Archive for the ‘CME Weekly’ category

The Masked Bandit!

20 May 2012

Here is a poem celebrating one of CME’s little known animals, which emerges at night and is harmless to man, yet people in their ignorance kill the animal on sight. All readers are requested to instruct family members, staff of their departments, and servants not to kill this animal.

TODDY CAT or PALM CIVET

You hardly see me on the ground,
I’m slickest of all the mammals around,
Late at night when everyone’s asleep,
Then CME’s all mine to creep!

Living in lofts of campus bungalows,
or holes in tree trunks far above,
Fruits, and insects are what I devour,
I am an accomplished omnivore.

I even eat some seeds such as coffee beans
that when excreted, cost beyond your means.
My scent glands give rise to an aroma nice,
called civet, which smells, just like basmati rice,

I’m harmless to humans, yet people fear,
me strangely;  kill me without a tear,
Pray be merciful and please let me be,
I’m just one of nature’s banditry.

Call me Palm civet or toddy cat,
Enjoy my company,
For larger mammals in CME you can no longer see,
For I too have my role like all the others
in our ecosystem’s biodiversity.

The palm civet – by Gustav Mützel (1927)

The Reptile Rescue Squad – Baby Cobra

11 July 2011

Story by Aditi Baindur

by Aditi Baindur

The phone rang, it was Abhinav Chawla Uncle to speak to Dad! But Dad was out walking the dog! Abhinav Uncle told me that there was a cobra in his room. When Dad got back, I once again pleaded to come along reminding him of how I had helped him rescue the Russell’s Viper. Reluctantly he agreed but ONLY if I obeyed him without exception.

The Baby Cobra in the basket

Gathering our kit, we got into our car and reached Chawla Uncle’s room next to the tennis courts. Chawla Uncle was standing outside adjusting his camera and his lenses – he is a very enthusiastic photographer. Apparently Chawla Uncle’s passion for photography was known to the subordinate staff, one of whom had caught a baby cobra and brought it to him for photography, no doubt excepting some “traditional” fauji appreciation (bottle of rum).

The basket he brought it in was one of the fruit baskets made of thin bamboo slats and which had disintegrated with the cobra inside it. The basket was intact with the snake trapped in it but lifting it or moving it would most probably cause it to fall apart and the baby cobra to escape. Chawla uncle neded Dad’s help to to photograph and then release the snake.

The baby cobra raises its hood

Now, baby snakes are delicate. A hard grip can easily damage their slender jaw bones or their soft internal organs with a lingering painful death following. Yet a baby cobra is venomous from the moment it is born, a miniature version of its parents. Now dad is unfazed by large, strong snakes but handling a juvenile venomous snake calls for a different set of technique. So we did what every person who is out of his depth should do – call in an expert. In this case, the expert was Dad’s good friend Col Christopher Rego who is posted in the Bombay Sappers. Dad and Chris Uncle were YOs room-mates.

The handsome juvenile

Chris Uncle came onto the scene – fortunately he was free that evening.We procured another basket while he was on the way – this time akin to those used by snake charmers.

Chris uncle took the bottom half of the snake charmer’s basket and reverted it on a piece of cardboard. He then had it propped open with a shoe and slid it close to the fruit basket now on its last legs. He offered the entrance under this basket as a new sanctuary for the snake while disturbing it from the other end with a snake stick. The baby cobra bought the trick and slid under the new basket. Then uncle flipped the cardboard over and placed the top cover before the infant realised what was happening.

Chris uncle shows the cobra to some kids who were watching.

We then took the baby cobra to the Demonstration ground where the snake could not escape and adequate safety distances are available. Contrary to urban legend, man can easily outrun snakes. Here Christopher Uncle showed Dad and Chawla Uncle the correct technique to catch baby cobras without endangering oneself and without hurting it. Then we released the baby snake in the marshes nearby and it immediately swam into a large puddle and entered a hole just to be sure we could not recapture it again.

Man’s best friend!

