I steal but without greed

My friend, retired Brigadier writes, “So it has doubled in 20 days!” Yes, indeed. Many others friends respond. Retired PCCF, Rakesh Shah says, “Congratulations. Pushp ji, take care of your money…” Retired PCCF, Suhas Kumar says, “Wonderful. Enjoy your growing money.” Another retired APCCF, J P Sharma says, “Now you have money and more money…”  Retired Director, Wildlife Institute of India, P R Sinha says, “You have your own inimitable way of putting things in interesting ways!” There are numerous thumps up and tit-bits.

This is in response to my ‘WhatsApp’ post few days back on 12 May 2020 – ‘Hi friends, I have no regrets (of lockdown). See how my money has grown in just 20 days! First photo, I had shared with you (earlier also) is of 23 April and second is of today. Money Plant is just wonderful.’

Incidentally, starting point has been when I realised that I have three Money Plants – all different, unique and photogenic. I share this with my friends on WhatsApp. This too happened a teaser posting –

Weather is good

Air is clean

My money is growing

It’s growing in plants

 

Yesterday, while I have been strolling in our residence block, and passed Square’s Garden, I see the big-leaf money plant. I stop. There is a flash back. I realise that I need to share this money plant story with you, which is quite dramatic and is a link to above postings.

This all starts in September last year, when I retire from LIFE (in capital letters, not small!).  We always had several plants on our terrace but with limited care by wife, many have disappeared and others became a maze of non-descriptive plants. I decide that now I have time, I am going to make it into a real good garden. Seeds, seedling trays, fertiliser, ten huge bags of new soil, about a score of one-foot high cement pots… I decide it to be DIY (do it yourself) – No Mali (gardener). Initially, changing soil of all the existing plants and preparing many many new ones is quite tough. Me and wife spent hours in Sun, toiling.  Some vegetable plants start growing fast. So have been some flowering plants e.g. Petunia, Marigold, Rose…

Watering and organic fertiliser, and regular nirai & gudai (weeding and tilling soil) do wonder on plants. Soon, it is very cheerful atmosphere in the terrace garden. Can you believe, I start preparing my own organic fertiliser from kitchen vegetable waste! So much so, I do not need to buy fertiliser anymore!

One day, my eye fell on the big leaf money plant in our block’s garden. The bigger ones are the size of full plate! They are beautifully patterned with whitish and yellowish streaks. The plant is really unique. I know that money plant can grow from any part of stem. One does not have to uproot the whole plant to shift it. Nevertheless, it’s a community land, a sort of commons.

I investigate the plant a little closure one afternoon, when people are mostly resting. There are about 50 leaves. The plant is growing and climbing up around a thick stem tree. I notice that if I take an extension stem of three leaves the plant will not get damaged and there would be very little change in appearance. As it is, nobody bothers about the plants in the square but in case anybody is noticed even touching a plant, whole neighbourhood will rise in revolt.

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I decide, I am going to steal the identified part of the plant! For about a week, I investigated the neighbourhood. I find that around midnight there is nobody out on the street, the watchman dozes off and almost all the houses are inactive from outside.

On the decided night, all is set. I have already hidden a sharp big knife in a bush near the plant. I do not want to be caught with a knife in the middle of the night! I have kept one flower pot ready with soil, fertiliser and water to receive the booty.

The operation is like a ‘Surgical Strike’. I have not told even my wife about the plan. I am sure she would have raised 10 questions. I tip-toy to the garden. I have never been so quiet in using stairs. As soon as I reach the target, it is a matter of few seconds and I am running back with treasure to the terrace. I am breathless, but in one go finish the job of planting the stem and dashing back to bed. Thank god, no neighbour or my wife notices it.

In the morning, I find the plant fine. I glance at the plant in the square. I notice small change but in general there is no gaping hole. Thank god, the operation has gone so well. Most of you may know, how these neighbourhood ladies are!

Next day my heart sinks to see my new plant – the three beautiful leaves are wrinkling! Maybe, it is too sunny. I pull the plant in shade. I add more water. I know in replanting the leaves wrinkle sometime.

But this appears a tragedy. Another day, all the leaves are dead!! I have to remove them. No point in keeping them. The bare stem, a thick one at that about an inch in diameter, stares at me.

I feel like crying. I feel guilty. I think theft is theft. I curse myself for the mistake.

