100 Children (Nature song)

Posted 14 November 2013 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature

100 CHILDREN

by Tom Hall
One hundred children brave boys and girls (CHORUS)
They come from nations all over the world
One hundred children marching along
One hundred children singing their song.

Don’t blow up the world don’t kill all the flowers
Today this is your world tomorrow it’s ours
Leave us pure water and forest uncut
Think of tomorrow leave something for us.

(CHORUS)

Your God may be dead but ours is alive
We think without him we cannot survive
Punish all the bad men, praise all the good
Talk to your neighbors about brotherhood.

(CHORUS)

This is the song I was singing one night
While I was thinking of wrong and of right
I thought of good things that still could be done
The marchers now number one hundred and one.

(CHORUS)

One hundred children brave boys and girls
They come from nations all over the world
One hundred children marching along
One hundred children singing their song…

—–x—–x—–x—–x—–x—-

Watch it on Youtube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiFgoIA37pg

DYK – The Bush Rat, the Indian National Congress & the Unreliable Servant

Posted 25 May 2013 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: Do You Know?, nature

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What connection could the following have?

Did you know…

… that the Manipur Bush Rat (pictured) was described from the collection of A. O. Hume which he donated after his life’s work of ornithological notes were sold by a servant as waste paper?

Image

The Manipur Bush Rat (Hadromys humei)
Painted by John Gerrard Keulemans (1842–1912) in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1886. (Public domain image)

Allan Octavian Hume Allan Octavian Hume CB (6 June 1829 – 31 July 1912) was a civil servant, political reformer and amateur ornithologist and horticulturalist in British India. Known to most of us as one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, a political party that was later to lead the Indian independence movement, few know that he was an extremely notable ornithologist who has been called “the Father of Indian Ornithology” and, by those who found him dogmatic as “the Pope of Indian Ornithology.”

Image

Allan Octavian Hume
(Image: Frontispiece of “The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds (Vol II) . Public domain)

Hume had a vast network of correspondents all over India who sent him many skins and much information. Read about his network here on Shyamal‘s blog:

The Power of Networks – A 19th Century Tale

His collection has been described as :

..of eight great rooms, six of them full, from floor to ceiling, of cases of birds, while at the back of the house two large verandahs were piled high with cases full of large birds, such as Pelicans, Cranes, Vultures, &c. An inspection of a great cabinet containing a further series of about 5000 eggs completed our survey.

Read more about his collection here.

Hume’s interest in life science was lost in 1885 when all his manuscripts were sold by an unscrupulous servant as waste paper and after a landslip caused by heavy rains in Simla damaged his personal museum and specimens.

The Manipur Bush Rat was just one of 258 new species of animals and birds described from specimens of his collection. 

NOTES

Images: From Wikimedia Commons. Click image to reach source.

Text : Wikipedia articles on “Allan Octavian Hume” and “Manipur bush rat“.

DYK – The bacteria that could survive the shock of a supernova

Posted 25 May 2013 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Do you know…

… that an extremophile bacteria Paracoccus denitrificans has been found to grow even under 400,000 times Earth’s gravity, a fact having implications on the feasibility of panspermia?

Paracoccus denitrificans
(Image credit: Richard Evans-Gowing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. Colorized by Leila Hornick.. Click image to reach source)

That kind of gravity is found only in cosmic environments such as truly gigantic stars or the shockwave of a supernova. Such a bacteria would theoretically be suited for interstellar travel!

"On October 9, 1604, sky watchers -- including astronomer Johannes Kepler, spotted a "new star" in the western sky, rivaling the brilliance of nearby planets. "Kepler's supernova" was the last exploding supernova seen in our Milky Way galaxy. Observers used only their eyes to study it, because the telescope had not yet been invented. Now, astronomers have utilized NASA's three Great Observatories to analyze the supernova remnant in infrared, optical and X-ray light." - Chandra X-ray Observatory

Kepler’s Supernova
“On October 9, 1604, sky watchers — including astronomer Johannes Kepler, spotted a “new star” in the western sky, rivaling the brilliance of nearby planets. “Kepler’s supernova” was the last exploding supernova seen in our Milky Way galaxy. Observers used only their eyes to study it, because the telescope had not yet been invented. Now, astronomers have utilized NASA’s three Great Observatories to analyze the supernova remnant in infrared, optical and X-ray light.”
– Chandra X-ray Observatory
Image Credit : NASA, Public domain

A very, very interesting bacteria, read about it here :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paracoccus_denitrificans

Did you know….on Wikipedia

Posted 25 May 2013 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature

Tags: , ,

If you visit the Main Page of  Wikipedia, you will find that the left column publicises the featured article for the day.  Featured articles are the best, most accurate and well written articles on Wikipedia. But more interestingly, just below that box, you will find a clutch of “Do you know…s”!

