The Hindu: Ugly, Am I? Part I

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Ugly, Am I? Part I

 
 
 
 
 
If they are neither cute nor cuddly you wrinkle up your nose in disgust. But, these animals think well of themselves and don’t give a hoot about our opinions. 

 

We drool over the tall, dark and handsome, or the slanting doe eyes or the rose-petal lips. And the majestic mane of the lion king, the emerald blues and greens of the proud peacock, the fins of a goldfish forming liquid golden clouds… What about a pendulous nose like that of the Proboscis Monkey, or a smile with zigzagged teeth like that of a croc, or a nose tipping with fleshy rays like that of the star-nosed mole? Don’t tell me only a mother could love that.

Aye Aye

“Nay nay,” this primate will say. “Who are you calling ugly, dude?” Found only on the island of Madagascar, these rare dark brown mammals of the night have big eyes and ears, long bushy tails and rodent-like front teeth that keep growing their entire lives. They spend their days on trees sleeping curled up like a ball in their leafy nests and seldom descend on land. They have pointed claws on their long fingers and toes. It’s not just their gremlin look that makes them freakishly ugly to us, it’s their skeletal long middle finger.

At night, they tap-tap on the tree trunks with their long finger, hear the echo with their sensitive ears, tear away the bark with their large teeth to reach the insect tunnel and use their long finger as a grub dip-stick. It comes in handy to pry for insect larvae and grub…I mean grab a bite. People believe they are harbingers of bad luck. If they point their long witchy finger at you, you’ll die. People often kill them at sight and hang them upside down. Now if that isn’t ugly (and supremely idiotic), then what is?

Shaggy Frogfish

You may call it shaggy and unkempt due to its round, hairy appearance, but count your stars it can’t hear you and doesn’t stay on land. Shaggy Frogfish is a deadly predator of the seas who can swallow a prey almost as big as its own size, opening its mouth as wide! It doesn’t like company except when it goes out on a date. If the lady chooses to hang around a little after the date, the gent might get cross and have her for dinner. These fish, which are around 20 cm long, are masters of disguise. They can change their colour and use their dorsal spine as a fishing lure. Even if their fin is eaten by an unsuspecting prey, they regenerate another one. Simple. But the prey is unlikely to grow another head before next Christmas.

Panda Ant or Cow Killer
  • This black and white furry ant, which is actually a wasp, looks like a giant panda. Well, only in looks, not size. It is a kind of velvet ant that prefers to live alone and has an arsenal of defenses like hard slippery shell and legendarily painful sting. It has earned them the name ‘cow killers’, though their stings are far from that potent. Holy cow! Let not the gau rakshaks hear about this one! And it is South American, that too!
  • We’ll check out a few more weird creatures in the second part of this article. Hadn’t someone said that it’s weird not to be weird? We all are differently weird with our own preferences of food, friends, clothes… Maybe striped pajamas make you feel like a convict. But zebras wear stripes of every stripe. Maybe you hate flies over your food. But Kremlin the frog says, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” See?

The writer is a columnist, author of fiction and non-fictions books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur

The Indian Express: Luck, By Chance

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Luck, By Chance: In a country divided by our differences, we stand as one in our superstitions

Rife with superstition and irrationality, the echelons of our politics and bureaucracy make for an interesting case study.

Written by Arefa Tehsin | Updated: June 25, 2017 10:41 am

 Vasudev Devnani, Rajasthan High court Judge, India politicians and astrologers, Jawaharlal Nehru, India politicians and superstitions, Rajendra Prasad, politics and religion news, Nandan Nilekani, laLu Prasad Yadav, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, India news, National news, latest news, politicians and superstitions , In an age when morality is the excuse of brigands, we should have Rational Studies as a subject in schools to foster a spirit of inquiry. (Illustration: Subrata Dhar)

Just as the new year dawned, the Rajasthan Education Minister, Vasudev Devnani, emphasised the “scientific significance” of cows to us — the cow is the only animal that inhales and exhales oxygen. The comment resulted in a few sharp intakes of breaths (all oxygen, I hope!) and a few guffaws. But no shock. And recently, a Rajasthan High Court judge informed us sagely that a peacock is a lifelong brahmachari. Sex with the peahen? Tauba, tauba! What are tears for?

Rife with superstition and irrationality, the echelons of our politics and bureaucracy make for an interesting case study. Whose god is more powerful? Or, whose godman? The 2013 Karnataka elections witnessed a bizarre tamasha by the candidates while filing nominations — one wore six layers of clothes, one 20 rings, some matched their underwear with the colour of their birthstone and one was suggested to file the nomination stark naked!