Nevertheless, looking at the stem, I feel it is healthy. With Corona, came the lockdown and house arrest (I mean confinement). I have all the time in the world. And spend more time with plants.  I keep looking at the stem every day – taking care with regular watering, nirai-gudai, added organic fertiliser… It takes two months for a leaf to start forming. I cannot put in words the happiness on seeing the leaf forming one fine morning. I am happy that my stealing has not gone in vain. Maybe god has pardoned my crime.

Today, I am happy. Money Plant has equivalent of all the major currency notes e.g. Rs 2000, Rs 500 and Rs 100. Sorry no lower denominations! It’s only a plant not a bank!

Pushp Jain

 

 

Tigers ka bhi Covid Check Karna Hoga (Tigers too have to be checked for Covid)

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“Chhiter bhai, is it July? I feel it has come too early!” T20 asks from behind the bush.  Chhiter, the forester, whispers, “no no, it is March only.”

T20 is joined by T50 and T61 in the area. They too are confused. They all request Chhiter for an explanation, “It is already 7.30 in the morning. We have not seen a single vehicle. There is not a soul around.”

Chhiter informs them, “See, the Park has been closed because of Covid 19.”  He adds to the disappointment of the tigers, “There is going to be no tourists for some time.”

All the Ts ask in unison, “Is Covid 19 new president of USA? Is he visiting Ranthambhor? Has the Park been closed for his security?”

“Poor guys. You do not read newspapers. Neither, you listen to Arnab or Ravish. How would you know?” Chhiter thinks aloud. Ts are not sure, what Chhiter has on his mind.

Chhiter himself is not sure, what to tell these (illiterate) tigers, for he himself does not understand what this Covid disease is? Yesterday, Manoj sir has come to Jogi Mahal. Chhiter has overheard him talking to Mukesh sir about something called virus. He has heard that this is some SARS…, a living organism. It is killing thousands of people.

Tigers are still looking at Chhiter for an answer. Chhiter simplifies it as per his understanding, “Dekho ek naya janwar, jiska naam SARS hai, aa gaya hai or wo lakho logo ko mar raha hai!” (“Listen, one new animal species has arrived in the world, whose name is SARS, which is killing tens of thousands of people.”)

Ts huddle together and brood on what’s this going on. ‘We have not heard of any such animal. And why kill man? This is again the law of nature. No animal kills man unless it is seriously threaten by him. Is it some non-ethical monster?”

In the meanwhile, two tigers, T 13 and T 45 have come all the way from Bakhola looking for tourists! Seeing others Ts together, they decide it is no time for hostility. They realise there is some serious issue under consideration and debate and, thus, behave seriously.  

T 20 summons courage and asks, “Chhiter Bhaiya, we have not seen any animal stronger than us. Have you seen SARS?”

By now Ramu, another forester, has also joined the discussion. He has been following the issue a little more closely. He explains to Ts, “Listen, this animal is very small. It cannot be seen by eyes. It’s an invisible dragon.”

All Ts have a hearty laugh. “Thanks for your joke, Ramu Bhaiya.”

On a serious note, Ts are curious. They are amazed that some small animal can kill men. They wonder how this is possible. They further explore and request Ramu for more information on SARS, ‘how big canine, how sharp nails, what speed…’

Ramu is not clear on details but he is good with What’s App on his mobile and read out from a post, ‘A positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus (or (+)ssRNA virus) is a virus that uses positive sense single stranded RNA as its genetic material. The positive-sense viral RNA genome can serve as messenger RNA and can be translated into protein in the host cell.’ Ramu puts his mobile back in his pocket and pretends as a genius. He adds, “You know protein, it is very powerful. It is useful in making muscles, six packs etc. My son also takes it.”

This information is leading nobody anywhere. In the meanwhile, T 35 and T 56 have arrived from Lahapur. They are tired but are happy to be able to take part in the great discussion.

In the meanwhile, a horn blows loud. Chhiter runs fast and opens the massive gate of the Park. “Namaskar, Hukum.” (“Good Morning, Boss”) is Manoj boss. He looks like a hero of 60s movies – Stocky built, balding head hidden under the hat, lines below the eyes hidden under shades, tummy is hidden below the steering wheel…

Arre Chhoro, ye kaya mazma lga rakha hai?’, Manoj pretends furious.  “Or ye gadhe yanhaan kaya kar rahe hain? (“Hai Boys, why are you crowding?” Manoj Pretends furious. “What are these asses doing here?”) Manoj is not pleased with crowd of Ts around.

He shouts at them, “Fools go away. You do not know, that one tiger has died in Amrica of Covid! This SARS is killing animals also. It may attack you also. We are worried about you guys. You are not even maintaining social distancing. If anybody sees, I would loose my job!”

