The Man-Eater Cane (and the Observer Bias)

The clouds lie still among the hills. As if placed there. Not by the monsoon winds that never stop in their path – these seem to be held there intentionally by the trees. We were looking up at the hill from an opening in the woods. The essence of evergreen forests of the Ghats during monsoon is enthralling. The sheathed hills grow ever more mystical. I told my friend – my silly imagination taking over – of how I wished to see King Kong come bustling down the hill, or at least see trees swaying briskly by some giant’s movements.

Trampling in the great undergrowth abound with leeches, we ducked whenever the sinuous arms of giant lianas straddled across our paths, hopped over rain-soaked logs, and skipped over polished boulders in gushing streams. The forest was dense and damp. Not a bird sang.
Only a few yards in I noticed the forest path riddled with footwears, from sports and soccer shoes to chappals and heeled sandals. A curious thing to find in the forests. As we ventured deeper stil…

On This Day

Dear A,

Ten years later you won't have the assets – time or otherwise – to be able to write for yourself, or to think, for that matter. Let that not dishearten you. For now, you must start. Let that crazy little idea that forms in your head manifest itself in the real world. Ideas are volatile, non-existent until you express them.
Start somewhere. Be it that half-a-day trip to a nearby park you went on the previous weekend, or the adventure of rescuing a – of all the things you will find in a city – monitor lizard, or those small expeditions you went on with your family. You still haven’t started on the latter, by the way.
Observe, don’t merely watch. Experience, don’t just feel. Read, don’t just see. These three things will form the crux of your passion as you grow. Treat them as your fundamentals, not rules. Rules will restrict you. Deprive you even. Fundamentals will give you wings but keep you grounded. They will help you hypothesize. To be creative. They will make you ask quest…

A Summer Reverie

A hint of light first dapples my window
Then slowly a golden streak creeps in
From a gap in the door
Spilling light on the floor

I remain unperturbed for as long as I can
Before a persistent Coppersmith Barbet
From a giant Fig in the distance
Begins to recite his concordance

A warm breeze careens across the yard
Not the most pleasant of its kind, but more earthy
Making Saja and Lendia wean
Draping Kosum and Sal in crimson and green

Then suddenly a symphony picks pace
A Brown-headed Barbet contests with a Coppersmith
The latter ringing a copper bell
The former beating a talking drum

As if on cue the Common Hawk Cuckoo begins his concert
For whom only three syllables make do
A wayward country singer at a fair
Singing pa-pi-ha in the summer air

And as the shadows shrink in the hard of the heat
A Crested Serpent Eagle whistles at another in the sky
Standing in the blazing grassland I happen to overhear
This most melodious of eagles, saying hey-come-here

There’s magic in this summer-stricken land
In its hushed an…

Bear Necessities - Reimagining Baloo of Central India

"What I portray here is a picture of a sloth bear that is not different than Baloo – a wild Baloo – the last to be free to come and go as he pleases; who relishes nuts and roots and honey; whose necessities are indeed bare; who does not wish to cross paths with humans. Who – and I say this picturing a dark cloud looming over his brooding face – wishes humans would be a little more considerate with his jungle. Equipped with the right intentions and actions — both social and ecological – an era of coexistence is comprehensible."
-- I studied the parameters of human-sloth bear interactions in the Kanha-Pench corridor between 2016 and 2017, here are some publications of that study:
Cover story in Sanctuary Asia's 2018 issue:

Full-length scientific paper discussing trends in human-sloth bear interactions in the Kanha-Pench corridor:…

Barefoot Notes: Grey Neck and Other Balcony Birds

Every day around noon, he perches on his favourite, fifteen-year-old neem tree, tugging at a branchlet fallen over his usual seat, but never really trying to get rid of it. This neem tree grows in a pot in the window, three feet from where I sit separated by a reflective glass.
He is the calmest of his kind I’ve ever met. He does not call in response to every conversation he overhears, only some. Mostly, though, he is quiet in spite of the constant ruckus all around, and there are a lot of his kind. I didn’t know they could be so – if I may use the word – disciplined, or appreciate solitude. He certainly appears to enjoy it.
How do I tell he is calm and relaxed? He hunches down on his toes, sinks his shoulders, and ruffles his crest and neck feathers – looking snug. Sometimes he scratches, shuffles his feathers, stretches his wings one by one, fans his tail and shakes his head – and finally gives a long sigh of satisfaction and relief, I’m willing to believe.
Like every other of his kind…

Two Wings, But Not A Bird

I cannot put my finger on an insect and call it my favourite. Yes, the banner-bearers of the insect world, the butterflies and the moths, mesmerize me; I have an infatuation for the eagles of the insect world, the dragonflies and the damselflies. I adore the champions of this age, the beetles, the musicians, the piercers, the jumpers – one name is not enough to describe them – the true bugs. And the most industrious, the ants, bees, and wasps, the immortal cockroaches, the architects – the termites, the hunters and the herbivores, and all the rarities in-between with their own ingenious lives – they all amaze me equally. But the one that held my fascination for the longest time are also the most infuriating to understand, and they happen to be omnipresent. This bias lies in you too. After all, it is not the butterfly that we recognize as soon as we begin to identify with the world. Nor the birds. It is that other two-winged entity: the fly. In our lives, we’ve fixated on flies more t…

Barefoot Notes: Wood-watching

Every time I go on a walk – anywhere I go on a walk – if I happen upon a dead or a decaying tree – standing or fallen – I pause a minute or two and look. I look for the peeling bark revealing patterns underneath it, at burrows and pinholes into the sapwood, and pathways carved unto the cambium. I look at the texture of the trunk, the hardened sinewy cellulose-muscles running the length of the heartwood. Trick is to not just see but peer into the tree; at the mineshafts and alleyways carved by dwarvish insects and unassuming fungi.
Wood-watching is not exactly like tree-spotting where you observe a living tree. It, too, whether the tree is small or big, takes its own time; the colours and the warts, the creases and crevasses on the cork, gashes on boles, and natural protrusions, all represent a visible record of the tree, after all, leaves are only temporary, and roots invisible. Loggers have their own way of identifying a tree fit to be felled. Botanists often look at the trunk as th…