Category Archives: Wildlife

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Crops and robbers

You are Mallesha.

A fifty-six year old farmer. You live in Maguvinahalli, a village on the northern boundary of the famous Bandipur National Park.

Every year, at the end of summer, you till your meagre 4 acres, sow some jowar and some sunflowers. For weeks you work in the baking heat. Once the monsoons arrive, you continue working, in the pouring rains.

Once the seeds have sprouted and you have a crop, you don’t relax, no sir, you don’t. You build a thorn fence around the field. And a machan (platform) on the peepal tree in your field for you to sit up on, all night. Waiting and watching for the elephants.

Yes, the elephants. They come from the forest, to feast on your precious crop.

Last year, your brother Murthy lost everything in a single night to a herd of 9 elephants. It happened at the very end of the season, a few days before the harvest. He still owes the moneylender 14,000 rupees.

So for several weeks you get no rest at all. Night after dark night you sit up on the machan, shaking your head and muttering to yourself to keep sleep away. They are eerily silent, these elephants. You have to be alert all the time.

You look out of the machan, moonlight outlines the distant hills. The silence is broken by the roar of a speeding vehicle on the highway. It used to be a small dusty strip when you were a boy. Now it is dangerous to cross with all the tourist traffic.

You have heard the tourists pay 3000 rupees for a day at the hotel at the edge of your village. You could buy seeds for a whole season with that! Why would they spend so much just to see some elephants? They could instead sit up in your machan, for free.

The gentle breeze lulls you into a dangerous calm. Your head tilts. You sleep.

Kttrrrrck! You are suddenly wide-awake, but it is too late. You fumble for the match and light a firecracker. The wick forms an arc of light, then bursts. Your hand is shaking as you throw another. It is louder than the last. One of the elephants lets out a cry. You can feel the earth shake under you.

As quickly as they came, they are gone. But the silence is not comforting. You sit numbly, not wanting to move.

Dawn arrives and reveals the damage. In the ten minutes they spent in your field, the elephants have taken half your crop.

Lead settles in your stomach, you can’t even feel anger. Slowly, you tuck the matchbox and firecrackers into the folds of your dhoti. And walk home.

Overhead fly an early flock of parakeets.

On bees dying

Yesterday, our neighbours smoked out a bee hive that had come up on one of their window shades. They had some pest control people hired for the purpose. Kerosene was sprayed on the bees and then smoke of some sort used to drive the more persistent insects from the hive.

Within a few seconds of the operation, our balcony, which is located right below the hive, was covered with writhing bees. When they die, bees do a strange thing – they spit out honey. While thrashing about, they also manage to get stuck in their own sticky spit. Watching them do this fills me with a sort of horrified fascination – purging honey in their dying moments seems like a final renunciation of everything they have lived for. Almost as if they were saying: this honey is what defined me all this while. But I don’t need it where I am going.

Stranger still was what I found this morning. Bees that had managed to escape the kerosene were hovering around, flying from dead bee to dead bee. I wondered if this was an apian homage of some sort, but suddenly I saw what they were doing. They were collecting honey. Did this qualify as stealing from the departed? I think not – bees are unlikely to be weighed down by the same false morals we burden ourselves with. They were probably making the best of a bad thing. No more.

Here are some pictures.

Birds from my balcony

Come winter, the mango-tree in the old, crumbling house behind our apartment building becomes a very interesting place. White-browed Fantails, Brown Flycatchers, Orioles and on one occasion, an Indian Pitta, turn up either for season-long stays or just for one evening.

Other birds regularly seen on the tree include Purple-rumped Sunbirds, Great Tits, Pale-billed Flowerpeckers, Common Tailorbirds, Red-vented Bulbuls, Coppersmith and White-cheeked Barbets, Rose-ringed Parakeets, White-breasted Kingfishers, Brahminy Kites, Black Drongos, Common Koels, Jungle and Common Crows and Common Mynas. There are surely more, but these are the ones I can recall off the top of my head.

I haven’t made more than a couple of very lazy attempts to photograph the birds. But here are two pictures, both taken about two months ago. The yellow one is the Black-naped Oriole and the other is the Brahminy Kite.

Black-naped Oriole
Brahminy Kite

A meadow and its family

If you happen to walk past my house heading uphill along the street, going right to the top and continuing past the two large elms that mark the official end of the road, you will be well rewarded for your undeterred progress. For beyond the dark clump of wood lies a gorgeous, green meadow.

Untouched by the council’s civilizing hand, this verdant expanse is a not-very-well-kept secret among the neighbourhood’s residents, although I made the delightful discovery only recently. Many make their way here in the mornings to work off the guilt of recent indulgences; later in the day love, young and old, arrives seeking the serenity of the setting. A few foot-beaten paths run along the contours of the common. Dotted among the tall, waving grass are some benches–put there by some thoughtful soul decades ago and thankfully forgotten by those mysterious beings who keep lists of public furniture.

When the burdens of my vocation become too heavy, or (more commonly) when lethargy towards gainful toil overcomes me, I slip into comfortable footwear, forget to take the house keys, and head to this haven.

The happy absence of lawnmowers and garden pliers has allowed many small animals and birds to make their homes in the grass and shrubbery. Sometimes, if I am quiet and well-behaved, these creatures will allow me to watch them go about their lives. On one such occasion a few weeks ago, I observed a pair of blackbirds at a nest.

The couple had evidently made the decision to increase their tribe somewhat late in the season – it was mid-July already. But no matter, they seemed to think, we still have a few weeks of sunshine. Their parental labours had a hurried air, as though they were trying make up for lost time by working harder and longer. For the two hours that I sat watching, they took turns flying to and from the nest, bringing worms and insects to their three seemingly insatiable offspring.

While the male bird kept guard close to the homestead, the brown and unremarkably plumed female flew along the hedge, stopping on the branch of a holly bush or perching on the boulder by the path to check for unwanted presences, like that of a cat. She always rummaged in the same patch of leaf litter under a large maple, returning with what looked to me like dirt, but was clearly gourmet fare to her ravenous family.

When it was his turn, the glossy black male chose his pickings from a greater variety of sources. He sometimes scratched about under the hedge to find crawly grubs, at other times he hopped around the mossy bole of the oak. Occasionally, he would dive into the grass and disappear from my view, emerging a few moments later with a struggling worm in his bright yellow beak. He didn’t care to give his prey a quick and merciful end, preferring instead to stop at the far end of my bench to watch me awhile to ascertain I meant no harm, before proceeding nestwards.

The untiring efforts of the pair had evidently paid off, for today I saw mother, father and two spotty but nearly full-grown blackbirds hopping about in the same hedge. My earlier investigations had revealed three juniors, but today I saw no sign of a fifth member of the family. Perhaps a magpie or sparrowhawk had had a particularly good lunch sometime.

Nevermind, I said to my somewhat sorrowful heart, as I walked slowly homewards. There are at least two more blackbirds that will sing next spring.