Archive for January 2012

Number One of 1948 by Jackson Pollock – my comment

19 January 2012

Many months ago,  I chose this painting of Jackson Pollock as my favourite as to me it represented Nature. I had promised to give my interpretation but had not. So here it is. Being no art critic, please bear with me for when my interpretation does not satisfy you. Any way, it shouldn’t and only your own interpretation should suffice. So analyse away.

I see in this image a view of nature as she is most times – not picture perfect but banal, full of weeds, thorns, scrub recovering after being disturbed by man. But always from the depths, you can hear just out of sight the birds going about their business. On the floor, the mice come out at night, and the snakes. And the insects and the small animals.

Marcus Aurelius, emperor-philosopher

The bush holds this poignant promise of a surprise for the young boy who explores it. This is nature as I see it in the outskirts of humanity – transformed yes but undefeated, essentially unchanged. Life goes on – there is brutal competition and perfect cooperation. There are the gawky bones of a frog overtaken by marauding ants and the delicately crafted nest of the tailor-bird. There is the banal cawing of crows and the delicate duet of Grey Francolins. There is the stink of the nala running alongside and the delicate perfume of the mogra flower. All these are there for people to see – but man is blind. He sees the green tangle but not the life, the intensity, the intricacy.

To quote my friend Shyamal, paraphrasing Marcus Aurelius, the great philosopher and Roman Emperor

“Observe how things are connected and how things act together. See the beautiful web.”

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Interpreting Lakes #1 – the Wetland as a concept

18 January 2012

Backdrop

We have a set of small lakes in the campus where I stay. I love taking a small bunch of kids of our campus around and we call ourselves the Painted Storks Nature Club. They love seeing birds but need to understand the environment more.

The wetlands of Pune, where our campus is located, are severely under threat. Since our lakes harbour many resident and migratory birds safely and since our lake system is a successful example of an articial wetland, numerous groups of school and college students, birdwatchers and nature lovers visit this pplace. As a friend, I like to guie them around telling things while showing the birds.

The article below lists my talking points to instil the concept of “Wetland”.

TALKING POINTS

  • What is a wetland? It is a place where the water covers the soil.

  • It is a kind of habitat. (Other types of habitat include, mountains, jungles, desert, grasslands, etc).

  • In CME itself besides wetland we have the following kinds of habitat –

    • Woodlands.

    • Gardens.

    • Farms.

    • Throny scrub.

    • Barren rocky area.

  • Types of wetlands include:

    • Swamps and marshes.

    • Streams and rivers.

    • Lakes and ponds.

    • Mangroves.

    • Temporary and permanent ponds.

  • We have the following waterbodies, guess which of these can be considered part of our wetlands:

    • Three lakes.

    • A number of ponds.

    • Nalas (sewage drains flowing in the open).

    • A 2.2 km long by 125 m wide manmade rowing channel.

    • A highly polluted river flowing along the periphery of our campus.

    • Quiet pools in disused quarries.

    • Small pools of water created by trapped rubble blocking outflow.

    • Seasonal temporary ponds and puddles.

    • Disused wells.

    • Lily ponds in gardens.

    • Water tanks storing water for fire-fighting.

  • Mostly wetlands are the interface between water ecosystems (aquatic ecosystems) and land ecosystems (terrestrial ecosystems).

  • In our campus we consider the interconnected lakes, ponds, marshes, nalas and the land adjoining immediately as part of one big wetland.

  • This wetland is clled the SARVATRA BIRD SANCTUARY.

  • Our wetland contains many birds but it also considers other kinds of life such as:

    • Plant life:

      • Plants on land e.g. Fig trees, Lantana bushes, Subabul trees.

      • Plants whose feet are in water eg Haldikunku plant, acquatic ipomea, bulrushes.

      • Plants which float in water e.g. Pistia (water lettuce), Eichhornia (water hyacinth).

      • Plants which float in water, e.g. Duckweed.

      • Plants which live in the water.

    • Animal life.

      • Birds such as cormorants, ducks, herons, kingfishers, swallows.

      • Small animals such as mongoose, palm civets, water monitor lizards, snakes.

      • Insect life, including insects which live on water, such as pond-skaters, or which have life cycles in water suchas mosquitoes and dragonflies.

      • Microscopic forms such as protozoans, plankton etc.

      • Snails.

      • Fresh water sponge.

      • Humans visiting the lake.

        They all form part of the wetland ecosystem along with water, soil, air, and weather.

  • Why preserve wetlands?

    • If wetlands aren’t preserved, many different species of plants and animals would go extinct. This includes types of fish that lay their eggs in the wetlands and spend much of their time at sea. Due to this, the abundance of fish and other seafood would go down, greatly affecting fishing industries.

    • Wetlands are like filters for the water that go through them, clearing out toxins and making the water less polluted. They replenish the groundwater.

    • Many of the members towards the bottom of the food chain live in wetlands. If those are eliminated, many other ecosystems would go off balance.

    • Wetlands provide extra protection against floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

    • Wetlands also provide fish, reed or building material, and peat for fuel.