13 July 2009

(A work of fiction)

It happened during Op VIJAY in 1999. Tololing had just fallen. I had moved my field company to Drass. We moved into the heights of Sangro between Tiger Hill and the long Manpo La Ridgeline. I shared a bunker with a Maj Ajay, the company commander of Sangro Main where we were constructing field defences.  Maj Ajay  belonged to Alpha company of the GRENADIERS battalion which clung onto the Sangro ridge despite everything the Pakis could throw at them. Our post, Sangro Main,  was regularly shelled by the Pakistani Observation Post at Pt 5109 to the North.

The Company Commander’s bunker at Sangro is on the crest of an exposed knoll connected by a hundred yard corridor to the nearby mountain side. Each day we had to get out of the bunkers carefully at unexpected intervals and scuttle along the ridge to the mountainside. For, if we dawdled or were seen, the ever watchful Pakistani OP would lob a few arty shells at us. On each of these hair-raising excursions, we were accompanied back and forth by Bozo.

Bozo, was a large biscuit-coloured Bhutia. He, and not Ajay, was the real king of Sangro.  He would sit on top of  the Company Commander’s bunker basking in the warm sunlight while we cowered inside or crept along the mountainside. When shelling began, he would yawn, stretch himself and cock his head to peer at the explosions. If he felt they were a mite close, he would amble inside the bunker. Not for Bozo were the jawans bunkers nestled safely amongst the rocks. No, his domain was the company commander’s bunker, the most exposed of all and the favourite target of the Pakistani Mountain Howitzers whose life’s sole mission, it seemed, was to land a shell squarely onto it and blow us all to smithereens. So far, it had not happened and Bozo being the Raja of Sangro naturally chose the Company Commander’s bunker as his home.

Bhutias - fierce protectors and loyal companions. (Image credit - Ms Kishmish)

Being the Tiger’s dog, Bozo was the mascot of Alpha company and the choicest scraps were reserved for him. These he accepted with great dignity from Ajay’s hand only. The rank and file he ignored. It took me a long time and much effort before he deigned to grace me with the permission to pat his head!  Bozo would lord over the other dogs who dare not show their snout anywhere near our knoll. Bozo accompanied Ajay everywhere. He was the apple of Ajay’s eye and they were inseperable. I marvelled at their affection for each other.

In war, bunkermates become bosom-buddies and I soon came to know Ajay quite well. A courageous and competent officer, Ajay was undergoing great personal strife – he was accused of failing to press home an attack on a nearby feature.

Ajay’s company had been tasked to crack a particularly difficult nut, Pt 5200 which had a long flat exposed approach. Just as his company attack had reached the objective,their stealthy approach was noticed by one of the ever-vigilant Pakistani OPs and Ajay’s company were straddled by salvo after salvo as they tried to bunch up for the final assault.  Ajay was knocked unconscious by an arty shell. After the accurate arty fire forced the company to retreat with a large number of casualties,  the local commander blamed Ajay for this debacle, ignoring the fact that the next attack by an infantry battalion was also repulsed by the Pakistanis. Ajay was to face a Court of Enquiry and a possible Court Martial. In those dark days, Ajay seemed to have no friend in the world, except for Bozo who lavished affection on him.

The type of terrain where the attacks go in! RIP our brave martyrs!

One fateful day, Alpha company was ordered to capture Pt 5109, our nemesis. As the troops moved up after dark, Ajay soon found that he was not leading just a company but also a large brown dog. Bozo, happy to do something new, was following him. Shooing him away had no effect. A well-aimed stone drew a whimper and it seemed that Bozo had returned to Sando. An hour later, as Alpha company crouched behind rocks with fixed bayonets, Ajay was startled by a warm wet tongue licking his face. Bozo was intent on assaulting with the GRENADIERS. There was nothing to do but go on. The company moved out silently and soon battle cries and barks surprised the Pakistani outpost which was quickly overpowered. Alpha Company tasted victory for the first time and that too without a casualty. The troops attributed this to the luck that Bozo brought with him and this time Bozo permitted all and sundry to pat him on the head.

Pt 5109 is ten yard narrow ridge with sangars on both sides and a trench in between. The Pakistani shelling soon began but either overshot or fell short. Later that night, a fog crept up and it became very cold.  The troops huddled together, tired and miserable after the gruelling climb and adrenalin rush of battle. An hour passed. Suddenly Bozo stared into the fog and began barking loudly. Ajay immediately stood to with his men just in time to repulse a Pakistani counter-attack which had used the cover of the fog to get close to the post.  Once again the GRENADIERS pushed back the enemy without a casualty.

