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Conversations in the time of pandemic

We're not scaremongering This is really happening, happening --Idioteque, Kid A, Radiohead, 2002 The once-in-a-few-generations calamity of pandemics has become all too frequent. Zoonotic – species jumping – pandemics are more recurrent in the last few decades irrespective of their origin in domestic or wild animals – or labs. The generation under 35 itself has seen or been through more than three pandemics – the H1N1 flu, the swine flu, and covid-19, in addition to outbreaks of Ebola, Nipah, and avian influenza that is still considered to be a highly infectious disease. We’ve witnessed a lot in a span of a year; from revitalisation of nature to our increasing intolerance towards wildlife, from a 17% drop in atmospheric CO 2 levels and two rare cyclonic events followed one after another up the warming Arabian Sea, from protests against the recent farm law amendments to protests against mining operations in areas of rich cultural and natural heritage, from flooding in the plains t

Of Leaves, Wings, Scales, and Fur, or, A Walk In The Woods

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Thoreau’s writings, especially Walking and Walden, have been crucial parts of my young adult life; I longed to be in the woods, alone, left to my own thoughts amidst nature – well, doing exactly as Thoreau now comes at a ginormous financial investment, so I did what I could and continue to do. Over the last ten years since I first read Walden, I have had plenty of such opportunities – I would add the timeless lock-up of eight months of 2020 which I thankfully spent reading and rereading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s a long stretch between the two, but for me, Walden’s cabin or Vonnegut’s slaughterhouse are linked in more ways than one. Left: Walden; or, life in the woods by Henry D. Thoreau; available here , Right: Slaughterhouse-Five OR The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; available here ; these are the early (first ed) covers. Lately, I am lost on titles, I cannot stick to one; if that is how Thoreau and Vonnegut decided upon theirs, alt

Behra Bhaloo, Kanwa Bhaloo, and other Bhaloo Kind

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A mother bear and her cubs foraging for termites one fine afternoon. As we huddled around the fire-stove, two big pots – one of daal and another bhaat – simmering with flavours and warmth, I held tightly a small cup of black coffee, eagerly waiting to ask a particular question to our cook who has been a part of the history of Guru Ghasidas National Park. It was cold and dark. There was a rustle of leaves and a crackle of breaking sticks as if something walked on the outer side of a thin wall that separated us from the dense forest. The question was about a Sloth Bear – bhaloo in the common tongue. In 2019, a bear fell in a well across from where we put up our base camp. Ropes and a ladder were put in for it to climb up, the story goes. Since this area is away from human settlements, spectators did not throng to the place of rescue, nor did it make into national news – the only reason it came into local news was that when the bear climbed out, instead of running into the forest, it ch

Bajār

I. That blue ripple in the tarpaulin pulled taut in the cool breeze the first farmer pulls up his sleeves, two bamboo poles and a few jute strings hold his shop, his business, his offerings; one morning among many centuries. The tilted-goats, the hunched-dogs, the burly-bulls the dupatta-women, the dyed-men, their mouthfuls I stand in the distance, watching this timeless commotion watching dealers deal, buyers buy – those customs. The shirtless boy bringing chai on naked feet the eyeless hand touching the paper cup to lips eyes caught up with money stashed ‘neath the feet. A bajār treasury is capped by the light, that taut blue tarpaulin that dust settling upon the skin. I watch with attention at this ancient system in this timeless happening, I see one figurine exhaling tobacco clouds, ballerina of the crowds he moves to the center, that corner, then back again he heeds the serenades, the auctioneers, the marketmen his handfuls multiplying in plastic gr