Archive for the ‘heroes’ category

The Ibex of Sha-Ping

28 February 2010

Memorial to a young subaltern.

(Announcing the online library page of The Butterfly Diaries blog! Explore nature-writing online for free.)

Part of a green book cover with an embossed gold ibex head shown on it.

Click the image to reach the free download page from http://www.archive.org.

Being a “fauji” of the Indian Army who loves the Himalayas, it is most appropriate for me to begin my free online nature writing   ‘collection’ with :

The ibex of Sha-ping, and other Himalayan studies” by Lt L.A. Rundall. 1915 (with numerous pen and ink sketches and coloured plates by the author).

An opened book standing with its outer cover facing us. The dustjacket is on and is fawn coloured. The spine bears the names of the book and author, a caricature of a bear cub, the cost (ten shillings and sixpence) and the logo for McMillan who published the book. The front jacket has the name written along the top edge and the head of an ibex in the centre.

Lt Lionel Bickersteth Rundall (1890-1914) was a young British army officer who perished in one of the battles of the First World War. Commissioned into  the British Indian Army,  Rundall  joined the “1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment)” . The First Gurkhas were located at Dharmsala in those days and it is from here that Rundall must have ventured forth into the mountains and vales of today’s Himachal Pradesh. He fell in love with the mountains and planned to return over and over again.

Returning to England more than once in a few years was financially difficult for subalterns in those days. The commanding officers who would have lived most of their life in strait-laced Victorian society would not grant leave to a young officer to visit the towns and cities calling such visits to where white memsahibs could be found as “poodle-faking”.

There was an old saw that goes as follows:

“A subaltern may not marry,
captains might marry,
majors should marry,
and lieutenant-colonels must marry.”

Young officers were prevented from marrying as it was felt that it could ruin them financially when the cost was added to the initial outlay for commission, uniforms, equipment, subscriptions and the mess. The purity of the mess was disturbed by marriage, as it took the officer out of the all-male warrior clique. An officer who married without getting permission from his commanding officer severely jeopardized his chances of promotion. Custom, economics and peer pressure combined to postpone marriage until quite late in life.

Instead, they were encouraged to go to hunting, shooting, pig-sticking or any other activity which would sublimate their normal sex drive. So it was in the case of Rundall. He wandered far and wide in the hills nearby. Captivated by the hgh mountains, the wild life, the cold spring water, the fresh air and the variety of Himalayan fauna not to be found anywhere today. His keen observation and talent as an artist led him to write a number of stories which he illustrated himself.  In the book, a preface contains excerpts of his last letter to his mother wherein he made plans for many more trips including a trip to Tibet. At this point of time, hardly a decade would have passed since Younghusband’s expedition had opened Tibet up to the British and such a thought would have great romantic appeal to a young man.

Alas it was not to be,  Rundall died on 19 Dec 1914.  This fact leads us to conclude that he was part of the First Battalion of the First Gurkha Rifles which went to France with the Third Lahore Division in 1914.  The first battalion was the only battalion of the First Gurkha Rifles which went to Europe during World War I. With them went my own field company, 20 Field Company of the Third Bombay Sappers and Miners, which marched down the streets of Marseilles, the very first Indian troops to set foot in France. The Indians soon found themselves in the front-lines of one of the most vicious wars ever known to mankind. In Dec 1914, the Indians were ordered to capture the village of Givenchy. The Indians fought courageously capturing two lies of enemy trenches but were forced to retreat by a strong German counter-attack  with heavy losses, including amongst the officers. It is surmised that Rundall died in this battle which raged from 18 to 22 Dec.

A few excerpts from Rundall are in order.  Illustrated with beautiful sketches and paintings by Rundall himself, his preface indicates that he had worked towards writing the book which his family published posthumously.

There is an attraction about the log fire, made up of a hundred things...

From the Preface

You who are wearied with the day’s work, and would hear of the wonders of the Himalaya, let yourself float in your imagination, out across the seas, over the parched sand of the desert, across the arid plains of India, and up into the everlasting snows where the chill night winds are sighing. There, below you, lies my camp ; in the clearing midst the dark pine forests, where the log fire blazes and crackles, and where the silver stream murmurs of the thousand mysteries of the mountains…

Come down with me to my camp. Seat yourself comfortably in my deck chair, and draw it closer to the blaze. Help yourself to whisky—I have nothing better for you, except the ice-cold water from the spring — light your pipe, and listen awhile to the stories which I will tell you, mainly of what I myself have seen, partly of what I have heard from the lips of other shikaris.

There is an attraction about the log fire, made up of a hundred things. Among these, the sweet scent of the burning pine, the sharp tongues of flame which leap and dart, the merry crackle of the dry wood, the hissing of the sap, and the myriad sparks which whirl upwards and soar floating on the wings of the blue smoke. Each but a small matter in itself but contributing to the cheery glow, and
without which it would not be complete.

So it is with the mountain, and its thousand streams, its forests and its lakes, its animals and its birds, its flowers and ferns. Without any one of them it would not be complete.

Sunset on snowy peak

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Meet India’s Earth Warriors – Sanctuary/RBS Wildlife awards 2009

31 December 2009

India’s nature has many champions. Often they go unheard of or unrecognized.

Fortunately, we have the Sanctuary/Royal Bank of Scotland (earlier ABN AMRO) Wildlife Awards who recognise people from all walks of life. 2009 was the tenth year this sterling award recognised Indians for their contribution to India’s nature and wildlife.

