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Thank you and good bye Sachin!

Thank you and good bye Sachin!

Watching cricket matches played down under is quite special. Unlike Indian grounds they have lush green grass outfield neatly trimmed to give various shapes which gives exotic look. A weird thing about watching live telecast from there means we need to get up at 0300 in the morning. It was during one of those early mornings while watching a one day match in 1994 I saw a small boy who was representing Indian team. He was Sachin Tendulkar. He got injured in the field and was carried by another squad member Vivek Razdan. This is my earliest recollection of watching Sachin Tendulkar in a cricket match.

10dulkar
10dulkar

I was an ardent fan of Kapil Dev during those days. But Sachin became one of my favourites immediately after watching him playing during the second One Day Internationals (ODI) of that same series. He opened the innings (for the first time since Navjoti Singh Sidhu was injured) and smashed all the fast bowlers. I clearly remember Chris Pringle had no clue about what was happening while he was bowling to Sachin who had already hit him for 3 consecutive boundaries in an over. Ken Rutherford, the then captain of NZL team had to walk from mid-on to have a word with him on how to bowl. But that barely had any affect, Sachin was on full flow on that day. He scored 82 runs (15 fours and 2 sixes) in just 49 deliveries. Mind you this happened in 1994, there were no Powerplays then.

In 1998, during my masters, I was staying in my collage hostel. Watching television in the hostel was allowed only on special occasions such as cricket matches or on Sunday evenings movies after getting prior permission from the hostel warden. Cricket matches when India played were like festive occasions for us. Watching cricket match along with friends, that too in a hostel set up, was always fun. Only if you have experienced it, would you understand this. Cricket fans who have watched matches in 1998 will not forget the tournaments India played at Sharjah.

No one will forget the famous match against Australia when India needed to score 254 to qualify for the final. We were all watching this match in our hostel. Wickets were falling at regular intervals and the chances of reaching that target looked very feeble. Then, a dust storm disturbed the match proceeding further. Sachin was there in the crease but most of the hostel inmates had lost hope and got back to their respective rooms. After about half an hour or so few guys watching the match cheered and shouted and called everyone in their rooms back to watch the match. Then the crowd gathered to see Sachin demolishing the Australian fast bowlers and score a century. It was the most unbelievable match that I have ever seen. We lost the match but Sachin got us through to the final. He did not stop there. He scored another ton in the final against the same opponent and got us a trophy. In the same year we had another unforgettable scene in the history of ODI. In the league match Hendry Olanga of Zimbabwe dismissed Sachin with a bouncing delivery. But in the next match Sachin showed him how good he is. Hendry Olanga will never forget this in his life (I am certain). Oh you poor thing! Not just Hendry Olanga, we relished the battled between Sachin and many great bowlers such as Shane Warne, Glen McGrath, Shoaib Aktar (who can forget that sixer in world cup 2003), Brett Lee, Muttiah Muralitharan, Wasim Akram and many more.

My affair with cricket and Sachin continued. Once I was walking in the streets of fort area in Bombay in 2002. It was a Sunday and a match was going on. By the side of the road a portable TV was placed and surrounded by cricket fans. While passing I causually peeped between the heads to check the score. Few minute later another passer by stopped and asked score kithna? Someone replied. He continued asking Sachin kithna? O 90 mein out ho gaya was the reply. He didn’t bother to stay there any longer and neither did I. We (Sachin fans), never bothered whether India won the match or not. We just wanted Sachin to score well or hit a ton or to rip apart the (supposed to be) great bowlers’ spells. For many of us Kapil Dev’s  175* was the best for ODIs until Sachin scored 200* and this will certainly remain forever. We didn’t really care even when this record was broken.

We never want him to get out. We did our parts (verging on superstition) so that he did not get out. Once I had 6 helpings of sambar sadam continuously to keep him going (in the earlier match when I choose Rasam sadam instead of Sambar he had got out early). My friend wouldn’t move from where he was sitting. He would not even let others move. Once he had moved and Sachin had really got out. This was during a test match at Chennai against Pakistan. We lost that match. My friend still thinks that it was mainly because he got up from the chair.

