and people all over complaining about the lack of rains. Last year seemed to be worse, although from what I’ve heard it was better further North of Karnataka. Only the Kaveri onwards things have been really bad. I really want it to rain well this year. With a strong El Niño looming over the latter half of the year things can get really bad next year.

Talking of climate, it is interesting how Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accord has brought climate change into the conversation. And am surprised, in fact, shocked, to notice how many people around me are deniers. These are educated engineers who I work with every day, who’s opinion goes like “Do you expect me to believe that we humans who are such a tiny portion of this large planet can actually influence things on it?”. And “This is natural. Earth goes through such processes.” I tried the usual things. But making people understand and shake up their opinions and facts isn’t really an easy thing. It goes way beyond facts.

And then there was another who agreed with me, but kept insisting that nothing will happen to the planet. This is the usual George Carlin line of “we’re fucked, the planet will still be here.” Of course, who is complaining about the planet as a physical entity in the first place?! But it is good to make sure you set your viewfinder from time to time. He also added his own thing to the list – magnetic poles might change soon, exposing us to cosmic rays.

It is pointless to argue that life is threatened on the planet by our activities – “Life always goes extinct from time to time”. “We, humans, will find some way to exist.” Unless you really care, it is hard to convince a person that species going extinct in the planet because of you is not a good thing. Yes, we might continue to exist, but it’ll be a lot more precarious existence, where we have to deal with a lot more intense climatic events in a cooked up planet. As a species, humans will not likely be wiped out, but the evidence increasingly points towards it. And more importantly, we don’t know what’s in store. We’ve never lived in such a warmed up planet. The duration when we seemed to have multiplied and prospered is a mere 100 years. We reached 1 billion only in 1800 and the next 1 billion in 125 years! The last 5 have been added in 90 years! Remember that until then our growth was kept in balance by a combination of war, disease and other factors. The larger chunk being disease, not war.

As Yuval Noah Harari argues in his book, this period of 100 years(less if we consider the post WWII timeframe) where we seem to have seen a lot of “prosperity” might just be a calm before the storm. It is unprecedented. Of course, you cannot talk to people all this. Belief systems aren’t about facts, as the oatmeal so clearly puts it.

But then, having individuals believe or not believe in something that is going to fuck with most of your species is hardly going to make any difference. The biggest difference has to come top-down. One only hopes it does. Although these days am rooting for climate change to do its thing so that the planet can get this over with. And start afresh.

Until then, would be better for me not to get worked up when I hear so much idiocy. God knows, there is no shortage of it!

The end of an era and the start of another

Bull

After putting it on sale for close to a month, I finally sold my old bike today. I was barely using it as I had switched to the new one. Yes, it was only an upgrade from one to another, and they are lifeless machines. But I couldn’t help going back and looking at how so many things changed once I got the Bullet. I had never done ‘rides’ as such. Two wheelers weren’t meant to leave the city!

I discovered the joy of open roads, and more importantly I discovered the joy of hidden roads – two-laners that are away from the Highway and used mainly by those who live in those places.

I discovered the joy of solo rides. To be by myself, on some unknown road between Devalapura and Huliyurdurga. What would happen if the bike broke down, or if there was a puncture? Oddly, I never had any such issues. Punctures need specific inputs, in the form of nails. Unless someone stands to gain by it, the chances are really low.

I discovered the joy of the ‘thump’. The short bottle silencer was the chief partner in crime, with a purring sound that never really got too loud for me to worry about noise pollution. It was ideal, and more importantly legal. Too bad that people now prefer loudspeakers like the Goldie and the Indore!

I could never go fast on the Electra. It was a bike that loved being around the 70-80 kmph mark on highways. You stay on 70, but you move to 80 to overtake. That’s about it. It wasn’t fast. Not even close. You don’t ride it to race. You ride it to experience.

It surprisingly gave me a lot fewer problems than what people who own Royal Enfields crib about. There were some issues with the odometer cable conking out, some issues with the battery initially when the service guys screwed it up. But it shed them off, and kept getting better and better.

After waiting one whole hour, I gave it to a guy from Kerala. He seemed excited on the prize. I wished him luck, that my luck with the bike would continue with him! There was someone else who was supposed to visit me. His brother was supposed to come down this weekend and he had planned on getting the bike. He dropped out at the last minute as the brother’s travel plans got changed. I guess it was destiny that the guy who bought it ended up with it.

Now, onwards to the era of the Bullet 500. Why did I buy it? I asked myself this multiple times. It wasn’t the speed. But I had had my eye on it ever since it got released. The time of its release coincided with that of my getting the electra. Would I have bought the old bike otherwise? I don’t know. Guess this is destiny too.

Looking forward to more rides, and more joys to discover!

