Jun 19, 2011

A Southern Odyssey

This was an idea which was not encouraged by many!

Vacation in South in summer? Bangalore to Ooty to Pondicherry?? By Road??? In MAY???? Had Bertie asked for one word for the entire idea, Jeeves would have obloged him with the term -  Preposterous.

Those who love us, generously termed it an adventurous plan, raising an eyebrow like Jeeves….while other, thought of it as an asinine one, but out of politeness and finding me stubborn actually did not use the word.

To be honest, I had my doubts too. Travelling in May anywhere in India generally is quite an arduous task. Travelling in south India, largely Tamilnadu, in what is called the month of Agninakshatram, can be worse. That’s why I was quite content with going to Bangalore & Ooty. But, soon at the request (~ nay, command) of the Missus, it first became Ooty - Pondicherry & then Ooty – Yercaud – Pondicherry.

And that’s how it all began, when an early morning in May, we embarked from Bangalore on a road journey of about 1500 kms, which in next few days was to take us right upto Chennai, through a route on which we were to cross over dense reserved forests, pass through the ever-twisting roads of Nilgiri mountains – well matched by the tongue-twisting names of most of the places on the entire route, steep climbs of Sheveroy Hills and plains of Tamilnadu graced with the presence of Indian rollers before seeing the sun rising from beyond the Bay of Bengal at the eastern coast of India. But all that was yet to be experienced.

A journey through road always has an advantage – it allows the detours & stoppages as one would desire. Our journey too, while keeping to the originally planned destinations, had its own unplanned & sudden stoppages & detours, the first one being to admire the wooden toys that are churned out in numbers at Chennapatna – a town on Bangalore – Mysore highway, also called the toy-town of Karnataka. Originated as an industry in the times of Tipu Sultan, the wooden toys of this town are made from variety of woods. What makes these toys different is the superb colours, provided through vegetable dyes, and fine glossy finish brought to it with lacquer.


Another detour meanwhile was on our way. As we reached closer to Srirangapatnam, we noticed a small road turning towards Somnathpur, that houses a 13th century Hoysala temple dedicated to Kesava or Krishna. Having visited it a few years earlier, we had fallen in love with the Krishna idol inside the temple and this was just the perfect opportunity, which we would not have missed.  The road to the temple, bumpy in patches, passes through the paddy fields & sugarcane fields, with more than occasional Gulmohurs in full bloom providing the shade as well as adding that perfect red hue.  

How Green is My Field
The temple itself, despite being almost 750 years old, is still in quite a good condition. Another thing which immediately differentiates it – and may be most of the other heritage temple structures like Mahabalipuram – from more popular temples, is sprawling open areas and absence of religious fervour amongst the visitors. As a result, one can actually be in commune with the god unlike the more popular temples, one of which we visited later at Thiruvanaimalam - characterized by an ever present ongoing tussle between the devotees – each one of them wanting to spend more time with the deity and pujaris with their attitude bordering on arrogance ensuring the denial of this desire.


Leaving Somnathpur behind, we were on our way to Ooty. The approach to Ooty, as one enters the forests of Bandipur followed by Mudu-malai, and start climbing the Nilgiris, fills up one with lots of expectations and all senses are at alert The freshness in the air, a drop in the temperature, dense green colour in variety of shades all around, Gulmohur trees in full bloom slowly giving way to the tall Eucalyptus trees as road climbs up, clouds, sun and the trees creating their own shadow-play, occasional sightings of mammals like elephants, gaurs and monkeys, all looked like good omen for our stay at Ooty – till we reached Ooty. One look at the landscape of concrete jungle and all pervading noise and we wanted to escape from the reign of this queen of hill stations.


We still managed to stay in Ooty for next 4 days was largely due to the excellent location of Derby Green Resort – which despite being in the heart of the city, due to its elevated location overlooking the sprawling racecourse, allows one to still find some solitude and breathe freely in this otherwise crowded city.