For example, Did you know

A “Do You Know..” is an interesting fact from new material added to Wikipedia and is abbreviated as DYK by Wikipedians. 🙂

Here’s how one such set looks like :

Image

The “Do You Know” column on the Main Page of Wikipedia

These facts are taken from the newest articles on Wikipedia. Either the article has been made in the last five days or it has been expanded 5 times in the last five days. The article also needs to be accurate, well-referenced and carefully checked for copyright violation. If it has an image, it must be “free” (free as in free speech, not as in free beer). The fact of the DYK must be interesting, verifiably referenced and accurate.

To get a DYK published, one first has to do volunteer work (vetting at least one other DYK, no “bhai-bandhi” permitted, at peril of your reputation). Then the DYK you submitted goes through checks, and others contribute to the cleanup and improvement of both the hook (as the DYK fact which appears is known) and the parent article. If your DYK submission is found unacceptable it gets axed! If it meets all the criteria, it gets a “Ready to Go” signal. Finally it is added to a queue. Every 8 hours or so, the set of DYKs is replaced with a fresh set.  So its worthwhile visiting the Main Page of Wikipedia often to see interesting stuff!

As is obvious from what I wrote, getting a DYK published is an achievement and genuinely something to be proud of for Wikipedians. My current count is upto 19 and I hope to get the 20th soon.

Predictably most of my DYKs are about nature and natural history with an odd one from a history or social science article that I created or helped expand.

So, in the absence of anything original written by me, I shall present to you my series of nature DYKs for your information and entertainment, dear Reader.

NOTE : “bhai-bandhi” means “I scratch your back, I scratch mine”.

The Masked Bandit!

Posted 20 May 2012 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: animal behaviour, art, CME Weekly, Maharashtra, nature, poetry

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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)

Outreach in Itanagar!

Posted 3 April 2012 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: forts, Itanagar, Museum, nature, NERIST, NIT Arunachal Pradesh, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia

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I was lucky enough to get to go to Arunachal Pradesh. One of my friends, Nearly headless Nick, could not go to the Northeast Regional Institute of Science and Technology (NERIST) so he recommended me instead. The NERIST wanted a speaker on Wikipedia and he recommended me for which I am deeply grateful. They sent me an air ticket and off I went.

At Guwahati, I met up with User:Planemad (Arun Ganesh), a young expert on Geographical Information Systems and OpenStreetMap and we travelled all evening in an Innova reaching late at night at Itanagar. NERIST is a 25 year old institute with very good reputation. The institution has been the bedrock of technical education in the Northeast.

NERIST Academic block, Nirjuli.
(Image credit:Renzut)

We had two days of sessions at NERIST. On Day One, we had the Wikipedia session where we met the local students who were quite interested in what we had to say. Arun Ganesh helped me & vice versa. The Wikipedia session went off very well. We introduced the students to Wikipedia, how to edit, the Five Pillars, etc. The power kept going so we had problems with the presentations. Finally, we chucked the ppts/odps and moved to Wikipedia proper on the internet. A very strong argument can be made for quitting presentations altogether and relying only on the internet. A number of students created their accounts.

The students lapped up knowledge like a sponge! (Image credit:Planemad)

We found that the Wikipedia article on NERIST was quite okay because a student’s from last year’s session – User:Renzut (358 edits) – had built it up. We added a few facts, references and an image. We also created a stub on Ita Fort by moving some material out from Itanagar article. One of my Pune friends, User:Wasimmogal2007, moved to Itanagar very recently. He came over to the workshop and met some students. Hopefully Itanagar Wikipedians will get together now!

The next day’s session was on things geographical. Arun Ganesh dazzled the audience with OpenStreetMap and Quantum GIS. Though the stuff was a bit difficult to cotton on to, the students did really well. At least six sets of students got the Java OpenStreetMap editor going, (quite a feat)  and added road after road, building after building. To see the effects visit NERIST at Nirjuli on OpenStreetMap, just 20 kilometers east of Itanagar. The kids pretty much mapped up their whole campus that day. It was amazing to see the student’s lap up the tech stuff. Reminds us how much their inquisitive minds are deprived of genuine stimulation. They were truly awesome.

Planemad weaves his OpenStreetMagic

After our two days of sessions, we went on the third day sightseeing to Itanagar. Two of the NERIST students were very kind to guide us around. There we saw the Ita (brick) fort – a very few but good looking walls of brick. We took images to add to Commons everywhere we went. We had a rickshaw driver who spoke in Nyishi and whose message we recorded for posterity.

Southern gate of Ita Fort. Very few artefacts remain.

We also visited a very beautiful Museum – the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum which outside is not impressive but inside has fabulous dioramas, modern lighting and display systems. I spent an hour photographing the objects for Commons.The Museum is on two storeys and despite the scarcity of informative charts (there were a few but just not enough), the getup is quite good. The Victoria Memorial, Kolkata has been collaborating jointly with them to improve the Museum’s exhibits and the results are very evident.

Entrance to Jawaharlal Nehru Museum.

A diorama of the Tangsa tribe at the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum. There is a display for each of the tribes.

A display of handicrafts in the Nehru Museum.

Later we went to the Government Emporium where lots of beautiful necklaces, shawls and other artefacts were available but at prices suited for generous pockets than mine, though I bought my daughter a beautiful necklace worn by young girls of the Nyishi tribe. We returned to NERIST that day in time to experience a rainstorm – Northeast style!

Hornbill sculpture at the Government Emporium. The Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) is the state symbol for Arunachal Pradesh!

The next day was also supposed to be sight-seeing but we instead were asked by a new institution – NIT Arunachal Pradesh, in its temporary campaign at Yupia – to come and speak there. We went there in a Scorpio which travelled at breakneck speed through the country mud tracks, across the Dikrong river, through mud patches and a large deep pool to reach it – a real roller coaster of a ride. See this adventurous cross-country route marked as a dashed line in Open Street Map between the red coloured Nirjuli-Doimukh road and the peach-coloured Yupia road (mapped By Arun Ganesh with his Datalogger).

The temporary location of NIT Arunachal Pradesh at Yupia.

NIT Arunachal Pradesh is very new and operating from a temporary campus at Yupia. The students go forth bravely despite many infrastructural problems including water and electricity. The students were very interested in what we had to tell. We got a very hospitable and friendly reception from both the teachers and the staff. The students really wanted to do more but in a couple of hours each, we were only able to showcase the most basics.

Editing Wikipedia at NIT Arunachal. (Image credit:Planemad).

The Wikipedia article on NIT Arunachal Pradesh was already existing and we showed the students how their article was targetted for deletion by a P*@#%$&&i editor and then saved by the intervention of a non-Indian editor of WikiProject India – an example of how globalisation had already begun to affect their lives though they did not know it. We then improved the article, added the first image, cleaned it up and added a reference. After our sessions, we were taken specially to meet the Director NIT, Dr CT Bhuniya, who presented each of us with a book.

Prof CT Bhuniya, Director NIT AP, presented books to the participants. (Image credit:Unknown but with my camera.)

We returned to Guwahati on 28th by the same Scorpio who averaged 80 and often 100 kmph and did a 400 km journey in six hours! We stayed at Guwahati that night and flew out the next day. All in all, it had been an awesome experience for us, and we like to think, for the students of the two institutions also.

I am grateful to the organisers of NERIST Techfest, specially Biswajit Saha, for inviting me and Dr Rattan Chowdhary for inviting us to NIT Arunachal Pradesh. Thanks are also due to User:Sir Nicholas de-Mimsy Porpington for recommending me to NERIST, User:Planemad for great company and opening new horizons of learning to me, and to User:Nitika.t of India Programs for sending me her latest copy of outreach presentation for use in Itanagar.

Ghost story!

Posted 29 February 2012 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature

(Fiction)

Life on the Line of Control is always strenuous and lonely. In the higher reaches of the Himalayas, posts get cut off once winter sets in and the soldiers are isolated except for telephone or radio calls with the battalion base. Should there be a requirement to return home to a sick child or in case of bereavement, the jawan is forced to wait it out till the first rays of spring melt the snow enough to make it possible to negotiate a path to the base. Should he fall sick, his life depends upon providence and good weather, or lack of it, which dictates whether he has a chance to be evacuated by chopper to a hospital down below.

