It was afternoon and the twitter of birds was missing, no doubt stifled by March’s abnormal heat. As I ambled along the dry ‘choe’ or rivulet which feeds Perch dam nestling in the Shivaliks behind Chandigarh, a boulder of remarkable visage caught my imagination. It invited comparison to a Sumo wrestler, Laughing Buddha, coiled python etc. What was this silent witness to time’s passage doing here?
Had time persecuted it or gently removed its robes for final assimilation? I wondered what memories the boulder harboured of those cool months of March in ages gone by when global warming was not even a Cassandra’s concern. The boulder seemed in an eternal trance, waiting patiently for the next spate in the ‘choe’ to sculpt, chisel and skin, and sweep its ashes down to the oceans.
‘’This boulder is of very fine grained sandstone/siltstone. The grains are cemented with highly-calcareous material. The calcareous material is well distributed through the boulder yet at places, the concentration is irregular. The rock owes its peculiar shape to preferential dissolution of carbonates. The spots which are seen on the rock are due to detachment of (coarse) granule-sized particles cemented on the rock, again due to preferential dissolution of calcareous material. Nevertheless, a devout Hindu may take such a boulder as those of Ganesha or some other God, which otherwise are freaks of nature,’’ Dr RS Chaudhri, a former chairman and director of geology at Panjab University, told me.
‘’This boulder belongs to sandstone of the Upper Shivaliks, has been transported by the present and ancient rivers, and as a result has been cut and shaped by water action. The (Perch) hills where this boulder was found are the youngest in the Shivaliks. This boulder is about 1.79 to 1.2 million years old and belongs to the upper pleistocene age,’’ added assistant Prof Ashu Khosla, a specialist in fossils at PU’s geology department.
A God for an atheist
Ask the ‘Raptorman of India’, Rishad Naoroji, what passions ignite him and he will tell you simply that he has two interests in life: studying birds of prey and classical music.
If the legendary ‘Birdman of India’, Dr Salim Ali, had his way, Naoroji, may never have specialised in raptors and produced the seminal work, Birds of Prey of the Indian Subcontinent. This book deals with 69 species and is considered a veritable bible for those seeking an in-depth perspective on raptors. The book was first published in 2006 and embodied three decades of field research. Naoroji’s regret is that his London publishers, Christopher Helm, have put a full stop to the book’s reprint. Naoroji has also founded the Raptor Research and Conservation Foundation.
Naoroji recalls that Dr Ali had wanted him to study ‘chaklis’ (small birds/sparrows). But this Parsi, who is an heir to the Godrej fortunes and is a cousin of Adi Godrej, was a stubborn young man. He wanted to only study raptors, which are large birds.
‘’So, Dr Ali got a bit upset with me. I suspect Dr Ali himself found it difficult to study raptors as these are not easy birds to study. I did not have any formal or specialised training in raptor biology/conservation, but learnt about these birds on my own,’’ the Mumbai-based Naoroji (now turning 65) told this writer. Indeed, many of those who contributed richly to the sub-continent’s ornithology over the centuries did not enjoy a technical accreditation before they turned their passion into a legacy.
Among birds, raptors do not deliver sweet songs to the human ear. So, Naoroji makes do with, say, Felix Mendelssohn’s mellifluous string quartets. Though an atheist cast in the Bertrand Russel mode and an unapologetic bachelor to boot, Naoroji does venture to declare Ludwig V Beethoven as ‘’God’’. He possesses thousands upon thousands of music CDs, has heard live performances in Europe’s revered musical shrines, and wined and dined with the finest violinists, cellists, pianists etc. For him, there is no favourite piece of music, all works of the master composers are ‘’great’’.
The sublime artistry of chamber music particularly charms Naoroji. When it comes to, say, the Beethoven symphonies, he possesses multiple interpretations by different conductors such as HV Karajan, W Furtwangler etc. ‘’No conductor is bad or good, they only differ subtly in the tempo they require the orchestra to deliver the work. That is what makes for variety and listening pleasure,’’ explains Naoroji.
(For the record, Naoroji is wealthy: Forbes magazine 2016 estimates his net worth at $2.2 billion, and ranks him at 810 in the list of the world’s richest people. He is a Director for Godrej Investment and Godrej Holdings Pvt Ltd)
The profuse blooms of the Silk cotton tree in the tricity are relished by not just birds for their nectar, but also by visiting fruit bats or flying foxes at night. At the Sukhna Lake reserve forest’s nature trail, one can observe sambars sauntering in from the jungles in the evening to feed on these blooms suffused with sweetness (see photo). But the deer often have to step back into the jungles to allow joggers, walkers, forest staff etc to pass by before they can pick on these spring delicacies, which rain on the trail with the loudest of ‘plops’.