It is sad that he exit ODIs unceremoniously. But incidentally while I was watching that last ODI he played I was fiddling with my camera and took couple of shots of the TV screen when he appeared. He scored 50 in that match. But I never thought that that was going to be his last ODI. None of us had.

Sachin's Last ODI
Sachin’s Last ODI

I stopped watching ODIs after that. I am sure many of us did. I didn’t even feel like watching his last test match innings or his farewell speech. In recent times everything is shared on the net. Photos, videos and interviews or even we can buy disks of the whole cricket matches. So many television channels are going to telecast these matches again and again. You can see these things anytime you want.

The thrill of remembering a moment is missing now a days. I can be proud that I have seen Sachin playing great innings on that day and I still remember it. It is in my memory not just in photos and videos. Sachin Tendulkar. We will miss you. Thank you for the memories and Good bye!

Love, longing and leopards

Love, longing and leopards

A long time ago, I was madly in love with a girl. At first, she was not aware of the fact that I was crazy about her. During those days all I wanted was to see her. I was happy and contented just by the sight of her. When she unexpectedly walked past me or sent a casual glance in my direction, I was overjoyed. Then, I started observing her routine and I knew what she would do at particular time and where she went. I tried to walk along the same route that she generally took so that I could see her. She was not a very talkative person. She did not announce her presence unnecessarily. As far as I knew, she did not mingle with anyone very easily. Still, she had a small group of friends. Sometimes when I heard her talking, I would go to see her. Sometimes she would look at me, sometimes she just ignored my presence or not even notice me. I would become very nervous in her presence and spoke to her very rarely. But I remember every occasion when I did. I never told her how much I like her, however, after sometime it must have been apparent and she became conscious of the fact. Once she knew, she began to avoid me; leaving the place immediately if she found me there. I knew that she did not hate me, but perhaps she was more practical and did not wish to encourage an adolescent love.

Like I said, this was a long time ago. Now, I don’t even know which part of the world she lives in. Why should I then write about all these things now? I write because I realize now that the excitement, awe, thrill, ardor, joy, and frustration that I had gone through during those days (or those moments) weren’t different from the emotions that arise while I watch certain wildlife. How much contentment there is in seeing the Malabar tree nymph gracefully fluttering its delicate wings and glide, in listening to the Malabar whistling thrush, in watching the flight of Great pied hornbill! And the list will go on. I am sure every one of us will have our own such list.

But there is one species that, when seen by us, will overshadow whatever else we have seen: the leopard. Isn’t this true? Sometime back, I went wildlife watching with some of my family. I showed them many species of birds, amazing colorful butterflies and damselflies. On our return, we saw also plenty of black-naped hares. Still, it was only when they got a glimpse of a leopard in swift motion crossing the road, that one of them said, Our trip is complete only now. Now we can go home. They were not really serious wildlife watchers, but even they were most captivated by the big cat.

It’s an obvious tradition among the naturalists and researchers to ask the person who went out looking for wildlife at night,”What did you see?” If you have to pass through a forested area to reach the place where you live, then you are the luckiest person in this world. As soon as you reach your place, the first question your folks would ask, “Did you see anything on the way?” You may have seen several spotted deer, sambar, black-naped hare, porcupine, or a few nightjars and civets. But the answer would be, in a very tired tone, “Well, nothing much, a few deer, hare, and yeah, a porcupine, that’s it.” But if you had seen a leopard, they don’t have to ask you any questions. With a victorious smile on your face, you would ask them, “Guess what I saw?” The immediate response from the other side would be, with wide-open eyes,”Leopard?”

Although I loved to see leopards, I secretly disliked this form of answer. So I made a resolution that if somebody asked me what I saw, even if I had seen a leopard, I would first mention other species that I saw and only then would mention my leopard sighting. Well, the resolution hasn’t worked. I can never resist: the leopard would get first mention. I would call up to tell them or send an SMS ahead. Why does this happen to me or to most of us? What is there in a leopard? What makes the sighting so special?

The Beauty. (Photo by Kalyan Varma)

To figure this out, I gave it some serious thought. Before I explain my views, let me tell you about my very first sighting of a leopard in the wild. In 2001, I was returning from Cuddapah to the place where I was living at the time—in Jerdon’s Courser country. We were in a jeep and saw a leopard about a hundred metres away. The Jerdon’s courser was one of India’s most endangered birds and I was excited and happy on those rare occasions that I saw the bird. Yet, the feeling of seeing the leopard was something different.

