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An Ode to the Mountain Fort

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I spent most of the year exploring Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, more-so for the tigers (ahem!) than any other animal, and while the alarm calls of chital and sambar, and the occasional roars and growls of tiger still echo in my ears (thanks so much to my colleague’s ringtone), I witnessed a place that is much more than just about tigers. There are also ants here – yes, ants – I stumbled upon a trap-jaw ant (Anochetus cf madaraszi), a first for central India and a new record for Madhya Pradesh while I was contemplating a few seconds before deploying the last camera trap one summer evening, and observed one of the most adorable behaviour among the ant Brachyponera cf luteipes of tandem-carrying, where a fellow sister-worker carries her companion in her jaws to the site of food – a second for India after I saw it first in Valparai. Fascinating what all is hidden or happens beneath the feet of tigers. I lost count of how many tigers I saw on how-many-an-occasion – yes, tigers are more comm…

No Country For Wild Elephants

This long-form article covers roughly 500 years of history of wild Asian elephants in the central Indian highlands – a history that is still being written. It is an excerpt of a larger piece on central India I am working on. Given the recent happenings on wild elephants in India – and particularly central India – it is time we revisited our history to see how far we have come and where we’re headed. I have retained references because it is a work in progress. Views expressed are mine.

No Country For Wild Elephants
That is no country for old men. The young In one another's arms, birds in the trees – Those dying generations – at their song, The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect. -- Sailing to Byzantium (1928) by William Butler Yeats
In The Past
In the rolling hills of Chaiturgarh – about 50 km east of Achanakmar as the crow flies – …

Requiem for a Tiger

There is no one, really, to mourn her death.
Her eyes, they say, were like a wraith’s
Heavy and sombre, unlike any animal
Something born in blazing fire!
They say, they know, when a tiger is a tiger.

They call themselves all-rational.
That the embodiment of a man-eater Is an abomination – tag her a murderer! Unable to kill or secure her meal, Something that should not exist in real.
To what end is her life, what was her story? A lifetime spent reckoning deaths – nay, murders Cast out not by her own kin but human furore Erased from existence by unsympathetic orders! They say, they know, when a tiger is a tiger.
There is no one, really, to mourn her death Yet she lives on under everyone’s breath Under what name – scornful or profane In what story – irrational, of an old witch’s bane Or tragic, a mother who died without a name.

The Man-Eater Cane (and the Observer Bias)

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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

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"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: http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/magazines/cover-story/10766-bear-necessities-reimagining-baloo-of-central-india

Full-length scientific paper discussing trends in human-sloth bear interactions in the Kanha-Pench corridor: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/artic…