Thursday, January 24, 2008

Employment: JRF / Birds / Sahyadri Hills / Maharashtra / Envirosearch / Pune

Project Title:
A Study on Distribution and Status of Birds and Assessment of Threats to their Survival in Sahyadri Hills, Maharashtra.

6 months of field work plus few more months in report writing.

The study will examine the distribution of residents, migrants and endemic bird species in the PAs and surrounding forests of Western Ghats of Maharashtra also known as the Sahyadri Hills. The aim of the study is to obtain baseline information on bird species status and distribution in the area and assess the threats to their survival in the area. The study will cover all PAs and RF of Sahyadri Hills.

Master's degree in science with a keen interest in bird study and liking for working in the forests. The work requires extensive traveling and working on foot in tough terrain of Sahyadri. The person must be prepared for working in this terrain. Remuneration will be Rs 8500 per month as a JRF scale of UGC. The lodging and traveling cost will be borne by the organization at actuals.
If desired, Envirosearch can help the researcher to develop the proposal for pursuing a long-term study for his future work.

Interested person should contact immediately.

Dr. Prachi Mehta
Envirosearch, Pune
Tel: 020-65222903/25871310/ 65619257

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

KATHA PARAYUMBOL: Balan Katha Aarodum Paranjillaa..

Learn the art of emoting from the master: Mammootty! And learn the art of story-telling from another!!

There is only one instance in my recent memory which could stand up to the performance of Mammootty in the climax of കഥ പറയുമ്പോള്‍, more precisely when he talks about his childhood to the school audience. In കറുത്ത പക്ഷികള്‍, the scene in which the character Murukan narrates the events leading to the death of his wife to Meena's character, Mammootty excels with just his face and voice. In both scenes, there are no elaborate body movements, no vigorous sentiments, no emotional build-up, but Mammootty leaves each and every one of us in tears. Even though it was only a cameo appearance, Mammootty as Ashok Raj steals the show and leaves all of us spellbound by his performance. He is so natural, so effortless and the scene stresses the fact that emoting does not require facial gyrations. These are the moments when I feel like announcing aloud that ill-kept secret: that I am a great admirer of Mammootty, the Actor! Another thing I noticed was the better lip sync shown by Mammootty in song sequences.

Who else can show you how a very simple plot can be developed and presented in such heart-warming and entertaining manner?! Sreenivasan is a master of the art, no doubt, and the film also reminds you that he is a master of subtle acting. May be because of the omni-present blankness on his face, the emotions are not well reflected. But it does not mar the overall experience even a bit and it also does not steal the credit from Mr. Sreenivasan. He has done a fantastic job as the Script writer.

Ok, the place മേലുകാവ് is the 'Somalia' or 'Uganda' of Kerala and the people are so down-to-earth. However, the star worship depicted in the story is a little on the higher side for present day Kerala society. But after watching the movie, you don't feel like asking all these silly questions! Instead, you want to know what was the reaction of the villagers to Super Star Ashok Raj's speech. What did they think of Balan the Barber?! What happened to Balan and his family?!!

There were, and still there are directors in Malayalam who can recreate the rural milieu with all its entirety; the simplicities and the complexities. Bharathan, Satyan Anthikkad, Lal Jose...for instance. Director M. Mohanan has tried well and succeeds in a way, in his attempt to reach the list. The characters mark their presence with whatever footage they have got. The comedy track which the director/ writer tried to weave-in became an irritant at times, like Kottayam Nazeer's 'ഈച്ചപ്പന്‍' usage. There were minor lapses in attention, but these can be pardoned in the case of a new comer.

The whole cast has backed the director well. They have not much to do: be sincere, and portray the characters naturally. And thats what they all have done; Meena, Innocent, Salim Kumar, Mamukoya, Nazeer, Mukesh, Jagadish, Lalitha, Augustine and all of them! The girl who played Balan's daughter Sona did quite well even though her dialogues sounded artificial. Amrutha TV വനിതാരത്നം fame Reena Machan seems under-utilised. The photography was commendable (kudos to Mr. P. Sukumar), songs not much so. The song "വ്യത്യസ്തനാമൊരു ബാര്‍ബറാം ബാലനേ..." has become a hit with the masses.

The Lumiere Film Company holds promise for Malayalam cinema, hat's off to Mukesh and Sreeni!