On a post you are imprisoned in your own world, where the only other humans are the lonely figures of the enemy sentries in the Pakistani posts opposite who are likewise imprisoned. You live each day, in a surreal routine, praying to survive the long wait. The relations between an officer, a JCO and a soldier change. Each is an individual dangling like a puppet on his strings. What you believe in and what you feel is real changes in definition. And sometimes, just sometimes, you have experiences that have no rational explanation.

This then is a story of Forward Ledge, a picquet in the Sangro region of Drass, where I served as a field company commander in the aftermath of OP VIJAY. I was constructing field defences for an infantry company of the GRENADIERS. Forward Ledge is a lonely post poking boldly between dominating enemy posts on Manpo La ridge with a lone satellite post called Maharaj Position to give it company. Forward Ledge is more than 50 years old having been occupied during the 1947-48 hostilities with Pakistan. And like any self-respecting post in the Himalayas, Forward Ledge has its very own ghost – in this case, it was called the CHM.

The CHM was a paratrooper, a strict disciplinarian who was killed many years ago on the post during roll call by a single mortar bomb which fell unheralded out of the sky – the first enemy round to ever fall on Forward Ledge. Undeterred by small details such as life and death, he continues his lonely vigil on Forward Ledge, ensuring each man does his duty, long after the paratroopers left the Sangro Valley.

The CHM appears to those who are not alert on sentry duty. He appears to those who are slacking in their daily routine. He haunts those who partake of meat or alcohol on Wednesday – the CHM’s day on Forward Ledge. Why Wednesday? Nobody knows, but everybody in Forward Ledge believed it to be the day of the week on which the CHM changed his mode of performing duties. And most bizarre of all, he appears in the dreams of Company Commanders to warn them of impending attack – Forward Ledge, though vulnerable, has never fallen since its capture more than 50 years ago.

I first heard of the CHM from Maj Ravi, the Company Commander at that time, when I went to Forward Ledge for reconnoitring my field company’s task. Ravi’s company had occupied Forward Ledge just before the previous winter when his battalion had just been inducted into Drass. The previous Company Commander of the battalion being relieved had done a hurried handing over to Ravi and decamped immediately muttering something about the picquet being haunted and the need to abstain on Wednesday. Ravi, being of sound mind and healthy body, promptly put the whole thing out of his mind with pitying thoughts about the mental states of officers who had been isolated from the world for too long.

At first, life proceeded uneventfully. Ravi’s troops, being superstitious, abstained on Wednesday. Just to be on the safe side, so to say. Ravi himself was a vegetarian and rarely drank. Winter came. The first snows drifted slowly onto the bunkers. It became dark and cold early and the hours of darkness grew longer. Ravi insisted on a busy and meaningful routine for his troops. Deep snow now isolated Forward Ledge from his battalion. Bukharis, ECC (Extreme Cold Clothing), long nights of sentry duty and the whistling wind and whirling snow became the dominating motifs of daily life. The cold and limited space around prevented the troops from getting the exercise and physical recreation they were used to. The troops lost appetite and could not sleep soundly for long. Some of them passed away the long evenings reading, some playing cards, but always in company. They were never happy staying alone at any place for more than half an hour or so. Just when Ravi thought his company had settled down, the first incident occurred.

Late one night, a company cook fell asleep while his comrades played cards around him in the Company Langar. All of a sudden, he woke up screaming “Save me! Save me! He’s coming for me.” The langar commander woke him up assuming he had a nightmare. The cook continued to blabber with fright, moaning and writhing, and pleaded with all and sundry to save him. It took a long time for them to calm him down. He was still a shaken, nervous wreck, when a worried Company Subedar brought him before Ravi. Patient questioning revealed that when he had slept, the ghost CHM had appeared to him in his dreams and threatened to punish him. Ravi tried to convince him that it was a nightmare but the cook insisted on saying that it was real and that he would be punished by the spectral CHM. Ravi asked the cook why he felt that he would be punished, after all, he hadn’t done anything wrong, had he?

Slowly and painfully, the truth emerged. The cook, being fond of non-veg had been opening a tin of meat or fish on the sly to supplement his meals. He had done so today also, quite forgetting what day it was. It was then that Ravi realised it was a Wednesday. Ravi assured him that he would be OK, but the cook refused to go to sleep and volunteered to go on sentry duty. He spent the rest of the night in the open in front of the small post mandir, praying for forgiveness.