Arre Chhiter, Ramu, Ghansham, Pappu… sab idher aao. Arre Bharat Sarkar ka nirdesh aaya hai. Hame apne Baghon ko monitor karna padega.  Dekhna hoga ki kisi ko Covid to nahi hai.” (“Hai Chhiter, Ghansham, Pappu… all come here. Hai, Government of India has issued an order. We will have to monitor our tigers. We will have to see, none has Covid.”)

All are wonderstruck. Is the boss joking? Is he teasing them? Finally, Chhiter collects his wits (he has been able to take some liberty with Manoj) and requests, “Hukum, Ya to NTCA Sahab ko boola lo, ya aap dikha do ki jungli Baghon ka Covid kayse confirm karna hai…” (Boss, either call boss from National Tiger Conservation Authority or you train / show us how to confirm Covid in tigers…”)

Manoj is nervous and wriggles out, “Thik hai, dekhte hain, dekhte hain, Chalo, Chai banao, Jogi Mahal pe bathte hain…” (“OK, I will see, I will see. Go make tea. We are relax at Jogi Mahal.”)

 

Pushp Jain

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer : All the characters, names and locations in this article are fictitious. Any resembles may be a matter of coincidence and not a reflection on any animal or person or location.

Fear and More Fear – Man, You are Screwed

SARS-CoV-2 from PIXABAY as in the Print

SARS-CoV-2 Illustration by Pixabay (taken from The Print)

 

I have been avoiding writing in my blog about the present monster, which has cowed down even the mightiest! In my first post on the subject on Facebook, I have written,

Covid 19!

Ya, a new wild creature!!

What’s new?

Sher Kay Puttaro Ka Bhi Payshab Nikal Gaya. Chhupna Pad Raha Hai! (Even the people who used to call themselves son of lion are nervously pissing in their pants. They have to hide now.)
Ya, nature is taking revenge –

Tum eke maronge, MAIN SO MAROONGI!

(If you destroy one of us, we will destroy 100s of you.)

I have been reading in ‘What’s App’ and other social media postings, visual media, newspapers and online several horrifying, alerting, conflicting and confusing things about Corona.  I have been avoiding sharing of any Corona related rumour, true, false, made-up or blame-game stories, half-baked research, etc. What has made me take more interest in the whole issue is the animal angle to the development.

Restrictions have happened so suddenly that I too accepted lockdown like a faithful Indian. I have taken this as national duty. As days pass, I start thinking. What’s what? To begin with, I thought, COVID 19 virus must be a micro-organism. Somebody said, ‘it is a protein’! I have not been able to believe that some protein can do such havoc! My son takes spoonful of it daily after workouts! I decide, let me learn my COVID alphabets.

To begin with, to me, Corona sounds like Hindi word, Karona (Do something!). But I discover this name is not any Tom’s fancy. There have been whole lot of scientific deliberation and thought in finalising the name. It is like naming a new born baby in India. First thing most parents, rather grandparents do is to consult a pundit and get the child’s Janampatri made. The pundit will suggest a name as per the stars in the Janampatri, like Lachhu, Ram, Shiv, Takhat, Rotu or Guddiya, Rani, Sita, Durga… Over the period of time, people started rebelling against this culture and in the bargain got a concession i.e. some flexibility in naming a child. Pundit tells them the first key letter of the name and one can find a name of their liking with that first letter.

In the case of Coronavirus (and for that matter any new virus), World Health Organisation (WHO) is the grandparent and the pundit is International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). I am quoting WHO here – ‘ICTV announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the new virus on 11 February 2020.  This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003.  While related, the two viruses are different.’ WHO announced “COVID-19” as name of the new disease.[1]

I read lot of articles, but it is not clear whether the virus is an organism or merely a protein. There is tons of material on COVID, but nothing in simple words on what SARS-CoV-2 is?

I generally avoid using Wiki quote, but here I find that it has used several important sources to define the virus as ‘A positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus (or (+)ssRNA virus) is a virus that uses positive sense single stranded RNA as its genetic material. The positive-sense viral RNA genome can serve as messenger RNA and can be translated into protein in the host cell. Positive-sense RNA viruses account for a large fraction of known viruses, including many pathogens such as the hepacivirus C, West Nile virus, dengue virus, SARS and MERS coronaviruses, and SARS-CoV-2  as well as less clinically serious pathogens such as the rhinoviruses that cause the common cold.’[2]

I am sorry this cannot be called simple. But in the process, I learn that a disease as common as common cold is caused by Rhino Virus. Am I reading it correctly, RHINO?

