Celebrating art and natural history

Everyone would love to draw or doodle. If you master the art, every boring class or meeting can suddenly become that much more interesting. However, it’ll be better if you draw or sketch for the love of it, for you can create something you’ll cherish for a long time to come. SugSketch0002Apart from playing book cricket in classes or doodling during meetings, I enjoyed sketching. Of course, I hadn’t mastered it, I would only copy the masters. Bill Waterson, for example – as a tribute to the master, this one hung on my cubicle wall. The scan looks a bit yellowed, and sure enough, indicates that this is an “antique” artwork 😉

It was more fun to draw animals, though, but my sketches were mostly those of bears (Barney Bear), pigs(Porky Pig), Looney Tunes or stuffed tigers

SugSketch0003Apart from a postal course in art from Santhanu’s Chitra Vidyalayam, I didn’t dabble much with sketching, other than the occasional doodling while dawdling. Things changed, when I began watching birds. We learnt from experts and ornithologists; a common point everybody mentioned was to draw. Watch the birds, draw what you see, note down the details. Obviously, you may not be able to replicate the bird, but you can definitely observe its posture, the colors on its head, wings and beak, whether it walks or hops and a hundred other things that a bird can do. So there I was, back into sketching. My sketches were horrible, but that didn’t matter at all, because all that mattered was the learning.

This year, National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru (NGMA) was celebrating art & natural history, on the occasion of World Environment Day. It was a three-day event with two 20150606_110529workshops, a film festival and a conversation on animal illustrations in India. I was thrilled, because one of the workshops was for adults. Finally! I would get jealous of the kids who get to learn nature journaling from Sangeetha Kadur and Shilpa of Greenscraps – both very fine nature and wildlife artists and wonderful teachers, but who haven’t yet agreed to many of our requests to conduct workshops for adults 😉 At NGMA, there was a two-part workshop on scientific drawing of animals conducted by Ms. Tatiana Petrova. She is a Russian wildlife artist and 20150606_110800ornithologist, who recently completed her dissertation on the history of ornithological illustrations of Indian birds in lithographs of XIX century.

A few of her works were on display at the NGMA library.  Shyamal L and MB Krishna guided some of us through the display which ranged from watercolors and woodcuts to lithographs and oil pastels. Later, Shilpa explained what goes into making some of them, and that was an eye-opener. The cats, birds, geckos – mind-blowing art. I was glad I didn’t miss the event.

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During the workshop, she took us along the timeline of the history of art in the natural world – from imaginary creatures and crude drawings to precise representations, art in nature and wildlife has come a long way. She told us about the very same techniques that our mentors had taught us earlier, of how to draw the key features and a bit of the habitat, while on the field. Additionally, she introduced us to “schemes” – more like skeletal line drawings for insects/animals/birds – on top of which one can develop the final sketch.

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My incomplete sketches from the workshop: bird anatomy scheme, bird expressions and Khaleej Pheasant (while watching a video clip)

She said, most people make the mistake of drawing the legs from the belly, or the tail seems to be “growing” out of the wrong place. There were important points that she drove home – like the joints on the limbs which make for a much better sketch – simple techniques, simple because she made them look so but points which we would otherwise fail to note.

Day two involved an exercise of sketching while watching videos of animals and birds in action. Wow, doing a simple copy itself was a big task and this seemed impossible!

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Marmots from my A4 pages – drawn while watching a video clip played in a loop

But she gave us a few tips and tricks. More than the sketching experiment, I enjoyed watching her in action. She was fast, observing even the smallest details and producing art of the finest nature. Later, some of us (participants) exchanged “notes” and it was great fun to admire each other’s art 😉

The event ended with the ‘Drawn to the Wild: A Conversation on Animal Illustrations in India’ by  Shyamal and Tatiana. It was a journey they took us along, bringing to us the art that we don’t normally get to see. I am not qualified to even go ga-ga over Shyamal’s research and knowledge, but all I can say is that if you haven’t heard him yet, you really haven’t done the right thing. During the talk, Shyamal and Tatiana discussed many images, one of which was the one below. Note the Sarus Crane in the middle – I am mentioning this in particular, because two of our upcoming posts relate to cranes – Demoiselle and Sarus. Stay craned!

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Melchior de Hondecoeter Birds in a Park 1680″ by Melchior d’Hondecoeter – Art Renewal Center – description. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Sugandhi

Further reading:

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Painting the town red, green, yellow and every other colour

It is habba (festival) time in Bengaluru, with our city celebrating Neralu, the festival of trees. I got this opportunity to write about my experiences at Neralu for Citizen Matters. Thank you CM! Here is the link:

http://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/articles/painting-the-town-red-green-yellow-and-every-other-colour-neralu-bengaluru

I am posting the contents of the article here.

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It is that time of the year when some fellow Bengalureans will together paint the town red. Or yellow, purple, orange, pink, violet; name it and you’ll see the colour. Those Bengalureans are our beloved trees, getting into bloom, making namma Bengaluru look vibrant and pretty.

