Archive for the ‘environment’ Category


Picture credit: Vidya Venkat

[First published in The Hindu thREAD on Jan. 22, 2016]

Here’s the tragic part about being born as an elephant. Sure, you may get to eat a whole lot of food and grow into a 3,000-kilo giant, but if your fate is to be ordered about by a puny human, how are you supposed to feel about that? Happy?

Taking a joyride atop an elephant (that costs a hundred rupees per head) at Dubare Elephant Camp in Coorg, I observe the scrawny animal course the walkway as its mahout periodically pokes it with a sharp metal rod. Halfway through the ride, the mahout rewards it with a roll of dried grass for its obedience. After we get off the elephant’s back, my mother buys a dozen bananas and gives it to the mahout in the hope that it would land up in the creature’s belly. Whether it truly does, we never know.

A short drive away from the Dubare elephant camp lives Karnataka’s state-appointed honorary wildlife warden Nirad Muthanna. Muthanna is strictly against the taming of wild elephants in such camps. “Their place is in the jungle, not in these circus grounds,” he says. Situated in the midst of coffee plantations, Muthanna’s house overlooks the Cauvery river, beyond which stretches the Dubare Forest where sightings of wild elephants and tigers are fairly common.

Sitting by the riverside, we discussed the dilemmas foisted on these animals by us humans. He recounts an anecdote from 2014 to make me understand why peaceful animals like elephants have learnt to be suspicious of — or even hate — human beings over the years.


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[A shorter version of this appeared in The Hindu’s op-ed pages on Jan 4, 2016]


The lesson from Paris 2015 is this: until world powers don’t stop digging black gold out of the bellies of Iraq, Africa and Saudi Arabia, the convoluted webs of violence, terror and climate change, will continue to keep us trapped in the times to come




Bullet holes in the wall at Bataclan, Paris terror attack site

New Year is the time for making resolutions, for turning back on the year that went by and reflecting on what lessons could be learnt from the past so we do not repeat our mistakes. Last year, Paris witnessed one of the worst terror attacks, besides those in Beirut and Baghdad. It also saw the climate change agreement being finalised. Could the latter be an answer to the former?

The thought had originally struck me while I was standing outside the Bataclan café in Boulevard Voltaire in Paris, staring at the bullet holes on the walls of the building at the site of the November 13 terror attack by Islamic State (IS) terrorists. It was the last week of November, and I was in the city to attend the UN climate summit – the 21st Conference of Parties (CoP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – where heads of states of over a hundred UN member countries were working out a deal to save the earth from the climate catastrophe.


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In deep water

(This piece was written in 2006 for a narrative writing class at the Asian College of Journalism.)

Located about four km from Pondicherry town, Thengaithittu could well be Keats’ unravished bride of quietness. Even the sea here, for all its proverbial chaos, is a prophet in meditation. The tall coconut trees lining the coast, their heads nodding gently in the wind, embodied the very meaning of the name of the island – ‘island of coconuts’. Looking at the bright green vegetable farms, thick mangrove swamps edging the estuary and the villagers who welcomed me with happy smiles it was difficult to believe that this island could soon be lost to the hungry tide…

When I left for Pondicherry, I felt that it was too touristy for the adventure story assigned by Robin Reisig, my narrative journalism tutor. Its rocky beaches, French cuisine and the Aurobindo Ashram are popular already. The plan, therefore, was to visit Arikkamedu near Pondicherry, where the relics of the Roman sea trade were excavated in the 1940’s. Much had been written about this place as well. But thankfully like Columbus, who was determined to explore one place, I too ended up elsewhere. Upon reaching Pondicherry, my friend Probir Banerjee, an environmental activist with PondyCAN! (Pondy Citizens’ Action Network), informed me about a recent government proposal to expand the existing port in Pondicherry. Thengaithittu, the island abutting the port, would be worst-hit if this were to happen as it would become more vulnerable to strong tidal action, he said. Led by curiosity and quest I visited the endangered island.


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The birdwatcher

bar headed geese

Bar-headed geese. Picture credit: Flickr

One winter morning in 1968, on one of his weekend ‘birding’ trips, an unsuspecting Theodore Baskaran was crouching by the bund of the Devarayan Lake near Tiruchirapalli, when a skein of bar-headed geese emerged from the skies. Dropping their wings, they landed on the placid waters of the lake, a few meters from where he was.

A fledgling birdwatcher since his college days, Baskaran could recognise them immediately. They were rare visitors to South India, coming in search of food from snow-bound Ladakh. Today, at 66, after more than four decades of bird watching, the retired civil servant recalls this encounter with a feeling close to awe. “Looking at those lovely geese while I was all by myself was a spiritual experience,” he says.


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