From the PMs occupying and vacating 7 Race Course to filing nominations to swearing-ins, to ministers moving in their new offices, auspicious times are the norm and so are havans, yagnas and offerings to gods. According to newspaper reports, while Lalu Prasad Yadav filled his pond with mud during 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Aadhaar architect Nandan Nilekani’s camp was furious that they couldn’t file the nomination at the auspicious time of 12.26 pm given by the astrologers. It might do well to remember that the top-notch astrologers had predicted a coalition government for Indira Gandhi after the Emergency, but she won a majority. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the ex-President of Sri Lanka, called the elections two years in advance, following the advice of his favourite astrologer, and well, the rest is history. I don’t think he lost his faith in astrology along with his Presidency. Arre miyan, what are we if not considerate?

But why blame just the politicians and be outraged at their comments? In a country that is so divided, we stand as one in our superstitions. What’s more, we have been trained to “respect” the belief of others. We live in a democracy run by middlemen who come with their vermillion-smeared foreheads or multiple rings on their fat fingers. They smile at us with their paan-stained teeth and diddle us out of our wealth to give us what is rightfully ours. The crooks pay visits to temples and mazaars and make their offerings to help them continue with their disreputable businesses. Let me not say whom the gods prefer here. And so do we continue with our bribes to gods and godmen — to beget sons, to pass exams, to increase our bank balances, to raise the stock markets?

Whatever happened to hard work? To “karam kar, phal ki ichcha mat kar?” The University of Gujarat launched a course in astrology and vaastu last year. And why wouldn’t they, when it is such a thriving profession? Even our in-flight magazines have a few pages devoted to weekly horoscopes. My father, a naturalist, recalls one of his visits to the office of Jai Rajasthan, the only daily in Udaipur in the Seventies. A senior journalist passed him a paper and pen while he sipped his tea. “Uncle,” he said, “why don’t you write the horoscopes for the week for our readers while you wait? Don’t forget to put in a small road accident in one or the other rashi. That generally is spot on. If they have an accident, the prediction will be true. If they don’t, well, they would know it was the horoscope that warned them to be careful!”

We go to fortune-tellers and mystics to know our future or to the pandits to match horoscopes or open a shop or inaugurate a house at an auspicious time. What about all the divorces or dowry deaths and the businesses that flop despite kundali matching and mahurats? Do we turn on those priests then? As Walt Kelly’s popular character Pogo says, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Much to the displeasure of the Pope, the French in 1905 banned wearing all symbols of religion by those in the government. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had reportedly opposed President Rajendra Prasad inaugurating the Somnath Temple after its facelift. He understood that religion and politics made for a deadly cocktail; today, its hangover has left the whole country dazed and nauseated.

We need to teach scientific temper to children and encourage rational thinking in society. In an age when morality is the excuse of brigands, we should have Rational Studies as a subject in schools to foster a spirit of inquiry.

During a visit to China, my uncle-in-law, confused at a society that largely does not practise religion, asked his Chinese counterpart, “Tell me something, friend, when you’re facing a problem, whom do you pray to? What do you do?” It was the Chinese’s turn to look confused. He knitted his eyebrows and replied, “Why, my friend, we solve the problem.”

Arefa Tehsin is an author and environmentalist.

 

The Indian Express: Love Will Keep Us Alive

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Love Will Keep Us Alive

Written by Arefa Tehsin | New Delhi |
Now, more than ever, we need love jihad. For, isn’t that how societies and the world change, one heart at a time?

couple-love-taj-mahal-759

Where even inter-caste marriage becomes an issue, how open are we about inter-religious marriages? (Source: Thinkstock images)

 

Disclaimer: This is a true story of love jihad, based on real characters in real circumstances. The names of the characters haven’t been changed (it’s a different thing that I haven’t named any of them).

Oh yeah, it is a filmi romance — a girl from the sleepy, lake town of Udaipur; a boy, two years her senior in college, from badass Bombay (uh-huh, Mum…baai). A college picnic in the remote, forested tribal lands of Jadhol. A few students from the picnic group go on a trek. The girl and the boy get lost in the jungle. Alone. Period. Need we say any more?

The girl is from a Bohra joint family, which has a history of love marriages from the early 1960s. Hindu-Muslim, Shia-Sunni, you name it. The reason: the grandparents — the matriarch and patriarch of the family — were both much ahead of their times. But the girl’s mother is a conservative Bohra, wanting to marry her daughter into a pious, godfearing family. What? A son-in-law without a beard? The clean-shaven, agnostic husband has been more than enough on her nerves all these years, thank you very much.

The boy, a rebel from a joint business family, an Agarwal — pure descendants of Agrasena himself, that too. Love marriage? Love happens after marriage, anyway. Inter-caste marriage? Unheard of. Inter-religious marriage? Heart-stopping. “Chhoro naak katavega!”

The boy and girl break the news to respective next of kin, or rather the news breaks itself. Ishq aur khansi chhupaane se nahi chhipti (love and cough can’t be kept secret), the girl’s mom’s prophetic words come true.

