Monday, September 26, 2011

Green Corbett


This is my second trip to Corbett National Park in four months. I nearly repeated the drill. I had my new flatmate Jan Peters as my co-traveller, is a birdwatcher, nature scientist and an expert driver on nearly non-existent roads carefully maintained by the government of Uttar Pradesh.

The drive inside the forest was very interesting, soothing and rejuvenating as lungs are not used to so much oxygen per breath devoid of any carbon content.

The forests are lush green dominated by Sal tree. Lantana bushes and elephant grasses covered the landscape like a thick, green blanket. It was thus virtually impossible to sight a tiger unless it decides to take a stroll on the forest road in our presence. That did not happen. So this time there was not even a ‘perceived’ sighting.

But the forest was far more alive this time compared to the last visit in late April. There were fresh scratch marks on the bark of trees; the tiger community was fairly active, on a prowl with fresh pugmarks to be seen at every nook and corner. There were at least three occasions when I could sense tiger in close proximity of 50 meters; langoors were dangling hysterically on the high branches looking down, of course they were seeing a tiger, or a leopard, while thick Lantana bushes ensured that we did not.

We were basically moving in and around the Jharna range of the Corbett National Park. Rest of the park remains closed from May 15 to November 15 to allow some privacy to tigers during their extended mating season. It is easier to sight a tiger during this off-season as they are mostly on the move in search of food and sex.

We did fair bit of birding, as well. I am not an avid birder. My friend Anshuman tried to initiate this hobby in me ten years ago, with little success. I did use to go with him to birding trips. The reason for it was not love of birds. It was primarily to participate in scrumptious breakfast that followed a birding walk. Jan’s joy at sighting Indian variants of birds, that were new to him, is infectious. I am convinced to revive birding as a hobby. I plan to take it beyond palatable motives. So for a change, this time, on Jan’s insistence, our objective was to sight great hornbills and elephants, and not just tigers and leopards. We can always blame bad luck for not sighting any of the above exotic denizens of the wild, but the forest guide accompanying us did nothing unusual to help us see our objectives. Though Jan was happy sighting an Asian Barred Owlet and a Spotted Owlet, I could not escape the feeling that this guide made us ullu.

For this reason, I am going to devote a paragraph castigating the forest guides. They mug up names of the birds and trees, some memorise French and German names of various flora and fauna too, quote erroneous figures to unsuspecting tourists, act an agents of the Forest Department to paint a rosy picture about the health of the forest and its inhabitants. I was told that there are 200 tigers in Corbett National Park and there are 200 rangers to guard them. I know both the figures are erroneous.

It is never the less an interesting statistics: one ranger per tiger is a handsome ratio. Figures may be wrong but it is true that tiger is the most protected animal in the country. Despite this, it continues to remains top in the list of endangered species for the last thirty years. The trade in tiger parts is the one biggest threat to its existence—primarily to keep Chinese men virile—is flourishing.

Sorry for transgressing, but this needs to be mentioned. In India the concept of protection—whether people or animals—is so area specific. We do not protect denizens of an area but the area itself. Like we have protected tiger reserves not tigers. In case a tiger gets poached or killed for manmade reasons, the local wildlife department takes lot of trouble to clarify that it happened outside the national park or in somebody else’s area of protection. The idea is obviously to shun responsibility.

Like earlier this month when the Delhi High Court blasts happened, the first confirmed piece of information given by Delhi Police’s special commissioner Dharmendra Kumar was that the blast happened “outside the protected area.” But the real lives were lost outside the “protected” area. The count of dead has risen to 15. Are these killings justified just because it happened outside the protected area? That makes the life of those killed any less worthy?

It is high time for a long time now that government starts protecting the denizens and not fortified areas where some important and influential people live and work.
It is not that the government is unaware about it. It is simply not serious about it. It is selectively serious about protecting very select people. A good example is the Special Protection Group (SPG) (also to an extent Black Cats of National Security Guard mandated to provide Z Plus {http://www.hindustantimes.com/What-is-X-Y-and-Z-security-category/Article1-228435.aspx} level security to certain threatened current and former senior government functionaries) is the best equipped force in India with the objective of protecting current and former prime ministers and the family of Sonia Gandhi, so also future prime ministers. They actually protect these very important persons and not just guard their houses. Can this same philosophy be not extended to people at large, in the case of wildlife department to tigers and others endangered animals?