Added to that were some sudden surprises as well as delightful moments –finding a not so visited trail around the lake towards the south-end, experiencing a variety of flowers in all kind of colours at surprisingly crowd-less Arboretum, checking out the tea factory on the way to Dodda Betta Peak, being explained the difference between Dosai & Roast at one of the restaurants, strolling amidst Botanical Garden peeping at unheard of and unseen flowers, watching a large flock of Oriental White-eyes near Lamb’s Rock at Coonoor, taking a drive into Wellington, experiencing, though apprehensively, our first ever moment of a train maneuvering itself in reverse gear as our heritage toy train reached Coonoor station.

railway tracks at Connoor

The moments were many which kept us hooked on till, we were again on the road, this time travelling towards Yercaud via Mettupalayam & Salem.


Yercaud – meaning lake (yeri) and forest (kaadu), at Shevaroy hills near Salem is at a height of about 4500 ft. The road from Salem rises suddenly in last few kilometers to reach this height and hence has a number of hair-pin bends that makes the climb interesting as well as challenging. Yercaud itself – more of a sleepy town, as compared to the hustle-bustle at Ooty, was a welcome change.

For a Mumbaikar, Yercaud is Panchghani, Mahabaleshwar & Matheran, all rolled into one – steep climbs, a lake centric town and a table-top that gets busy over the weekend. However, what make it different are the dense forests and the coffee and spice plantations all around that can be explored through treks for birding.


Even our stay at Hotel Lake Forest, developed out of an old estate and situate amidst spice & coffee plantation, was truly soul-refreshing. Dense green all around, small bungalows like of structure for boarding, and lots of avifauna including robins, barbets, bulbuls, flycatchers, minivets, swallows and woodpeckers to keep you company. The only thing that could have made us move from there was our already planned itinerary and we again hit the road on our way to Pondicherry.


This time, the road journey, was more interesting, as rather than catching up the national highway through Salem, we climbed down through the forests towards Uthangarai, where we had one of the best dosa/roast breakfasts, and then moved towards Pondi through a country-side that was full of Indian rollers & kingfisher. Finding rollers perched on wires and trees almost every few hundred metres was too much of a temptation and ultimately we got down to chasing one of them with our camera, till we captured one of the few good shots of the bird. We were not lucky enough though in Thiruvanamalai, a temple town with towering Gopurams, where our surreptitious attempts to take pictures of deities failed miserably.


Another interesting sight on the way to Pondi, which we dared not visit due to scorching heat of the mid noon, was the forts of Gingee –one of the most impregnable citadels of south India. The forts has had an interesting history of rulers ranging from Cholas to Bijapur Sultan to Marathas under Shivaji followed by Moghuls, French, Hyder Ali & finally British. Since the forts would have required a good climb in the scorching Sun we decided to leave it for a winter trip and moved towards Pondi – our last boarding halt of the trip. Our wishlist included a visit to the Aurobindo Ashram, Auroville,  capturing the sunrise from the eastern coast of the country, and experiencing the French flavour of the town.

However, the French flavour is long evaporated . Except a very small area around the Aurobindo Ashram resembling a French town, India has reached almost to the Ashram gates leaving nothing that distinguishes the remaining part of the town from any other noisy and crowded towns of the country.
The experience at the Ashram and Auroville was however, serene & peaceful.


The sunrise that we saw from the beach both the mornings were different and beautiful. The early morning mist over the Bay of Bengal, roaring waves of the high tide, the clouds playing a cameo, the fishing boats out in the sea like early birds, all provided a lovely character to the mornings.

And then came the finishing touches to the entire trip.


First, a last moment change of plan due to our yayawari attitude made us decide to take the Eastern Coast Road, one of the best highways that I have travelled on, so that we could visit Mahabalipuram shore temples - a heritage site with mind-blowing carvings of various deities that have survived the centuries of history and ravaging of weather, including even a tsunami. 

Above the clouds_1

And finally, as our flight took to the sky towards Mumbai and broke through the dense cloud cover with sun about to say goodbye to the evening, the colours that lit across were similar to our experience in this trip –dark and bland on the surface till we broke through the routine and found ourselves enjoying the unexplored colours of the country. And yes, travelling in the hot summer in south India actually turned out to be quite a good idea. 

