Flying Sikh Milkha Singh ran barefoot on baking village sand as a kid and later red earth running tracks. He displayed indomitable will and courage, even vomited blood while training too hard in Pune for the Olympics. These are memorable echoes from his romantic struggle from a zero to a hero. Entwined seamlessly in all these traits was an obsessive streak of self-preservation, and this reflected in the ace runner choosing discretion as the better part of hunting valour! And, there even came a time when he made much of his shoes: a pair of new hunters! Before turning a golf addict, shikar, racing, beautiful women, Scotch and playing cards were his five cardinal passions.
The Flying Sikh would be up at 4 am with son Jeev and his imported guns primed for expeditions into the hinterland. Jeev was then Chiranjeev, a small, wiry fellow, with coils of hair held fast by a white handkerchief and red rubber band. And, to the eternal blessings of the God that looks after wild creatures, the Flying Sikh was not an able marksman, his strenuous efforts notwithstanding! The Flying Sikh and my late father Man Mohan Singh were shooting flying partridges at the invitation of Tikka Shiv Chand of Bhallan in Nangal tehsil in 1977. Jeev and I were accompanying our dads.
Tikka was an institution in himself as far as shikar in Punjab was concerned. He organised hunts for the high and mighty, getting hundreds of villagers to participate in beat shoots. In return, VIPs would ensure the villagers' works were done in the corridors of power in Chandigarh. Returning from the partridge shoot near Bela Ramgarh village, we were crossing the Sutlej river to Bhallan village in a country boat, which started to leak like rat-nibbled Swiss cheese. As the village "pehelwans" deployed by Tikka jumped into the river to keep the boat buoyant, the Flying Sikh quickly sized up the situation. He piggy-backed onto the sturdy shoulders of the first "pehelwan" who swam to the boat and hijacked him to reach safely on the opposite bank. The rest of us, including six-year-old Jeev, slowly sank in mossy green waters. A rescue by villagers saved the day for us, even as the Flying Sikh coolly directed us not to panic from his dry perch!
The Flying Sikh was asked later why he abandoned us.
He disarmingly quipped, "There was really no danger to the boat." Pressed further, he replied in weak-kneed jest to alleviate the tension, "I did not want my new hunter shoes to get wet!" Our reaction to that is best kept buried in public interest, though, for years later he sportingly faced unsparing jest at shikari dinners.
2 heads not better than 1
A so-called photograph of a many-headed cobra, which attracts the same kind of surreal fascination as the 10-headed mythological Ravana, has been doing the rounds of the internet. It has seduced the mental faculties of teeny boppers and adults alike, who forget the real reptiles shown on Discovery channel and instead copy and paste the hydra-headed cobra on Facebook timelines to solicit hordes of "likes" and facile curiosity. Fact is this cobra is a photo-shopped picture, a morphed image akin to female celebrities waking up one fine morning to find stark naked pictures of themselves on social media after a "mousedevil" gels a famous face with a naked body lifted from a porn site.
In the real world, two-headed snakes are rare, and three-headed an absolute rarity. The highly-venomous Russell's viper, which is found across the sub-continent and accounts for a high proportion of human deaths, produces the maximum number of two-headed specimens and albinos among Indian snakes. Such two-headed vipers (see photo), which are actually conjoined twins, do not live long. The heads pull in different directions and give confusing impulses to the body producing contortions in locomotion. The heads compete for food, and if the heads can reach each other, one may snap at the other and bite in frustration. This mutually-reinforced helplessness renders two-headed vipers vulnerable to predators. Such vipers, though possessed with venom fangs in both heads, will not be able to deliver the imagined "double-bite" to humans.
Kat among the pigeons
Sizzling Bollywood star Katrina Kaif does attract envious glances from human "chicks and birdies" but did you ever hear of Kat being deployed to shoo the real avians? Well, such is the charm that Kat exerts in this part of Sri Lanka that a farmer of Yala east village near the Kumana National Park has filched a Kat cutout from a Lux soap advertisement to make his scarecrow an eyeball-catching one. Or, a "scary, ugly" one that gives feasting birds the jitters! Yala east is an old traditional village with less conflict with elephants. Everyone here is into Hindi movies and Lux soap is doing a promotional campaign with Kat cutouts in all shops. While the Kat cutout is aimed at scaring away birds, the other part of this unique scarecrow is a string of strong beer cans that rattle hard to ward off straying elephants. Yala farmers guard fields at night not from machaans in trees or raised platforms but from ground positions. This farmer seems either a fanatical Kat fan or a particularly imaginative one, as others use normal scarecrows.