Wings and Chirps

Wanderings of an Itchy Feet

Author: Rekha (Page 1 of 4)

#MythicalMondays – Brahmarakshassu

Continued from #MythicalMondays – Mythology and Me.

I was sitting on the windowsill of the living room. Ammamma asked me to get down from there and sit next to her. I was not very close to Ammamma because I have hardly spent much time with her. She was always and always bed-ridden and on medication all the time. We could rarely see her in upright position. I hesitated but my curiosity got over me and made me get down the windowsill. I sat on the floor next to Ammamma’s chair.

Ammamma heaved a sigh of relief. And then she began.

Brahmarakshassu

Brahmarakshassu is the wandering spirit of a Namboothiri or Brahmin (a scholar of high birth) who was engaged in evil activities in his/her life or have died an unnatural death. Brahmins were the ones who have received sacred learnings and their duty was to impart knowledge to good students. The ones who misused their knowledge for evil activities or the ones who have been mistreated in their life and died an unnatural death would turn into fierce demonic spirits after their death. They were called Brahmarakshassu. A Brahmin who is a Rakshasa, and has the characteristics of both a Brahmin and a Rakshasa. They would retain all their knowledge, remember memories of their past lives and are believed to have immense power. Thus they can only be defeated by very few learned scholars who can fight them, defeat them and give them salvation from this demonic form of life. Hindu texts mention that they eat human beings.

It was dark outside and a chill ran down my spine. I somehow managed to ask Ammamma,

Is the Brahmarakshassu resident here in our Sarpa Kavu, a man or a woman?

Ammamma then told me a story about the Mana/Illam that was situated there on our land many decades ago. She mentioned that there was this Thirumeni whose daughter was extremely beautiful and was of marriageable age. She was also highly knowledgeable. After interviewing many Namboothiris, her parents found a suitable groom for her. The marriage date was fixed.

There was a karyasthan (manager) who worked for the family in managing their day-to-day business. He had an evil eye on this girl. One night she felt the sudden urge to relieve herself. Those were the times that toilets were not constructed within the main house. They were constructed far away from the house in the backyard. So she went out with her thozhi (a house help who is also a close confidante) with an enna villakku (oil lamp). As she came out she was abducted and assaulted by the karyasthan. Apparently her thozhi had cheated her on the demands of the karyasthan. 

The Namboothiri girl was furious and heart-broken. The next morning, her parents and brothers also blamed her beating her black and blue. She was asked to leave the house immediately and the family performed her last rites as if she had died for them. It’s called Padi adachu pindam vakkukka in my native language Malayalam which is a custom performed when someone is considered dead for the family. Karyasthan and thozhi were ordered to leave her till the outskirts of the village. After travelling some distance from the Mana she arranged for a fire and jumped within. As the fire engulfed her, she cursed the thozhi and the karyasthan who later died of leprosy. She also cursed her own family that no more girls will be born in the family ever. Thus the end of that Namboothiri family.

This part of Kerala that I belong to, Palakkad, was following Marummakkathayam, a system of matrilineal inheritance. Descent and the inheritance of property was traced through females. It was followed by all Nair castes including of Royal Families, some of the Ambalavasis (priests and other people associated with temple), Mappilas (Muslims), and some tribal groups. This was one of the few traditional systems which gave women liberty and right to property.

Ammamma said that it is believed that it was this girl’s spirit that was residing in the Sarpa Kavu and was being worshipped by our family since ages to avoid any mishappenings.

I was young. I was scared. I had nobody with whom I could have confided the fact that I had entered the Sarpa Kavu not just once but many times. I feared that I would also be abandoned like that girl who did nothing wrong. I have spent numerous sleepless nights talking to the Brahmarakshassu and seeking forgiveness for the many times I had tress-passed into her territory. I was sure she’ll eat me up soon.

May and June were the months when the harvest season was just over and haystacks were laid all over the courtyard for sale and for our own use for the cattle. One night, the plantain leaves were moving from behind a haystack due to strong breeze. I woke up in the middle of the night and started shivering and sweating thinking that it was the Brahmarakshassu dancing with anger. I would fear for my life yet I didn’t have the courage to tell Amma or my grandparents about my fears. I wrote about it to Acha twice or thrice and then tore it off. I was so sure that I would be punished and abandoned.