As a Greek poet had written –
the road was long but full of adventure, the summer mornings were many that allowed us so much pleasure & joy to enter the ports seen for the first time.

Apr 22, 2011

In the stillness of mind..

In this concrete jungle of Mumbai, there exists a land which is close to the oasis of nature. Powai. Situated at the outskirts of Aarey & SGNP - the lungs of the city, a lake with hills as the backdrop bordering it, the area is greener and serene than most of the city. I consider myself fortunate to be residing here, because I can just hop, skip & jump to the lake and amble along to brighten up my mood while the lake remains engrossed in its own moods – changing from hour to hour & season to season.

From a happy welcoming kind of a lake in the winters, it starts becoming a bit harsh with the arrival of the summer and definitely becomes sullen as the summer progresses. The monsoon, however, rejuvenates it, as it receives the bounty of life from the sky, getting ready for the next lot of visitors. However, it is the mood swings that the lake undergoes daily that I find more interesting.

Usually, I see the lake on my way back from the office – the chaotic traffic continuing in full blare at its bank, the lake resembling one of the urban dwellers, having had a stressful day at work, its surface looking affected, the waves exhibiting its higher stress level. As the evening progresses, one can see the harsh neon lights of the hotels around getting distorted in the darkish stressed waters of the lake, irritating the lake which is trying to rest after a hard day.

But the day I am able to visit the lake early morning, I find it in an absolutely different mood. After having settled down in its own solitude in the night, the surface of the lake is quiet & calm, reflecting the world around with absolute clarity. It almost brings to mind the words of Henry David Thoreau, the lake resembling the earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. Though this mirror like mood starts changing with the unfolding day starts putting the water in turmoil, it is indeed a joy to see the reflections – especially of the winged characters in the water.

This is where I find the nature guiding us mortal beings. According to Democritus, truth lies at the bottom of a lake, the water of which serves as a mirror in which objects may be reflected. But a lake can be a mirror only when it lies unaffected, alone in its stillness.  Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted.

Similarly in life, in order to understand the perspectives, we need to find the equilibrium where the mind is calm & the heart is at peace. A stressed mind and turbulent emotions only manage to present the distorted version of reality, which in turn does not allow us to see the truth and skew our decisions. What we need is Equanimity – a state of unperturbed-ness.

Rumi had said -  Let the waters settle, and you will see stars and the moon mirrored in your own being.  But much before Rumi, it was Lao Tzu, the mystic & philosopher from China, who had said:  No thought, no action, no movement, total stillness: only thus can one manifest the true nature and law of things from within and unconsciously, and at last become one with heaven and earth.

Zhuangzi, another Chinese philosopher  and the Tao’ist thinker recognised this simile of water and human mind almost 2300 years ago. He wrote:  Water becomes clear and transparent when in a quiescent stage. How much the more wonderful will be the mind of a sage when poised in quiescence! It is the mirror of heaven and earth, reflecting the ten thousand things.

It is interesting to find the Chinese philosophy & Taoism so much in sync with Buddhism that early when the Buddhism had just started spreading. Perhaps Zhuangzi had already heard of the metamorphosis of the prince from India, Siddharth, who retreated to the stillness and solitude within himself and emerged as Gautam Buddha, with a new philosophy for the mankind - relevant even now more than two thousand years later..

Like Siddharth, what we need is a state of equanimity which alone can be our friend when the whole world is in turmoil. Equanimity is the only word used by Antonius Pius, the Roman emperor of 2nd Century AD to sum up the philosophy of life and how right he was. Of course, equanimity also means not to get carried away when thing are going our way. The praise, the flattery is also like the waves on the water, again distorting the image & our perspectives.

There has always been, and much more today, a need of infinite patience and calm reflections. The world is grooving more and more to the tune of instant karma, expecting instant cures, rewards & reactions. A phone in hand wherever we go almost makes it compelling to respond – irrespective of the situation. Little do we realize that there are very few situations in life that require an instant reaction – everything else can wait for a  calm, patient and well considered response. Stephen Covey has written - between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.
William Osler summed it up quite well in his valedictory address to the medical students of University of Pennsylvania:

Be calm and strong and patient. Meet failure and disappointment with courage. Rise superior to the trials of life, and never give in to hopelessness or despair. In danger, in adversity, cling to your principles and ideals. Aequanimitas!