It is not so as difficult as it seems. It is plausible. A change in attitude is required. If only our security mechanism becomes a little more proactive than reactive. Their reactions are also so stereotypical. The security agencies come into action only after a bloody blast is happened.

I remain sceptic about the future of tigers in India as much as the security of common citizens outside small enclaves dubbed as protected areas. I want to be proved wrong.

The glistening green cover over Corbett is recharged my capacity to deal with dark smog cover over Delhi.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Date with Earthquake

It was Tuesday night. I returned home late from office, well past midnight. I was so tired that could barely decipher written words. But typed random thoughts for an hour.

It must have been 2:30 am when I went to bed. My exhaustion prevented me to sleep. I was numb. I was not sleeping; the red light on Internet modem was flickering rhythmically.

Soon, I experienced shaking of my bed, albeit mildly. Earthquake, not again!

Last time, I felt similar tremors was three days ago when a major earthquake hit Northern India with epicentre in the province of Sikkim. I switched on the television, news channels confirmed a major earthquake.

Sikkim is partially decimated, the death count is reaching hundred, landslides and rains have hampered the rescue operations there.

My mother, my sister and her daughter stay in the Thimphu, capital city of Bhutan, not very far from Sikkim. They stayed outdoors for couple of hours in the chilling winds before they felt safe enough to enter the house.

Now, this has happened the second time in three days. I call my family in Thimphu. They were sleeping, did not answer to my calls. I switched on the television and waited for news channels to confirm another earthquake. The confirmation did not come. The shaking of ground this time was not real, just a perception.

Next day newspapers reported some traumatised survivors in Sikkim still perceive walls and floor shaking. I am traumatised too, it seems. That is why, perhaps, every night I wait for my bed to shake without me causing it.

My bond with family is strong and sticky.

I am sure tonight my bed is not going to shake. It better not.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11

This was my scribbling hours after the collapse of WTC twin-tours on 9/11. Pentagon was under attack as well. The notion of American invincibility was shattered by few fanatics. Loss of life, despair and helplessness engulfed the city of New York and was felt world over.

My thoughts go for all the life lost in these mindless acts of violence.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rain Rain Go Away

A morning of incessant rains converted Delhi into one big waterlogged pothole.

The Delhi Metro came to the rescue of Dilliwallahs. The posh localities of South Delhi were waterlogged. Streams of muddy water were flowing easy on the Delhi roads bringing traffic to a grinding halt. I did something intelligent: parked my car at the nearest market. It took me nearly two hours to execute this plan.

Then, started another adventure: how to reach the nearest Metro station without getting wet? A kind gentleman gave me a ride on his bike that helped me negotiate mini-canals gushing on the colony roads without having to swim through. I jogged to the nearest Metro station in perpetual fear of drizzling converting into a downpour.

Inside Delhi Metro it was cool, convenient despite it being very crowded. Semi-wet people were shivering in AC coaches. They all had profound expression of disgust on their faces. I saw my reflection on a window glass. I thought semi-wet me looked sexy. A young girl standing next to me was narrating her share of adventure presumably to her boyfriend. She was ecstatic about the whole experience, I know not: why?

I reach ‘Central Secretariat’ and changed ‘here for the ‘yellowline.’ The CP's metro station was jampacked. The roof here, and in many of the Metros stations, is not waterproof. I somehow manage to reach office dry.

Now what is Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit going to say this time? Who will she blame? She never blames herself. I know what she will say. “Nothing is in my control” (they still label corruption charges on her), then she will add, “Delhi is run by multiplicity of agencies and there is no coordination between them.” And so on. We are tired of hearing the same excuses. At least find a new one, this time.

Delhi government has a contract with the Gods of Rain to unleash havoc on Delhi roads. The contract is extended every year.

Shantanu makes a pertinent point: The Delhi laughter at Mumbai rains – which prolongs over two months – is routine. There are endless television debates as to why the resilient Mumbaikars, who can handle bullets and bombs one day and spring to life the next, cannot handle rains. Now it’s the time for the people of Mumbai to laugh at Delhi. One spell of rain for two hours and working hours in the Indian Capital reduced to almost 40 percent. Why? No one wants to negotiate the rains.