Stories from our childhood get so engraved in our memories and have a great influence in shaping our personalities and the incidents that happen later on in our lives. After this episode till the day I was able to hold the firstborn in my arms and cuddle her tight, I had always and always blamed myself for everything that went wrong in our lives and for entering the Sarpa Kavu out of curiosity. Looking back, I understand that this was how the curiosity in children was killed right as it germinated.

Stay tuned for my next post on the other residents of the Sarpa Kavu right here next Monday. Hope you are enjoying this series as much as I am loving sharing the stories that might otherwise die a silent death.

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#MythicalMondays – Mythology and Me

I grew up in an era when mobile phones, Internet, Wi-Fi and Uncle Google were unheard of. Uncle Google and not Google Baba because ‘Baba’ is no more cool. Doordarshan’s DD National was the only television channel accessible on the Weston television with the unusually pregnant picture tube and the wooden shuttered doors. Well-researched books written by learned scholars were our primary source of information.  And since we did not have many distractions, our attention spans were long, our minds were sharper and our sensibilities were still alive.

But then I grew up in a house were everything was either sacred or taboo. We were kind of used to volcanic eruptions and the tectonic movements of the mood plates of our fathers, mothers and other elders of the house and neighbourhood. It was in class eighth that my best friend gifted me a copy of ‘Love Story‘ by Erich Segal. The moment I showed it excitedly to Amma, hell broke loose. And I couldn’t read the book till I graduated from college. Our family friends took us to the cinema theatre for the movie Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. One of my friends was crazy about Madhuri Dixit and the other one was mad after Salman Khan. But I did not enjoy the movie much because the moral police was sitting right next to me and tightening their grip on my wrist every time Salman and Madhuri acted cheeky. Imagine what would have happened when we first witnessed a French Kiss in this environment.

Cable television was a no-no at our place till Acha (Dad) ended his vanavasa and returned to India in July 1995. I appeared in my twelfth class boards while Acha jumped up and down at every four, six and wicket taken during the Cricket World Cup of 1996. Trust me, I learnt all about cricket much more ambitiously than Reproduction, Genetics and Evolution, Ecology, Trigonometry, Integral Calculus, Differential Equations, Matrices, Electricity, Magnetism or Optics.

In short, we would read gyaan-vardhak books like Knowledge Bank, Reader’s Digest, Champak, Chacha Chaudhary and Saboo, Tinkle, Pinki etc. And watch TV series like Surabhi, Bharat Ek Khoj, Bournvita Quiz Contest with Derek O’Brien, Quiz Time with Siddharth Basu, Oshin, Hum Paanch, Yeh jo hai zindagi, Hum Log and the likes. I so wanted to be like Renuka Shahane of Surabhi fame. Her ever smiling face and that Namaskaar, her confidence, her enthusiasm and passion with which she performed. Class apart. And her sarees!! I adored her sarees even in that B/W television.

It was during our summer vacations that I had hardly anything to do other than write my journal entries, roam around the compound of the house, read Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha or help everyone with household chores or preparations for one or the other poojas. My favourite outing place was the Sarpa Kavu (abode of the snakes).

To read the story about the Sarpa Kaavu’s influence on my life, click on the image or the link below.

Since I grew up in an environment where only deities, poojas and personal and mythological stories were shared, slowly but surely I started having a love affair with mythology. My mind was full of questions but I wasn’t supposed to ask. Who questions Gods, culture and tradition? Not good girls from reputed families. They were only supposed to listen and obey. But then I was not the one that could have been tied for long.

Most of my free time was spent gazing at the Sarpa Kavu or the Thozhuthu (cattle shed) where Sundari Pashu stayed. Either from the terrace or from Sachumama’s bedroom window or sitting at the Ammikallu (grindstone) in the Pinnanburam (backyard). I could see a few stone idols placed on a small elevated platform, all made of black stone. Some of them definitely looked like snakes. But there was another one that I couldn’t make out. It looked like a human body. There was a two-feet boundary wall to this enclosure which nobody was supposed to cross except the Namboothiri on the pooja day. I have seen Ammamma running towards the back door and screaming at the new house help as she was about to empty the sauce pan into the Sarpa Kavu after brooming the front yard and the back yard. I almost thought she was going to be killed for this unintentional sin.