Getting back to the mirror like surface of Powai Lake, I realize that it makes it easier for the birds out to find their morning meal – just like this egret returning to the land after a successful sojourn over the lake.

Mirror Image

Apr 14, 2011

Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai...

Life and the idea of Heaven…

We were enjoying some profound & inspiring sufi music at Sama-e-sukhan last weekend when the thoughts about the life and the heaven slowly crept in. The genesis was some fabulous fusion of John Lennon’s soulful Imagine & Sufi music which had just turned the entire evening into a sublime moment for the heart & head alike.

Imagine there's no Heaven, It's easy if you try
No hell below us, Above us only sky ..

In 1971, after the breakup of Beatles, when John Lennon sang this song, the world was witnessing one of the most tumultuous age of modern history.  Already continuing the cold war with Russia, the USA had just started retreating from Vietnam & Combodia, bowing to the pressure from its own citizens, but not before waging a long hard fought war. Despite all its talk about human freedom, USA had just seen the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. On the other hand, amidst all talks of social equality, the USSR’s autocratic regime was finding it difficult to accept the dissenting voices of people like Solzhenitsyn. The Middle East was engaged in its own conflict with Israel while the ethnic issues of East & West Pakistan had kept our own country engaged in a war. Amidst this, John Lennon’s song Imagine, alongwith another hit, Give Peace A Chance, became the voice of those looking for the peace in the strife torn world, and giving words to the human beings’ everlasting quest for the Heaven. But he was not the solitary voice, nor was the idea unique.

Over the centuries, the mankind has always been enamoured with the idea of Heaven, a utopian world, perfect in all pervasive sense. Since the life itself is never accepted as perfect by anyone, the Heaven has been thought to be a place which one visit afterlife. This has also resulted in religions across the world making heaven a kind of much cherished reward for living a life approved by religious scriptures.   

However, the rational minds across different ages in time and place had a different take as they tried to define the idea of Heaven, relating it to our daily life.  Considering the everlasting power struggle amidst the human race and resultant negativity it has generated, it is no surprise that these thoughts were centered at finding heaven by adhering to humanitarian principles.

Gautam Buddha, perhaps was among the earliest of such thinkers & philosophers who worked extensively on making the life in this living world itself heavenly through humanity for the universe. The Sutta Nipata, one of the earliest Buddhist discourses in Pali language, extols these virtues so lucidly:

Let your love flow outward through the universe,
To its height, its depth, its broad extent,
A limitless love, without hatred or enmity.
Then as you stand or walk,
Sit or lie down,
As long as you are awake,
Strive for this with a one-pointed mind;
Your life will bring heaven to earth.

For Rumi, the Persian Sufi Mystic of 13th century, the Heaven again meant absence of hostility and hatred:

I love this world, even as I hear
the great wind of leaving it rising,
For there is a grainy taste
I prefer to every idea of heaven:
Human friendship.

Kabir, the secularist that he was in the times strife with religious fervours & antagonism, went further and showed us the way to find the God & the Heaven within ourselves when he spoke:

Moko Kahan Dhundhere Bande Mein To Tere Paas Mein
Na Teerath Mein, Na Moorat Mein Na Ekant Niwas Mein
Na Mandir Mein, Na Masjid Mein Na Kabe Kailas Mein
Mein To Tere Paas Mein Bande Mein To Tere Paas Mein…
Kahet Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho Mein To Hun Viswas Mein

As our race continues to hurl itself frequently into various crises, there have been many more voices – known & unknown, echoing repeatedly the similar sentiments – finding the Heaven through living life with love for humanity. 

That evening, however, as I sat in a trance listening to the music that evening, I thought of the verse, a joint effort of Raj Kapoor’s favourite team – Shailendra & Hasrat Jaipuri, from one of the most profound Hindi movie songs, exemplifying through simple words the way to live life, and thus finding heaven, here & now:

Kisi ki Muskarahton pe Ho Nisar, Kisi Ka Dard Mil Sake to Le Udhaar
Kisi ke waste ho tere dil mein pyar,
Jeena Isi Ka naam Hai..