Radha Picture Palace in Kozhikode is a large theatre indeed, but I am convinced Malayali does not want second and third class tickets any more. The balcony was full for today's first show and the first class was also almost full. Alas, most of the front row seats remained vacant barring a few unfortunate souls who didn't get tickets for the balcony or first class. They were not mallu, perhaps!

Friend, if you are going to watch the movie, call me! I want to watch the climax again.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Chinnar Diary

Here I am reproducing some discontinuous scribbles from my diary in its original form and essence about trips to my favourite hide-out, the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. Please bear with me!

04.12.03 Chinnar
To the field again! After a gap of more than a month, I am in Chinnar again. It feels so nice. Nowadays the forest looks greener, neat and clean. It shows the effect of the North-east rains (Monsoon) even though Forester Mr. Madhavan was telling me, barring two occasions of heavy downpour, this year's monsoon was pretty bad. May be! He ought to know better than me about Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary and its rains!

The trip up from Udumalpet was also inspiring. I had called up DFO James Zacharias'* office from Udumalai but he was out in the field. Left off from there at 3.30 pm and was winding up through the narrow, tarred grey road to Chinnar with lush greenery all around. That greenery had the neatness and cleanliness which only a much awaited rain can bring. Last time when I was in Chinnar, it was the last week of October, the forests around had a tired brownish look with most of the lesser vegetation turning dry under the scorching sun. It is not such a soothing scenario to withhold. But Chinnar is always beautiful because of the presence of the two ever-flowing rivers, the main one being River Chinnar. It separates the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and also marks the boundary between the Indira Gandhi National Park and Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary; a natural, god-made barrier between the rain-starved Tamil Nadu and the 'prodigal' Kerala. It quenches the thirst of both the people, although I am not sure whether the thirst of Keralites could ever be quenched!

Almost at the start of the trip itself, after the check post of IGNP*, I saw a Wild Boar standing frozen about ten meters away from the road on the left side. He was not moving a bit, might have been terrified by the sound of the bus. What to talk of him, I was also getting mad by the noise generated by the stereo and put out through the tweeters just above my head. I had to tell the driver to reduce the volume a little. I will bet he was not too pleased with me, for he turned off the tweeter above me instead of reducing the volume. And then the accusing look and question: "Enough?!" I didn't care much about that and gave him a blank smile. Ok, the Boar we were talking about was not large but of a medium size, rather he looked very lean for a wild boar. What he was through, god and himself only know!

Now, as the headache manufacturing machine was not annoying me, and I could concentrate more on the scenery in front and around me. Before going far, we saw three Peafowls right on the middle of the road .......

Chinnar 31.12.03
Coming to Chinnar is never boring. It has lot many faces to show you. If you are bored with one, it will show you another. I had expected some more obstacles in my path as I was preparing to leave SACON*. Anything can happen, she (Senior Finance Officer) may not come, or will ask for some correction or other and so on. But thankfully, nothing of the sort. It was almost going the same route when she said: "Director will come tomorrow and he will sign the utilization certificate!" But I somehow managed to convince her that her hand will do. Got it, moved on! It had to be posted though, and I went in search of a speed post counter to City Tower in Gandhipuram. Ok.. done, and off to Ukkadam I go!

Had lunch from Hotel Sindhuri. It was okeyish. Then I saw that signboard: 'Old book Stalls.' It could be book stalls which are very old or book stalls which sell old books. Only Kovai corporation fellows know what they meant. But anyways, it was fine with me. Went there and asked for Wildlife Biology books. Most of them looked at me like hearing the word "Wildlife" for the first time in their lives. They knew only two words: "Computer" and "Management", and these two were enough for them to sell their wares.

Udumalai bus left Ukkadam exactly at 2 pm and reached the destination at 3.40. Spotted a Munnar bus but it was leaving only at 4.30 pm. Had a tea, bought Outlook magazine and then ...the pick of the day! One middle-aged fellow suddenly called me and asked in free-flowing Victorian English: "You are the son of Tata Tea manager, isn't it?!" He was clad in rags, to say literally, and except for his smiling face was never impressive. He started a conversation on his own, and started telling me his story. I understood him inside out then and there, but I had no escape route. When he came to the actual point, money or just before he was on the verge of asking financial help, I told him that I was in a hurry and had to make a phone call. But he was not to leave me, and I had to show him my black, ugly face to get rid of him.

