Wednesday, January 28, 2009

#8. Whither Hindi Cable TV

Whither Hindi Cable TV?

I have retired from service and have plenty of time at hand. The result is that apart from reading books and doing some gardening, I see TV also for sometime. From time to time I get hooked on to some serial on one or the other channel which have mushroomed over the years on the Indian skies. It is pointless to see movies on TV. A three hour movie takes about 5 hours to finish. You have to sit through 2 hours of advertisements which have no more remained interesting due to repetition. And the worst part is that sometimes the ad break (or should it be brake?) is 10 minutes after every 10 to 15 minutes of movie. And after sometime t becomes a little tiring.

You have some interesting happenings on the ad front. For instance, at the time when most of the urban India take their meal, you have to bear the ad for toilet cleaner, and not once but 2-3 times over a period of half to one hour. Needless to say, it is with visuals. This is more tortuous when you are fond of having your meal in front of the TV, as many of us are wont to.

The other sriking thing about TV advertisements is the preponderance of the use of children in the ads. Whether it is detergent or soap or spices, it is the children who tell you the home truths. ‘Child is the father of man!’

Coming to the serials, the saas-bahu thing has become a much-used formula, and therefore some other ways to show the human wickedness have been devised. There is a serial at prime time in a prominent chnnel which I am sure has an excellent TRP rating. The step mother-in-law and sister-in-law are ably supported by two bad-mouthed and prejudiced children who do not like the idea of another kind and loving girl to replace the dead mother. All sorts of ugly emotions expressed by the children are shown: grinding teeth, angry and avenging facial expressions, vitriolic remarks. And the story goes that in spite the best efforts by the new mother, the children remain hostile. The fact of life is coolly left on the shelf that a young widower has every right to marry, instead of whoring around. And all the men are shown spineless, hearing out the ladies of the house with the stoic silence unlike the typical Indian male who probably raves and rants, and sees that his will is done. Probably the things have changed now in the actual world also. My disgust at the way things are shown is because of the effect such serials are going to have on the tender minds of the chidren. With fewer deaths than divorces among the mothers and wives of today, step parents have become a reality wihc cannot be overlooked. What a fine way to poison the minds of chidren belonging to such homes!

You have the different permutations and combinations of the wickedness and viciousness of the family and the people around you in almost all the serials. In the Hindi movies, there used to one villain or vamp who could do the honours; now in a family drama sometimes it is 2 -3 or even half a dozen wicked members who use all types of ingenuity in showing nastiness, including actual violence on the womenfolk of the household, including whipping. And the best part is that that the whipped lady has an axe to grind against the family she has been married into. And she is patiently waiting for the opportune moment to take the revenge.

I entirely agree that the world is full of vicious people who keep self-interest above everything, and who commit acts of sin and crime without compunction or conscience, and there are families who have such people, but not always and not everywhere. Why do you have to show all the permutations and combinations of human meanness on the TV in programmes which are seen by the family together, including the children?

Monday, January 26, 2009

#7. Chambal Cruise

Woolly-necked stork, grey heron (?),spoonill

Woolly-necked stork

Open-billed stork and stone plover

woolly necked stork, spoonbill,grey heron, painted stork Both above and below).

Pelicans and greylag geese

Man with camel on the bank. He will search for
a place where water is shallow, and cross the river.

Bar-headed geese in flight

Large Group of Bar-headed geese

Group of six ruddy shelduck (Surkhab)



Wooly-necked stork

Narmada bank


(More photographs on the site

There is a set for Chambal cruise)

The Chambal: A Heaven for Birds

Ganga, Sindhu, Saraswati, Kshipra, Vetravati cha Yamuna/ Godavari, Narmada, Kaveri, Saryu, Mahendratanya, Charmanvati, Vedika etay mahanadya vartate. Chambal is Charmanvati. However, Chambal has not attained the holy category that is occupied by Ganga, Yamuna, and Godavari. On the other hand, Chambal is supposed to be an unholy river. The folklore/mythology is that the river has originated from the blood of cows sacrificed by an Aryan King in his quest for supremacy. Alarmed, the Brahmans cursed the King and all things associated with the sacrifice, river included. That is perhaps the reason why there is no temple town on the banks of Chambal.

Originating in Manpura near Mhow in Indore district of M.P. it has confluence with Yamuna at Pachnada near Bhareh in U.P. at the border of Bhind and Etawah districts. Pachnada is unique as within one kilometer there is the confluence of five rivers, Chambal, Kwari, Yamuna, Sindh and Pahuj (doesn’t it beat the Triveni at Prayag?). I don’t know why this place has not become more popular!. Chambal drains water of the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. At Neemuch there is Gandhisagar dam which gives water for hydel generation at Gandhisagar, Pratapsagar and Jawaharsagar dams, and irrigation for more that 5600 sq, km.

In Bollywood, Chambal is famous for the ravines and the dacoits living there, in short it is the badlands. Mansingh of olden days and Putlibai and Phoolan Devi are some of the bandits who lived and hid in these badlands and who have gone down in folklore for centuries to come.