It is ironical that, despite the technological advancement, we are facing breakdowns in human communication. With faster speed, we are also getting distanced from each other faster. Add this to ever rising inequalities, in fast growing economies, and there is a perfect recipe for disasters. The challenges are many, but not impossible to overcome. All it requires is astrong resolve & honest action from us, the ones who are better offs, to do our own bit for the humanity & the lesser privileged ones of the society. We have to remember these oft repeated words from past

I expect to pass through life but once.
If, therefore, there by any kindness I can show,
or any good thing I can do for any fellow being,
let me do it now …
As I shall not pass this way again.

If such will be the resolve, we will not have to worry about finding the Heaven for us in our afterlife. Rather we will be building our own much sought after heaven.

Sounds Utopian? May be, but as John Lennon went on to sing:

You may say that I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

So here is my picture for this week, from Varca Beach, reminding me always - I shall not pass this way again:



Mar 29, 2011

Where Streets Do Not Exist....

I want to feel sunlight on my face
I see the dust cloud disappear Without a trace
I want to take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name

Bono of U2 crooned in this 1987 Grammy award winner.  To an urbanite the entire idea seems so strange – the notion of having streets with no name, in turn making most of us lose their apparent identity in a society which ascribes high credence to the streets or the localities where we choose to live or have our work-place.  A utopian situation of global equality impossible to be found in civic society – in fact not even acceptable as to our orderly mind, this would be an anti-thesis - chaotic and anarchic. No wonder the same album of U2 had Bono singing – I still haven’t found what I am looking for.

This February I experienced something even stranger – a place where let alone the streets without names, streets just do not exist – not at least for the urbanites like us, nor exists the dwellings of any kind, and this is what this travelogue is all about.

We had spent last 2 days roaming in the watery world of Nalsarovar & Thol. With water in plenty, crops abundant, the eyes & the soul had feasted on the greenery and the birds – resident as well as migratory of all sizes, hues & colours. The image of large flocks of geese clouding the early morning sky swooping down on to the greener pastures was still afresh in the mind.


All that had changed now – just about 100 KMs away from the bustling city of Ahmedabad, as our adventurous spirit had brought us previous afternoon to Patdi, a small town in Surendranagar district of Gujarat. The plethora of small waterbodies and green fields seen during the road journey had slowly decreased in numbers, though not really disappeared. It was yet early hours of the day in late winters, the breeze was cool, Sun had just started waking up the nature as its morning beams reflected on the streak of a jet in the sky. Our day also had begun early as we went exploring the Little Rann of Kutch (Rann), as a part of our annual pilgrimage to celebrate and commune with the nature.


The Rann is a vast area of almost 5000 Sq Km, believed to have been a navigable lake in the times of Alexander. The growing civilization of 2300 years, however, had changed its features - now comprising largely of arid grassland, saline desert & mudflats, thorny scrubs, marshes & seasonal shallow pools of water.  It still is one of the most remarkable and unique link in nature’s ecology - one of its kind in the entire world. It is a vast desiccated, unbroken bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which transforms into a spectacular wetland for a brief while after the monsoon. 

What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well – so says Antoine De Saint-Exupery, in his classic allegory “The Little Prince”. Here, we were the adventurers in this desert looking for our well of treasure. For us, that morning the treasure that lied hidden in the Little Rann were some of the species of the birds and the mammals, unseen yet by us, one of them being Asian Wild Ass (the Khur), for whom, despite dwindling numbers, the Rann is their last refuge in the world. Our wish list however was not restricted to the Khurs but also included the Sand Grouse, Merlin, Owls, Harriers, Larks and Houbara Bustard, among others. The evening before we had already spelt out the wishlist to Pratap, the local guide, who nonchalantly had promised to show us most of these, while leaving remaining ones to the luck. His confidence seemed inspiring and despite not so good food at the resort we were staying at, the large number of stars above us in the sky and the tranquility around, made us look forward to the morning.