I did negotiate rains. It was an adventure. We all did to reach wherever we had to. Only the Delhi roads gave in.

:(

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Delhi Blast: a date with bloody killings

It is understood that terror is not easy to deal with. There will be sadist people who will derive pleasure in killing innocent people. The mindless violence will continue to happen and the precious lives will be wasted.

It is distressing to me that we as a society are indifferent to these terror attacks. We consider it a fait accompli. We are immune to the miseries of others. We are glad to be alive while people are getting consumed by ghastly violence. Today, Delhi functioned normally. The coffee shops, business establishments were crowded; I saw people shopping fancy jewelleries. The pace of the city was hampered a bit, but not due to the bomb blast that left 12 dead and more than 60 injured, but due to heave rain.

The government on the other hand was out with a prompt stereotype response: tragedy, condemn attack, not our fault, the whole country is on red alert (I really do not understand how that helps to be vigilant for next few days after the damage is already done...the blasts are successfully carried out), prepare few sketches of the suspects--look like that of cavemen--based on the description of few tormented eyewitnesses, declare ex gratia compensation to the kin of the deceased and to the injured. The government fixed Rs 400,000 as the value of a life lost in this terror attack.

The Delhi High Court will function normally tomorrow. People will again queue up at Gate number 5 to get their passes made to attend court proceedings. Life has to go on. Some will call it resilience of this great nation in the the face of another terror attack. I call it apathy.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

WE THE PEOPLE

Last week was very hectic and eventful. I followed closely the Team Anna (Hazare).

He used Gandhian method of protest, Satyagraha, like no one after Gandhi himself. Anna took no food for 12 days. When I met him, he was glowing. I have known him from before. I felt that fasting did something to him. Aap logo ki urja se mai jinda huan (the energy i derive from you have kept me alive), he told me. The Parliament passed unanimous (unanimity is rare, the parliament is known for disruptions, walkouts and commotion) resolution meeting Anna's demands.

I am a witness to this special event where ordinary people did extraordinary things. Though it was a struggle against government, to enact a strong anti-graft law, people were celebrating, it was a huge carnival happening. The party lasted for 12 days, everyday it became stronger than the last.

The government played every trick in the book to attack, defame, belittle, sabotage the movement and people who were running it. They even planted a spy.

Team Anna succeeded for four reasons:

First: The movement was selfless. There was no political agenda.

Two: They were penniless but as the movement captured imagination of the people, thousands of them contributed to it. The kitchen at Ramlila Maidan was feeding 50,000 people everyday. In that sense it was truly a people's movement.

Three: they maintained absolute transparency about their dealings with the government. The dubious politicians representing government, experts in double talk, would say something behind the closed doors and make different pronouncements in the public. Arvind would go out and announce everything that was discussed with the representatives of the government--bunch of rich, English speaking arguementative lawyers who were clueless about the popular mood of the nation-- on public address system. News channels would transmit it to every household in the country. People would be outraged. The English speaking lawyers in the government----have all the reason to protect the status quo as they are its beneficiaries---would then be condemned to shitting bricks. The government was forced to give in. The managers of the government have never dealt with people who have nothing to hide.

Anna captured the popular mood of the nation, by Gandhian means, like no one else since Gandhi himself, forced government to make unprecedented concessions twice in last five months.

His popularity has taken the rest of the civil society by storm. In heated television debates now lesser players of the civil society fight an existential battle: Anna is not civil society. Civil society is not Anna.

Civil society's reaction is plethora conspiracy theories against each one of the Team Anna. One gifted writer-activist, who specializes in questioning other peoples' intent and motives by writing excellent prose sitting cozy from her posh South Delhi apartment, call this movement a “copy book World Bank agenda." If she is not part of a movement, it has to be flawed. She has never been able to capture the mood of nation like Anna did. Will never do. She is perhaps jealous. Her caustic writings are beautiful, but has lost its sting. It is more rhetorical, lack rigor, divorsed to reality. Her great need to differ from the rest of the world has made her very innovative in her writings. I wonder how much unrest she harbors to paint everyone with the same brush: you are compromised! May she get some peace of mind.

In the meantime ordinary people keep doing extraordinary things. Extraordinary people stop being ordinary.


Medha Patekar cleaning the inside enclosure.(bad picture...thanks my BlackBerry)