October 23, 2017

Playing with our minds

Conspiracy theories abound by the millions and especially here in India, they sure do take up a lot of space. If Vargos Llosa were to be born in India today, he would come up with strange magical stories that will make no sense except to the one who reads it.

And I will be not in the least be very interested for I am what but a product of the life and times of where I live in. And when you consider that so many conspiracies are being pandered about, maybe all we have to do is nothing and just rejoice reading about those theories.

What about the fact that the recent Bangalore floods have caused an immense loss to the powers that were - as they were ready-steady and go to denotify a few lakes and put them out of their misery. Why... because these lakes could have been put to better use by building apartments over them.

Now the theory is that - the conspiracy got derailed by something unprecedented and that is - unprecedented rains leading them to fill up and somehow survive this year.

Now, only if the gods could plan something as sinister as this next year and ensure that the lakes again get filled. The only good thing emanating out of this will be that the lakes will survive and the actual conspirators who planned to destroy these lakes will not be able to do so for some time to come.

October 13, 2017

Becoming the Monkey within you

Sitting on a tree, staring at the sky, chewing a piece of a tasty twig and generally doing nothing. One of the key pleasures of living the jungle life is that one can do these things and not many more. One needn't do anything more if one has to survive the way of life that a monkey does. That is because we really do not want more. What we need is not wanting more and being happy with what we have.

Even that proves to be impossible sometimes, just being able to want nothing ore out of life. Everyone questions you, everyone points out. You yourself lose confidence and re-join the rat race. What you need to relearn and unlearn is that the monkey has very few basic needs and needs very basic things at that. So why worry about a million things that will have no resonance when you are ready to leave the world. Just not done. Chill and be a monkey

October 9, 2017

The DEATH of Indian Forests.

The discourse on forest protection has been on a decline since the past few years. It was always a topic limited to a niche class in urban India, even in the early 2000s when I was working with Keystone Foundation, the more I worked within the NGO system, the more I realized that really very few are interested in protecting the forests.

But what has gone down the drain is that in these 15 years, whatever meager talk of forests that one would come across in newspapers or TV with notable exceptions like the Aircel-Save the Tiger Campaign has reduced drastically. People are doing a lot of good work but good news does not seem to travel across to the public. While on the other hand, bad news is suppressed and does not evoke any reaction among people at large.

Why is it so - I may not be able to judge the answers in this lifetime but what is for sure is that forests have been clearly defined as an obstacle to development and is seen as an antagonist to the forward looking urban elite. Also, people who have the capacity to bring about a change in cities - clearly see the forest as a recreational unit - to be used on weekends. They are intent to see the forests stripped of is essentials and only focus on the large mammals, almost as if forests need tigers and not tigers needing forests.

The views of communities living near forest is almost always neglected and even if a movement develops in those regions, they are usually suppressed violently. Once conspiracy theory clearly states the large contingent of para-military in Chattisgarh is there to merely facilitate big business for ease of work.

But what has got my goat in the past decade and a half is coin with two sides. On the one hand, the high priests of wildlife and forest conservation have been exposed time and again to be be big ego bastards who care a lot about their next foreign trip to Sweden and occasionally also about the forests and on the other hand - the large public who gave grown big seeing hardly any forest does not seem to be interested in any discourse regarding protection of the forests - something the government knows only too well. So, a news of the destruction of the Narmada forests is immediately challenged by dataloads of the benefits of canals-upon-canals providing life to millions. So, the public the cares a fuck about Narmada ma and plans to set up the next big swimming pool in parched Gujarat. The sarkar merely taps into this sentiment.

All in all - we are in for some big shit in the next couple of decades. And I do not have the gumption to even start thinking about what's happening in Brazil.

October 8, 2017

Modus Operandi on Tiger Poaching

An amazing discussion on how tigers are poached through traps and how they should be saved – by trekking in the evenings and by foot patrolling.

Many evenings ago in a beautiful forest guest house overlooking the Totaladoh dam, I was privy to an interesting conversation between forest officials in the thick of the conflict in Pench and officials from Karnataka who do not face these threats as much.

It is all about the bahelias, said an officer. I was pretty surprised for we Indians have a general tendency to paint an entire community with one stroke based on the alleged/proven crime of a chosen few, just like the Britishers did with their criminal tribe tag. However, experts say "this poaching community members simultaneously operate at multiple locations at a given time within any region of the country. They literally kill wild animals like a portable slaughterhouse."

As per The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India--Volume I (of IV), authored byR.V. Russell, Bahelia are a caste of fowlers and hunters in northern India. In the Central Provinces the Bahelias are not to be distinguished from the Pārdhis, as they have the same set of exogamous groups named after the Rājpūt clans, and resemble them in all other respects. The word Bahelia is derived from the Sanskrit Vyādha, ‘one who pierces or wounds,’ hence a hunter. Pārdhi is derived from the Marāthī pāradh, hunting. The latter term is more commonly used in the Central Provinces, and has therefore been chosen as the title of the article on the caste.
The Bahelias from Katni are an ancient group, who have gained significant notoriety in the recent few decades, have gained a gangster status nowadays. Forest officials from MP to Tamil Nadu shudder when they hear that a Bahelia gang is in town. Simple looking, they comfortably settle among roadside open spaces. In large groups, they move around as a self sustained group. They carry bags contain traps, spears and spade.

Amongst many ways, the modus operandi remains unique. They first track which road the tiger takes – if there are 3-4 approaches to a waterhole, he will obviously take either one or two or all the approaches, but will definitely choose within the available options. They track the tiger for a few days and conveniently lay a trap after studying the behaviour of the tiger. Usually though even that is not necessary, they prefer full moon nights to study the tiger. A jaw trap is laid and the tiger is caught.

