If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Dubare: The elephant country

A wide river met the road at right angles and stopped us. A shopkeeper at that unusual T junction asked us to turn right. ‘The Tourist Lodge is a few hundred metres ahead ….’

After less than half a kilometre, our taxi stopped again as that road too ended. This time, a forest blocked our way. There was thick foliage in front and on our right, and on the left, the Kavery flowed on indifferently. No sign of any tourist lodge …. It was past lunch time, and after a five-hour drive from Bengaluru, we were not in a frame of mind to appreciate the shopkeeper’s practical joke. But before we could curse him, a young man in a jungle-print shirt and khakis greeted us with a broad smile.

Meet Sattar, a tourism department employee, a boatman who would take us to the other side of the river, as all boatmen do. The Elephant Camp Tourist Resort across the river is new, but the “elephant camp” is old. Elephants were trained and kept here by the Forest Department for logging. The animals lost their jobs when the government banned using elephants for manual labour. At that point, some brilliant mind thought of setting up a tourist resort at the place with a unique selling point: tourists would have the novel experience of “interacting with elephants”, like bathing and feeding them.

Despite our protests, Sattar helped us with our luggage and put us on a motor boat that had been hidden behind a tree. The place is not far off from Talakaveri, where the river begins its 765 kilometre journey. Thanks to good rains, the Kavery was full to the brim at Dubare.  

On the other side, Sattar handed us over to another smiling young man in jungle-print, Uday. The resort had ten cottages beside the river, not built on a line, but scattered randomly, just as trees grow in a forest.

Given the backdrop, the cottages were surprisingly well appointed. Although there was no electricity, the rooms had AC machines. A generator supplied electricity after sunset.

Uday in our room
Behind our cottage was a slender pathway, on the other side of which the bank sloped down to the river. A profusion of trees covered the place. Under an overcast sky, the place was dark even in the early afternoon. There was no sound except for the flowing water and chirping crickets

The dining hall begins on the river bank and goes almost into the river, standing on concrete stilts. Its thatched roof stands on beautifully carved wooden pillars. There are also a few tall trees in the dining hall, coming in through the floor and leaving out through the roof. The underside of the roof too has intricate wooden rafters. This architecture is typical in Coorg or Kodagu district of North Karnataka. The hall has no walls on the riverside and the two adjoining sides – only banisters. As we had a late lunch of lovely Kodagu food, we felt we were floating on the river.

It was raining when we boarded a jeep for a guided micro safari, which was a bit of a let down because the only wild animal that we came across during the one-hour drive in the jungle was a stray dog; we saw many elephants, foraging, accompanied by their mahouts. There were three couples and two children in the jeep besides us. Two of the women talked continuously. One of them narrated to the children how a certain uncle, when he had been a child, had peed in a bottle of coke and offered it to a particularly difficult teacher.

In the evening, as we watched a film on Karnataka wildlife in the dark dining hall, a waiter asked if we would like to have beer. Of course, we would .... He produced some chilled beer. My daughter took a few sips more to make a political statement; I enjoyed the rest. Outside, a magical darkness filled in every corner of the planet ... millions of fireflies glimmered in the bushes and in the sky. The place would have been absolutely still but for the orchestra by crickets and cicadas.

Pachyderm - a type of animal with a very thick skin, for example, an elephant.

The next morning, we understood what this really meant when the mahouts brought the elephants to the river bank one after the other. Their mahouts too were supposed to be government employees. But unlike the nattily dressed employees of the tourist lodge, they were in dirty clothes, with unkempt hair. They were tribal men who traditionally tended elephants. They laughed a lot and seemed to enjoy their work. The elephants too laughed and joked with the tourists.

The elephant skin is surprisingly tough and coarse. And the huge animals are surprisingly gentle and tolerant. They took the hundred odd overenthusiastic tourists in their stride. We had a once-in-a-life-time experience of scrubbing the elephants as they were being bathed. Each one of them had a fifteen minute bath after which they walked up to a designated place for their breakfast consisting of a ball of jaggery. An elephant needs two hundred kilograms of food every day. They were given about two by their keepers. They rest they would have to forage.


Monday, 20 September 2010

Trivia: amazing nothings!

A highly intelligent and well-read friend of mine has a serious interest in non-serious matters. He does handle solemn things too, and handles them well. But tell him about something that has no earthly value except having an unusual angle about it, my friend will lap it up like “mishti doi” (sweet curd, the technology to manufacture which is known only to Bengalis). The disease is infectious. I've got hooked to interesting trivia thanks to this friend of mine.

This morning I found a mail sent by another friend with loads of trivia. I'm going to paste some of them below. If you care for amazing nothings, please read on. And if you have a point to add to the list, please do write to me.

Although I have edited and added to the original message, and also sprinkled a bit of spices on the piece, let me add a caveat. The owner of this blog is not responsible for the authenticity or otherwise of what is below. If you want to sue anyone for misleading people with incorrect information (or for copyright violation), please tell me, I will furnish the email ID of my friend Sanat Kumar Banerjee who sent me all this.

You know that you are living in 2010 when ...
  • You accidentally enter your ATM PIN on the microwave.
  • You haven’t played solitaire with real cards in years.
  • You have a list of nine phone numbers to reach your family of three.
  • If you are at a seminar, the moment a break is announced, you reach out for your mobile.
  • While returning from office, about five minutes before you reach home, you ring up your husband/wife to tell them that you are on the way.
  • Leaving the house without your cellphone, which you didn't even have the first 20, 30 or 60 years of your life, is now a cause for panic; you go back and get it.
  • You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.
  • Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have e-mail addresses.
  • Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.
  • You get up in the morning and go on line before you brush your teeth.
  • You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )
Idioms are born …
  • In the 1400s a law was introduced in England that allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb. Hence we have “the rule of thumb”.
  • Once upon a time in Scotland, a new game was invented. It was ruled “Gentlemen only... ladies forbidden”. Thus, GOLF got into the English lexicon.
  • In Shakespeare’s time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes. When you pulled on the ropes the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on. Hence the phrase: “Goodnight, sleep tight!”
  • It was the accepted practice in Babylon 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the honey month, which we know today as the honeymoon.

The number game
  • Question: If you were to spell out numbers, how far would you have to go until you would find the letter "A"? Answer: One thousand.
  • 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987, 654,321

Literary trivia
  • The first novel to be written on a typewriter was Tom Sawyer. (It has survived beyond the life span of the typewriter, and hopefully, will outlast computers as we know them!)
  • The great novelist of our time, Gabriel Garcia Marquez struggled for many years to become a commercially successful writer. During the period, he went through rough times and once reportedly collected bottles on the streets of Paris.

A bit of geography
  • The percentage of Africa that is wilderness: 28%. 
  • The percentage of North America that is wilderness: 38%.

  • It is impossible to lick your elbow.
  • Coca-Cola was originally green.
  • If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle. If the horse has one front leg in the air the person died as a result of wounds received in battle. If the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.
  • Question: Half of all Americans live within 50 miles of what? Answer: Their birthplace.
  • Question: What do bullet-proof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers, and laser printers all have in common? Answer: All were invented by women.
  • Approximately 89.25% of people who read this will try to lick their elbow!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Niyamgiri in West Bengal?

The dispute between dismally poor Adivasis of the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa and the powerful multinational Vedanta Resources is a hugely asymmetric conflict, particularly in view of the central and state governments’ eagerness to bend over backwards to help industrialists. Scrapping of the Vedanta aluminium mine has been a rare victory for the marginalised poor. Another David has tamed for now, though certainly not killed, a Goliath.

The reasons given by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in support of their decision to scrap the project has put an official stamp of approval on the concerns of the people who oppose such projects, namely, destruction of forest dwellers and irretrievable damage to ecology. The ministry and its head, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, and a section of the Congress party including Mr. Rahul Gandhi deserve to be congratulated for this.

But the question that comes to the mind is: does this one swallow make a spring? Does this mean some day in the future, our policy makers will believe development means water, food and shelter for all, instead of more highways, glitzier malls and bigger airports in a country where half the children go to bed hungry? Does this mean industries that pollute and slow-poison people will be scrapped in other parts of the country too? Let’s discuss another case.

In West Midnapore, Burdwan, and Bankura districts of West Bengal, many sponge iron factories that have sprung up during the Left rule have been causing massive damage to the environment.

A retired teacher of economics of Calcutta University, Subhendu Dasgupta has given some startling information in an article published in a Bangla newspaper today: production of 100 tonnes of sponge iron requires 1.6 lakh tonnes of water, (an equivalent amount is consumed by 80 thousand humans per day). 100 tonnes of sponge iron also produces 180 to 200 tonnes of carbon-di-oxide, 26 to 30 tonnes of waste, and 100 tonnes of dust. The fields and grazing tracts around the sponge iron plants have turned black and water in tanks has been contaminated. Agricultural productivity has reduced: from 36 to 45 sackfuls of paddy per acre to 21 to 24 sackfuls. There is also black stain on the rice and the rice mill owners refuse to buy such paddy; Mangoes fall off before ripening, saal leaves are turning black, and even fish have developed black stains, and cannot be sold. Domestic animals too are harmed; cows give birth to stillborn calves. [Ekdin, 3 September, 2010, article by Shubhendu Dasgupta on edit page]

I checked with a friend, a chemical engineer by training, who currently works on industrial pollution. My friend confirms this is actually happening and one can see buildings and roads covered with black soot in wide areas around Durgapur and Asansol where there are about forty sponge iron factories.

The government of West Bengal has reacted to the crisis by arresting the people who have been protesting against this wanton destruction of Nature and her children. Members of Jhargram Block Environmental Pollution Resistance Committee, Hemanta Mahato and Upangshu Mahato were arrested and charged with waging war against the state. Naba Datta, of Citizens’ Forum, who has been studying the effects of industrial pollution by sponge iron factories, too was arrested. Twenty cases, including waging war against the state, have been slapped against him. [Ibid.] Perhaps even the worst criminal in the state would not have received such attention and honour from the government.

Will anything be done to protect the poor villagers affected by sponge iron plants in West Bengal and elsewhere?