It was a nippy and chirpy Saturday morning, with the White-cheeked Barbets calling tirelessly. Being a ‘true South Indian’, I had to complete my ritual of one cup of strong filter coffee, even at the risk of getting late. I still managed to reach in time for Neralu’s opening activity, Katte Parichaya by Kiran Keswani and team at Doddamavalli Katte. If you thought this city doesn’t wake up early on weekends, you should have been there to see the crowd gathered in front of the Ashwath Katte, intently listening.

_46A2651Kiran and team spoke about Katte and the trees (that sounds a bit like ‘Swami and friends’, doesn’t it?), sharing interesting stories and facts, such as the Hindu divine trinity, paganism, the innumerable uses of the Peepal tree, community space, and even the ‘marriage’ between Peepal and Neem! Tree lovers gushed with pride, pointing to the crowd to crane their necks and have a look at the Mahua tree standing tall next to the Bisilu Maramma shrine. I smiled at the canopy, at the green leaves fluttering against the pleasant blue background.

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Business was as usual at the santhe, but this time, with a difference, because the vendors and customers had lent one of their ears to Neralu. The Parichaya was an interactive session, with many experiences exchanged, from Kattes in different parts of the country and ‘somari (lazy) Kattes’ to college Kattes.  It took me back to my school days, when we, siblings, had to gather the fallen twigs of the Arali mara (Peepal) once a year, for one of the rituals at home. For the twig-gathering, we would visit three Kattes nearby, the ones near Dodda Ganesha temple, Bull Temple and Mallikarjuna Swamy temple.

The Neralu team had made these colourful Katte postcards to be posted to friends and family, inviting them to Neralu. What a lovely concept! Kids rushed to write on their cards and post them in the cute little Neralu letter box.
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This old lady, frail and beautiful, picked up a card and examined it for a long while. Could she send it to someone? Did she keep it for herself? I’ll probably never know, but I’ll cherish the memory; that she had a Neralu card with her.

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I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out to National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). It was so open, so inviting, and so green. It was indeed festival time! There were maps to guide us to different ‘in-tree-esting’ activities, and friendly volunteers were running around, just like busy ants on trees. I even got my wrist stamped with Neralu.

The first floor had me soaked with information and titbits, as I walked in awe, looking at the selections from a larger exhibition on the lesser-known flora and fauna of the Western Ghats. Sigh, I wish I had at least nine lives to see all of those in person. My family and I walked over to the photo project. Over 40 photographs were on display, each telling a different, lovely, picturesque story about trees. One of the photographs was mine and Rana’s. I quietly danced a little jig! 🙂

My next morning was again a Neralu morning at MN Krishna Rao Park. The Kaleido group ran around the park, announcing “Banniri banniri, natakava nODiri”, inviting everyone to watch their play. The artists clad in red and black entertained the crowd, with witty dialogues and thought-provoking concepts. We didn’t need a laughter club that day to laugh out loud! I felt my eyes going moist when the artist said he moved out of Bendaluru to Neraluru. With my garden city boiling and baking, the name Bendaluru hurt.
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pic_article_Neralu_Sugandhi__4_The crowd split into two groups for the tree walks. I joined the one led by Narayan. He made it very interesting, sharing stories from his grandparents, and asking us to name the trees based on what we felt, telling us how to differentiate between the Teak and Kanaka Champa. He took us to the Mast tree and asked, “Which tree is this?” Pat came the answer, “Asoka”. He asked, “Do you think Sita would’ve had any shade under this tree?” Now, that question made sure that nobody from his audience will ever mistake the Mast tree for the Asoka!

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I had to excuse myself at this point, for I had to run to one of my favourite Neralu activities – Yoga under trees. The instructor, Namrata Sudhindra, was brilliant. She taught us asana after asana, without a break, and I didn’t realize how time flew. It was peaceful under the shade of the trees, and as she promised, I can still feel the energy flowing through me. [Image courtesy: Sudarshan Gadadhar]

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One of the vendors at the Katte Santhe

Unless we know about trees, we will never learn to respect or treasure them. We need to celebrate trees and our natural heritage. Neralu is becoming addictive, a habba that we all look forward to. This is the second year in succession that Bengaluru is celebrating trees. Here’s kudos to the team bringing this festival to us. Do catch the rest of the Neralu activities on February 14th.

Sugandhi

2 bin 1 bag

Bengaluru, once known as garden city, is now notorious as the garbage city. Thousands of tons of solid waste are generated in our city, everyday. Have a look at these shocking images from Mandur landfill. The residents protested enough and their voices were heard. 20141203_164556Dumping has been stopped at Mandur. But the day isn’t far away when some other area becomes a Mandur, unless we take responsibility.