Probably because of its being a non-holy river, Chambal is one of the most unpolluted rivers of Northern India, is perennial and it has deep pools at several places which are sometimes 60 to 70 feet, and that encouraged the establishment of Chambal Gharial Sanctuary which has Ganges Dolphins, crocodiles, turtles, and of course gharials. Gharial has a round projection at the tip of its long snout.. Unlike popular belief, it never hurts humans. It is the crocodile which is dangerous to humans. The sanctuary is spread in 5400 km in three states of Rajasthan, M.P. and U.P. and has 400 km of river length.

River dolphin is special as millennia of living in the muddy waters of Ganga and its tributaries, it has completely lost its eyesight, it doesn’t have lens ,and it sees its prey through echolocation only. The respiratory system of mammals like whales, porpoises and dolphins requires them to come to the surface of water at regular intervals. Ganges dolphins can dive at one time for 3 minutes, although it comes to the surface after every 45 seconds.

Well, with this long and probably boring introduction, let us come to the more interesting part. Every winter the Sanctuary gets 30,000 to 40,000 migratory birds. I have made it a point to visit Chambal every winter, although when I was away to Mumbai and elsewhere for postings, it was not possible. This year, I made the trip on the 19th of December. There are two routes that one could take for a boat ride. One is to start from Rajghat, just under the Chambal road bridge which connects Morena in M.P. to Dholpur in Rajasthan. From there one could go downstream to Tighri Rithora which is a small island in water, and further upto Kuthiana. Last year I had been to Kuthiana, and took the jeep from there to Gwalior. Going back to Rajghat against the current is slow, and time consumig, and one would reach back after dark only. This time the boat was at Barhi,about 160 Km downstream from Rajghat. We started from Gwalior at 7 in the morning, reaching Barhi (100 km.) at about 10 a.m. We had our breakfast in the ramshackle Forest Hut which had recently been spruced up as the headquarters for the experts who visited to search for the cause of death of a large number of gharials, possibly due to a viral disease. My friend’s wife had packed delicious sandwiches, both chicken, mutton and cheese, and I gorged on them forgetting about the simple fare of puri-sabzi which I had brought. Fragrant English breakfast tea rounded up the breakfast.

Nine of us started then in a motorized boat. Boat ride is a funny experience. On the one hand, with the continuous breeze and water spray when the boat cuts through the water, you feel cold, and on the other hand, the bright sun is on you in full glory, so much so that a cap, a muffler and a pair of sunglasses are a must. But the whole experience is bracing and exhilarating. You hang the camera with the long lens around your neck, and hold the binocular in your hands- on the whole you are too full with your clothes, accessories, and gadgets.

The first 4-5 km stretch went blank. So much so that I regretted why I had not chsen the other stretch from Rajghat to Kuthiana. But slowly the feathered ones started appearing. First it was spoonbills- snow-white with black spoon-like bill. Then the woolly-necked stork- like a lady in fur collar or very similar to what we were dressed as. Woolly-necked was generally standing alone or was in pairs, not in the flock. Then Brahminy duck. This bird is always in pair, and unluckily a favourite sport bird. In Urdu, it is known as Surkhab, and my guess is that it is the famous Kraunch bird which made Valmiki utter the first Sanskrit shloka.

Bar-headed geese were a real delight, in numbers (about 15), at the bank, eating away the crop sown by the nearby farmers. This bird breeds in Ladakh (Lake Tso-murari is one such place), and spends the winter in the North and Central India. A majestic and graceful bird, it is probably the ‘hans’ of our mythology and ancient literature. I had not seen such a large flock before as in this visit.

There was a crocodile, and a number of gharials at a distance.

There were a few black ibises and a huge flock of little cormorants which is probably the ugliest-looking waterbird in the company of bar-headed geese, flamingo, surkhab, spoonill and spotbills. Three was also a man with a camel. In a previous visit to the Chambal, I had seen 3-4 camels laden with goods crossing the river. The camel driver knows where the water is shallow enough for the long-legged animal to wade through. We also saw six surkhabs together which is a rare treat, followed by a huge flock of bar headed geese (again!). I counted 54. Spoonbills in flight, open-billed stork and stone plover. It was followed by a flock of grey-lag geese and pelicans. Then a lone crocodile basking in the sun, and moving in water disturbed by the movement of the boat. This croc was looked at by a pair of stone plovers (I think). To round up, about ten grey herons, and a real assortment containing woolly-necked, spoonbills, grey heron, and painted stork. We also saw three spot bills and a few terns in flight.

In between, we shored up on the sand, and had our lunch with the rippling river, and the yellow mustard fields in the background.

What we did not see this time and in this stretch were Indian skimmers, terns, pochards, flamingos(too early) and cranes: sarus crane and common crane.

Ultimately we got down at Chakarpur, about 35 Km from Barhi, where we had the vehicles sent and reached Gwalior when it was already dark. This visit was memorable for the flock of bar-headed geese and grey lag, and the large number of grey herons and spoonbills.

Yes, I forgot to mention that we did see a number of dolphins coming to the surface at many spots.