You can read my adventures with Sundari Pashu here on Withered Dreams Revisited.

Forbidden Fruit is Sweetest.

One afternoon, while everyone else in the house was enjoying their siesta, a little girl ventured out stealthily through the back door from the kitchen. Right next to it was this Sarpa Kavu. Yes. I have entered the Sarpa Kavu many a times till I actually saw a King Cobra with his hood spread wide. I still remember how I ran from there as it hissed. That was the last time I ever ventured out alone even within the compound of the house.

Once Ammamma and I were alone in the house for a day. I think I was about fourteen or fifteen at that time. I gathered courage and asked her why we were not supposed to enter the Sarpa Kavu. I think she was also tired of shutting me up again and again and finally bothered to tell me this.

This house of ours was built on a land where there was a famous Mana (house of Namboothiris or priests). The astrologer had informed our ancestors that the place was occupied by a Brahmarakshassu and Sarpangal (snakes) and we were supposed to regularly pray to them and please them by performing monthly poojas on Ayilyam nakshathram (one of the twenty seven lunar mansions or constellations).

But who are Brahmarakshassu and Sarpangal?

Stay tuned to my post on Brahmarakshassu and Sarpangal under the #MythicalMondays series on next Monday.

#MythicalMondays – Aravan/Iravan: The God of the Transgenders

When we shifted to my parents first-ever house on 4th February 1984, I was just four-years-old. I clearly remember the group of people dressed in sarees who started singing and dancing outside our gate after the early morning Grihapravesha Pooja and breakfast was done. I also remember Acha (father) giving them some amount. They in turn blessed all of us and our house. Acha believes in Karma, something I inherited from him. When I asked him about these strange people he said,

They are simple humans just like the rest of us. People mistreat them and thus they have no other means to fend for themselves than going from house to house where either a new-born has arrived or a wedding has taken place or someone has just moved in. People believe that they have special powers allowing them to bless or curse others. I believe in their blessings because they bless you from the bottom of their hearts for giving them a meal or two in the form of this money, grains and clothes.”

He did not tell me more and I did not ask anything more. We had shifted to a locality which was a new township and we were the fourth family to occupy one of the vacant flats. So you can imagine that I had the privilege of witnessing these ‘special guests’ every time a new family moved in. And then Dad left for his decade-long stint in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Later in life, I only witnessed people shutting doors as soon as they heard about these people they called hijras (eunuchs). Amma too feared them, I realized. I asked her once or twice but she didn’t tell me anything other than this that they cursed people if they got in their way and made them angry. To me, they were like the old Thirumeni (priest) at the temple in our ancestral village who would curse anyone who crossed his path. Thus my little mind also started fearing them.

Kerala: In a first, Kochi Metro to employ 23 transgenders 

This was one of the headlines that caught the attention of my eight-year-old daughter during her summer vacation.

Who are these transgenders, Mamma? What is this LGBT that’s written here?

I gave her a brief about how there are different types of people like the different types of flowers, butterflies and birds. I told her that they are almost the same as us but just that they are not men or women but a different sex that we call the third sex. She’s another curious cat like me and asked further to which I responded that I’ll share more details with her as and when I myself understand them. She immediately came up with another wonderful question which happens to be the reason for this post.

Are there any Gods who are transgenders?

I knew about Shikhandi, a character from the great Indian epic, the Mahabharatha. But I knew he wasn’t a God. I remembered a documentary that I had seen in the 90s which showed the hijras worshipping a goddess sitting on a rooster. I immediately went on a research mode and asked my parents and many others about any God who was a transgender. Amma now considers me much more knowledgeable than herself about mythology and thus asked me to find out and share it with her. And thus I came upon Aravan/Iravan

Aravan

Aravan or Iravan is a minor but crucial character of Mahabharata. It is from his lineage that the transgenders are said to have been born. That is why the transgenders or hijras are also known as Aravanis (the brides of Aravan).