And generally, to know more about viruses, one good source I find is Microbiology Society website.  It tells us, “Viruses are the smallest of all the microbes. They are said to be so small that 500 million rhinoviruses could fit on to the head of a pin. They are unique because they are only alive and able to multiply inside the cells of other living things. The cell they multiply in is called the host cell. A virus is made up of a core of genetic material, either DNA or RNA, surrounded by a protective coat called a capsid which is made up of protein. Sometimes the capsid is surrounded by an additional spikey coat called the envelope. Viruses are capable of latching onto host cells and getting inside them.”[3]

In the beginning, there have been stories on social media, suggesting bats as culprit for spread of Covid 19. I foolishly brush aside such stories, thinking, “what nonsense, people have got used to blaming animals for all viruses, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Dengue…”

But it seems I am wrong. A Wiki articles outlines, “It is believed to have zoonotic origins and has close genetic similarity to bat coronaviruses, suggesting it emerged from a bat-borne virus. An intermediate animal reservoir such as a pangolin is also thought to be involved in its introduction to humans.”[4]

According to a related institution (ECDC) of European Union, ‘Coronaviruses are viruses that circulate among animals with some of them also known to infect humans. Bats are considered natural hosts of these viruses yet several other species of animals are also known to act as sources. For instance, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is transmitted to humans from camels, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-1 (SARS-CoV-1) is transmitted to humans from civet cats.’[5]

I am wondering would there be any taker in India for bat, rat, cat… I have my doubts. Even the hard core non-vegs would be repelled. But I know for sure, Chinese can take it all. They can go to the extent of drinking ‘Tiger Penis Soup’! This is not a joke. I am saying this in all seriousness.

I vividly remember. It is twenty years of Project Tiger in 1992. India is holding an international conference on tigers. I have been closely associated with the Project Tiger in preparing related books and booklets and participating in the conference. During an international participants’ session, one Chinese delegate makes a presentation and described his community as “we eat everything on four legs except chair and table!” How true. They eat pangolin (OMG)! It’s not easy to see pangolin in forest.  Even, I have seen only twice in my whole life.

I really do not know, whom to blame. But I am not happy saying, ‘Thik Hai’. It is now twenty April of twenty twenty. It has been pretty long, close to a month, being struck at home! I have been talking to acquaintances, relatives and friends. Only common thing I notice in all of them is fear and more fear. What I make out, it seems some people are trying to miss a breath or two, fearing Corona may not enter. Log Jite Ji Mar Rahen Hain (People are dying alive!)

Many of us live in gated societies. There are no outsiders allowed. Lanes and parks are empty. I raise this question, with many, ‘what’s the harm in taking a walk with all the prescribed precautions e.g. sanitiser, face mask, social distancing…?’ People murmur, rules, indiscipline, safety…. I say, ‘Tel lene gaiya’ (hell with all that).

One of my cousins lives in the same society where I live. His house is less than 100m away. They have been virtually unexposed for about a month and so we have been. I suggest to him we can all meet, and drink and dine together. He is shocked, ‘No way’. I try to reason with him. I tell him we have more dangerous (if you want to call it so, though I do not) social interaction happening day in and day out – grocery, vegetable and milk shopping. Nothing doing, ‘Safety first’, my cousin insists.

I am sure relationships must be at stake. Are boy and girl friends just doing flying kisses?  Are husband and wife sleeping on twin beds instead of double bed? Are neighbours fighting maintaining two metre unsocial distance? Are politicians confused, ‘should I curse Modi or praise him?’

All said and done, Chhua Chhat hamare desh main unofficially chalta hai. Magar ab sub official hai. Or had to yah ho gai ki, log maid ya sweeper ko chhuna to kaya dekhna bhi nahi chaha rahain hain. Hai Bhagwan, ye kaya kar dala. Hai bhagwan, or kaya dikhayega. Lagta hai, Corona kay dar say hi mar dalega. (Untouchability has been practised in India unofficially. But now this is all official. What to say of touching a maid or sweeper, people even do not want to see them. Hai, God, what have you done. Hai, God, what more will you do. Seems, you will kill many with fear of Corona.)

Pushp Jain

(PS: I have presented here brief findings, with sources. I am concerned that facts should be facts, without any colour, in all seriousness.)