Let me explain why the leopard is so special. Watching Jerdon’s Courser, Nilgiri marten, or a snow leopard are like sighting some very very popular stars such as Rajinikanth, Kalyan Varma, Katrina Kaif or Sachin Tendulkar. You won’t get to see them often. It may happen if you made a serious effort, but that would be like once or twice in a lifetime. But the leopard is like your girl next door (or a boy next door, for girls). If you know that they are there, you will be looking out for them, and if you do it, you know that there are chances that you would get a glimpse. When you have this little hope or a wish somewhere in the corner of your mind or heart, while you are passing through the forested road, and if you then did see the leopard, imagine how much you will be elated! Can anything beat that or even come close to that feeling? Nothing I think, other than a leopard—at least for me.

There is another reason that makes leopard sightings so special. We all like good surprises. The song Yeh Ishq haaye from the Hindi movie Jab We Met is one of my favorite songs. I have saved this song whereever I could so that I can listen to it whenever I want to. Still, when I am not carrying my music or any of those gadgets and it suddenly plays on the radio: that brings the smiles to my face. This does not happen often. When it does, it is special.

Among the other things that I love watching are the protruding vocal sacs of Pretty Bush Frogs, the glittering green flashes of Stream Glory damselflies, and the dance of the fantail flycatcher. You can spend time watching all these to your heart’s content and then you would probably leave. But the leopard won’t pose for you for long. The leopard is a big teaser. I began this post, describing my old flame. Do you know why? She reminds me, now, of the elusiveness of the leopard. Their elusiveness is what makes them so alluring. You always want more. You are never contented with just one sighting. It’s like eating good potato chips. The salt and chilli taste linger for a second in your tongue and disappears instantly. So you dip into the packet for one more.

It is for this reason that I always look out for the leopard every time I go out. I have seen her many times. I don’t know how many times I missed her and I don’t know how many times she skillfully avoided me. I had seen her in quite close quarters. On one occasion, we even looked into each other’s eyes. What an awesome moment that was! It was just about 15 seconds and then she slowly walked away from me. On another occasion, I was driving past a huge Ficus tree and I saw her resting at the base. I wanted my friends to see her so I called them and they rushed to the spot. They saw her slowly walking into the woods. Another day, I saw her walking beautifully on the road and I was just following her, for a while. She would walk away a bit, then stop and look back inquisitively. Oh, that was bliss! All I would do was to move away from there and just let her be. I have also heard her call many times. Seldom have I gone looking out for her, though, after hearing her voice.

The recent sighting was the best so far in my life. It was like a dream. It was a completely misty night and I was driving in the car, moving slowly, very slowly with my headlights on low beam. I could hardly see beyond five metres in front. And there she emerged through the mist, in a slightly hurried gait, crossing the road. In that split second, her beautiful yellow coat glowed in the car’s light, and she was gone like an angel.

I have to go now. It is time. She may be waiting for me.

A tiger’s pain

A tiger’s pain

I had seen a tiger in the wild only once. Deep inside the rainforests of Kalakad – Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) in the southern Western Ghats. It was a memorable sighting that I always treasure and proudly tell others about.

Before KMTR, the only memorable tiger sighting I had was at the rescue and rehabilitation center in Vandalur Zoo, Chennai. It was sometime in 1997, and I was there as a part of a study tour during my post-graduate course. The veterinarian at Vandalur said that the tiger had been captured from Valparai, as it was apparently involved in a conflict incident. Never in my dreams in those days had I thought that I would one day be working here in Valparai.

It is the 28th April 2012, and I am at Valparai. Ganesh called in the morning and said that there is a report of a tiger near human habitation and asked me to go and see it. A tiger?! We see leopards here in the Valparai plateau, but tigers are shy of humans and are usually seen only in the surrounding Anamalai Tiger Reserve. Nisarg had seen it there recently, much to our envy. From Ganesh’s description that the tiger was near some houses at Periyar Nagar and unable to move, I figured that it was not going to be a very pleasant sighting.

