As a child crippled by polio, Kiran Bhardwaj would wonder about the ponds and rivulets that surrounded her village of Jkhanian in UP’s Ghazipur district. Her disability prohibited her from visiting water bodies and frolicking and splashing like a puppy. Her able-bodied friends would catch fish and bring them home, and she would be spellbound by the grace of fish movements. Curious to know what secrets lingered under the currents, what the depths looked like, what plants and mud structures made up the waterworld, she would question her village’s divers. Her imagination pieced together all this and her mind would visit those water bodies.
She decided she wanted to be an artist so that she could provide an outlet for her deepening imagination and a catharsis for the disappointments that welled inside her. “In my paintings, fish can be seen emerging from a dark tunnel. The tunnel represents the time I retreat into deep thoughts. Emerging fish represent my coming out of those thoughts. Painting the vivid and diverse movements of fish is how art enables me to transcend my disability,” says Kiran.
She won the first painting competition she took part in at the district level, hands down. She eventually cleared her masters in fine arts and now, aged 25, teaches at the government school, Rajapur. Her six fish paintings are on display at Punjab Kala Bhawan, Sector 16, as part of an exhibition (December 3-6) to mark World Disabilities Day. She has shunned brushes, using her fingers and thumbs to caress, merge and knead oils into intriguing canvasses. Her fingernails, which she keeps long and curved like a waning moon’s crescent, etch the fish. It is her third exhibition in Chandigarh and Kiran confesses she is touched by the warmth and receptive nature of its citizens.
I ask Kiran what painting means to her? “Had I not got polio, I would have ended up just a simple village girl,” she says, with a stoic smile playing upon her lips like ripples gently radiant in sunset rays.
The pilgrim returns
Try and imagine this odd odyssey: Punjab under the siege of an insurrection. A strapping Swede travelling to Harike Wildlife Sanctuary from Moga at high noon in June on a creaking Punjab Roadways bus. His vocation: Quality assurance manager at the Nestle India factory. His unrequited passion: Punjab’s birds. His kinks: Rationed pegs of Old Grouse scotch downed with dry tandoori rotis!
That was Per Undeland for you, a classic field researcher who truly mapped Harike’s avian diversity. Undeland’s tactic was to disappear into forbidding marshes for days, armed with a notebook and recordings of bird calls. His success lay in traversing marshes through the year and not await the winter like standard birders. He also scoured other important bird areas of Punjab. His results: Recording 432 of Punjab’s bird species, which included 107 new species; four new species for India, one second record for India; three third records for India and one new breeding bird for India. He upgraded Harike’s checklist to 362 birds, though it now touches 400.
Well, Undeland is returning for an intense two-day birding trip to Harike around December 17 with his buddy, HS Sangha, from Jaipur. “Per had an unbelievably sharp eye for birds,” recalls Sangha. They hold the record of the first Pectoral sandpiper sighting in India, from wet fields outside Harike on May 10,1998.
Undeland had told this writer in 2010 that he was ‘’lucky’’ to have stayed in Punjab. ‘’I’m the birder who spent a lot of time at Harike during 1993-1998. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to go back since November 1998. But for sure, I’ll go back one day, since Harike is the best birding spot I ever visited.’’ Cheers!
Eye of the needle
Birds are poached in many horrific ways, the popular one at Punjab wetlands being poisoning through pesticide-laced grains. Birds contort in acute agony before poachers bag them. A Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) volunteer came across resident and migratory birds being trapped, roasted and sold in the market at 20 birds for Rs 100 in Brahmapuri (Maharasthra). This poaching is believed to have gone on for years and killed countless avians. The trapped birds were killed by piercing their eyes with sharp sticks or feathers and left to die slowly. Poaching was going on right under the noses of forest officials, who belatedly kicked into action with some arrests after the BNHS publicly exposed the avian pogrom.