Aravan was the son of Arjuna, the Pandava prince and Ulupi, the Naga princess. The Mahabharata portrays Aravan as dying a heroic death in the 18-day Kurukshetra War.

When the Mahabharata war was inevitable Sahadeva, who was well versed with astrology, decided on a day for Kali Pooja with all their weaponry for victory of Pandavas in the battle field. It was upon his suggestion that narabali (human sacrifice) as part of their prayers was decided. But only an extraordinary human who is the best in eerezhu pathinaalu lokam (the 14 lokas of Hinduism; 7 upper worlds or Vyarthis and the 7 lower ones, known as the Patalas) could be sacrificed. There were only three eligible candidates. Lord Krishna, Arjuna and Aravan. Krishna couldn’t be sacrificed as he was their ultimate source of strength for the war. Arjuna too was voted out as he was the master archer and a peerless warrior.

Thus on the 18th day, Lord Krishna explains the scenario to Aravan and he readily agrees to be sacrificed. He was granted three boons in lieu of his self-sacrifice for a greater good. He wished for a) a heroic death, b) to be able to witness the entire Mahabharatha Yudha and c) to get married before the sacrifice. His boons were granted by his uncle, Lord Krishna. With just one day’s marriage and a lifetime of widowhood ahead, no princess or woman from any kingdom was willing to marry Aravan. Krishna then took the form of Mohini and married Aravan and next day Aravan was beheaded. Mohini cried, lamented, wailed and bereaved for him like no wife would do for her husband.

Aravan watched the Mahabharata battle through the eyes of his severed head from a mountain near Kurukshetra. Thus Aravan is always worshipped in temples in the form of his severed head.

Every year, between April and May, thousands of transgenders from across the country converge at the Koothandavar Temple in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu for the annual Koovagam Festival which runs for 18 days to celebrate this single day marriage of Aravan. The ‘Aravani’s of Aravan’ identify themselves with ‘Mohini’ – the female form of Krishna as a woman trapped inside a man’s body.

In this festival, the priest who is considered as ‘Aravaan’, ties the ‘thaali’ or ‘mangalsutra’ to the Aravaanis and binds them in the relationship of marriage. The next day, ‘thali arutthal’ or the rituals for widowhood are followed, which include snapping of the thaali and breaking of the bangles to signify the death of Iravan. The ‘Aravaani’s’ wear white saree and lament over the death of Aravaan. This is done on the last day of the 18-day festival. The entire place is filled with the loud wails of the transwomen and their appearance is in direct contrast to the previous day where they were decorated in attire. Aravan is here known as Koothandavara.

Mythology connects the world. As I read more and more I realized that the story of Aravan resembled the story of Khatu Shyam or Barbareek, a popular deity in North India. I also realized that Iravan spelled as Irawan is also known in Indonesia. There are traditional plays and puppet shows which present a dramatic marriage of Irawan to Titisari, daughter of Krishna, and a death resulting from a case of mistaken identity.

During my research I also came upon Bahuchara Mata whose story connected the dots with the rooster Goddess that I saw as a child. Bahuchara Mata is the Hindu goddess worshiped by hijras and is popularly believed that they are descendants of this deity. Once Bahuchara Mata, daughter of a known warrior of the charan caste, was traveling with a caravan along with her sisters. While on their way, a notorious road bandit named Bapiya hijacked the traveling caravan. In charan culture, dying at the hands of an enemy was not accepted. Instead, charans would rather take their own lives opposed to dying at the hands of someone else. But, Bahuchara decided that it wasn’t she, nor her sisters who will die. Instead, she cut off the breasts of herself and her sisters as a way to curse Bapiya. What was he cursed with? Impotence! The only way for Bapiya to have the curse removed was if he paid homage to Bahuchara Mata by dressing and behaving like a woman.

