Bull of the Baoris
Photographs often capture frogs sliding into the snake’s jaws of death. But here was one hell of a bullish frog, who may well have earned the title, ‘Tigrinis of Ranthambore’s Baoris’! I will now let renowned photographer and conservationist, Aditya ‘Dicky’ Singh, narrate an intense life-and-death struggle in which the frog kicked a snake in the face and emerged as the victorious, warring prince.
‘’In one of the many ancient ‘baoris’ or step wells in the Ranthambhore tiger reserve, I witnessed on April 25 a Rat Snake, which had caught a Bullfrog (Rana tigrina). As the snake tried to swallow the frog, the frog inflated its body and kept trying to force himself out of the snake’s death grip. The struggle went on for about 10 minutes and I could see that the frog was bleeding in a few places. When it seemed as if all was nearly over, the frog surprisingly managed to break free of the snake’s jaws to disappear in the mucky water. The rat snake is a very aggressive hunter but the bullfrog is no push over,’’ Singh told this writer.
Wow! This bull certainly had big balls! I asked legendary herpetologist Rom Whitaker to lend perspective to such encounters. Complimenting Dicky for his ‘’very excellent picture’’, Rom told me: ‘’Inflating its body is a typical frog defense to avoid being swallowed. In the case of most water snakes (Rat snakes are not typical water snakes), they have enlarged rear teeth (like rear-fanged snakes) which puncture the frog. Rat snakes have sharp teeth but possibly not long enough to puncture a big bullfrog. We have seen frogs escape from snakes before using their legs as fulcrums to push their way out and struggling like hell. It obviously depends on the relative size of the frog and snake as to who wins the battle. Of course, the will of the frog to survive has to be stronger than the Rat snake’s hunger urge too! If the frog’s skin is badly torn, it may not survive (after escaping the snake) but reptiles and amphibians have a fair capacity to heal even after a seemingly severe injury.’’
Bullfrogs themselves are neat killers. ‘’Yes, big frogs and toads are voracious predators and will eat snakes if small enough, even venomous ones,’’ added Rom!
Miracle of a tap
How would a child — whose parents are migrant, construction workers building our homes, offices and institutions — depict water in paintings and drawings? Conversely, how would children — whose parents access those completed constructions as owners or rightful stakeholders — imagine water? Even though ‘water wars’ between communities and nations loom darkly over humanity’s future, privileged children have yet to feel the shortage. Vivid and contrasting depictions of water were brought out at a pioneering exhibition held recently at the Government Museum & Art Gallery, Sector 10, titled, ‘Chhoti si asha’. It was the brainchild of associate professor, paediatrics, PGIMER, Dr Bhavneet Bharti, and her colleagues, painter, Vandana Thakur, and social worker, Kavita, and was aimed at ‘’decoding the emotional and psycho-social underpinnings of drawings’’.
While affluent kids painted water in all its romantic glorification as crystal waterfalls, lakes, paper boats floating in ample rain water etc, kids of construction workers depicted water as a ‘’difficulty, a scarce, intensely-competed resource.” Yogmaya, 12, painted an urban tap, which was for her a boon as it released water freely and magically in contrast to tiresome wells and handpumps back at her pauperised, native village. Ankit, 9, painted reflections of village life: huts, clear skies and the queue attending the community’s handpump. While most kids painted water an ‘aqua blue’, Shabnam, 9, depicted water as green as her village/labour colony ponds were laced with muck, duckweed and algae.
Feet in water, head in fire
Eminent horticulturist Dr Harjit S Dhillon took abode in Chandigarh in 1965. Half-a-century later, he points to a grove of ‘desi khajoor’ (date palm/phoenix dactylifera), which he has observed ever since. The grove has somehow beaten the odds and survived the tricity’s expansion and lies on the UT-Punjab border, opposite the Mohali Country Club and the Sector-49 gurdwara. It is a 50-acre patch of wilderness straddling the road dividing Chandigarh’s Sectors 48 and 49. This grove predates Chandigarh as some khajoors are 100-125 years old.
More than 300 khajoors inhabit this grove situated in a lowland, characterised by water retention and full of peacocks, kingfishers, butterflies and snakes. The accompanying typha latifolia grasses abound with warblers, prinias, frogs and insects. Indeed, it is a refreshing isle valiantly battling the tsunami of madding crowds and stubborn litter.
‘’Khajoor needs its feet in water and head in fire. It is a heritage tree of Chandigarh,’’ says Dr Dhillon, who has co-authored the book, ‘Trees of Chandigarh’. But sadly, the grove is under threat as fires ravage the khajoors. Buildings and florid parks may one day uproot it as it may seem a ‘wasteland’ to the urbane eye, partial as it is to chic, exotic flora heavily ‘perfumed’ with insectide sprays. But Dr Dhillon is somewhat old-fashioned. He recommends the grove be converted into a heritage nature park with landscaping. Will Government heed?
(Writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)