Archive for September, 2009

A Large-hearted Gentleman

Posted in Books, India, Wild life on September 26, 2009 by salaamreaders


 Jim Corbett’s ‘Man-Eaters of Kumaon’ has introduced a large number of readers to the Himalayan jungles. This book, a classic of its genre, contains ten delightful stories of his encounters with man-eating tigers and leopards. These man-eaters had spread such a reign of terror in the Kumaon region of western Himalayas that the inhabitants of its small villages and hamlets were forced to remain indoors much of their time. When Corbett reached a village called Pali, five days after a woman had been killed there by ‘the Man-eater of Champawat’, he found that  “the people of the village, numbering some fifty men, women and children, were in the state of abject terror” and “though the sun was still up when I arrived, I found the entire population inside their homes behind locked doors.” It may be difficult for us, who live in modern times, to even imagine the plight of the people who faced the depredations of these man-eaters. But an idea may be had from the fact that the Champawat man-eater alone had killed 436 people and the Chowgarh tigress had claimed 64 victims over a period of five years before Corbett had shot them.

A famous shikari, and later a conservationist and photographer, he was perhaps the best known among the writers of shikar stories. In his long career-described in his own words as  “thirty- two years of which have been spent in the more or less regular pursuit of man-eaters”-he may have shot many man-eating tigers but that did not diminish his love for them one bit. He called the tiger “a large-hearted gentleman” and the man-eater as “that has been compelled, through stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it.” He did not consider them cruel or bloodthirsty, unlike the then popular belief, for he said,  “I have not seen a case where a tiger has been deliberately cruel or where it has been bloodthirsty to the extent that it has killed, without provocation, more than it has needed to satisfy its hunger or the hunger of its cubs.” scan0002

It was not tigers alone who were dear to Corbett. The simple and hospitable people of Kumaon also had a special place in his heart. “Our hill folks are very hospitable”, he wrote in ‘the Chowgarh Tigers’ and further said that “when the villagers learned that I spent the night in the jungle, and that my camp was at Dalkania, they offered to prepare a meal for me.” In ‘the Mohan Man-Eater’  he described how the Headman of Kartkanoula village thought it was an insult to the whole village that Corbett had to bring condensed milk when the resources of the village were at his disposal. The next day he found “an array of pots and pans of various shapes and sizes on the verandah, all containing milk” and “sufficient milk in fact for me to have bathed in.”scan0010

The times that he lived in were harsh as much of the area was mountainous and covered with thick jungles. There were few motorable roads and people had to depend on kutcha tracks passing through forests inhabited by wild beasts. There were no modes of communication other than climbing a high enough feature and “cooing” across the valleys for other people to hear and pass on messages. Hospitals were few and far between and victims had to be carried on makeshift stretchers for hundreds of miles to reach one. It is no wonder then that man-eaters were able to create such havoc in the area in the early years of the last century.

 His powers of graphic description were truly remarkable. “The sun had just risen one winter’s morning when I crested the high ground overlooking the glade. On the far side, a score of red jungle fowl were scratching among the dead leaves bordering a crystal-clear stream, and scattered over the emerald-green grass, now sparkling with dew, fifty or more chital  were feeding. Sitting on a tree stump and smoking, I had been looking at this scene for sometime when the hind nearest to me raised her head, turned in my direction and called; and a moment later the Bachelor stepped into the open, from the thick bushes below me”-this is how he recalled his first sight of ‘the Bachelor of  Powalgarh’. His appeal lies in the realistic recreation of  the atmosphere of his many hunts. His attention to detail is meticulous and he must have had a fantastic memory to be able to recall the minutest of the particulars of his voyages into the wilds.

scan0005Although a keen shikari, Corbett later took to photography and admitted in ‘Just Tigers’  that “the taking of a good photograph gives far more pleasure to the sportsman than the acquisition of a trophy; and further, while the  photograph is of interest to all lovers of wild life, the trophy is only of interest to the individual who acquired it.”

‘Man-Eaters of Kumaon’ is not about man-eaters alone. It is a classic which displays the deep affection that Corbett had for jungles, animals and the people of Kumaon. The story about how he acquired ‘Robin’, a mongrel who became his companion in big game hunting or how he bagged a 50 pound mahseer which he recalled in ‘the Fish of my Dreams’are as engrossing as ‘the Kanda Man-Eater’ or ‘the Pipal-Pani Tiger’ or ‘the Thak Man-Eater’. He knew even then that the tiger’s days were numbered as he recalled his “wandering through the jungles of the terai and bhabar in the days when there were ten tigers to every one that now survives.” 


His words may prove to be prophetic as the tiger is indeed on the verge of extinction and if he is exterminated, “India will be poorer, having lost the finest of her fauna.” Then for generations to come, ‘Man-Eaters Of Kumaon’ may perhaps be their only introduction to the natural world of the tiger. 


Its the season of festivities

Posted in Festivals, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2009 by salaamreaders


It is that time of the year in India, north India atleast, when early mornings and late evenings should have had that little nip in the air which  signals that winters are just round the corner. But this year has been a little warm. It is late september and temperature is still in the high thirties, almost 40 degees celsius. The nights are ok but even autumn seem far away. But this year has been no different, I guess. Global warming or whatever you may call it is already here. We have seen so many changes in the weather in our life time. It does not rain as much, it does not rain when it should and it does not rain where it should. Imagine Barmer in the Thar desert got flooded two years ago! Don’t believe it? Well, heres a link to the story.

It is festival season also. Navratras, Id-ul-fitr, Dussehra, Diwali, Guru Parb, Id-ul-juha and Christmas will be celebrated in the next three months. It means it is time for feasting, after some serious fasting, for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians alike. It is the time for annual shopping and splurging also. Its the time for annual bonuses also , notwithstanding the recession. The government has also announced a bonanza for its officials who will be getting their bonuses and arears of pay revision. Naturally, the martkets are rejoicing. There are offers galore on automobiles, jewellery and cosumer durables. Gold has touched new highs and stock market is exuberant. Even real estate projects seem to be catching up. In our neighbourhood alone, some buildings are coming up very fast.

It is also the time when tourists start arriving in Jaipur. There are a lot of ‘heritage’ guest houses in our neighbourhood and we see that some foreigners have started arriving already. Have you ever noticed that they rarely travel with families? There are single travellers, couples and even groups . They are mostly young people in one’s or two’s and elderly people in groups but rarely any children. Indians tourists on the other hand are rarely seen without their children. Regarding the ‘heritage’ guest houses all of them are recent constructions pretending to be old a nd heritage structures. But they appear to be a hit with gullible tourists who book them over the internet without knowing whether the buildings are actually old . Of course, there are frescoes, murals, and other such works incorporated in these buildings to give them that ethnic and authentic look. And speaking of Jaipur, here’s the city’s best known monument-the Hawa Mahal.


Have you ever wondered what these foreigners may be thinking as they roam our palaces and forts and markets with  caps on their heads,  ‘lonely planet’ in hand,  cameras around their necks and money pouches around their waists? As a rule they look quite bewilderd to me. Who will not be when confronted with the reality that is ‘India’? A young Austrian woman, who happened to be travelling once with us from Jodhpur, told us that the sheer number of people in the streets had overwhelmed her. She had initially thought that the streets were perhaps crowded due to a holiday or something but later realized that they were always so crowded. Noise is another thing that shocks them. They wonder why we are so loud? Loud speakers, horns, processions, temples, baraats-they appear loud to us also but why do we shout while speaking on the telephone?

Auto rickshaws are another peculiarities of Indian life which can not fail to perplex people not used to these contraptions, They look comon enough to us but I have seen these foreigners clinging to their dear lives while perched precariously in these rickety vehicles. But that does not prevent them from enjoying a ride or two. It is infact a high point of their visit.  Yeah, that is indeed Angelina Jolie and family in an auto rickshaw.(Pic from



Speaking of foreign tourists, how do they decide what to visit in India as the choice is truly mindboggling. No wonder since most international flights land up in the capital city, most tourists end up in the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. But seriously, Jaipur is perhaps the most highly over rated destination. You should try Udaipur instead. Its palaces are  bigger and better. Its lakes, when full, are a sight. The view from the monsoon palace-Sajjangarh- is to die for. Here’s a peek.

Lake Palace

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City Palace

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Anyways, the variety is so mind boggling that it is even difficult for us Indians to choose where to go for our vacations. But puja holidays are here. Any suggestions where one could go for a short break?

Green with envy?

Posted in Gardening with tags , , , , , , on September 18, 2009 by salaamreaders

Ever wondered how even a small postage stamp sized patch of  green can alter quality of life in big cities?  I spent my childhood without a garden in our house. And then when I started working, I was lucky to live in what are called ‘bungalows’ in India. The kinds you see in Lutyen’s Delhi, with large sprawling lawns, kitchen gardens – the works. And then again back to apartments. It was in January that we again moved into a house with a small patch of green. Though it was late in winters but we put in some Gaillardias and to our surprise they bloomed in spring and carried on well into summers. Take a look.

A bright orange bloom

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Another one but a little different too!

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  A sea of yellow

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 Bollywood love birds?

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 Looks like a ‘rakhi”

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 Aren’t they beautiful?

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 Caught in the web of life

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You won’t believe but a little green brings myriad visitors in its wake. This one was ‘bagged’ in the heat of the Indian summer when temperature was around 42 degrees celsius but it is well perched in the foliage.  

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 And this one looks ready to take off

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 Hard to believe that there are peafowls where we live? But it is true. These are aplenty. And we live in a city with 2 million plus inhabitants.

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  Look at the bright colour on its neck. And its feathers . 

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  Lunch time

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Even langurs 

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  And this is our resident squirrel 

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  This one is perhaps looking for juicier grub.

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  Hope you enjoyed browsing as much as I enjoyed posting it.


The Ghost Tree at Tadoba

Posted in Travel with tags , , , on September 15, 2009 by salaamreaders

This tree gives you the creeps.  In the absolute wilderness of the Tadoba National Park, its silvery bark glistens and shimmers. The grotesque shape- arms extended outwards and a ghostly face- is that of a man hung by the neck!  I would not like to come across it on a rainswept night when the wind is howling and lightning strikes the clouds asunder.


The High Life- Interrupted!

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on September 14, 2009 by salaamreaders

A debate has been raging in the Indian media for the last few days over the Congress party’s diktat to two ministers of the Union government to shift from the five star hotels they were residing in, on their own expense, to show solidarity with the ‘aam aadmi’ who is reeling under the twin burdens of global recession and deficit monsoon. A high moral ground is being taken by the ruling party when it says that public representatives must be seen to be empathizing with the common man, in his hour of financial crisis, by eschewing trappings of luxury and conspicuous consumption not only in public expenditure but in their personal lives also. The missive has not gone down well and already murmur of protests are being heard.

It is no secret that all sections of the ruling elite-netas, bureaucrats, army men, journalists, judges- live well. And they live well on public money. Apart from their wages, which are handsome in comparison with the national average, there are a host of other freebies too.  The best of accommodation, transport, telephones, an army of servants, domestic and foreign travel, an ability to grant sundry favours. The list is practically endless. And it is highly unlikely that they will they give them up without a fight- drought or recession notwithstanding. After all we have had all sorts of natural and man made calamities earlier also but that did not stop the governmental juggernaut of fiscal profligacy from  gathering steam and be where it is now.

But this time it is different. While at all earlier occasions, austerity measures were confined to governmental expenditure, it is for the first time that public representatives are being exhorted by their ruling party to practice an austere life even if they are able to afford a grander life from their own resources. And the difference is significant at least in some respects. Though it has always been well known that our public representatives are not exactly poor, their wealth-a part of it at least-is now publicly declared in affidavits filed at election times. The people too believe that netas may not be in the wrong if they put their hands in their own tills to live well. And hence, most reacted to the instructions of the congress party by telling it not to be hypocritical and sanctimonious at the same time. They think if their netas have wealth which has been declared openly what is the harm in their spending it as the liked?

The congress is hard put to defend its position. On one hand, it knows that its diktat is at best an exercise in public relations and on the other hand it knows it is downright naive to expect that the people would not see through the gimmick. It would have been another matter altogether if the party had decided to donate the amount saved by its netas as a result of its austerity drive to the Prime Ministers’ Relief Fund. The proof of the pudding would then have been in its eating.

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