Bahuchara Mata is shown as a woman who carries a sword on her top right, a text of scriptures on her top left, the abhay hasta mudra (“showering of blessings”) on her bottom right, and a trident on her bottom left. She is seated on a rooster, which symbolises innocence. [Source: Wikipedia]

When a transgender dies, the fellow transgender beats the dead body with chappals (slippers) so that the soul is never born as a transgender again.

With all this discrimination and social ostracism we still welcome them during the most important milestones in our lives for their blessings since we believe that they have been touched by God Himself. Why? Because we are a bunch of hypocrites who can’t accept them to be a part of our tribe yet need their blessings for good fortune, to ward off evil energies and bad luck and to bless the new-born so that he/she doesn’t end up as one of them, a hijra. Shame on us!

I hope you found this mythological story as interesting and informative as was my journey researching and writing it. I leave you with this detailed video on the Koovagam Festival at Koothandavar Temple in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu.

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#TravelDiaries – Birds of #Himalayas

Summers can make even the coolest person want to wander away from Delhi. With the school vacations on, it was absolutely difficult to handle the girls at home. And hence we decided on a 3-night trip to Binsar. We wanted the property to be something exciting and far away from the city. And thus we ended up booking our stay at Ayush Guest House in Almora for three nights. My review of the place is now up on TripAdvisor.

We had a fun road trip and reached the guest house by evening at around 6 pm after gobbling up almost half a kilogram of Kaphal (wildberries). By early next morning, the family of four was down with dehydration. Day one had been completely ruined. But the adventure seekers that we are we couldn’t stay in bed for long and got up to trek to the nearest village. The place is so beautiful that we ended up extending our stay by two more nights. And though we didn’t find anything except a laughing dove in Binsar Bird Sanctuary, we did manage to spot quite a few species within our guest house itself. Here’s a list of the beautiful birds from the mountains of Himalayas.

1. The Himalayan Bulbul

The Himalayan bulbul or white-cheeked bulbul, is a species of songbird in the bulbul family found in in and near the Himalayas. We were lucky to have had the privilege of having this Bulbul family which was mothering their newborn chicks on a bush right outside our room.

The Himalayan Bulbul

The Himalayan Bulbul

It was a delight to watch this family through the glass window of our room sitting at the window sill, my favourite spot. My #NikonP900 helped me zoom into their nest and capture some precious moments.

The Himalayan Bulbul feeding its chicks

2. Kalij Pheasant

The Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos) is a pheasant found in forests and thickets, especially in the Himalayan foothills, from Pakistan to western Thailand.

Kalij Pheasant

The first time I saw this guy climbing up from the valley beneath, dusk was falling and hence light was not in my favour. I woke up around 4 am each morning and kept waiting for him. At last, I managed some clicks though nothing to be proud of.

Kalij Pheasant

3. Black Francolin

The black francolin (Francolinus francolinus) is a gamebird in the pheasant family. It was formerly known as the Black Partridge.

Black Francolin

This fellow used to call out continuously with a loud voice as he climbed up from the valley that even if I was away capturing the sunrise, I would rush down to click him.

Black Francolin

4. The Great Himalayan Barbet

The great barbet (Psilopogon virens) is an Asian barbet. They get their name from the bristles which fringe their heavy bills. It is a plump bird, with a short neck, large head and short tail.

Great Barbet

I heard him since the very first day but was able to spot him only on the last day when he was perched on a tree right outside our room.

Great Barbet

5. Oriental White-eye

The Oriental white-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) is a small passerine bird in the white-eye family. They forage in small groups, feeding on nectar and small insects. They are easily identified by the distinctive white eye-ring and overall yellowish upperparts.

Oriental White-eye

This little chick we found near the fence at the backside of our cottage. Li’l Love carefully put it underneath a dense bush to save it from the rains.

Oriental White-eye chick

6. Verditer Flycatcher

The verditer flycatcher (Eumyias thalassinus) is an Old World flycatcher widespread in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

Verditer Flycatcher

He gave us a direct view as we stepped out to start our journey for Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. Mighty happy to have got some really good shots even though it was perched on a faraway tree.

Verditer Flycatcher

This species is named after its distinctive shade of copper-sulphate blue and has a dark patch between the eyes and above the bill base.