From the high-level executive who plays an important role in policy and resource allocation to the academics who have devoted their lives to India’s biodiversity to the oft-forgotten wildlife warden or forester to the young scientist burning to contribute his bit.  All these, and more, are honoured by the Sanctuary/RBS awards.

This year (2009) the 2009 Sanctuary/RBS Awards prizes went to :-

The Lifetime Service Award went to Brijendra Singh who has kept Corbett safe for over four decades!

The Wildlife Service awards went to Prabir Kumar Palei of Simlipal Tiger Reserve, Narhari Pandurang Bagrao who restored the damaged forests of Shahapur in Thane, Paresh Chandrakant Parob for his fierce commitment to the Goa forest lands under his control and his courage in the face of powerful vested interests, Drs Divya Mudappa and TR Shankar Raman for their exceptional contribution to saving the Western Ghats and Mike Pandey for his wonderful wildlife films which brought environment into the homes of the common Indian through DD.

The Young Naturalists award went to Prosper S Marak, Aamod Zambre and Vishal Bhave.

Prosper Marak has changed the face of Meghalaya's forests with his activism.

Aamod Zambre is a champion of scorpions.

Some of you may remember Aamod from my post on him and his friend Chintan Sheth. They are definitely living up to their promise and potential!

Vishal Bhave is doing path breaking studies of the sea slugs on our shores.

More power to these young naturalists of India!


Vijay Pinjarkar journalistic reports have forced the government to action on many environmental issues. – Courtesy:Vijay PinjarkarVijay Pinjarkar and the Nagpur Times of India won the Wind in the Wings Award for his brilliant investigative stories and his dogged pursuit of those who would violate the environmental and conservation laws of the land.

The Green Teacher awarsdwas won by Dr MR & Dr (Mrs) Sarah Almeida for nurturing, guiding and shaping young minds to explore and understand the mysterious world of plants.

Read more about them on the original post on the Sanctuary Asia website.

Freedom? Still awaited!

15 August 2009

Yesterday we celebrated the freedom of our nation. That was freedom  from dominion by an alien race. We wanted to be free – to prosper, to further ourselves, to contribute to our nations and mankind, to become better people.

the first stamp of independent India, released on 21 Nov 1947

The first stamp of independent India, released on 21 Nov 1947

We did not become free to serve new overlords – in any field, whether it was public life or in private life; definitely not in our love for learning, discovery and engagement with the world around us. In 62 years, more than a lifetime for many of us, we continue to be restrained. Simple things like Knowledge, which should be free, continue to elude us; nay to be denied us by artificial constructs such as copyright, by bureaucracies, by small, selfish people who are blind to the larger picture, the enormous latent possibilities in the hearts and minds of the common Indians and who do not consider the common man to be a stakeholder in anything which affects him.

“Satyameva jayate”

may be interpreted as

“The truth shall set you free.”

So on this day, I celebrate freedom. Free practices, free knowledge, free thinking.

I have placed this blog under free licenses explicitly.

The content on this blog is free!

Free to be used by you, quoted, modified, transformed and even used commercially.

But with the proviso that the freedom which I give you has to be passed on to your stakeholders and you cannot take that freedom away as they can’t  in their turn. And my copyright (or more accurately, my copyleft) needs to be acknowledged by attribution.

Wikipedia - free content in the real world!

Wikipedia - free content in the real world!

The exact terms can be seen from the links on the two licenses (take your pick of one) in the license widget in the right panel on the blog main page.

This blog already has an impassioned plea for Open science by Shyamal.

‘Open science’ is actually a weasel word, mistakenly used by me to title his op-ed; he had not given one to his piece.

We actually need ‘Free science’.

Just as Free software is a more powerful concept than Open source software, so is ‘Free Science’ more ‘free’ than ‘Open Science’.

Richard Stallman - The Prophet for Freedom in content!

Richard Stallman - The Prophet for Freedom in content!

“Value your freedom or you will lose it, teaches history. “Don’t bother us with politics,” respond those who don’t want to learn.”

Richard Stallman, circa 2000.

Just as open source is a compromise between the commercial world of big business and the FLOSS community, ‘Open Science’ envisages an avatar of traditional science where you and I are valued stakeholders.

But my wish is the same that Capt Vikram Batra, Param Vir Chakra (posthumous) paraphrased after the capture of  Pt 5140 p –

Yeh dil mange more!

Yeh dil mange more!

Science should not be just ‘open’ but also should be ‘free’

It should be free to all stakeholders to better their lives and their heritage. Clean green technology freely available to all for saving our planet. Technology to better our lives also free, if not to all concerned, but definitely to those who can’t feed their bellies every day. Science free from the top to the bottom – from academia to the hoi-polloi, from the technocrat to the consumer, from the practioner to the enthusiast.

Maybe, its a pipe dream, but I wish…..

If you find this rant mis-placed in the context of India’s freedom, I allow Stallman to reply for me once again. Only replace the word ‘software’ with the word ‘science’…

“It’s clear that other problems such as religious fundamentalism, overpopulation, damage to the environment, and the domination of business over government, science, thought, and society, are much bigger than non-free software. But many other people are already working on them, and I don’t have any great aptitude or ideas for how to address them. So it seems best for me to keep working on the issue of free software. Besides, free software does counter one aspect of business domination of society.”

—–

God bless all who gave their tomorrow for our today!

Credits – Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote.