Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Save the tiger.... 1411 left.... and Bandhavgadh

I was prompted to write this post after visiting the facebook group on "save tigers 1411 left" or some such name. I was reading the discussions on what we can do to save these 1411. I stopped reading after a few posts and couldn't go on....

How many of us have visited a tiger sanctuary to see a tiger in its natural habitat? I was lucky enough to spot a tigress and her three cubs on my visit to Bandhavgadh recently. It was very different experience because it brought many new insights.

The moment you see the tiger lying under a tree, or walking across a jungle road you realise what an apt name it has. "Royal" Bengal Tiger. It is truly a royal animal, majestic. As I said, I got to see a tigress and 3 cubs at very close quarters. The tigress was calm and yet instinctively wary of her surroundings. She was very poised yet so protective of her cubs. We got some incredible photos. Two foreigners had hired an elephant with its mahout to take them around the jungle. The mahout drove the elephant ever more forward so these guys could get their perfect shot. The tigress was calm, drinking water, grooming herself, but actually watching the elephant very closely. The moment the elephant went one step too close, she got up and before you could realise what was happening she had rounded up her kids and was on her way. The elephant ambled along, following the tigress. And we were left with our cameras dangling uselessly, silently cursing the mahout and those two foreigners.

Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience. Later, we talked to the guide about a lot of things, poaching, encroachment, adivasis etc. He was surprisingly well-educated and well-informed. A note to all people who think most forest officials are stupid, good for nothing, corrupt people, do visit Bandhavgadh sometime. All of the guides are trained and specifically allotted by the department, with good knowledge of the jungle and some of them even excellent bird-watchers. I am not aware of the systems in other national parks, but I am sure they are not as bad as we believe them to be.

Our guide was telling us how tourism is as good as police patrolling. When there is tourist pressure on a tiger reserve, the department is more alert, kept in good working condition. The poachers find it difficult to enter a park which is frequented by tourists. He compared the two parks Sariska and Panna to Bandhavgadh. People had stopped going to Sariska. The 15 tigers which were left had disappeared in a few years and the Rajasthan Forest Department was left gaping with surprise. The cause? Poaching. Ill-kept records. General disuse of the jungle. A similar case is found in Panna tiger reserve where the tourists stopped arriving and the tigers disappeared. Now compare these to Bandhavgadh, which is one of the most visited national parks. Bandhavgadh has the highest tiger density in the country.
He also told us how the forest department planned to close down Bandavgadh for a few years so as to promote breeding and increase the tiger population. He told us that many forest officials and guides were opposing this plan, since closing the park to tourists effectively endangers the tigers.

This was a completely new insight. I had never thought of this before. Tourism can actually be a responsibility. Once you start thinking about it, it seems so obvious. Yes, preserving our jungles is a responsibility and one of the ways of doing it is actually visiting the jungles.

Of course, it goes without saying that visiting a jungle implies living by the rules of the jungle. You cannot go about dressed in flashy clothes, chatting on your cell phones, munching Lays and guzzling Pepsi, and screaming yourself hoarse the moment you spot a tiger - "Mummee Mummee!!! Woh dekho tiger jaa raha hai!!"

Let’s put it into perspective. Imagine it's Sunday morning, you're just getting out of bed and plan to go to the kitchen for a drink of water, and maybe get some coffee. Suddenly, right outside your bedroom there is a line of 25 Martian spaceships. All the Martians (there are about 80-100 of those creatures) are making a deafening noise. They all have some weird instruments in their hands which they point at you and make clicking whirring noises. Their dressing is such that it hurts your eyes like flashing lights. They stink horribly. And to top it all they are all pointing excitedly at you and jabbering animatedly to each other. What a way to start the day!
If you think I am exaggerating, let me assure you, this is exactly how the tiger feels when we enter its jungle in our jungle jeeps, with our designer clothes, Paris perfumes, crunchy snacks, cellphones and other city stuff.

One of the simplest things we can do to protect the tiger is this. Respect the tiger and the tiger's habitat. Sure, go to the parks, see the tigers, get good photographs. But let that not compromise in any way the tiger's peace. Wear decent camouflaging clothes. Leave your cellphones at your hotel rooms. Refrain from eating and drinking junk all the way in to the forest and out. We can always do that later. Do not use a flash while taking photographs. Lights scare and disturb animals more than you can imagine. Avoid talking loudly, avoid any loud noises. Listen to what the guide says; he is not stupid. These are all very elementary things that are not so hard to follow. But all these rules are most frequently disobeyed.
You are an outsider in the jungle. It belongs to the animals. Don't act like you own the place.

Now we come to the part where we all want to do something to save these precious 1411 tigers. One of the most frequently heard solutions – stop poaching. My answer to these people – get real…

Firstly, try however much we may, average people like us can do almost nothing about poaching. It's a fact, sad, but true. The ones who plan it are unknown millionaires while the buyers are also unknown millionaires. People like you and me who read and write forums on the internet don't buy tiger skins. And this post is not going to affect that poacher who is sitting comfortably in his posh bungalow somewhere. Also, the poacher is not the one who will go and kill the tiger. Nor is it the so called corrupt forest official. It is some poor adivasi who has been given a nice new shiny gun and a packet of about 500rs. Those five hundred rupees which we spend in a single afternoon is a month's fortune for his family.

The adivasis and villagers don’t have any personal grudges against the tigers to go on killing sprees. In fact, they respect the jungle and the animals way more than we ever do. They simply are dying for a source of income. Their only source of income is the national parks, and the tourists who visit these parks. If they have a sufficient income here they don’t need to earn by supplying the poachers. So the national parks are not only essential for the animals but for the people living nearby as well.

We cannot stop poaching directly, nor can we stop people from buying poached goods. Arresting them, catching them red-handed are all deeds that are way beyond average people like us. What we really can do is support the national parks which protect the animals. Support the people who are trying to keep these parks in a good condition. And on a more personal level, watch your behaviour when you are visiting the park. Isn’t giving a tiger his peace of mind, his own space, his freedom better, than just wearing ‘save the tiger’ t-shirts and sending forwarded emails about how tigers are being harassed?

There is a saying in Marathi which goes something like “phul naahi, phulaachi paakli tari…”, essentially meaning, it may not be much but its something at least. What I am doing may not be much, I may not be stopping a poacher, I may not be saving a tiger from imminent death. But I do know that I did my little bit by going there myself, seeing the place for myself, becoming aware. I hope that everyone feels compelled to do their own little bit like I did. I hope that one day those cubs grow up to be three strong and healthy tigers, who go on to have cubs of their own. And I hope that one day when I get to go there with my daughter, she can experience the same awe-struck respect for the jungle and the Royal Bengal Tiger.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dear Mr. Tharoor

Recently, Shashi Tharoor has become a media favourite. The news channels, and consequently, our dear politicians, are just waiting to pounce on his latest statement, or even better, his latest tweet.

I feel a little sorry for him. I love reading his books and articles. I absolutely admire his knowledge. More than that, I admire his wit. A few years back, I had the honour of meeting him at some corporate event, where I had a dance performance. I remember talking to him and being completely awed by his personality. (And by the way, he quite handsome too! :P ) I wish I could meet him today and say this...

Dear Mr. Tharoor,

To begin with, let me tell you , I am a big fan of yours. But recently, I have read your name more in controversies rather than in any substantial news.

I daresay you have never given an HSC board English exam. I think that is the stem of all these problems. No, please don't misunderstand me. I am not trying to say you are illiterate. In fact, when you were elected, I was really happy; at least some of our politicians are well-educated. But you see, there are some things in India that just cannot be done otherwise. You just have to follow 'protocol', and the thousands of unwritten rules....
I feel confident in advising you in this matter because I have just given my HSC boards. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is. I clearly remember being told to simplify my English vocabulary if I expected to get acceptable marks.
To get an idea of what was expected, I took the opportunity of reading the paper of an 'ex-English topper'. The answers and the essays, all written in rather appalling English, did not exactly encourage me. Nonetheless, they provided for some excellent entertainment for me and my friends. This is just one example, but there are thousands of other instances which would suffice to make one understand, that excellent English is really not the way to get to the Indian heart (in this specific case, the Indian HSC examiner's heart).

I feel it is unnecessary to talk about the average IQ of Indian politicians. Barring a few, do you really think any of them will appreciate good political humour? Why political humour, how about just plain humour? How many politicians would appreciate a good joke? It is an unsaid rule that all politicians have to be serious and formal, and mostly go about their lives with a dour look on their faces. And you really thought you could make a joke and get away with it, eh?
Dear Mr. Tharoor, how could you forget your own article? I quote from "Indian Political Humour: Nothing to Laugh About" - "...and you will have to admit that, as far as political humour is concerned, our national cupboard is bare."
Let me add to it. The cupboard is not only bare but it has been chained and locked, and the key thrown away.

I hope you understand that this deadly combination of great English and quick wit is quite unlucky. Here, the right to freedom of speech exists but in theory. It is hardly ever put in practice. A politician has no right to voice his frank and personal opinion, while an HSC student like me has no right to pen a creative essay, fearing that the examiner will just not understand it. Nonetheless, I have not given up hope that people will learn to enjoy a good joke, whether it comes from a politician or anyone else. I have also not given up hope that someday, students will be able to use language creatively without the fear of getting low marks for not being dumb enough.

Thank you for listening to the ramblings of a frustrated HSC student, who is really looking for some lighter moments to ease the studies. And I also thank you for providing some of those through you writing.


My dad once said to me, "For there to be intelligent political humour in India, you are forgetting that we need two essential things. One is intelligent politicians, and the second, intelligent politicians with a sense of humour." And God knows, we need to lighten up a bit. Mr. Shashi Tharoor does provide that, but I hope not at the cost of his political career. Because we really cannot afford to lose the few "intelligent politicians with a sense of humour" that we have.
I'm pretty sure that the day I get really good marks for my really creative essay, the parliament will be laughing heartily at a really good political joke. Ah, wishful thinking.... Well, let that day come, while I get back to my studying....

Monday, March 1, 2010

A new beginning

After months and months of ignoring my blog, I have decided to begin once again. Not immediately, after my exams I guess. But this time I have resolved to be a little regular with it.
Hopefully this beginning is not leading to a quick finish.

"To renewed blogging - Cheers!"

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Spring, finally...

It started snowing at the end of November. The first time is always the most memorable. The beautiful landscape all around, completely transformed, from the mellow red, amber and yellow of fall, to a dazzling pure white of winter. Everywhere around you, as far as you can see, stretches a blanket of white fluffiness.
And then, the fun part - sledding, tubing, snowshoeing, skiing, the list just goes on. But the best part is sitting by a wood-stove with a cup of coffee and a good book, watching the snowflakes glide down outside the window. I never got tired of admiring the beauty of winter.
But by the end of four straight months of deep freeze, somewhere in the back of my mind, I missed 'green'. And not only me, but everyone around me. Everyone craves for something fresh. Hopeful eyes gaze up to tree-branches looking for new buds ready to pop out. Farmers and gardeners count down to the days when they can sow their seeds. Snow, ice and cold is no longer a novelty. To put it in very simple and non-poetic terms - 'one gets BORED of it'. The days are definitely longer, but still there is no sign of spring.
And even nature acts as if it is almost teasing us. There will be a week of tantalizingly warm days, and you're almost sure that all the snow will definitely melt now. But on the weekend, it will suddenly get overcast and bring five inches of snow. It is pure torture! But maybe even nature gets tired of it, and at last, ends the game.
The snow melts, as the days pass, it melts faster and faster. Patches of brown grass and dirt start appearing. Frozen streams and brooks open up and start gushing. Birds start chirping everywhere. But nothing quite makes your day as this - the sight of the first flower of spring. A tiny little flower on the edge of a little patch of dry grass. Soon enough, there'll be lots more blooming, but for now, just one is enough. It is the surest sign that spring if finally, and definitely, here!
It's a miracle what a tiny thing like a flower can do for your mood!

Monday, February 25, 2008

For the love of mountains....

A few years ago, I went on my first big trek. I went to the Himalayas. It was a great and amazing experience. At that time, I was in seventh grade. And though everything about trekking was new for me, everything awed me, I seemed to me that I fit right in. That was one thing that made me really happy!
Also, I think that trek was one thing that inspired me to take up photography. And though this was a few years ago, I am amazed at how many details I can accurately remember. Although I still blame myself for not taking more photos, I managed to recollect most of it without them. This is a short essay that I wrote about it.

A Trip to Paradise

As I stepped out of the room, the cool morning wind sent a slight shiver down my neck. The air was crisp and clear and the surroundings were breathtaking. I almost forgot where I was, but the clank of utensils being packed and the rustle of the backpack on my shoulder brought everything back. I was trekking in the Himalayas!
We started out with great enthusiasm. No words can fully describe the beauty of the surroundings. The landscape was like a jeweled painting. The jade of the pine trees, the sapphire of the sky and the crystals of the distant icy peaks completed this work of art. The constant gushing of the river besides us was like a soothing song, and the sunshine bouncing of the ripples speckled the water with gold and silver. Little streams peeked out of ferns and scrambled over pebbles on their way to join the river. Birds chirped and butterflies flitted in and out of bushes.
But the fresh morning was nothing compared to the silent beauty of the night. As the sun went down, it was a different world altogether. There were no sounds to be heard except the constant gushing of the river. The sky above us was a deep blue velvety blanket with millions of diamonds strewn across. The great icy peaks in the distance glittered in the pale moonlight. Mountains rose in a circle all around us. The air was soft and chilly, fragrant with numerous flowers and herbs. I can still see the whole scene in my mind.
The days on the trek were some of the most memorable ones for me. I still remember every moment as if it happened yesterday. The cool wind on my cheek, the first touch of snow, the warmth of the glass of 'chai' in my hands and the laughter and songs around the campfire at night. These memories shall stay with me forever and remind me of my experience. They also remind me of the Mughal emperor, who was so moved by the beauty of nature, that he proclaimed,
"yA firdaus barrUhe jamInAst,
amInAsto amInAsto amInAst!"
"If there be a paradise on earth,
It is here, it is here, it is here!"

So that was my experience, I don't know how much i was able to express through my writing, but I tried!

After that, I did not really get a chance to go on any big treks. But now, I am here in New Hampshire, USA, and I am going for a winter trip in the White mountains. This is bound to be one of the many memorable events that i have been in, while on this exchange program. Let's see what that will inspire me to do!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Initial thoughts on blogging.

Usually, I am not huge on techy and geeky stuff. I manage to survive on the meagre basics of gmail,wikipedia and youtube. Starting my blog just seemed to me like crossing over to the dark side....!
But seeing my absolute non-tech parents experiment with technology and my dad even set up his own blog has given me an inferiority complex! (just kidding aai, baba.)
I mean c'mon, I am the one who's sixteen, I am the one who grew up in the internet age, I am the one who knew how to send an email before I knew how to post a letter! And so, not wanting to be a serious insult to my generation :) I have started this blog.....
I can already tell you that this is going to be filled with random thoughts, experiences, opinions, and just sometimes, a good piece of writing!

So here's to my taking the first step in the blogworld - "Cheers!!!"