I had called up Balu* and Joya* en-route. Balu was enjoying the Goan beaches. Joya was also enjoying life, but with her younger cousins, at her home. She told me very casually that she had just finished reading my story and there is a reply on air! What a girl!!

Reached Chinnar at 5.30. Jijo* was there and the Forester had changed. The new fellow, Mr. Venugopal looked a better guy. Jijo told me that they had a New Year party arranged, with non-veg and
booze. Ok, let it be! I will have കപ്പ പുഴുക്ക് (boiled tapioca) and enjoy it which was what exactly I did. Jijo was participating in the proceedings whole-heartedly, having peg after peg. Later, some of them went to Karimutty. I came back to my room and was reading till 12.00 when Jijo knocked at the door and wished me Happy New Year 2004.

James Zacharias: The then Wildlife Warden of Chinnar WLS.
SACON: Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology & Natural History, Anaikatty, Coimbatore.
IGNP: Indira Gandhi National Park.
Balu: Balakrishnan Peroth, from തുവ്വൂര്‍ (കരുവാരകുണ്ടിനടുത്ത്ത്) in Malappuram, Kerala is researcher at SACON.
Joya: Joya Thapa, from Kurseong, Darjeeling is researcher at C
Jijo: Jijo Mathew Plappallil, Independent bird watcher living near Thattekkeadu Bird Sanctuary, then Nature Education Assistant at Chinnar WLS.

To be continued.

I did not feel like getting up early as I was exhausted and was feeling the tiredness of the last day. Anyways, Vijayan* was not going to come with me. Then Jijo told me there is a place called Thirumurtimalai where there is a reservoir and where we might get to watch a lot of wetland birds. He hadn't been there before, has just heard about the area. Hmm.. so
, off to the place. Got a letter from the forester introducing us and left for Udumalaipet to meet the Range Officer who is in charge of Thirumurti. He was not there at the office or his house, instead met his family. They called him up on his mobile, and he said "Ok". We then went to an Internet browsing centre near the Bus stand and checked mails for about an hour. There were mails from a few fellows, mostly new year wishes. But Joya's reply was also there. She was like an expert acrobat. Let's not discuss all those things here.

Went to Thirumurti Dam, reached there at 3.30 pm. There was not much wetland birds. We saw lot of Yellow wagtails, some Paddy field Pipits, Marsh and Green Sandpipers, Large pied Wagtail, Red-wattled Lapwing, River Tern, Ringed Plover, Little Cormorant, Indian Shag, Little and Median Egrets, Pond Heron and a pair of unidentified ducks. Stork-billed Kingfisher (കാക്കമീന്കൊത്ത്തി) was also seen. While coming back, walked over the dam for almost two kilometres and enjoyed the scenery. Its really a nice place for relaxing and enjoying nature, but the rush is too much. While returning, we had to get a lift from a biker as buses were quite infrequent and fully loaded. Those buses which came by didn't stop as it was already packed to the roof. Mr. Dinesh, as the biker introduced himself, was actually
from Palakkad but was now working at Udumalai. He dropped us at Pallapalayam from where we could get a bus to Chinnar.

We had tea and bought some snacks, and I was charging my mobile phone at the bakery when one bus went past. It was 7.30. The next bus was only at 8.15. I had just called up home, and there was nothing more to do than wait. And a long wait that was! At last, the old guy (the coughing and sneezing reminds me of an old fellow who is eager to die) came and we got in. Only a few passengers were there. I was watching the road eagerly when I noticed a Sambar (Cervus unicolor മ്ലാവ്) doe and her fawn moving away from the road side towards my right. The sight was fascinating. Indeed, watching any wild inhabitant is fascinating and refreshing to the mind. After this, sometime later, we saw a small rodent, probably a field mouse (Mus booduga) sitting on the right edge of the road feeding on something. It was sitting like in prayer, and somehow resembled a Gerbil. Later, two field mice crossed the road, one first towards right and another to the left. Small, insignificant might they look, they are so cute and lively who remind us of the vast treasure of life which lies beyond those dark edges of the road. Just keep your eyes and ears open: LIFE IS CALLING YOU!!