7. Brown-fronted Woodpecker

Also known as Yellow-crowned woodpecker.

A medium-sized, pied woodpecker with yellow in crown. White-barred (rather than spotted) black. Underparts, prominent black moustache extending to breast and black-streaked white underparts. Vent deep pink. In male forecrown brown, centre yellow, rear red with black rear neck. In female whole crown yellow.

Brown-fronted Woodpecker (Male)

It ranges across the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent, primarily the lower-to-middle altitudes of the Himalayas. It is found in Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan.

Brown-fronted Woodpecker (Female)

8. Scarlet Minivet

The scarlet minivet (Pericrocotus speciosus) is a small passerine bird. This minivet is found in tropical southern Asia from India to southern China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They are common resident breeding birds in forests and other well-wooded habitats including gardens, especially in hilly country.

Scarlet Minivet

9. Jungle Myna

This bird is a common resident breeder in tropical southern Asia from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Burma east to Indonesia.  The jungle myna builds a nest in hole.

10. Streak-throated Woodpecker

Streak-throated Woodpecker (Male)

A medium-sized, green woodpecker with streaked throat and scaly whitish underparts. Green above with yellowish rump, white supercilia and white and black moustache. Crown red in male, blackish in female. Tail dark and plain. Small, dark bill.

11. Blue Whistling Thrush

The blue whistling thrush (Myophonus caeruleus) is a whistling thrush present in the mountains of Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia. It is known for its loud human-like whistling song at dawn and dusk.

Blue Whistling Thrush

12. Blue-capped Rock Thrush

This thrush-like Old World flycatcher breeds in the foothills of the Himalayas and winters in the hill forests of southern India. During winter it is found throughout Pakistan, Bangladesh (passage migrant), parts of Myanmar and India, especially in the Western Ghats region.

Blue-capped Rock Thrush

13. Rose-ringed Parakeet

Abundantly found all across India. Yet it looks so elegant every single time.

Rose-ringed Parakeet

14. Oriental Magpie-robin

The oriental magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis) is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but now considered an Old World flycatcher. They are distinctive black and white birds with a long tail that is held upright as they forage on the ground or perch conspicuously. Occurring across most of the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia, they are common birds in urban gardens as well as forests.

Oriental magpie-robin

15. Green-backed Tit

The green-backed tit (Parus monticolus) is a species of bird in the Paridae family. It is found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Laos, Burma, Nepal, Pakistan, Taiwan and Vietnam. Its natural habitats are boreal forests, temperate forests, and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

16. Red-billed Blue Magpie

The red-billed blue magpie (Urocissa erythroryncha) is a species of bird in the crow family, Corvidae. It is about the same size as the Eurasian magpie but has a much longer tail, one of the longest tails of any corvid.

17. Black-throated bushtit

The black-throated bushtit is a small passerine, around 10.5 cm long and weighing 4-9 g. It ranges from the foothills of the Himalayas, stretching across northern India through north-eastern Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, northern Myanmar, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

He said, “Can you please give me some privacy?”

18. Indian Spotted Creeper

This small bird has a marbled black and white plumage that makes it difficult to spot as it forages on the trunks of dark, deeply fissured trees where it picks out insect prey using its curved bill. It is found in patchily distributed localities mainly in the dry scrub and open deciduous forests of northern and central peninsular India. It does not migrate.

19. Grey Bushchat

It is found in the Himalayas, southern China and northern Southeast Asia.

20. Streaked Laughingthrush

It is commonly found in the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent and some adjoining areas.

21. Scaly-breasted Munia

Also known as Spotted Munia. It is a sparrow-sized estrildid finch native to tropical Asia.

22. Slaty-headed Parakeet

The slaty-headed parakeet (Psittacula himalayana) is the only psittacid species to exhibit altitudinal migration. The species’ range extends from Pakistan, to Western Himalayas in India through Nepal and Bhutan and up to the Eastern Himalayas in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. They descend to the valleys in winter, approximately during the last week of October.

