Strolling along the raging Beas river at Katrain (short of Manali) recently, I came across these quaint wild flowers that had been dumped as dead bodies are in the Ganges river. There was a honeymooning couple sitting on rocks in the Beas and dipping their hands, and the bride her mehndi feet, in the icy waters. Trapped in the spell of love's ardour and the novelty of their fresh marriage, the couple was oblivious to the holiday horror that had swept away the lives of 24 Andhra Pradesh students.The young fellow, who was rather a romantic, plucked these flowers from the river bank and presented them to his ladylove. But soon after, ladylove dumped these flowers behind her back. Their ardour had turned to a different hue and to more pressing engagements. But it was clear she did not think much of these little, unpretentious delights that had been guillotined at love's altar. (PIC ON THE RIGHT: The wild flowers discarded by the bride. VIKRAM JIT SINGH)
She perhaps preferred gifts of those "cultured monstrosities"sold at urbane florists. Anyways, she was certainly not the type who would have carefully pressed and preserved these little flowers in the pages of a favourite book. And, shown them decades later to her grandchildren and recalled with sighs and glistening eyes those Beas boulders dripping with rosy, honeyed memories. As luck would have it, those spurned flowers were not swept away and got wedged between rocks where I photographed them. Doubly curious about their identity since a love story (or a tale of love's labour lost!) now hung about them, I sought the expertise of the efloraofindia group of botanists, and another mystery unfolded. Dr Gurcharan Singh informed me these flowers were from the annual herb commonly known as Annual fleabane, Daisy fleabane, Eastern daisy fleabane, Sweet scabious, Tall fleabane or Whitetop.
The herb's botanical name is Erigeron annuus from the family, Asteraceae. This herb is in a sense a "tourist"as it is native to North America. Grown as a garden plant, the herb has got imported into parts of Europe/India and has naturalised in North India's hill stations.
FROG LEGS AIN'T SEXY
Some of our Punjabi 'booze, brash and binge' tourists come back from Goa and boast about having gobbled delicious jumping chicken (JC), which is served marinated/fried/curried and washed down with chilled beer or 'feni'. JC is actually a code name or slang bestowed on the poaching and illegal consumption of Indian and Jerdon's bullfrogs' legs in bars and restaurants. This dish is closely associated with French cuisine and culture.
Frogs are kept fresh in a water tank at eating joints and their juicy hind legs sawed off just before preparing a dish. The live frog is then abandoned. It dies after hours of bleeding and trying to painfully crawl away from humanity. Bullfrogs are a dwindling species due to various factors, including gourmet consumption. In Goa and adjoining states, collecting frogs for JC tables has become a cottage industry for locals. ( PHOTO CREDIT. SANDESH KADUR / www.felis.in )
Ironically, the bullfrogs' rhythmic croaks welcoming monsoons attract poachers and sound their death knell. Says conservationist Sandesh Kadur, who recently rescued bullfrogs (see photo), "We came across these bullfrogs that were being kept in a bucket at a local guy's house near the Jog falls (Karnataka). We rescued them, released them and reported the guy to the authorities. The second thing to do is not order frog legs at a restaurant. Frog meat trade and consumption is illegal and offenders can be fined up to Rs 25,000 and imprisoned for three years."Frogs eat insects, and bullfrog tadpoles thrive on mosquito larvae. Reason enough for us to avoid JC and stop croaking about it later!
While tracking and exposing snake charmers who cheat ignorant folk with their 'been (flute) and cobra dance' trick, I came across the mother of all snake scams. Vivek Gupta is the owner of a foundry, Lakshmi Industries, located at Focal Point, Jalandhar. The foundry is encompassed by fields and snakes are occasionally spotted in the foundry's periphery.
At other times, a mischievous foundry worker draws a zig-zag line mimicking a snake's slither and raises an alarm as he may be in a nexus with charmers. The result is that on three occasions, a panicky Gupta summoned charmers, who came armed with their flutes. They played these to "enchant"the snakes and in all "rescued"49 snakes from the foundry! The charmers'services made Gupta's purse lighter by Rs 45,000. He shelled out another Rs 5,000 in the form of ghee, wheat, oil, clothes etc. the charmers demanded for their services. Fact is that the charmers took advantage of the fear and ignorance of snakes, literally cast a spell on Gupta, and deceitfully released snakes in the foundry.
These reptiles are brought by the charmers after concealing de-fanged, captive reptiles in their robes. But there was relief from this deluge of snakes after Gupta sought the expertise of Nikhil Sanger of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Sanger exposed the fraud and warned Gupta to be wary of the bites of such "human snakes"!