Except for one, that is. Bozo was found bloody and cowering at the bottom of the trench after the attack. A piece of shrapnel had neatly sliced off his front right paw. He was quickly fitted with a first field dressing and the Company waited for daylight when a company of SIKHS climbed up to relieve them. Bozo was carried down by Ajay in his own arms, no mean feat since Bozo weighed over 20 kgs.

Victory!

Bozo healed rapidly and soon adapted a three legged gait. He moved slowly, but with the same dignity and once again accompanied Ajay everywhere. He was still the Raja of Sangro. With Pt 5109 falling to the GRENADIERS and Tiger Hill falling soon after, we could now sit in the open and enjoy the sunshine on Sangro knoll along with Bozo.  I can still recall, in my mind’s eye, Ajay and Bozo sitting beside me as the last rays of the evening sun fell on our faces and the waters of Pariyon Ka Talab glinted in the distance.

Soon, Ajay had to leave for his Court of Enquiry and he bid a tearful farewell to his best friend. I assured him that I would look after Bozo for him till he returned. Soon I shifted to a bunker on the nearby hillside next to the camp of my field company. Bozo continued to live in Sando but often visited me at mealtimes to the great delight of my sahayak who kept the choicest marrow bones for him.

In early October, Ajay returned. He had finally been exonerated, but his battalion was moving out to a peace station in the desert. He resolved to take his best friend with him. I kept silent as he first retrieved his luggage, then collected Bozo’s collar, dish and blanket and loaded them in the 1Ton. As he turned to get Bozo from where he was basking in the evening sun at his usual spot atop the bunker, I placed my hand on Ajay’s arm. He looked back enquiringly. I quietly reminded him that Bhutias are dogs of cold weather and high altitude and that Bozo would definitely not survive the desert summer. Ajay’s eyes mutinously but silently refused to acknowledge the truth of what I was telling him. But in the heart of hearts, Ajay knew that what I said was true, and now deep sorrow filled his eyes. My hand dropped from Ajay’s arm. He walked over to the knoll and sat next to Bozo. They spent a few moments together and then after petting him for the last time, Ajay returned. He shook hands with me. We could not look each other in the eye. Without looking back Ajay got into the 1Ton and drove away. Bozo was still sitting on the knoll enjoying the evening breeze,  the undisputed three-legged king of Sangro.

..like Bozo, a well-earned rest in the sun..(image credit - Ms Kishkish)

Soon after, my field company finished our task and we too moved on.   I have not yet been able to find anyone who could tell me how Bozo is at Sangro. Thus ended one of the finest friendships I had seen between man and beast. Truly, in those dark days, Bozo had been one man’s best friend.

A vigil in the dark

9 February 2009

Things change after dark! The harmless hedge in your garden that beckoned you with its fragrant blooms by day, now threatens to harbour snakes and other myriad creepy-crawlies by night. The dull, noxious neighbourhood nallah suddenly metamorphoses into a romantic riverine rendezvous by moonlight. So it is with the CME Lakes.

Sitting by the lake late at night offers an experience radically different to the familiar scene during the day. At first when you wait on the lakeside culvert, it is dark and cold, the senses seek light desperately and your mind rebels at this seeming waste of time. It takes a good quarter of an hour for the mind to settle down. You get used to the cold breeze, the pupils of your eye enlarge and amplify the scant night-light. Your ears attune to the sounds. And then, imperceptibly, you plunge through the rabbit hole and enter wonderland. Slowly, the world comes alive by night.

You are alone but not lonely. The full moon shines down delicately scalloped by the cirrus clouds high in the stratosphere. A large yellow Venus and a small Jupiter shine high on the horizon. The stars are veiled by the clouds; most will appear once the clouds have crawled past. A soundless blinking pair of lights reveal the path of an aircraft making its way across the peninsula to some magical destination in the Far East. In the distance, around the lake shore and slightly above the waterline, a beautiful necklace of yellow and white pearls amongst the dark trees trace the industrial area around CME’s perimeter.  The shadowy outline of trees on the far bank are silhouetted against the night sky brightened by urban glare. The lake water is dark, patterned with varying shades of black and gray with wavelets in the gentle breeze rippling the moon on the water.

