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Sunday read | Wildbuzz: The aqua guard and a mystic’s owlet

If you see this creature around a wetland, you do not need the pollution control board to send a team to verify the aqua purity. This is a damselfly of the Senegalensis species.

punjab Updated: Jul 16, 2017 11:21 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
A damselfly at the Siswan dam.(AMARPAUL SINGH)


If you see this creature around a wetland, you do not need the pollution control board to send a team to verify the aqua purity. This is a damselfly of the Senegalensis species. A team of field researchers led by prof VP Uniyal of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, found this damselfly at the Siswan dam jungles. The damselfly was among the 150 insect species the team found on completion of a five-day survey last week commissioned by the Punjab Forest and Wildlife Preservation department. The Punjab Government has decided to declare 3,199 acres of Siswan a community reserve to safeguard its rich biodiversity, authenticated by a series of WII surveys since May 2017.

The waters that feed Siswan dam are the run off from the sub-montane region of the Shivaliks. This water is pure and untouched by pollution, hence its attraction to species like the damselfly. ‘’The damselfly is a fine indicator species of clear water. It lays eggs in clear water and its nymphs (or young ones) develop in water. The nymphs feed on mosquito larvae, lending the damselfly the agency of a biological pest control agent. If the water is not clear, damselfly numbers will decline due to impaired breeding success. Another set of dragonflies are indicators of the water being more dirty, unclear or so-called muddy. These dragonflies can also tolerate low levels of pollution. But you will not find too many damselflies in such ‘unclear, dirty, muddy, polluted’ waters,’’ prof Uniyal told this writer.


Photograph of late Svetoslav Roerich and owlet, Kullu, 1936, on display at Roerich Memorial Trust. (HT Photo)

They were the epitome of a charming and cultured couple. Svetoslav N Roerich (1904-93), born into a family of Russian noblemen and a painter who fell in love with India, married Devika Rani (1908-94) and lived a life of incredible beauty and mystical search in the Kullu Valley-Naggar mountains. She, the grand-niece of Rabindranath Tagore, a diva of formidable beauty and reckoned in the 1930s and 1940s as the first lady of Indian cinema. Svetoslav once painted Devika in an unforgettable “sunny yellow sari in the background of soft pink flowers of Indian lilac, her appearance oozing feminine charm and spiritual refinement”.

Svetoslav’s mother, Helena, described Devika Rani thus: “She is a wonderful person of European education, moreover, she is a grand-niece of Tagore, and the high innate culture of this family is vividly pronounced in all her life.” What more could a painter summon as muse for the mystical explorations of his soul’s strokes! Svetoslav, also awarded the Padma Bhushan, was an expert in ancient art and local flora, a botanist and an ornithologist. His refined sensibilities and empathetic character were such that his estates played rehabilitation homes to orphaned, wounded or homeless wild creatures such as a bear cub, parakeet, owlet and predatory birds.

During my recent visit to the International Roerich Memorial Trust at Naggar, Manali, I wandered down a quaint, quiet, stone-paved path to his summer studio. The path traversed fruiting plums/apricots and plumes of wild flowers in many-splendoured diversity. The path stepped off to views of the Kullu valley, draped sensuously, revealingly in muslin clouds, before ushering curious visitors to the cottage studio. Amid all his paintings, family photographs and curios, I found one photograph of circa 1936 that arrested my gaze: a very young, striking Svetoslav with a sub-adult Asian Barred owlet on his shoulder. The owlet --- a creature traditional to the cosmic-induced night --- was probably nest-less, restless and Svetoslav had taken the bird under his wing.

In the photograph, the owlet gazes at Svetoslav with a searing, endearing trust.

It somehow evokes Svetoslav’s mystical striving to attain harmony of man, nature and cosmic principles.


Wounded Cheetal fawn with rescue party; and (right) dogs had bitten to bone of fawn’s hind leg. (BHAG SINGH DAMDAMA)

A little girl, Chetna, was so inspired by her grandmother, Maya Devi’s values of compassion that she thought nothing of wading into a pack of stray dogs and saving a Sambar fawn on January 10, 2017. That rescue took place near her village of Damdama in Pinjore. In turn, Chetna has inspired her paternal uncle, Jagpal Chacha, to similarly intervene and save a Cheetal fawn this Friday night. The dogs had gnawed to the bone of the Cheetal fawn’s left hind leg.

“Jagpal was at our family service station, which is surrounded by jungle. He saw the dogs biting and hounding the helpless fawn. The brutal scene recalled to his mind Chetna’s brave rescue of a fawn in similar circumstances in January. Jagpal felt that if a young girl could save a fawn, why could not he do the same? Jagpal’s friends joined in and they were able to drive off the dogs. The fawn was brought to our home at night and we informed the Haryana wildlife department, whose team took the fawn for veterinary care on Saturday morning,’’ Zila Parishad member and Jagpal’s brother, Bhag Singh Damdama, told this writer.

The Damdamas are a family of jungle conservationists led by the matriarch mother, Maya Devi Damdama. She is an inspirational figure and works in collaboration with the forest department to safeguard jungles, control forest fires and extend concessional, development loans to village women.


First Published: Jul 16, 2017 10:59 IST