The story of the tiger went like this. The people of Periyar Nagar had been seeing the tiger near there for about two weeks. The local people said that it had preyed on a calf a couple of days before when I went there to see that tiger. The owner of that calf buried the carcass the next day. The hungry tiger obviously had to go for another one. People said that the next day while it was trying to capture another calf the cow attacked the tiger. The tiger was badly injured and unable to move, and so lay down in a kitchen garden in one of the houses in Periyar Nagar, and it was still lying there.

I went inside the small gate that leads to the kitchen garden. Some ten metres from where I was standing, I saw black stripes in a fading orange pelage. I never thought I would see a tiger that close. I stood there only for two minutes. Unable to bear the sight of the tiger in such a sad state in such a place, I came away immediately. Yet in abrief moment, I saw the tiger slowly raising its head. And I saw its eyes.

Sometimes you can figure out what people think and feel from their eyes, right? I still remember the way the tiger at Vandalur Zoo looked at the person standing outside the cage. It was full of anger.

Tiger from Valparai at Vandalur Zoo in 1997.
Tiger from Valparai at Vandalur Zoo in 1997.

I could not see the eyes of the tiger in the KMTR rainforest: it was just going away from us. But in the tiger lying in the kitchen garden of Periyar Nagar, I could see its eyes. I didn’t not see any anger, but there was something—something intangible that I was unable to fathom.

Unfathomable eyes Photo: Ganesh Raghunathan
Unfathomable eyes. Photo: Ganesh Raghunathan

It was lying there throughout the day waiting for the veterinarian to come here all the way from Mudumalai to tranquilize it. The plan was to treat the wounds so that the Forest Department officials can translocate it away from the human habitation. The action started as soon as he got reached. After an attempt to catch it with nets that failed because of the obstruction and vegetation, it was decided to tranquilise the animal. The veterinarian darted the tiger on its thigh but the tiger leaned back, bit the syringe and pulled it off from its body. The second dart went in and it worked: the tiger went down. In the meantime, it continued to rain heavily. Despite the rain, local people stayed to see the tiger. The local Forest Department officials and policemen did a commendable job in controlling the crowd. By not letting people near the tiger, the veterinarian and other Forest Department staff could carry out their work without any hassle. The veterinarian disclosed that it was a male tiger and estimated that it was around ten years old. It was around 7:45 p.m., when the tiger was caged and taken to the Manamboly Forest Camp, inside the Anamalai Tiger Reserve. The tiger survived overnight and was given medical attention by the veterinarian who stayed with the animal. Still, the next morning we came to know that he had passed away.

When we reached Manamboly at around 11 a.m., the Nadu Forest Department staff had already laid him on the ground. He was massive. His rasping tongue was out, eyes gone inside the socket. He had pus-covered injuries around the sharp claws, and his huge canines were worn out. He was dead, yet he looked so majestic. The veterinarian, Dr. Kalaivanan, the Manamboly Range Officer Mr. Arokiaraj Xavier and several of his staff were ready to start the post-mortem. We were waiting for the local press reporters to arrive. Once they reached, the photographic session started. The tiger was surrounded by several people who were posing for the photograph.

Memorable moment for Anti-poaching watchers especially for Murali (with gloves) and Bhuto (sitting in white shirt): Photo Ganesh Raghunathan
Memorable moment for Anti-poaching watchers especially for Murali (with gloves) and Bhuto (sitting in white shirt). Photo: Ganesh Raghunathan

Just before that photographic session Mr. Bhuto (a famous anti-poaching watcher of Manamboly Range, although sometimes people call him Bhutan as well, and we do not know how he get his name(s)), and Mr. Murali (another anti-poaching watcher) were sitting next to him and touching the tiger. Mr. Bhuto starting counting how many stripes are there in the tigers body, including the tail to tell others triumphantly that he had counted all the stripes. Mr. Murali touched the tiger’s canine and the sharp claws, his eyes wide open in amazement. It was fascinating to watch how they clearly admired the tiger.

Then came the time for the knives and scalpels. First, they rolled the tiger sideways so that the head was up. Two anti-poaching watchers were doing the job, one of whom was Murali. The veterinarian gave instructions on how and where to cut. First the rib cage was cut open and split apart, and the veterinarian examined the internal organs.

There was a surprise in store when the pericardium was opened to examine the heart of the tiger. Pierced into the heart, like little daggers, were two porcupine quills.

Porcupine quilled Tiger heart. Photo: Ganesh Raghunathan
Porcupine quilled Tiger heart. Photo: Ganesh Raghunathan

The veterinarian said the tiger had preyed on a porcupine and accidentally ingested the quills that had found its way inside the body to pierce into its heart. In the tiger’s stomach there was nothing except a half foot long thin quill. He said the tiger might have preyed on this porcupine a month ago.  The lungs had worms. The kidneys were pale and also seemed to be not functioning properly.

I remembered again the look in the eyes of this tiger when I first saw it in Periyar Nagar. It could have been pain. Sheer pain.

The poor old tiger had been suffering from multiple-organ dysfunction. It was the prey that had killed the predator; in fact, they had killed each other. But this was not how the newspapers told the story. The headlines said, ‘Tiger loses fight to cow in Valparai‘ and ‘Tiger attacked by cow dies’. What a disgrace for a tiger! A Tamil newspaper Dinamalar said that this tiger had killed more than ten cattle. With the quills pierced in his heart, how could he hunt? The cattle may have possibly hurt the tiger but definitely were not responsible for killing the tiger. I wish reporters verified the facts before they publish the news. It may be catchy to give such titles but wasn’t that a humiliation for the tiger? Besides the misinformation conveyed by the headline, there is the issue of insensitivity. Do we disgrace people after they die? That tiger must have been a dignified living being when it was alive. I do not think that it deserved such statements after its demise.

Those were the thoughts when I saw the newspapers the next day. But during the post-mortem there were some touching and humane moments. When the veterinarian was instructing the forest watchers about the post-mortem, one of the wildlife experts quipped, “if you learn these techniques it will be useful later. In case if there is another tiger death, you won’t need a Veterinarian”. Murali who was helping in collecting samples said promptly, “We do not want to see another tiger dead in this place. Already, they are dwindling in numbers”.

The post-mortem has been carried out as per the National Tiger Conservation Authority guidelines. The tiger was also required to be burned as per the guidelines. A pile of wood had been stacked, the tiger lifted and placed on the stack. It was overcast and Mr. Xavier was hurrying everyone to finish before the rain. More logs and billets were placed on top. Kerosene was sprinkled. The fire was about to be lit. Then, Bhuto came rushing and removed the logs covering the face of the tiger: there were some rituals to perform he said. He brought salt, a cup of milk, and a pack of turmeric powder. He asked three people to pour milk in the tiger’s mouth. He threw rock salt over the logs and sprinkled turmeric powder. Then he asked Mr. Xavier to light the match. Mr. Xavier said, “We should have got a garland, I forgot to do that, it never struck me”.

I am not a great fan of rituals but I returned home and took bath. Isn’t it a custom to take bath after attending any funeral?

Cremation as per the tradition. Photo: Ganesh Raghunathan
Cremation as per the tradition. Photo: Ganesh Raghunathan
Brijesh Jha’s Diary – unreliable, unnecessary, unsolicited

Brijesh Jha’s Diary – unreliable, unnecessary, unsolicited

By P. Jeganathan & Swati Sidhu

***

The date: 31 December 2050

The scene: Late Brijesh Jha’s grandson Bunty is flipping through Brijesh Jha’s diary for the year 2011.

Buntyyyyyyy, what are you doing?”

Nothing ma, just going through grandpa’s diary. It has news clippings of 2011 with his personal notes. Curious to know the happenings in that year.

Alright. Just put it back in a safe place once you are done.”

January 2011

Finally… my friend managed to capture one of his first Nilgiri Martens. In coming months he will be tracking this species. This is great! We will now learn something about this elusive species.

Tycoon Majay Villaya, owner of herbal tonic ‘The Crow’, released this year’s calendar at a big press event. Several leading models and actors have posed for this calendar. The money generated from sales will go towards damselfly and dragonfly conservation in India.

February 2011

It was an amazing day as finally photographic evidence for presence of ivory-billed woodpecker arrived. This pays-off for the hard work that went into years of searching for the species.

A new species of frog and a millipede are discovered in the biggest ever mega-hydroelectric project site in Andhra Pradesh. The Minister for Forests has announced that this area will be diverted towards conservation of the newly-discovered species.

The Governments of several Asian nations signed a MoU for setting aside 80,000 hectares of area in their respective countries for snow leopard conservation.

March 2011

In a dramatic incident in Malgudi, the poacher responsible for one of the tiger deaths in this region was found captured in a jaw-trap set by himself. The gory photograph of the poacher, showing his left leg caught in jaw-trap, appeared in front cover of Posmocoliton magazine.

April 2011

Finally, the Government of Gujarat has accepted to donate five pairs of Lion Finches Leo fringilla to the Kenyan government, where these finches went extinct in wild, in 2009. A new population of Lion Finches, which were earlier believed to be only found in Africa, was recently discovered in remote part of Gujarat. Keeping in mind the causes that could lead to the extinction of a single, isolated population of Lion Finches, the government generously agreed for this translocation.

May 2011

The Government of Tamil Nadu announced that Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary has been upgraded to Anamalai Impatiens Reserve. Every month the Reserve will be renamed after different taxa. The taxa will be chosen using inky-pinky-ponky system, a selection procedure which has stood the test of time. It will be performed by government department officials, local NGOs, and public.

Today, the honorable Prime Minister has announced a bold decision to block all highways passing through Protected Areas at night-time after 6 pm. This is essentially to reduce road mortality of wild animals and disruption of their movement routes.

A new population of Jerdon’s Courser is discovered in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.

June 2011

Varyan Karma, was announced the best photographer for year 2011 by FTV, for his lovely portrait of a female hippo swimming in a mud-pool.

Two Indian scientists finally solved the Malabar Civet mystery. Their study on genetic analysis of civet skins (supposed to be of Malabar Civet) revealed that all the specimens belonged to Large Spotted Civet.

Rani Manthram, the famous Indian film director, won an Oscar for his movie ‘Gliding wanderer’. The movie is on the life-history of Wandering Gliders. During his acceptance speech, he mentioned that he started this movie in memory of the wandering glider that acted (and later died on spot during the film shooting) in one of his earlier movies.

July 2011

My friend won the The Weekly Wildlife Nature and Conservation Photography Challenge, a contest on Facebook, with a huge margin. He told me over the phone that this is the first time he won without campaigning or tampering for votes! It’s a big secret.

The entire film crew of the movie ‘In the Place of Butterfiles’, which was being shot at Lalbaug, Bangalore, was arrested. They caught several butterflies to decorate the leading actor’s hair, and while doing so, disturbed the prime micro-habitat of several species of butterflies. The forest department officials filed a case against the film crew, while, the district magistrate ordered life imprisonment for the film director and producer. He also imposed a fine on members of the entire crew for their irresponsible behavior towards these beautiful creatures and important pollinators of the ecosystem.

Five pairs of vultures, reared in the captive breeding centre, were released in the wild. The Director of the Centre, who released these vultures, mentioned that these vultures were fitted with microchips having GPS facility. This will enable the research team to monitor movement of the vultures.

August 2011

The tigers in Indian Tiger Reserves have gone on a strike demanding for fewer tiger shows and more time to relax per week. Their main complaint is that there is a lot of pressure to perform the whole day, which leaves them with less time to eat and mate. This has lead to signs of depression and ill-health. The government will have to now take this seriously; otherwise, it might lose a lot of money coming from and for tiger-centric tourism.

Gharial population shows signs of recovery. This was made possible by local community participation involving sand miners.

……Buntyyyyyyyyy, what are you doing? Come for lunch.”

I am still reading the diary, mama. “

Enough for now. Read later.”

I will come after sometime. Only four more months left. “

No. Come immediately.

Alright. I am coming.”

Bunty closes the diary and goes for lunch.

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Disclaimer: All names and characters mentioned in Brijesh Jha’s diary are fictional and bear no resemblance to any person dead or alive. Any resemblances are merely coincidental. The views represented in this blog post are based on pure imagination of the authors and do not represent the prevailing view in the scientific community.