I am not embarrassed to admit that I am already looking forward to my next visit to the Chambal. Incidentally, the Forest Department of M.P. has started an eco-tourism cruise from Rajghat to Tighri-Rithora and back. Best if luck and I do hope that we will have several more who will experience the same thrill as we had in this trip.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

#6. Poison Arrows and Vishkanyas

Poison Arrows and Vishkanyas

Krishna was sitting under a peepal tree. He was old and tired. Some say he was 120+ at that time, but in any case he must have been in late eighties at that time. He had lost everything. His kingdom was under the sea (Tsunami?), and the womenfolk of his community were snatched away by robbers right under the eyes of Arjun, his dearest friend, as he could not string his bow Gandiv: he had become so feeble in old age. And then his clan in a drunken brawl had been entirely annihilated. He sat with his sole turned up. And this was mistaken by a bahelia (A person who hunts for a living) for a deer or any other small animal, and he shot an arrow. Well, that killed Krishna who had won the battle of Kurukshetra. Why should he have did of a simple arrow shot in a non-vital organ. Well, it is said that it was a poison arrow, and very soon the blood took the lethal poison to different parts of the body, and he could not be saved. One can say that otherwise also Krishna had nothing to look forward to, and the death at that juncture was the most appropriate ending to the great tragedy of Mahabharat .

One has also read in Mahabharat and elsewhere about amogh astras (invincible weapons). In 1500 B.C. what could they be? It was certainly not agnibaan as it was already known. Arrow-head made of some hard metal, sharpened like a razor? Or, what my guess is (yes, it is all a guesswork) that it was poison arrow with venom which did not have an antidote. Lakhman became unconscious when hit by a strange new weapon of Meghnad. It could be a poison whose only antidote was the Sanjivani herb. A natural corollary is that all the weapons which one got with great difficulty from some deity who had developed it were arrows with arrowheads or darts slaked in a venom for which there was no known antidote aailable. It is interesting to note all such prized weapons were arrows, and not mace or sword. It had to be a sharp projectile, capable of covering some distance.

Poison arrows have been used in South America, Africa and Asia. The venom was either animal-derived or plant-derived. In South America, tribals dipped the blowgun darts in the poison made from the skin of three species of Phyllobates, a genus of poison dart frogs. The poison is collected by roasting the frogs over fire.

Plant-derived poisons are generally known as curare. Greeks and Trojans used poison arrows and spears during the Trojan war. Alexander faced poison arrows during his conquests in India, and maybe he died of a festering wound caused by such an arrow (in his thigh, I think). Curare is a generic term for arrow-poisons that contain D-tubocurarine. This is found in the bark of the trees strychnos toxifera, S. guianensis, chondrodendron tometosum or sciadotenia toxifera. This is muscle-relaxant, paralyzing the respiratory system and thus bringing about asphyxiation. In Africa arrow poison is made from Nerium oleander.In the jungle areas of Assam and other north eastern states, Burma and Malaysia poison arrows are widely used and the poison is Antiaris toxicana strychnos and strophathus geneara. Aconite is used by Minaro tribe in Ladakh for hunting Ibex, and also by the Bhutia and Lepchas of Sikkim and Assam.

So as you see, in olden times, even the so-called advanced people like Greeks and Indians used poison arrows. And it was of course very commonly used by various tribes all over.

And now to Vishkanyas. I am afraid I didn’t get enough material on it. Beautiful girls were chosen from very young days to be Vishkanyas. They were given snake venom in small doses from the childhood, which was gradually increased. An adult girl was made to be bitten by venomous snakes, maybe more than once in the day and gradually her body became so venomous that conjugal or salivary contact with her proved fatal to the partner. Somewhere I read that the girls were administered sankhia (which I think is arsenic). But arsenic is not that instantaneous in its effect. Somewhere I also read that the vishkanyas die after once biting the targeted person. It is difficult to believe, because human body should not behave like that of a bee and a snake can bite any number of times. I remember a novel by Acharya Chatursen Shastri in which a Vishkanya was able to kill a number of people in one night of ‘orgy’. But that was fiction. Chanakya is reputed to have used vishkanyas for killing the enemies of Chandragupta. Somebody advised that I would get a lot of material in ‘Chandrakanta Santati’ by Devakinandan Khatri. I got the novel. It is in 6 parts, and needs some patience to go through. If I learn something, I will certainly let you know.

We talked about the snake venom and snake bite, so it is worthwhile knowing about poisonous snakes of India in a few sentences. So far as I remember there are very few poisonous snakes: cobra, king cobra, viper and Krait. They have venom glands and it is injected through their specialized teeth (fangs) in a syringe-like action to the prey or the being defended against. A combination (polyvalent) anti venom is available (or should be available) in the hospitals which acts against almost all the snake venom. According to Daniel, death occurs quickly in cobra and krait poisoning, and delayed in viper bites. But if in the bite any vein is ruptured death may occur within 15 minutes in either case.

People cry hoarse now against biological warfare, battles are waged, kingdoms fall and rulers hanged. But use of poison to kill one’s enemies has been there from pre-historic days. Not that there is any justification for either.