In pain, the tiger could either roar or be quiet. However, what happens next is unbelievable, I personally never thought that poaching could be so cruel, but I was being naive. After all, poaching is what it is - killing an animal in the choicest and cruelest way possible.

After the tiger is captured, he is attacked on the nose to anger him. The tiger bites the spear, thus hitting the spear directly and not damaging the skin, the spear lodges itself inside the throat of the tiger and he inevitably dies. If he does not die on the first instance, the spear is used again. This goes on and finally, the tiger dies without any damage to the skin.

The significance of bright moon light comes into significance now as the the tiger is immediately skinned under the light with tanning material. The head of the tiger is hidden under a rock. The body meat is thrown in various directions away from the actual place of the kill to divert the attention of those in pursuit.

The role of those who are engaged in the trade quickly shift as the poacher connects with his carrier. The skin and other parts are shifted to the carrier. The role of the poacher ends here. The carrier takes the earliest bus to a nearby city where he meets a designated person, hands over the skin and goes back. Money is not exchanged.

The tiger is poached. That is the story of hunting….

If arrested, convictions are slow and rare. No one carries any proof of the crime. They are ultimately given bail as they are connected politically. One tiger less in the country now.

Of the times spent in Baiga Chak - The heart of Tribal India

Wilderness is not all that wild. Maybe what has remained of wilderness today is just a lost memory of what was wild long back. Sitting as I am in one of the supposedly most primitive villages of the nation, a village named chara, deep inside the sal forests of the central highlands, I feel I know why Verrier Elwin chose to spend a few decades of his life in this place. These are the verdant forests where nothing else but poetry flows and the march of development seems stalled. But fifty years hence sitting in the village square I see the progress right down to the centre of the village. People may have conflicting views on development, but for me it gets increasingly difficult to find the one man yet
untouched by our progress.

Leaving aside the development issue, it is better if I look inward and feel its beauty and not its bane. Nestled in the maikal ranges, Baiga Chak is almost a thousand metres above the sea. The temperate climate all round the year has given rise to a wild outburst of fauna and flora, beyond one's wildest dreams. No wonder this area is known as the botanist's paradise. Outwardly silent, the village brims with life in its own way. The startlingly beautiful, well-tattooed Baiga women add to the charm. All similarities with an ordinary revenue village end at the word 'village'
itself. Huge forests, calm people, a certain degree of laziness, this is for all I know, a model village.

To the uninitiated, the sarkar proclaims hat the village has four wells, two taps, one pond, one school and the list goes on and on. What purpose these signboards seem to serve is a matter of debate but the villagers use it as an effective place to smoke their morning bidis and the birds for their droppings. The village is crowded with one small hotel selling black tea and a little bhaji. The omnipresent 'pandukan' has made inroads here too, with its standard four-legged existence. A school here, a rest house close, 78 houses, that is it. And then the forests take over. They roll in from the hills on all sides ending only when the hills meet the levelled fields. These great trees catch your attention and hook you onto them. Even agriculture looks beautiful. Small fields in patches close to the forest gives one the impression of a grassy meadow in some virgin patch, the late bloom of rice adding to the colour.

Chara is a hill station where the march of progress takes a break but does have a presence, albeit less. The place may not be wild as the forests adjacent to it, but it still holds forth the hope that there is still wilderness left in the spirits of men here.

Landing here late at night for only one bus comes, and that too late at night, my first morning was as good as it gets. Mist had rolled down to the valley and hardly a living object seemed to be moving. Clouds were playing games with us. Slowly a few drops fell as if to test the mood of the people, and then the clouds burst unleashing the beauty of nature. The village as if on cue has gone quiet as if shrouded by the cloud of silence. Mornings at Baiga Chak are full of non-events, small affairs in the run of life. Lazy is the word, lazy in its appearance, relaxed in its outlook, problems kept aside not being allowed to interfere in the joy of living life. And surely, it feels nice.

October 2, 2017

Papa John Wakefield - The Grand Old Man of Kabini

It is not very often that we come across people who have seen the world through a myriad window with experiences that transcend time. Colonel John Felix Wakefield passed away at the age of ninety five years had done all this over his long and chequered career. He has been a hunter and a soldier, also being a diplomat and working in a corporate venture for some time.

But what makes him so special in the conservation history of India is that he has been passionately involved in ecotourism based conservation over the past 30 years. For the past twenty five years, he has been on the board of JLR. He was the Brand Ambassador of JLR, always hard at work in his second home Kabini. John Felix Wakefield was born in Gaya on the 21st of March 1916.

While sitting over an evening drink with Colonel Wakefield, one was struck by the vast amount of historical wealth he possesses. His modest living room in the Viceroy Lodge at the Kabini River Lodge was stacked with books of all sorts – from wildlife to travels to cookery show tips. He also had an assortment of knick-knacks, ranging from a singing fish to a highly rusted Swiss army knife. Above all, he had an envious array of liquor, found nowhere else but in his den.

He needed it all for his guests ranged from Hollywood legends to high profile businessmen. Amazingly, he disappointed no one and even an unknown visitor was treated to his warmth and welcoming attitude to which there was no parallel.

At an advanced age, he oversaw that state of affairs of the largest property of JLR and did it with élan. Every evening, the office boy would come over with the guest list for the next day. After each safari, the naturalists described in detail the sightings of the evening. The manager constantly took guidance from him. The Colonel was the axle around which the professional ethic of Kabini revolves. Papa John as the world calls him was a living encyclopedia who shared his wide experience with all. As a noted author wrote once, 'John is not just the brand ambassador of Jungle Lodges and Resorts. At the alert and clear-thinking age of 96, he was the brand and his passing left us with a small hole that does not require to be filled up but to be respected.

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