*Vijayan: One of the many tribal guides I have employed during my research at Chinnar. Vijayan is adept at finding animals before they find us. He belongs to the Hill Pulaya group and stays at Chambakkad tribal settlement inside Chinnar WLS.

To be continued.

Got up at 6.00 and told Jijo to close the door after me. Walked to Chambakkadu and on the way, saw a lot of birds. Vijayan was at home. We started off along the road. When we reached the place where we had seen langurs the last day, we heard 'boom' calls and looking down, saw some langurs sitting on top of trees on the southern bank of Pambar. Started downwards to Pambar riverside. Upon reaching there, we could see a very good number of langurs there. Since we were on the opposite bank, they were not afraid of us. There were about 30 in all. They were a bit shy but not afraid. Infants were engaged in play, some even on the ground. I could not attempt group scan since only three or four were visible at a time. Around 9.30 am, all of them came to the open area near the river bank. We could see some altercation among the adults. Some adult males were attacking other adults, probably females. Females carrying infants on their backs soon started retaliating as a group. It went on for 2 or 3 minutes only. Three or four females with infants came near the water's edge and started doing all sorts of things which monkeys are prone to do: resting, playing, feeding, grooming etc. They did not care my presence.

All of them moved to a large rocky area near the south bank after some time. I crossed the river and settled on a rock near water. Suddenly, a large Sambar stag with medium sized horns appeared in front of me from the bushes. It was oblivious of my presence and came nearer and nearer, almost five metres from me. And then, still unaware of my presence, it went on along the bank and disappeared from view. It was a real beauty, a very good start for my day!

Later at about 10.40 am, I heard some sounds nearby and noticed some bushes shaking vigorously. Then, the backside of the animal came to view. It was not a Sambar, cannot be a Gaur (കാട്ടുപോത്ത്) either since the back was broader. I didn't even suspect an elephant since I thought, no, I was sure that the small bush could never hide an elephant. Soon the doubt was cleared and I was proved wrong! Not one, but three elephants came out in to the open in front of me, only some twenty metres away. I won't call all of them elephants as only one female was a bit large enough to be called an elephant. Others were one young female calf of about four years and a boy of about two. The adult was also quite young to be a mother. Vijayan had not seen them till now, and he backed off calling out aloud when he saw. When the adult saw me inching forward towards them to take photographs, she came charging. But she was not sure of herself, I think, and she withdrew after the mock charge. They actually wanted to have a drink and obviously, I was blocking their path. So, after some five or ten minutes, they went away.

All the while, the langurs were around us. But now they were farther away at the foot of the hill. I observed them and took notes for some more time, but soon they disappeared. We went up the hill following the monkeys, and left them at around 2.30 pm. Our food was a major concern as we didn't have any breakfast or lunch other than two three pieces of bread.
We reached back at Chinnar at about 4 pm by which time Jijo had already left for home. As his business was over, he didn't find staying back longer a good option. But I didn't know he was going back today. I went up to the room and had a good nap till 7.30 pm. After dinner, had a walk up to the watch tower road and returned. On the way, saw one Wild Boar leaping out and running away from the bushes in front of the Inspection Bungalow. be continued.

Started off to Champakkad at 6.20 by the KSRTC* bus. Vijayan was on his way to the bus stop. We met near the teashop, (or whatever you chose to call the rock where that guy sells tea) and we started our walk along the south bank of Pambar. This tea shop arrangement is for wayfarers who are coming from far away tribal settlements and going shopping to Marayur or Udumalpettai. Earlier there was one hotel selling break-fast also; all were open air affairs. The breakfast arrangement was recently closed down due to some problems with the people of Champakkad.

We reached the place where we saw langurs the last day. There.. some four or five langurs on the other side. Soon we found out that there were some langurs on our side of the river also. They were not so near, some 100 metres away from the bank atop some trees. After some time, we heard some boom calls from that part. We crossed the river and settled down near Nallamangathura thinking that the river between us and the langurs would provide them a kind of courage to them as was observed yesterday. However, the langurs on the southern side were not seen or heard again. Hence, at last, we decided to look for the monkeys on the northern part. Climbing up, I looked for them all around. Seeing me so curious about their whereabouts, they fled downstream through the trees.