[1] https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-it

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive-sense_single-stranded_RNA_virus

[3] https://microbiologysociety.org/why-microbiology-matters/what-is-microbiology/viruses.html

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severe_acute_respiratory_syndrome_coronavirus_2

[5] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/covid-19/questions-answers

Birds in Paradise

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During 1980s and 90s, Keoladeo has been my regular haunt. Foresters, Suraj                      Ziddi and Daulat Singh, my friends used to be there. It used to be so soothing to be in a wilderness, which was unique in all respect – World Heritage Site, National Park, birding heaven… It was so relaxing and cheerful those days – cycling, boating, preparing list of birds sighted, boozing…

It was 1989, when during a visit I met Sunayan Sharma, Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF) and Research Officer. I noticed he has been keenly involved in bird watching and photography. He was head strong. He was dedicated to forest and wildlife. Soon, we struck acquaintance. With association during next few visits, we became family friends.

Sunayan has been an old school forester, dressing like a forester (wearing felt hat), talking like a forester (wildlife storytelling), and working like a forester (order is order), boozing like a forester (enjoy every bit). He has been bold and dedicated. He has been one, who would visit forest daily, without fail. He loved photography. I remember, once to photograph Sarus Cranes at nest, he got a hide built in the lake itself and used to spend hours cramped in small space. I am sure he had seen Keoladeo so closely, as few might have done.

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Keoladeo National Park

Later, he had second spell in 2006-08, which was much more challenging. First, he became the Director of the Park i.e. he was responsible for the entire show.  Secondly, over the years, protection and conservation had become more and more difficult. Thirdly, Keoladeo is a network of artificial lakes and need water to flow into them from Ajan Dam, which the farmers and their political bosses resented and managed to stop it altogether. Fourth, the Park, from the grasslands, swamps, and woodland was being encroached by Vilayati Babul (Prosopis juliflora) all over.

By 2006, the Park was completely devastated – dry lakes, weeds all over.  Keoladeo was on the verge of losing World Heritage status.

Sunayan is a man, who cannot sit back or take things lying down. He went all across to meet engineers, experts, funders and politicians to develop and initiate a scheme for bringing water to the Park. He ultimately succeeded and now water is not a major issue.

Taking advantage of his deep knowledge about the drainage system of Bharatpur and adjacent flood plains, he developed a scheme to tap the Govardhan drain, carrying lot of flood water from the plains of Bharatpur and adjacent areas of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Today, the canal built to bring this water to the Park is the lifeline of Keoladeo.

He developed a unique system of removing the Babul from the Park. This was in collaboration with the villagers living on the periphery of the Park. They were temporarily allotted small plots of forest to dig out the trees and wood was theirs. Only condition was that they have to remove it completely including the root stock. Initially, with lot of persuasion only 4 members of a family joined the operation but gradually the programme took off. In few months, it was adopted by all the 15 villages located on the periphery of the Park. This was win-win situation for both – Park as well as people. Park got back its grasslands, clear waters and original stands of sacred Kadamba trees in several places and people got wood. About 10 sq. km. area of the Park was recovered in about one and a half years. With the sale of harvested wood, hundreds of families could build houses, marry daughters and buy more resources.

This was not as simple as it sounds. First of all many of his colleagues discouraged him in doing so. They pointed out he is rubbing the law on wrong side. Secondly, Bharatpur is a typical town with complex political atmosphere. With great tact, he managed to take different leaders along. Furthermore, he maintained fairness and transparency in dealing with all villagers so that there was no antagonism or fights.

Sunayan retired in 2010. Nevertheless, he remains a forester to the core. He has written a book on Sariska sharing his first hand experiences and learning.  Sunayan and me visited Keoladeo in September 2017 and spent leisurely two nights. I suggested to him that he should share his unique experiences of Keolodeo also with larger audience i.e. he should write a book. We briefly discussed the outline.

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Bholu, Pushp & Sunayan (Left to right, during 2017 visit)

And here it is. ‘Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur – Birds in Paradise’ has been published recently by a leading book publisher, Niyogi Books in New Delhi. I am sure this would be certainly of interest for any bird watcher and would be an asset on   bookshelf.

Pushp

Launched into Sundarbans

 

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I am excited. I am ready before the appointed time of 8 am, and, in fact, we leave 10 minutes before from The Astor Hotel in downtown Kolkata for Sundarbans. It’s about 100 km drive. The traffic has not thickened as yet. We pass through Kolkata central, Kolkata suburbs, and are soon driving in the interior of Bengal towards south-east and pass through congested towns of Baruipur and Canning. At places, it is single lane road!

In about two and a half hour, we are at Godkhali, our destination by road. The name gave me a little shock for ‘khali’ in Hindi, as many of you know, means empty. If God is Khali, who will fulfil the greed of ever demanding man. Anyway, here onward, all travel is going to be by motor boat (launch) only. A forester friend has taken care of all the logistics – I have to be just there to relax, eat, enjoy the luxury and admire the wonder. The boat supervisor and his assistant have come to escort me from the car. It is a small walk to jetty. I stand at the head of stair leading to jetty and eye the scene. I can see, the white beauty, Bharat Laxmi, parked at the end of jetty stair. I am elated to board the boat. I envy myself to be able to make it to the unique landscape.

The driver and cook also welcome me, and here we go.  There are score of boats and several jetties around, and lot of movement of man and material. One of the towns in the region, Gosaba, is just across – people are connected to mainland by boat only. It is a question of getting used to it, since it is few minutes ride across. I see a boat carrying three motor bikes along with people. The bikers continue wearing the helmets as if not to waste even a second in speeding away when they land.

For those who may not know, Sundarbans is the largest delta (10,200 sq km) in the world formed by the convergence of two mighty Himalayan rivers, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, both of which flow into the Bay of Bengal. Sundarban Tiger Reserve is part of the delta. The entire area is a conglomeration of river channels, creeks and inhabited or forested islands.

I inspect the boat a little closer since this is going to be my companion for two days. I can see, from ‘bow’ about 7-8 feet space is open with rope bundles lying for tying the boat at jetty and rope hold on either side. There is flight of 8-10 steps to go to lower deck while two steps on its either sides take one to upper deck. The upper deck, has a driver cabin which can, besides the driver seat two more persons, in front of the cabin is a foot raised platform about 5 feet by 6 feet for people to sit or lie down on. The passage on either side has a chair placed. If need be, many more chairs can be placed. Behind the driver cabin is room with a large bed for staff to rest. Behind the room, till the tail, there is about 25 feet long open space with drums of fuel and fresh water, anchor and several of other miscellaneous stuff, and stair to go down to lower deck from the back. Lower deck houses two small bed rooms, two toilets and a dining hall. The section behind is partitioned off, comprises of boat engine and kitchen. The supervisor tells me, “The boat is 59 feet long. Of the boat’s height, four feet remains under water.”

I have the whole boat to myself. Tea is served. I stretch on the platform and enjoy the ever changing and passing by scenes.

We are cruising in the Bidhya River. The channel is quite wide. I can see many ships carrying merchandise to Bangladesh from Kolkata. It looks like a train of ships. This is an important trade route.

Also, the area is inhabited with several villages on both banks of the river. Sundarbans is a tidal delta. Presently, I feel that the water level seems to be rising. I check the tide times on net. Yes, this is high tide time and going to peak around 4.30 in the afternoon. Nevertheless, the boat is steadily cruising. The driver tells me, “The speed is, generally, 10 to 12 km per hour.”

The sky is overcast and all uniformly grey. In bigger channel e.g. the confluence of the Bidhya and the Malta rivers, where the channel is more than a kilometre wide, the view is somewhat monotonous – the grey sky almost merges with the grey water surface and the forest appears as dark, thin dividing line on both sides.

The cook announces lunch. I move to the dining hall. Wow! The spread covers the whole table –soupy daal, fried cottage-cheese and potato curry, okra curry, curd, papad, potato shreds deep fried, green salad, steamed rice and sweet rosogulla! It counts perfect 10!! And it’s all so tasty that I do not feel like ending. This is a luxury on water. Yes, I know, there are many, more luxurious, cruises catering to throng of tourists, but this is a different ball game. We are boating through a tiger reserve!

Soon, we leave the habitation behind and it is forest all around. I cannot peak deep inside but as we pass narrow channels or closer to the banks of islands, the vegetation is conspicuously different from inland forests I generally get to see.

This is all estuarine system of tidal swamp forest, largely comprising mangroves. These mangroves tolerate daily inundation of salty sea water in high tide! There are numerous uniqueness of the forest. I can count few, which I am just watching. One, the forest is refreshingly shiny green or yellowish green. No dust. Two, here and there are dashes of yellow or red leave canopies breaking the scene. Drying leaves. Three, these are low height vegetation, none of the lofty trees we see in inland forests. Loose soil cannot support lofty trees. Four, there is not even an inch of dry ground to be seen. Inter-tidal zone. Five, it is all alluvial soil. Six, nowhere any rock can be seen. Slit being brought in by rivers all the time. Seven, the vegetation is very dense. Eight, because of the forest falling in tidal delta, plants have evolved unique survival mechanism – some species are standing on stilts, others have pencil thin or dragon like thick aerial roots  (breathing roots called pneumatophores bearing lenticels for gaseous exchange)…

I can recognise Sundari (Heritiera fomes), Passur (Xyocarpus granatum), Kankra (Bruguiera gymnorhiza) and Mangrove Date Palm (Phoenix paludosa) though there are many more species present in this highly productive ecosystem.

Among the trees, one that stands out is Sundari. I do see one closely at the interpretation centre. I notice, the trunk develops buttresses and is grey with vertically fissured bark. The tree is in flowering. The pinkish bell-shaped small flowers form panicles. The canopy is conspicuous with drying bright yellow leaves ready to fall.

Sundarbans delta forest is apparently named after Sundari tree. I am told that in good old days, Sundari used to the dominant species here. I go by this idea, though there is also a thought that Sundarban is combination of Sundar (beautiful) and ban (forest).

Towards, late afternoon, the sun shows up. Forest brightens up. Monotonous grey is converted to varying hues. Sky and water liven up. We are passing through narrower channels and several smaller rivers. By and by, it is nightfall. We are going on and on. I am slightly worried. How is the guy driving? He has not even switched on the boat light! Probably, the sky light is guiding the course. Soon I realise, it’s foolish of me to worry. These people know the delta like the back of their hands. Though it’s manual driving but virtually auto-piloted with digitisation in their minds and hands. Without any doubt, they drop me safely to my night halt destination – Sajnekhali Resort.

 

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Post Script

Sundarbans is the largest delta in the world formed by the convergence of two mighty Himalayan rivers, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, both of which flow into the Bay of Bengal. This delta consists of 10,200 sq km of mangrove forests spread over India (4,200 sq km) and Bangladesh (6,000 sq km). The Indian Sundarban region consists of 4,200 sq km of Reserved Forests along with 5,400 sq km of non-forest area i.e. a total of 9600 sq km. Of this, Sundarban Tiger Reserve is spread over 2585 sq km. The entire area is a conglomeration of river channels, creeks and islands which total 102 in number. Of these, 54 islands are inhabited and the rest 48 islands are forested. Sundarban tidal delta experiences ‘the average tidal amplitude of 2.15 metre (maximum 5.68 m and minimum 0.96 m)’. There are host of wild animals found here among which, tiger tops the list.

There are 100s of species of plants in Sundarbans. Some of the important species are Sundari (Heritiera fomes), Dhungul or Passur (Xyocarpus granatum), Kankra (Bruguiera gymnorhiza), Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha), Goran ( Ceriops decandra) and Keora (Sonneratia apetala); palms Poresia coaractataMyriostachya wightiana and Nypa fruiticans (Golpata); and grasses spear grass (Imperata cylindrica) and Khagra (Phragmites karka).

 

Ladvi – Fit for Hermit’s Abode

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It is night when we enter the Ladvi FRH. There are two suits on the first floor. The room is big. Chowkidar and others quickly do bit of dusting – re-spread the bed sheet and arrange blanket and pillows. I open the door at the other end. Oh! There is huge balcony. I prefer to spend time out. Staff lay a sofa, half a dozen chairs and a table here. Soon they are done. I take only five minutes to change and fix a drink and come out to balcony and incline on the sofa.

I am in another world. The moon is 3-day waned and the chandni is spread across the scene, lighting it softly. The Narmada, is inconspicuously flowing in front of me – almost running parallel, half a km spread of greenish water sheet, slightly simmering under the moonlight.  The scene sends a cool wave through my spine and now my mind understand, and I whisper  ‘Ma Narmaday’ i.e. mother Narmada. There is no artificial light. There is no human being. There is no noise. There is no disturbance. There is nothing in-between me and nature.  I envy my own luck. What an opportunity because of my forester friend, Anil Nagar. I mentally thank him.

A bamboo grove on the left side and few scattered trees on the right and open scrub in front without any construction make the rest house, a prefect site for meditation. I am virtually sensing spirituality in the air and surrounding.

In the night, the nature is over enveloping.  I am overwhelmed. I love to forget everything and be light and fresh. Moon’s soft light, indeed, always fills my heart with joy and love. If fact, I have named my daughter, Chandni. And yes, the presence of a water-body in forest makes the scene complete. I can hear a nightjar in the back ground. There are insects, moths…. around. Many of them are already resting in my bed.  I have to close the door of the room. I am sure there must be minor mammals, amphibians, reptiles active down there – busy in nitty-gritty.

