Tikka Shiv Chand of Bhallan village in Nangal is one of the most well-known of shikari chieftains of 20th century Punjab. In the riverine and Shivaliks-dominated topography of his estates, he hosted memorable hunts for chief ministers, IAS/IPS officers and celebrities like Flying Sikh Milkha Singh.
At 82, sporting proud, snowy handlebar whiskers that he twirls habitually, the Tikka wields a razor-sharp memory laced with poker-faced wit while recounting hunting escapades.
IAS officer Sudhir Mittal posted as Hoshiarpur additional deputy commissioner in 1982 dispatched a pair of guests keen on hunting to the Tikka.
Now posted as secretary to the Government of India, Mittal was seen as the chief secretary in waiting had Amarinder Singh stormed to power last year. Anyways, fast forwarding to the past, the two VIP guests descended on the Tikka's country mansion armed with Holland & Holland and Churchill shotguns that cost a small fortune.
Before dinner, they proudly extolled the virtues of their guns over a whisky too many. The next day a beat shoot for wild boars was organised. Two boars broke cover and Tikka's son, Yashvir, dropped one while the other fellow charged at Yashvir tearing his clothes and trampling over him. A pack of ferocious hunting dogs gave chase and encircled the runaway boar.
One of the 'baazigar' community hunters, Piara Singh, took Yashvir's shotgun and went off to finish the boar but missed the shot in the melee. The boar, though average-sized, was pugnacious and savagely attacked Singh with its tusks leading him to get 35 stitches in hospital later.
Another baazigar, Amar Chand, hearing the cries snatched the prized Churchill shotgun from the guest and rushed to the rescue. But when Amar Chand fired at the rampaging boar, the gun was silent. For all the pomp and show about these exquisite English guns, the guest had not even ensured that the gun had been primed with firing pins!
Anyways, the boar was finally shot with another gun. The two guests, on seeing a boar's capacity for a bloodbath, decided to abandon boar hunting and requested Tikka to arrange a 'safer' partridge shoot instead.
To this day, the Tikka remains cut up with those fancy guests. He faults them for not mustering the grace and gratitude to offer monetary compensation to the wounded Piara Singh.
SHARP BOTTLE SHARDS
Returning home one evening from the Baradari Gardens, Patiala, Swaraj Raj, associate professor of English, noticed a Red-vented bulbul hovering over a wall embedded with glass shards. The bulbul was evidently wanting to gobble an insect or a spider entrenched within the shards meant to ward-off unwanted human intrusions.
Raj, who has been a photography enthusiast since the 1960s, clicked the bulbul's dilemma in the fading light. Back home, this specialist in literary theory and diasporic studies at the Government Mohindra College, Patiala, fished out a poem by the 20th century Genoese poet and Nobel Prize winner, Eugenio Montale, to make the bulbul-shard photo an apt metaphor for the human existential situation. The excerpt from Montale's poem: “And walking on under the blinding sun, to feel with sad amazement, how all of life's painful endeavour is, in this perpetual going along a wall, that carries on its top sharp bottle shards.”
Raj also rears butterflies in his small garden by bringing eggs on leaves he finds on his jungle rambles. He then meticulously documents and photographs the life cycles of butterflies. In recent years, Raj has turned his eye to birds, including one memorable 'junoon in June' when Purple sunbirds set up nest in Raj's lemon plant.
As long as the eggs were not laid, the sunbird pair did not mind being photographed. But once the eggs came, the couple turned coy and resented Raj's intrusive presence. Raj then parked his ancient Fiat car next to the plant, pulled a tarpaulin over it, and sat inside to click the nest through a peephole.
This peephole voyeur literally baked inside the Fiat but he bore discomfort for long hours with a stoic zest.
LITTER, GODDAMN IT!
Four species of migratory birds have descended on Mirzapur dam, lying north-west of Chandigarh in the lower Shivaliks. But the relatively clean water at the dam and the gorgeous bursts of red bougainvillea bejewelling the embankment wall are about the only saving graces left.
Tipplers leave behind umpteen empty bottles, snack wrappers and packets. Cowherds push cattle down to the water's edge via the concrete steps. A walk down to the water for humans has consequently turned into an exercise in tip-toeing across a dung minefield.
Shards of broken liquor bottles lie wedged between the stones that hold up the dam. The devout add their bit to the misery by releasing non-biodegradable stuff into the waters after offering pious prayers. To top it all, employees of the Punjab Kandi Area Development Administration, rarely maintain vigil at the dam.
All this is worrisome because the dam's catchment area is rich in avian diversity and sambhars. Visitors are well within their rights to enjoy the dam but they ought to lighten their footprint on the dam's ecology by not leaving behind litter. But it is not only rustics who litter their surroundings, it is a pervasive trait.
Ogle the chic moms in BMWs outside the city's posh schools, rolling down power windows so that kids can throw wrappers and food left-overs on roads leading to their temples of learning.