OUTCASTS OF MODERNITY
To the human eye, the derelict room equipped with a high ventilator and a rotting water pipe may not have been too pleasing. But to this pair of house sparrows, it was a lovely, cosy home they had colonised for rearing successive broods. The ventilator afforded regular access and the nest was tactfully constructed in the abandoned pipe. Had modern architecture had its way, this sparrow pair would never have got a chance to enter the room or find a convenient niche to nest. Herein lies a principal reason for sparrow decline: our homes have been sealed to sparrows, these hangers-on of humans who need protected spaces to breed successfully.
Photographer and graphic artist, Hardev Singh Dev, captured this wonderful series of sparrows mating in that inviting, derelict room located in an unused part of the gurdwara on Shimla’s Cart Road. Dev, who is pursuing a masters in fine arts at the Government College of Arts, Chandigarh, was simply delighted. Having grown up in Budhlada, Mansa, his childhood was defined by the ‘neem’ tree in the courtyard, and its fascinating array of sparrows, crows, koels, doves etc. As Dev blossomed into a sensitive artist, he realised that the presence of sparrows and crows had waned in his life, not only in the urbane surroundings to which he had migrated but also in the rural environment of the childhood left behind. Dev’s mating sparrows series is both a lament and a tribute to these ousted creatures of modernity.
EMBALMED IN PETALS
Owners of lush bungalow gardens are often intolerant towards honey bees, the very same creatures that pollinate the blush of blooms. The other day, a householder living down our lane in Sector 19, Chandigarh, summoned three traditional honey collectors and asked them to remove two hives of the giant honey bee (Apis dorsata) from mango trees in his driveway. The householder was annoyed with bees because he claimed they had bitten kids. So adamant was he on their removal that he gave the collectors Rs 500 and such was his annoyance that he did not want even a share of the honey collected. The collectors lit a fire, smoked out the bees and squeezed 20kg of honey. The discarded honey combs were dumped by the roadside, and many bees that could not fly out were left crawling in the chambers.
Realising that bees would die if left by the roadside, I picked each one of the 125 still alive with plucked flower leaves and placed them amid petals of roses and calendulas in our garden. I hoped that they would feed on nectar and pollen, gain energy and fly away. However, only three managed to fly, and the next morning when I woke up, I found 122 rescued bees dead among the petals, just the way I had placed them alive the evening before. Their bodies lay, very lifelike, as if embalmed in the fragrance of beloved flowers.
Dr Neelima R Kumar of the Panjab University’s zoology department has researched honey bees for 12 years and she told this writer that when bees are smoked out, the hive perishes because bees cannot congregate to seek warmth from each other and neither is food available in the form of honey. “We may see a lot of bees flying about and think they have survived after being smoked, but they eventually get isolated, have nothing to eat, are disoriented and die one by one,’’ Dr Kumar said.
FLAMES, IN SUN AND MOON
Two contrasting images came to mind when I chanced upon the rare spectacle of Flame of the Forest (FoF) trees blooming in flocks and flocks in the jungles of an untouched vale nestling in the Shivaliks behind Kahianwala village in Punjab, about 20km from Chandigarh. It reminded me of African savannah tipped richly with red and orange. Paradoxically, it also recalled to mind the drive to Baramulla from Srinagar in autumn when apple orchards douse both sides of the iconic highway in ripening red and pink bobs. The Shivalik vale was bereft of humans and water, and in this arid setting the FoF were like magical orchards, meandering along the dry rivulet bed with their silken, odourless, parakeet beak petals lying strewn like splashed colours of Holi, the day after.
The sun was searing and bright after noon on March 28 when I took a ramble through this Shivalik vale and the photograph did not reflect the richness of FoF petal colour due to harsh light. However, a true appreciation of their colour and flickering flame shape was afforded by a night picture, when caught caging a full moon. It was as if the sun-doused flames and the moon stoked them.