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Dhole packs and bathing elephants at BR Hills

We had been looking forward to this trip for a while now. Divorced from the pressure of big cat sightings, the BRT Tiger Reserve in the BR Hills offers up a wide array of wildlife – from a wide variety of bird species to elephants and tree shrews. The trees here are greener unlike the bare bones trees of the deciduous forests in Bandipur or Nagarahole. The guide said that there were four varieties of forests in those hills – from shrubs and deciduous to moist evergreen and evergreen.

Despite the short distance between Bandipur and here, the elevation gain changes a lot. There are no peacocks, which are so ubiquitous everywhere in Bandipur. The Langurs are also fewer. And despite being a drought year, there was a surprising lot of water in the waterholes. The elevation helps.

The camp itself is set in the middle of the forest, unlike JLR’s properties in Bandipur and Nagarahole. This means that there is no external power connection. What they had last year was a diesel generator running for 3 hours in the morning and 3.5 hours in the evening. This time, they had installed solar panels which promised power all the way till 3 or 4 AM. It lasted till 1 AM one night, and I slept like a log the second to notice.

Being in the middle of the forest also means that you can be woken up by deer calls in the middle of the night, sounding the alarm over a passing leopard. You can stand around the camp and see spotted deer, wild pigs, and even one barking deer passing by. The birding in the camp is itself amazing, and we spotted both types of barbets, Jerdon’s leafbirds, a yellow-crowned woodpecker among others.

But the surprising thing this time was the safari. Unlike with the big two reserves where you drive around for a long time not seeing anything, and suddenly something big turns up, BR Hills has a lot more to offer. You are constantly noticing something every 5-10 minutes. The forests are noisy with birdsong – whistling thrushes, Indian and Hawk cuckoos compete to be heard above the din of horseflies. And of course, Crested Serpent Eagles!
Crested Serpent Eagle

Although we hardly seemed to have seen much the first evening, we came away happy. There was a lone elephant cow grazing on the side of a hill, and she looked very weak and bony. This being summer, and right at the fringe of the monsoons, this was expected. Hopefully, the monsoons will be good and there’ll be good fodder for everyone soon.

Elephant
Elephant

Continue reading “Dhole packs and bathing elephants at BR Hills”

The snake in the hole

Around 4 PM on Tuesday as I was working from home, someone rang the bell. Father answered it, only to find no one. Turned out some of the workers’ kids nearby had done that. They were now busy looking at the other side of the road. Turned out they had seen a snake cross from our side of the road and go into a hole in the empty site opposite our house.

On looking closely, the snake had coiled itself inside that hole. I pulled out my camera and shot a pic to see what it was. I thought it would be a rat snake, but the neighbour who had seen it was insistent that it was a cobra. He turned out to be right.

IMG_2702

Even if I could concede that he knew what he saw, I was a bit worried about letting on to the standing labourers that it was a cobra. Most labourers’ first reaction to snakes is to beat them to death, and I really wanted to see the cobra go its way. The labourers and other assorted people standing nearby eventually lost interest and went their ways. The snake stayed put. A few kids came down to watch, one decided to pick up a stone to throw. A few stern words and they were off, no stones being thrown.

Continue reading “The snake in the hole”

Bees on honge flowers – 2017

I did this last year around the same time. But there can never be enough of a thing of beauty.

It’s the start of summer again, and the honge (Pongamia) tree in front of the house is in bloom. It will be so for a couple of weeks more and will throw out a carpet of flowers on the street and on the car. Given that all the streets in my area are lined with these trees, it is a continuous carpet all around.

As every year, these flowers attract bees. There are 2 kinds of them, smaller and larger. The smaller ones are Apis cerana(Asiatic honey bee) and the larger are Apis dorsata(giant honey bee). I like the flowers with the red holders and the white petals, looking like bells. The bees attach their tongues to the base of the flowers where the petals start and suck from there. It is almost like watching a syringe go in and come out.

Unlike last time, I kept the aperture at 8.0. What was happening with a lower aperture number was that some parts of the insect would go out of focus. An aperture of 8.0 and even 11.0 brings a bit more into sharpness.

Asiatic Honey Bee:
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Some winter visitors – Mallathahalli Lake

After a long time, I stopped by Mallathahalli lake for some birding. It’s a place I was using for running, but that stopped 4 years back as the path had become overgrown. Even though most of the 2.5 Km track is cobblestones, it’s amazing how much Parthenium can grow out of the gaps!

This time I was looking specifically for one kind of bird – the rosy starling. They are winter visitors and found in huge numbers and I was inspired by this photo from zenrainman on his lovely twitter feed.

In case you are wondering where those birds are, that ‘cloud’ near the middle is what you are looking for.

I remember seeing these birds a few times on earlier walks around the lake. So this time, I carried the camera to see what I can get.

The first thing I saw on getting off the car was that the yellow tabebuia tree was in bloom, and amidst those flowers was a flock of rosy starlings. Talk about beginner’s luck!
Rosy starling

Rosy starling Continue reading “Some winter visitors – Mallathahalli Lake”