A few moments in the desert, and I was not sure any more about the sightings. The entrance into the sanctuary itself seemed to be an anticlimax – no gates, no road, just a signboard and a dirt-road track leading us away from the semblance of civilization into the vast span of mudflats dotted sparsely with the oasis of greens, and a few pools of waters. These pools of waters were the remains of one or two months of monsoon rain, during which a large area get inundated with water and attract enough of the migratory birds on their annual sojourn to escape the colder climates.


The disturbing fact, however, was the absence of any distinctive features in the landscape. Jidhar dekhoon, teri tasveer nazar aati hai..sung AB in Mahan to his object of affection. The uninteresting landscape all around us was making me think of these lines, though was not sure if our object of affection at the moment – the flat, arid, and monotonous, would have cared a bit. For us city-folks, used to travel in the concrete jungle through the myriads of street networks, leading to a variety of architectural efforts, this was disconcerting and a bit scary. It also made me wonder about the confidence that Pratap had shown the night before.

It seemed too late to worry, and since there was no turning back, it was time to look forward and enjoy the experience. I soon found out, that my lack of confidence was misplaced as sure enough, Pratap ably guided our driver in the vast monotonous expanse:

 - sometimes to the fringe of a waterbody, with vegetation nearby to point out a solitary Greater Spotted Eagle, getting ready for the day ahead, its eyes reflected the rising Sun –


 - egging us sometimes to lurk behind the shrubs and reach closer to the Lesser  Flamingoes, busy looking for their morning grub in the shallow pools of waters, with mirror like reflections


- peering constantly like an oracle into distance & then guiding us to reveal a male Marsh Harrier almost blending with the landscape.


With the breakfast time approaching, this was soon turning out to be much more than just a birding trip. First the Khurs made their appearance. However, the mistrust of the generations with the human beings ensured that they stayed at a distance, protecting the younger ones and conferring about the way to tackle the growing menace of the intruders in their area. 


The Neelgais were quicker in their thoughts and actions and resorted to galloping away to the safety.


Perhaps finding us affronted with the callous behaviour of the other mammals, the Rann decided to unfold its beauty.  The month of our visit being February, the aftereffects of the monsoon had more or less disappeared, turning the land into the parched caked mudflats. These mudflats seemed to be running into the omnipresent pools of water in the distant horizon. The water, which seemed to be evaporating faster than the laws of physics could make it possible, as we reached closer, till I realized that I was experiencing the beguiling magic of a mirage firsthand. Like travelling to the mountains and coming face to face with those titans, I was finding ourselves very insignificant with endless mudflats all around and the nature guffawing as it played pranks on us.


Soon the Sun had risen higher in the sky. The hoardes of Neelgais, Khurs & Common Cranes had reduced their early morning activity, conserving their energy, and disinterestedly, but cautiously, maintaining their distance from us. The sudden breakdown of our vehicle due to a punctured tyre just seemed to make us conspicuously interesting for a moment as a Khur started walking towards us, before changing its mind and direction. Of course, amidst all these, the kestrels with their fluttering flights overhead, the crouching sandgrouse, the grey francolins, the larks, the white cheeked-bulbuls, the wagtails and the desert wheatears were constantly making their presence felt.


The rising heat and aridity, despite the cooler breeze, was making us thirsty. This was also making the birds seeking shelters under variety of shrubs, making birding look easier. All that our guide had to do now was to visit these shrubs and hey presto – there were those elusive birds for we city folks. Sounds easier in a city but  we were in a land with no streets, similar looking landscape with the mirages confusing one further & the only GPS we had was embedded in the memory of our guide. Yet, it goes to the credit of our guide who unerringly made us sight birds like Merlin & Short Eared Owl.


With the noon hour approaching, we left the Rann, and after nourishing the body, spent some time in visiting a waterbody near Patdi. The Sun was scorching the earth yet the flocks of pintails, shovellers, geese, common teals, cormorants, grey & purple herons and a variety of waders were  holding otheir court looking like choir singers engaged in the practice before the beginning of the show.