23. Plum-headed Parakeet

The plum-headed parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala) is a parakeet endemic to the Indian Subcontinent. Plum-headed parakeets are found in flocks, the males having a pinkish purple head and the females, a grey head. They fly swiftly with twists and turns accompanied by their distinctive calls.

Plum-headed Parakeet (Male)

Plum-headed Parakeet (Female)

24. Treepies

The treepies comprise four closely related genera (Dendrocitta, Crypsirina, Temnurus and Platysmurus) of long-tailed passerine birds in the family Corvidae. There are 11 species of treepie.

 

Rufous Treepie

Treepies are similar to magpies. Most treepies are black, white, gray or brown. They are found in Southeast Asia. They live in tropical forests. They are highly arboreal and rarely come to the ground to feed.

Grey Treepie

25. Rufous Sibia

It is found in the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent, ranging across India, Nepal and Bhutan. Its natural habitat is the temperate forests of the Lower to Middle Himalayas. The species has an unmistakable appearance with its rufous-dominated colouration and black head, and is often seen with its crest raised. It is a vigorous, melodious singer.

26. Indian Golden Oriole

The Indian golden oriole (Oriolus kundoo) is a species of oriole found in the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia. Adults can be told apart from the Eurasian golden oriole by the black of the eye stripe extending behind the eye.

Indian Golden Oriole

27. Upland Buzzard

Also known as Tawny Eagle.

The upland buzzard (Buteo hemilasius) is a species of bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. This is the largest buzzard, though it is equaled in size by the North American ferruginous hawk. Normally found in open montane grass lands and cultivation in summer, wintering to lower altitudes. Frequently hovers. Hunts from air or ground.  Nest is made of sticks and well lined. Feeds on small mammals, birds and insects.

28. Scaly Bellied Woodpecker

Large, green woodpecker with distinct scaling from breast to vent. Similar to streak-throated woodpecker but larger and with unstreaked throat and upper breast. Black moustache and black bored white supercilia. Tail strongly barred. Crown red in male, blackish in female. Large pale bill.

Binsar has been declared an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International with over 200 bird species. And I’m glad that as an amateur I have been able to spot, capture and identify over 25 of them. But the thing is, none of these birds were captured at Binsar Sanctuary. These were captured from our Guest House in Paparsali, which is about twenty kilometers before Zero Point in Binsar.

Photos clicked by self using #NikonP900. Bird information sourced through internet and birder groups.

Of Tamarind, Mangoes and Bananas

I read this beautiful piece by Nupur Roopa all along with a flood in my mouth and my heart longing for that jar of tamarind that Ammamma, my grandmother, used to hide inside the kalavara (the storeroom). For now I satisfied my craving by indulging in a sinful spoon of puli-inji, a ginger pickle made with fresh ginger, jaggery and chillies. It is one of the many dishes prepared for Onam.

How My Love Affair with Khatti-Meethi Tamarind Continues…

The kalavara was one of the places at my granny’s home from where most of my adventures began. For some reason all the switchboards at my granny’s place were located above six feet from ground and hence even though there used to be a bulb inside the kalavara, I could never manage to switch it on before sneaking in. Nevertheless, it also helped me a lot since no one ever got to know that I was inside. 

It used to be a dark, cluttered and haunted place with gunny sacks full of naalikeram/thenga (coconuts), fresh ones and dried ones, huge vessels that were only used when we had a sadya (feast) at home. Plus huge ‘urulis‘, the big traditional vessels, used to partially boil the rice with husk to make it parboiled rice. And then the farming tools. Large containers of rice grain. Pots filled with polished rice, parboiled rice and other varieties. Some pots were for manjal (dried turmeric), arecanuts, red chillies, coffee beans and chukku (dried ginger). And then there were sacks full of mangoes of different varieties that were saved for pickles, chutneys, squashes and other stuff. Then there were those large bunches of bananas that used to be hung from the ceiling.