I have been at Ladvi during the day. Incidentally, rather in fact, Ladvi is an important nursery of the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, spread across about ten acres of forest land. There are nursery beds spread to wherever the eyes go. Staff is busy in all kind of nursery activities. The water sprinklers are spraying water across to one and all plants. Oh, one malfunctioning sprinkler sprays some water on me as well. As an impulse reaction, I step back.

I can see there are beds with old plants, may be two-three old. There are beds with sand filled polythene bags, recently seeded, and saplings just emerging in most of them. There are few beds holding one-year old plants, left over of this year’s distribution.  I bed particularly attracts me. It has saplings of Baobab (Adansonia spp.), the famous inverted tree of Africa. The forester in-charge of the nursery informs me, “This monsoon about 4.5 lakh, largely teak and other forest tree species, and some fruit bearing plants have been sent to forest divisions around. 10,000 plants have gone to a village panchayat.” While going around, we pass through a bamboo grove – the massive plants on both sides of a narrow jeep-able path, have formed a beautiful tunnel.

And then, when we emerge in the open, I am unable to believe that we are just 200 m from the bank of a river, the mighty and revered Narmada. I feel like running to touch the sacred water. I do not run but I do touch the water!

Incidentally, Ladvi falls between two sacred temple towns cum Narmada Ghats – Mandleshwar and Maheshwar. These are thronged by lakhs of pilgrims and tourists.  Here at Ladvi, it is our own Ghat, a rare privilege. I do go to Maheshwar in the afternoon. The boat ride exposed the dirt and garbage on the Ghat.  From the middle of the river, I can see, Gods or Goddesses live there in majestic and massive temples. At Ladvi there is no garbage on the Ghat and the Gods are everywhere – a perfect place for hermit’s abode.

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Everest, Antarctica & all that

I have to fly to Indore from Delhi but I am caught in traffic jam to airport even though it’s not peak hour. Delhi’s traffic is unpredictable. I spend quite a few anxious moments. I do say a prayer. Thank god, I am just in time to rush through the process and be among the last to board.

Slightly stressed, I decide to take a short nap. I have a window seat – first row, first seat! It’s too bright outside. I pull down the window shade and soon I am out.

My forester friend, Shashi Malik is with me. As soon as I wake up, he suggests ‘Pull the window shade up.’ I am slightly hesitant. It appears from the corners of the shade that it is quite bright outside. But I oblige. Bright it is but the scene is really interesting. I sit up and notice.

We are flying over a solid white formation of clouds – Quite attractive. I generally do not take photos in plane but here this is compelling.

I have seen many friends commonly posting photos from plane which look like screen shots of Google Earth Satellite maps. Yes, I have seen some photos of clouds also posted.

These days I am flying at least once every month, but hardly take photos. Several times, even if there is good opportunity, delay in pulling out the camera results in the scene passing by! This time it is different. I pull out my new phone and start shooting right away.

Nature is wonderful.  The very first thought is ‘I am on cloud9.’

There is solid white uneven layer of clouds. Is it surface of Moon? Not really.

Bright sun lends snow white texture to the layer. Is it snow? Not really.

There is massive mountain rising out of the layer. Is it Everest? Not really.

And lo, there is a formation as if a river flowing on flat land meets a circular fall? Is it a frozen fall? Not really.

In India, traditionally cotton is spun manually. Raw cotton is filled in a room and massive bow is hung from ceiling and expert spinner works on this. The whole room is all white with balls of cotton which break up into fine cotton with flakes flying all over. Now, we see a layer of cotton spun by nature. Is it cotton? Not really.

Then, there are thin fluffy light clouds flying over the solid white layer which looks like ground? Are we flying only few hundred feet above the ground? Not really.

Clouds are shaped like tips of icebergs in the whitish blue sky. Have we arrived at Antarctica? Not really.

OMG! Looks like clouds are imitating the Hydrogen Bomb testing scene. Are we watching a photo released by North Korea? Not really.

Soon we are descending. There is fast and drastic change in scene. Nearer ground all the cloud formations and Sun is gone. Suddenly we are engulfed in thick fog. It sends a chill down the spine. It feels cold. We are supposed to be insulated from outside weather. Has somebody opened a window of the plane? Not really.

What a transformation as we land – It’s all grey, No sun, no cloud… It’s raining – indeed, that is what the clouds are about.

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