Meanwhile, I noticed a Grizzled Giant Squirrel (ചാമ്പലന്നാന്‍) very close by. He was feeding on some tiny fruits and hadn't noticed me. I could go as near as three or four metres and photograph. But what use was the Yashica FX 3 kit lens (32-70mm)?! He looked more creamish rather than ashy grey as described. The little man soon took flight observing my huge presence. They have a habit of freezing (staying absolutely still) when pursued, but when they become sure that they are spotted, they will flee in a flash.

After some hide-and-seek with our langurs, we lost them completely. We could not trace them out even after a thorough search. Hmm, let's look for those on the other side! Where are all those langurs we saw yesterday?! Surely, it was a large troop. Climbed up the hill halfway and then came down. No trace! At that moment, as if to erase our despair, god gifted us the wonderful sight of two Lorikeets or Vernal hanging Parrots near their nest hole on a large tree inside the riparian forest patch. They were a fantastic sight indeed! It was my first look at a Lorikeet in the wild. I watched their movements for about ten minutes.

Since we couldn't find the langurs anywhere, we returned early and reached Chinnar by 1 pm. I was really tired, and after lunch, just went to room and while reading dozed off. I had seen langurs in front of the IB (Inspection Bungalow), and actually wanted to observe them for some time after the lunch.

At 2.30 or 3 pm, some body knocked on the door and I woke up. When I opened the door, a handsome young man was standing in front of me. He introduced himself as Mr. Kishen Das. I didn't get him at first. He looked friendly and behaved like an old friend but...?! Then it suddenly flashed in my mind: "oh, the natural history mail group fellow, butterfly wallah!" I had thought that Kishen Das was an old fellow. But this guy turned out to be a smart, young, energetic nature lover who was working as a Software Engineer in Global Exchange Systems of GE (General Electric) in Bangalore. He is from Mysore and had a friend with him, one Mr. Mohan Kumar, a young diploma holder in Electronics and currently Nature Education Co-ordinator of Mysore Amateur Naturalists (MAN), an NGO. Both were basically from Mysore. Mohan told me that he had met Mohan Nilambur* last week for the bird survey at KMTR*. Kishen is an active member of BNHS* and is presently on vacation, surveying butterfly migration routes. He wants to do a Ph.D. on Butterflies. He asked me about Ajith* Sir's M.Sc. course. Apparently, some body from CES* has given him false notions about that course. They wanted him to do a Ph.D. straight away at IISc (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore). After a bit friendly talk, we went for a trek up to Koottar. Palanisamy came with us. Actually, they had met James Zacharias at Munnar but he asked them to bring permission letter from Chief Wildlife Warden. Perhaps, James didn't like Kishen Das' authoritative attitude. As it was, Kishen is a bit egoistic and thinks since he is connected with BNHS and all, nobody can stop him from entering forests in India or doing whatever he wants. He had a taste of what happens when two egos bombard. We talked a lot about nature and stuff.

On our trek to Koottar, we saw a new species of Cuckoo, the Grey bellied cuckoo. We also saw six Gaur on a hill slope. Reaching Koottar, we noticed one Mugger Crocodile basking on a rock. On hearing foot steps, he dived under water. While returning, one Black-naped Hare ran on the road in front of us for some distance.

They left Chinnar at 8 pm by bus to Udumalai. They had to return to Mysore today itself. Meanwhile, I met a forest guard at the Tamil Nadu side, who claimed that he had worked with Dr. Ajith during his Ph.D field work at Varagaliar, Valparai. He had heard me talking about Ajith to Kishen at the tea shop while we were waiting for the bus. Shanmugham couldn't stop talking about Ajith. Later on when I met Paulose,* he asked me not to take any body for trekking without prior sanction from the RO (Range officer) as he may not like it.

KSRTC: Kerala State Road Transport Corporation.
KMTR: Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu.
Mohan Nilambur: Then Photographer of Tourism India Magazine, Thiruvananthapuram. Now runs PUPA (Wildlife Photography, fim making, advertising, etc.) at Nilambur.
Ajith: Dr. Ajith Kumar, Principal Scientist in SACON at the time, currently Course Director,
M.Sc. Wildlife Biology & Conservation, Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore.
BNHS: Bombay Natural History Society.
CES: Centre for Ecological Studies, IISc, Bangalore.
Paulose: Paulose C. Thomas was Forest guard at Chinnar, now at Periyar Tiger Reserve.
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