Amidst this the occasional sorties by the raptors including a marsh harrier and a juvenile imperial eagle failed to make any impact on the siesta time of the water birds, refusing to budge from their chosen position in the court of nature.


With afternoon Sun reducing the heat, we returned to the Rann seeking the elusive Houbara Bustard in the wilderness. But the capricious Rann was sulking, refusing to reveal any more f its treasure – at least for this trip. As a result even though it was at an arms' length from us, the Houbara preferred to give us only a fleeting glimpse, before shying away in the shrubs.


As the evening hour approached, the setting Sun was giving long-shadowed kind of hints for us to go back . The expressions of the larks foraging on the ground also indicated that they have had enough of us.  With even the ducks deciding to fly away in the sky ablaze with the colours of the setting sun, we also bid our goodbye, gazing at the parting Rann with a fervent hope that it would generously welcome us again  and  unravel some more of its marvels when we meet next.

Mar 16, 2011

Talking Harsh is Nothing to Crow About...

“Hey, isn’t the crow your friend?”
A statement, which I am not sure was spoken in jest or sarcasm, - started a thought-process. Why is it that  normally Crows are not supposed to be among the adored birds?

Crows have been associated with human beings from time unknown; have been known to be sturdy, playful, intelligent and cunning.  While we all know about the folk tale of Thirsty Crow, those with any doubts about their playfulness & cunning must see them dodging our society’s resident dog Caspian, always leaving him with stupefied expressions.  

In various ancient mythologies from across the world, including the Scandinavian, Celtic, Mayan and South East Asian, crows have been depicted as the symbols or messengers of  God.  Among the Scottish, a complete body of lore has been built up from listening to the varied calls of the crows who have  the ability to mimic many kinds of sounds as well as to communicate with its own kind.  In the medieval times, the crows were said to have magical properties which included an ability to divine the future and to dismantle the past, as well as to teach human beings how to mix love, humor, and playfulness.

Closer home, in the Aryan culture, the crows have been associated with food & fertility while among Hindus, the Crow has been the emblem of God Varun as well as a messenger to our departed ones.

And yet, when a poll was conducted recently to select the symbolic bird for Mumbai, the Crow was among one of the contenders but lost out to the petite and more colorful Coppersmith Barbet- despite crows adding their might regularly to clean up the garbage, that we generate a plentiful of, on a regular basis.

Surely, there is something about crows that makes us dislike them….

Is it colour related racism on our part? But then koel (the male koel) is also black, so are the Drongo and a number of other birds and not yet ignored the way a crow is.

Could it be due to its being in too many in numbers all around us leading to the contempt that familiarity breeds? Not really conclusive when I notice the affection for sparrows, though they are declining now. Even common mynas or parakeets who command a large presence have never been treated so disdainfully.

Or could it be their continuing raucous calls, always harsh & discordant in nature, creating a cacophony, which puts one off? Yes, this seems to be the raison d’etre for this dislike.  

The mystical poet and one of the greatest saints of our country, Kabir had said:

Aisee Vani Boliye, Man Ka Aapa Khoye
Auran ko Sheetal Kare, Aaphu Sheetal hoye.

Kabir was always a keen observer of human behavior & profound in his analysis. In our personal interaction, our likes & dislikes of a person largely gets determined by how, when and what of his talks. The success & failures of high level negotiations, even among the countries as well as in the corporate world, have depended largely upon the demeanor & language of those who carried out the talks.

With the advent of the mobile technology, where more and more of us have become talkers then listeners & doers, to know how to talk is becoming critical even for the success of interpersonal relationships. Yet, we are talking more, getting aggressive, and letting our indignation and necessity to have the last word get better of our softer emotions.

Such being the importance of how we talk, it might be a good idea to actually understand the depth of the words that Lebanese poet & philosopher Kahlil Gibran used about the way we talk in his classic - The Prophet:

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.

There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.

When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the market place, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue.
Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear;
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered
When the colour is forgotten and the vessel is no more.

I hope I am on the right track here. But again, my entire idea of equating the way we talk with the crow may make me look like someone wet behind the ears, just like this crow whom I caught facing the hard thunderous rain with equanimity: