With every successful commemoration of ‘World Sparrow Day’ (March 20), awareness increases over declining visibility of House sparrows. However, we do not see dead sparrows lying around the place. This paradox can be explained by the fact that sparrows have not suffered a catastrophic decline like vultures, the latter often found dead in groups due to straightforward poisoning of carcasses. Sparrow deaths constitute ‘perfect murders’ for there are no corpses to tell long tales. The silent, steady killer over many years is a human-shaped environment contaminated with toxins that finishes sparrows by impairing reproduction and hormonal balances, much like the ‘slow arsenic’ poisoning of diabolical murder plots.
Wildlife biologist Dr Rajiv Kalsi of the MLN College, Yamunagar, conducted a major study on the comparative ecology of the sparrow in Haryana. He found that modern urban and rural architecture had sealed houses and thus denied sparrows cavities/holes for nesting. Dr Kalsi put out 500 nest boxes, which were quickly occupied by desperate sparrows, including a few where three sparrow couples nested in one box! The eco-systems of human habitation had been over-doused with insecticides/pesticides, which eradicated insects/grubs eaten by breeding females and chicks. Dr Kalsi also studied mobile tower radiation, a popular suspect villain and alibi in media narratives as it conveniently diverts blame from us. However, Dr Kalsi concluded that radiation had negligible impact as there was no variation in sparrow numbers in areas with high and low tower penetration.
All said and done, we still love our sparrows and miss their cute chirps and dainty antics. This loss attracts differing responses and awareness campaigns. An example worthy of emulation was the sparrow formation involving 1,420 kids of class 2, 3 and 4 spread over 22,000 square feet of the Everwin Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai. This formation, which was a school in-house project and conceived by senior principal B Purushothaman, was undertaken in 2012. Everwin conceived a dove formation in 2014 to draw attention to the bird disappearing from temples and confronted by the hostility of high-rise buildings. Everwin, which spent Rs1-2 lakh on each formation by dressing up kids in different colours, also works on educating local people on environment and wildlife conservation. Bravo!
Kiran ka andher
It has been a long and winding course down to the plains for Kiran Bala Sharma, 59. In the rose-tinted times of the 1950s and ‘60s, she would bathe at dawn in the village pond and snow peaks in all their clarity would loom over her Dhanpur village situated in the Jawalaji region (HP). She studied fine arts in Punjab before she settled in Haryana’s Shahabad. She is currently head of fine arts at Arya Kanya PG College. But when she looks back, she is dismayed at the mutilation of her beloved mountains due to human interference in the name of development and the manic efforts to alter and harness the natural order to mankind’s ends.
Her anguish took the form of this painting, which was recently on display at Chandigarh’s Punjab Kala Bhawan. This is an expression of contemporary women’s art and startles us with a richness of symbolism. The pristine air, which she inhaled as a child, is now polluted and is depicted by brooding, copious clouds in her painting. High-rise apartments rob the hills of their character and subdue them like beasts of burden. Ask Shimla’s old gentry, and they will lament the passing of the ‘Queen of Hills’.
Floods, landslides and earthquakes threaten humanity because we have imprisoned rivers behind the high bars of dams and chained their surge to sluice gates. Fish gasp and die as they cannot surmount the dam and surge against the currents to activate breeding triggers. Kiran was particularly aghast at images of annihilation left in the wake of the 2013 Kedarnath floods.
A ravaged nature has thus mutated to a savage man-eater, which is depicted at the painting’s bottom by a monster with fangs opening into a ‘mouth of maut for manunkind’.
Gulaal ki chidiya
Holi ke rang, phoolon ke sang, chidiya ke umang aur mardon ko bhang! The forthcoming festival of Holi will herald the zenith of spring. Colours will splash and stick on humans in joyful embraces; and those that miss the target or bounce off gently will not go waste as these will sprinkle the staid surfaces trodden upon by feet in many-splendoured residues. Those ‘haphazard’ formations of colour on soil or concrete or lawns will linger long after and constitute the aesthetics of unaware human actions. In nature, this time of the year corresponds with male birds acquiring resplendent robes to outdo rival suitors and woo females, who remain drab and homely.
Rajesh Panwar, a wildlife photographer, credited with the only record of the vagrant Red-breasted goose in India, clicked this Fire-tailed sunbird in transit from eclipse plumage to breeding glory. The splash of vermilion in Panwar’s picture, which evokes Holi’s most passionate colour, is lent by the sunbird and blooms of the Fire Flame Bush (Woodfordia fruticosa). Panwar captured nature’s mirror image of Holi at his tour site, ‘Camp Milieu: A Birding Paradise’, Nainital, on Tuesday.