Both the sides are appalled, but they still have faith in providence. Surely, this is jawaani ka josh, which will soon die down. When it doesn’t, hell starts to break loose. A small word of caution travels from the boy’s family to the girl’s, through a common acquaintance. The boy hears about it and travels from Mumbai to Udaipur to apologise and have a word with the girl’s dad, a well-known and mild-mannered naturalist. They meet on the banks of the famous Fatehsagar Lake; both the wanting-to-be groom and the not-wanting-to-be father-in-law arriving on their scooters.

Boy: I really love your daughter.
Father: Boy, what’s the sense of it all? Your family is opposed to it, my wife is opposed to it. How will you make it work?
Boy: We will. You see…
Father: Hang on a second! Do you see that turtle there? Do you know about the hardness of its shell? (Father goes on to explain the scientific reason). But, my boy, what will happen when you have children? When they go to your place, they’ll teach them namaste, when they come to our place, we’ll teach them salaam.
Boy: Oh, it’ll all work out since we love each other.
Father: Wait a minute! Do you see that bird on the tree trunk? Do you know why it makes its nest there at that particular angle? (Another explanation follows). You know what, why don’t you both just run away and get married? I can’t convince her mother. You have my blessings.

The father is not spared the trouble as the couple doesn’t elope. However, the girl and boy realise that trying to wait for the families to agree one fine day is like waiting for a flight on a bus stand. The girl, with the secret help of her hassled father, calls her mama from Mumbai to convince his fiery sister. The boy, pursuing his MBA, conveys to his father that it’s either this marriage or lifelong celibacy. The father grudgingly agrees. And so does the girl’s mommy after a night-long convincing about fate and faith by her elder brother.

The boy, with the girl’s father, approaches the district court in Udaipur to file for their court marriage. The lawyer looks at them as if they have let loose venomous snakes on him. “Boss, why do you want to incite communal riots in our peaceful city?” It takes him a day to locate and pull out the dusty form for an inter-religious court marriage.

The boy, seeing the supreme reluctance of the lawyer, approaches the Mumbai courts. Without even looking up, the babu at the registrar, says, “Which date do you want? The 14th of February is completely booked.”

The small-town girl and the guy from the metro get married in the Mumbai court, and squeeze their way out after signing the paper, as the registrar calls, “Next!” When they emerge from the crowded court, they see the two Mummyjis hugging each other and crying, and not out of joy.

People forget that there is always a reception before the “happily ever after.” In the evening, with just the two families and a handful of friends, the wedding reception is held at a resort. While the couple flashes 200 watt smiles, the rest look like fused bulbs.

Yes, it has been a filmi journey for us, minus the slow motion shots and background music. After more than a decade of being married, the families have accepted us wholeheartedly, opening their hearts and their minds. They have changed for us, and that speaks volumes. But isn’t that how societies and the world change, one heart at a time? And what our society needs more than ever today is love jihad. Let’s tickle the tender sentiments of the anti-Romeo (and anti-Juliet?) brigade and mix it all together so that they are completely confused about who to place before the firing squad. For, I believe, we do not have to save love. Love will save us.

Arefa Tehsin is an author and environmentalist.

 

 

The Hindu: Sleep Deep

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Deep SLEEP

HANG OUT: Time to rest.   | Photo Credit: MAIL PIC

Check out these animals as they grab a shut eye. Not all of them need a bed!

“O bed! O bed! delicious bed! That heaven upon earth to the weary head.”

Thomas Hood rhymed in his cautionary tale of Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg. While she wanted a precious golden leg, we all want our precious golden slumbers. One can live without love, but sleep? Nah… What is life without those forty winks, the short naps, the afternoon siestas, the long deep night sleep and, well, those open dripping-mouthed snoozes. Ah…such comfort. In the first part of this article, we spoke about the REM (rapid eye movement or deep-wave sleep) and non-REM sleep; how humans need to have both while some animals don’t.

You would have seen mammals and birds sleep. Insects, fishes and reptiles too need their brains to rest in some or the other form. The little kankhajura would even risk falling prey to a hungry vagabond crow while he dreams of the multi-legged beauty who preferred to hang out with the Centi-the-senti-pede instead.

A few more snoozing secrets

Saddle up

Horses get most of their sleep while standing. They have a mechanism called “stay apparatus” where their ligaments and tendons allow them to remain upright with ease, even while sleeping. They do occasionally lie down to get REM sleep, but only for short periods. As they are standing, they can just bolt away if a predator attacks, even if they are asleep. No wonder, our wars have been fought and won on horses.

Don’t bat an eyelid 

Standing up and sleeping is fine, but can you beat sleeping upside down? Bats are masters at that. Unlike birds, they can’t take off in flight. They have to fall in it. This is because their wings are not strong enough to alight in flight and their hind legs not sturdy enough to bear their weight in an upright position. The special tendons on their feet let them hand effortlessly while they sleep. They are so effective that even a dead bat can continue to hang!

Power naps 

A study on fire ants showed that they take up to 250 naps a day! Each lasting around a minute. But those are the workers. The queen, of course, takes lazy long naps. The research suggested that queens dream while sleeping and move their antennas while they dream. RAM instead of REM, get it? Rapid Antenna Movement instead of Rapid Eye Movement. They live almost 10 times longer than the worker ants do. And they ask me why I’d like to be a queen!

The animal world is full of sleeping wonders: Our hairy cousins — the great apes like orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos — make mattresses to sleep on. Sea otters occasionally wrap themselves up in seaweed, float on their backs and at times hold each other’s paws so that they don’t drift away while sleeping.

While elephants can do with three hour sleep a day, an edible dormice can sleep for nearly a year! You may like to hibernate like dormice but I am more like a giraffe who sleeps for five minutes at a time, on an average 30 minutes a day. As the quote collector, Terri Guillements says, “I’ve had such bad insomnia the sleep cops have issued a warrant for my rest.”

The writer is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur

The Hindu: Love them all

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YOUNG WORLD

LOVE them all!

AREFA TEHSIN

Today is World Wildlife Day. A day for us to rally together and address ongoing major threats to wildlife including habitat change, over-exploitation or illicit trafficking.

Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer, summarized it to three simple lines, “For, in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” We, the most evolved of apes, are the reason behind the Sixth Age of Extinction, after the dinosaurs. So, we are more potent than an earth-shattering meteorite; and that is not a compliment. However, we will always try to save those whom we love. On World Wildlife Day, let’s say hi! to a few animals in India that may not be with us in the near future, unless we begin to love them hard.

Ganges Shark

Along with our mighty river, its creatures are also in danger. This stocky shark, which lives in the Ganga is under threat of being wiped away from planet earth due to pollution of her home river, construction of dams on it, overfishing and so on. Really…? Blood…gore… We’re talking about saving Jaws? Yes, now even they require rescuing from the greatest of apes.

Ghats Warts Frog

It likes to hang out in moist tropical forests at an altitude of around 2,200m in the Western Ghats. It seems no princess has kissed this frog. Warts, you think? Nah…warts are no competition for elfin green money. It faces threats from commercial timber plantations and loss of its home due to agriculture.

Sangai or Manipur Dancing Deer

According to the 2016 census, there are 260 deer left in the wild, a slight increase from 2013. (Imagine if only 260 humans were left in the world! What…students of grade 6,7,8 of your school put together?) The Manipur zoo is successfully breeding the dancing deer maintaining our hope for the survival of the species.

Himalayan Wolf

The evil wolf of Red Riding Hood…wish it had more cunning than humans! The Himalayan Wolf is under threat of extinction, only 300 or so left in the wild, due to human activity. Darjeeling zoo and Kufri zoo are breeding these wolves in captivity. You might hear people talking about banning the zoos. What is the alternate plan to save various critically endangered species? Banning zoos, for all we know, might accelerate their extinction. Zoos give us an opportunity to see varied animals at close quarters and offer a large vista of possibilities to educate and sensitise people. Almost 50 million people visit zoos in India every year! Although it may seem ‘cruel’ from human perspective to encage animals, there are many advantages in it for the animals. The lifespan of most species is more than doubles in captivity. This is due to an abundance of food and water, no threat from predators and medical care.

Peacock Tarantula

This beautiful spider sports a brilliant metallic blue body. We are cutting down the forests where they live. Little Miss Muffet should never venture in the small forested area in Andhra Pradesh where this spider is surviving. But for how long?

Gharial

One of the longest of all living crocodilians, Gharial is found in our part of the subcontinent. Less than 235 of these long-nosed crocodilians are left in the wild due to…you don’t need a wild guess for that: human activity. Fishing, loss of river habitats, less fish for them to eat. And we don’t even seem to shed crocodile tears for them.

Okay, we might not have heard about the muscular Javan rhinos, or the cute little Forest Owlet, or the white toothed shrew (which is not shrewd but sweet Mr. Shakespeare), or the swarthy Leatherback Turtle, or the Kashmiri Stag with the most incredible horns, or the proud, straight-eared caracal or the desert-smart wild ass; all these and more who are on the verge of extinction from India. But what about the sparrows whom we don’t see in our garden any more? Or those formidable vultures no more circling our skies? Let’s just do what Roosevelt said, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” For what would life be with a sunset where birds didn’t fly back to their nests? Not wild, for sure.

The writer is a columnist and author of fiction and non-fiction books. Her latest book is Wild in the Backyard.