The episode affected the troops and Ravi had a hard time reasoning with them. They refused to call the actual CHM of the Company as CHM calling him Havaldar Major or Major as troops are wont to do. It was obvious whom they referred to when they spoke about the CHM. Time passed, the weather worsened and the blizzards began. Inconceivable though it was that the enemy would launch any kind of attack, the sentry duty continued. The sentries were always alert and no sign of the CHM could be seen until three weeks later on the night of the second incident.

That night a blizzard was blowing. The sentry huddled inside his sentry box which had a bukhari blazing inside. The bukhari (kerosene pipe stove) was warm, nothing could be seen through the frosted glass of the windows and slowly the soldier’s eyes drooped. A resounding slap hurled him into the sentry box as he felt his weapon being snatched away. Dazed, he peered around expecting to see the Duty Officer or JCO but he could see nobody. The freshly fallen snow lay pristine indicating that no one had come from the direction of his post. Also, he could find no sign of his weapon. Thinking it to be a Pakistani raid or grab action, he activated the alarm.

Hearing the alarm, troops stormed out of their bunkers and fibre glass huts and rushed to their posts. When Maj Ravi appeared, the sentry who had been slapped, narrated the incident and reported that his weapon was missing. Immediately, a search of the surrounding area was instituted. It revealed no sign of any activity. The search was now extended inwards and once again, no sign of any intruder could be found. One thing though! The sentry’s rifle was located lying in front of the unit mandir!

By now, the troops were firmly convinced as to what had caused this mysterious occurrence. It was the ghostly CHM on his rounds who had discovered the errant soldier and punished him. Ravi could not make anything of this incident and puzzled returned to his fibre glass hut. He carefully shut the doors to stop the draft and stoked the bukhari till it glowed warmly. He took off his extreme cold clothing and in the orange light of the bukhari lay back in his sleeping bag to ponder on this latest puzzle. He began to doze on his side with his back to the bukhari. He felt the door open and a cold draft tickled the back of his neck. Turning over drowsily, he saw a dark figure in a greatcoat standing on the far side of the room; the light too dim to distinguish his features. The figure  stood silent and motionless.

Ravi asked him, ” Haan bhai! ( yes, man). What report have you brought?”

The figure remained silent. Ravi, now irritated, said “Why don’t you speak, man?”

The figure replied softly in a deep voice, ” I have warned your soldiers before but still I find them sleeping on duty or eating meat and drinking rum on Wednesday. Be warned, caution them, or I shall do something you wont like!”

Amazed, Ravi sat up on his bed and now the bukhari came between his line of sight and where the figure had stood. Infuriated, he shouted, “Who are you? How dare you speak to me in this manner?” There was no reply. Ravi immediately stood up and rushed around the bukhari. There was no one there!

Assuming the prankster had rushed out of the hut door, he went out into the snow with his chappals and found no one. Even stranger, once again the door entrance was surrounded by virgin snow showing that no one had passed from there recently. Aside from his own footsteps, there was no sign that anyone had passed except for the open door!

He looked up and saw the sentry opposite the Company Kote about 20 ft away. The sentry was observing him curiously. “What’s the matter, sahab?”, he said. Ravi asked him whether anyone had passed this way. He said no, except for Ravi himself who had entered about half an hour earlier. Ravi accused him of not being attentive! The sentry was indignant, “Sahab, we have just turned out for the alarm given by Sepoy ___ who was slapped by the CHM tonight. I’m an extra sentry placed to keep an eye on the Kote and your hut by the Company Subedar. I’ve already had a good rest tonight and I’ve not been on duty for an hour as yet. How could I make such a mistake?”

I never believed Ravi, who swore that what he said was true.  That was the last time I met him at Forward Ledge because the next day, I sidestepped to Tiranga where my field company was now working. Two weeks later, while walking back to my field company base in Drass, I saw a chopper take off from Forward Ledge. On returning back, I enquired from the Adjutant of the battalion about the chopper. He told me that Maj Ravi, the Company Commander had been evacuated as he had fallen prey to HAPO, the dreaded High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema, and had now been moved to the Command Hospital at Udhampur. It was a Wednesday!

The next day, I phoned the Company Subedar at Forward Ledge to commiserate on his losing a fine company commander. He told me that Ravi had confided with him that his engagement had fallen through as his in-laws had been horrified by the officer losses in Op Vijay and had decided against giving their daughter to an Army man. The Company Subedar said to me, “I told him many times to put it all behind, but he succumbed to his grief and got drunk once I left him. And Sahab, you know what happens to anyone who break’s the CHM’s code on Wednesday!”

Even today, I don’t know what to think. Chance? Or is the truth out there?