    • They are a significant deterrent to flooding and drought.

    • Wetlands absorb water during wet periods ad release it during dry periods.

Freshwater wetlands have higher productivity than farmland, forests, grasslands and even marine seashore ecosystems. It supports maximum amount and maximum variety of life.

A soldier died today! (Anonymous)

18 January 2012

He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the family,
Telling stories of the past.

Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.

And ‘tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew where of he spoke.

But we’ll hear his tales no longer,
For ol’ Natha Singh has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer
For a Soldier died today.

He won’t be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.

He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won’t note his passing,
‘Tho a Soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell of their life stories
From the time that they were young
But the passing of a Soldier
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?

The politician’s stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.

While the ordinary Soldier,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And a pension, meagre & small..

It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some Neta,
With his ever waffling stand?

Or would you want a Soldier–
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Soldier,
Who would fight to the skin.

He was just a common Soldier,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his like again.

For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Soldier’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor
While he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage
At the ending of his days.

Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:
“OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING,
A SOLDIER DIED YESTERDAY..”

Museums – not quite the old Magic Shop!

17 January 2012

I remember visiting a museum as a child. An avid reader, I longed to enjoy the magic others experienced when they visited museums and such-like wond’rous places . Not only did I want to visit them, but wanted them very much to be like The Magic Shop!

From "Vor dem Weihnachtsladen" by Heinrich Zille (1875)

I got my wish when I went on a school trip to the museum in Pune. I do not recall its name now. It had lots of dusty bare rooms with glass panels containing objects, dull, and uninteresting, with short captions which told nothing of their stories. There was a tall, bald, curator – he spoke an alien language. Very soon, I wanted to go back home but had to endure the endless tour. If you entered from one end, you could leave only after going through a winding path through all the rooms.

It was a GREAT LETDOWN to a child.

Dusty glass shelves of objects which had no tales to tell...(Image:Édouard Riou, 1868)

So what went wrong? There was a great disconnect between the three of the entities involved, me , the objects and the museum staff. I had come expecting to get a taste of Wellsian magic, but I would not have minded if I had heard the objects tell me a more prosaic story. But they would not speak to me.

To me the objects looked like caged animals in a zoo; pathetic, listless copies of the original which lived enchanted lives somewhere far away. The objects could not speak to me. Plucked out of context from their surroundings where they would have been not just meaningful but magical.

Like a smoking cannon on the walls of a besieged fortress, or a quill on the table in Newton’s study in his house where it seemed that the great man himself would enter any moment to make won’drous new discoveries in science and maths, or the bones and tools of prehistoric cavemen unearthed from a cave where one could see the same vista they did hundreds of thousands of years ago. There was nothing to tell me their stories, and the museum people did not bother.

Cabinet of curiousities in the Boston Museum of Science. Note that there was no prohibition against photography in the museum. (Image:Daderot)

I’m sure, they thought me a nuisance. They objected to my dropping the wrapper of the sticky sweet on the floor, unmindful of the fact that that they had not provided me a waste basket anywhere. They grudgingly sent a beadle to show me the way to the public convenience. They cared not that I was thirsty after many hours of a hot summer day. They were only interested in shooing me past the sword that fascinated me, rudely interrupting my dream where I stood warding off a host of pirates intent on taking over my ship; indeed shooing me past everything else. We heard more instructions abut the need not to touch, or shout or run; we learnt nothing more than they were a particularly unpleasant form of adult. I resolved that I would be different.

...rudely interrupting my dream where I stood warding off a host of pirates intent on taking over my ship. (Image:Capture of Blackbeard, by JLG Ferris (1863–1930)).

As a young captain, I was shown a few books by a Colonel about a magic art that the Americans had developed called Interpretation, but alas he would not lend those sacred books to me. No matter, from what I could read in them in a few moments they were in my hands, I gathered that in America, educated, informed and most of all interesting people take the people around historical places, preserved great homes, archives, museums and made these places accessible to the visitors.

The Interpreters had studied the culture, literature, history and geography of the place – they had learnt all that and more. And when people came to see these objects, they found that there was a knowledgeable friendly person who told the stories and recreated the magic. An interpreter was not someone who prattled unendingly but aroused your curiousity, but was interested in you as a person and cared that you got to know about your heritage. The interpreter aimed, not at sating you, but tantalisingly to whet your appetite with free pamphlets to take along, signposts and charts to help his story at just the right places and links to online knowledge where you could learn to find more.

The objects in such places lay in familiar surroundings , each along-with the others in a nostalgic panorama of the past, where it was easy to visualise the story and where a hint of imagination would allow you to transport yourself to the past.

Such a museum is then a place where the objects, encouraged gently by the interpreters tell the stories and answer your queries. A fun place to learn. A veritable time machine. And there was no disconnect in such places.

Recommended Reading

This post arose due to a chain of posts initiated by various authors in the recent past. In part, it is a complement to Pradeep Mohandas’s blogpost listed below. It is likely that there will be more on this blog from me on this topic :