But it is not very quiet. No, peace and quiet comes much later on a Saturday night. The night-wind carries sound faithfully across vast expanses of land. The rattle of a goods train crossing the Mula River and the plaintive hoot of its engine are as clearly heard as the DJ mixing numbers in the Officers Institute or the racy Hindi songs at a marriage in Dapodi. The barking of dogs in faraway Se La road provide a contrast to the miniature fireworks display far away beyond Kasarwadi, no doubt to celebrate a marriage, festival or a cricket victory. But these noises can never drown out the whine of mosquitoes which hover around you. Down the road toward the Cadets Training Wing, a pair of cicadas serenade each other through the night.

The concrete culvert feels hard, rough and cold even through the thick denim of your jeans. You turn up your collar to reduce the prickles and shiver the breeze brings on. The nose wrinkles first at the odour of Odomos that surrounds you to keep the rapacious mosquitos at bay. The faint stench of decaying vegetation in your nostrils now penetrates through you. It is only if you walk along the shore that you can partake of the delicate aroma of a night-blossom  beckoning its lover-moths to pollinate her.

The fish are the first living things to draw your attention. A large splash, followed by a black stain on the water indicate where a large Rohu, probably in his second year, comes up by night to draw in oxygen through his mouth. Confident of safety from the legions of herons, storks and cormorants who wait for them by day, the fish surface every few minutes. That itself is worrisome, is an  oxygen deficit building up in the lake?  A small plip on the water surface followed by a flickering little flying shadow is the only indication of some small insect bats hawking flies and sipping water from the lake surface. The water birds, who are a riot by day, are quiet except for an occasional squawk from the lake which tells us that the favourite jester of CME, a purple moorhen, has just offended his neighbour.  Now, a pale streak across the sky shows the path of a small meteorite burning to oblivion as it enters Earth’s atmosphere.

A few birds can be seen dark stationary silhouettes perched on stumps or on a lonely vigil among the reeds. The duck sleep on the shore with heads turned back and bills shielded in the feathers of the back.  A soft chuk, chuk, chuk churrr behind me in the grass beyond the road, tells tales of an Indian Nightjar, a secretive and nocturnal resident of CME. There is harsh kwiirik chuk in the trees by the roadside. Their author is not hard to find despite his small size. The pint-sized Spotted Owlet is perched on a branch with a commanding view over where his prey, the metads and field mice, could gambol. A pair of dark animals with long snouts and long thick tails must surely be a pair of palm civets out to trouble the denizens of Bhosari. They pause at a wet trail by the river, but the water-snake which made it has long gone by and they turn away – they have bigger fish to fry. A soft whirring tells of hawk-moths which have finally arrived at the night-blossoms, plunging their extra-long and thin proboscis deep into the corolla of the Raat-ki-Rani flowers to get at the sweet nectar and leaving behind a few grains of precious pollen for the plant. An ominous shaking in the bush turns out to be nothing more than a cow grazing in areas where she is normally driven off by day.

The symphony of shadow and sound continues throughout the long vigil and the ambience mesmerises the senses. The soul begins to meditate and just as you reach a state of bliss, rude reality bursts into your presence. In this case, its the increasing screech of a Dhai-Ton truck, carrying the armed patrol of the College on its nightly round. The vehicle soon recedes with a dull roar, but takes along with it the very special moment. No doubt, you will experience something like it some other day, but today’s deed is done. You will have to return home to a different set of pleasures.

As you move off, the lake and its life continues in its endless cycle of existence unaware of the happiness they have given you.

Notes

  • CME – the campus I stay on.
  • Nallah – a stream or dry streambed. Water not necessarily fresh.
  • Rohu – Labeo rohita, a freshwater carp often cultivated in Indian water bodies and very good to eat!
  • Dhai Ton – a light military truck. (Dhai = 2.5 in Hindi)