Apart from all of these, there were geckos, spiders of all colours, sizes and shapes, including the deadly tarantulas. Ants. Black ones. Red ones. Small ones. Big ones. And the many varieties from the insect world that I never saw outside of that house. I should have actually taken up entomology. I could have excelled. And sometimes there were also snakes including cobras that used to sneak in from the paambu kaavu (snake shrine) and enter the room through the partially open window. With all of these inside, I still dared to enter this room not just once, but many many times. One day, our household help entered the kalavara and got the shock of her life as I jumped out of nowhere. She almost fainted and I remember begging her to not tell anyone of this secret hiding place of mine. Komalam chechi was so sweet that she agreed with a smile. 

I used to sneak into this space all alone till the little sister started joining me on my adventure trips. Every time she was about to scream out of fear or pain from an insect bite, I had to cover her mouth to avoid disasters or bribe her with a mango or a ball of tamarind that I took out from one of the many bharanis (ceramic jars).

We used to have this huge pulimaram (tamarind tree) close to our main gate. The house was at least 50 feet away from the main gate. The roots of the pulimaram used to be spread across a large area and at some parts of the front yard, the roots were outside of the soil. I used to sit on these for hours daydreaming, drawing or talking to the stars, Achan (Dad) or myself.

Since we used to frequent Ammamma‘s house only during our summer vacations, the only time I have seen this tree full of fruits is during one October when we were there to meet an ailing Muthachan (grandfather), who passed away without even talking to me one last time. I had just turned twelve and losing him on a Diwali day was another big blow to my young mind. And that’s when I started sitting under the Tamarind tree for hours talking to him, writing my journal entries and tending to the seven Ashoka trees that we both had planted together near the compound wall of the house. Muthachan had told me these were pendulum trees. And I had assumed that they will tell us the time in future.

It was during one of the vacations that I had a clash with Amma and was so upset that I got into the kalavara and hid myself. Muthchan was not home and hence Amma and everyone else realized my absence only when lunch was being served. I could hear the commotion outside but my anger kept me from coming out. The moment the kalavara bulb was lit, I got inside one of the empty gunny sacks. I came out only about an hour later when my entire body was swollen because of ants and other insect bites. I am sure I don’t have to describe the amount of beating I received from Amma that day for scaring everyone.

Another episode was during my maternal uncle’s wedding. There were three bunches of banana that were hung inside one of the rooms. They were supposed to be used during the many feasts that were part of the wedding. My people got a shock when they realized on the eleventh hour that there were only one banana left on each of the bunches. The culprits were the only two granddaughters available in the house. Thanks to Acha, we escaped unhurt.

Once I had requested  Ammamma for one more mango after having almost five or six mangoes. That year the mango produce was less and she had hidden some for us. She refused me saying I was overeating and that she would give me more the very next day. ‘No’ was something that triggered the little monster inside me. I knew she had hidden them somewhere inside the kalavara. I sneaked in to get a few mangoes. But it seems Ammamma  was cleverer than me. She had hid the mangoes in a polythene and kept them inside the rice container. I tried everywhere except inside those containers. That was the day that I happened to encounter a cobra that was getting in through the window. As it hissed, I felt a chill run down my spine and my pyjamas getting wet. After a few nanoseconds of eye-to-eye glares, I rushed out. I think that was the last time I got into the kalavara on my own.  Ammamma gave me three mangoes instead of one to make me feel better. And I still remember that I just kept them aside and went on shivering for a while.

Childhood memories are treasures that I value much more than everything else that I have gained in my life. My inter-regional marriage and the subsequent distancing from the family ended my affair with the kalavara, pulimaram and mangoes from our orchards. During partition, the house that Muthachan used to say was mine went to my maternal uncle and family. The last time I went to this place was in November 2013 and I saw the kalavara had made space for a lavish bathroom, and the pulimaram was nowhere to be seen. Three of the pendulum trees remain as a sign of the good times I had spent in that house and of people I loved. No more reason to go there. I am glad that no partition can ever take away the beautiful memories that my heart and mind holds of a place I lovingly called home.

What’s you best memory from your childhood vacations at your grandparents?

Recommended Reading:

Withered Dreams Revisited | Dew Drops

Miss you Muthacha… | Dew Drops

Pathayapura – The Granary | Dew Drops

Myths and Beliefs: Inherited | Dew Drops

Banished for Menstruating – #PeriodPride | Dew Drops

 

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