That’s exactly what proactive citizens from Bellandur ward in Bengaluru did.  They formed a group called Kasa Muktha Bellandur, KMB, began managing their waste responsibly and are also being humane to people who handle waste. They began a citizen initiative called 2bin1bag, to segregate garbage at source. The entire process is well documented on their website, the formula itself is very easy and it instantly cuts down on plastic bags. It also ensures that very little goes to the landfill, because if we manage waste, then 95% of it can either be recycled or composted. They have tied up with other groups and vendors who manage garbage – which means that a vendor would actually *pay* to collect dry and/or wet waste from your homes!

So, our blog is Aranya Parva, and what does the “book of the forest” have to do with garbage? A forest definitely doesn’t have to do anything 20141203_170112with garbage, but the sad reality is that forests are being taken over for garbage dumping. We cannot write about the forest if forests no longer remain. And hence, this blog post.

Sugandhi and I got an opportunity to work with  the KMB team  on a short film that explains how easy it is to segregate 🙂 We made the film in English and Kannada, with one professional artist and some first timers, including a very smart young boy and a lovable, well-behaved puppy! There were two Malayalis who managed to speak well in Kannada, and there was one father-in-law, mine. I’ll stop the description there 😀 It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience where we learnt a lot. Please watch these films, share them widely, and more importantly, begin segregation 🙂

We are also in the process of gathering volunteers in our ward. Hopefully, our street will hop onto the 2bin1bag bandwagon soon. Until then, adios!

English version:

Kannada version:

Please take a moment to sign this petition and help the KMB volunteers take this plea to BBMP to ban plastic in Bengaluru.

Rana

References:

Our iceberg is melting

If you are fighting for the environment, they’ll brand you a “boring activist”. If you are fighting to bring about policy change, they’ll yawn and say, “No please, no gyaan!” These are tough subjects, tough to get people to listen to you, tough to draw their attention to see the problem. But someone in Bangalore has found a fun way to do just that!

Iceberg-is-melting2Rana and I got front row seats at ADA Rangamandira on Saturday evening. Oh wait, we had to a fair bit of fighting to get there, fighting against traffic, and glad to be on time to watch Bangalore Little Theatre’s annual production, “Our iceberg is melting”.

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Pic courtesy: Poornima Kannan

This lovely musical took us into a land of snow and ice, where the penguin wobbles and the seagull flies. A jolly group of young Emperor Penguins goes about its daily routine, while one of them, Fred, notices a rather alarming situation. Their home is melting and something has to be done, immediately, before winter sets in. The play is about the challenges Fred faces in getting his community to understand the problem. Do the penguins get together and find a solution? It is for you to watch and find out!

This musical is an original adaptation, based on Harvard professor, John Kotter‘s well-known management parable by the same name.

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Pic courtesy: Poornima Kannan

This is the time when all global leaders are talking about climate change, and this musical couldn’t have asked for a better time! Whether you are interested in tacking climate issues, or understanding how to apply the lessons the penguins learnt in your own situation, this musical is for you. We could face challenges at our workplace or at home, where we know that a problem exists. While some might see the magnitude of the problem, some won’t see any problem. It is one challenge to see a problem, help others see and feel, but it is another mammoth task to arrive at a solution. The musical throws insights into how that can be done.

Here is a promo video for the play. We enjoyed that evening of song 20141115_193209and dance, matched with a great laser show and Chris Avinash’s catchy tunes. Young and old joined the penguins in their plight and partying. The show is on for the rest of the Fridays and weekends of November 2014. Do book your show and be there. Kids will love this, because this will most probably be their first close encounter with cute penguins, some tall, some chubby, some chatty and some naughty!

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Pic courtesy: Poornima Kannan

 

 Sugandhi

 

The Shikra’s meal

In a fast-growing city like Bengaluru, real estate is an issue, not only for people but also for birds. We stay just a hop away from Vidhana Soudha, in the commercial hub and right in the middle of the central business district. The road is so congested that business establishments are taking a hit because of lack of parking space! If you can imagine that, you can also imagine the noise and pollution levels caused by traffic. But you may not be able to imagine that bird families continue to choose to make their home here, on this road. Three of them had their address on an African Tulip tree.

A Jungle Crow family had its nest of twigs on top of the tree. A White-cheeked Barbet couple found a hole further down, below the leaves.  A Common Myna family selected a hole on the side opposite to that of the barbets.  Barbets make neat, evenly circular holes in trees. In fact, these are near perfect, allowing no extra space when a barbet peeps out of the entrance 🙂 We didn’t see this pair excavating a new one. This must’ve been a nest they had made before and had ‘renovated’. White-cheeked Barbets are known to harass other species of barbets, taking over their nest sometimes.

White-cheeked Barbet amidst the branches.

White-cheeked Barbet (Click for a larger image)

It was interesting that the barbets and the mynas were staying there, despite the fact that the Jungle Crow was a potential enemy. There was also a female Asian Koel who visited this tree often – she must’ve used the Jungle Crow’s nest to lay her eggs. (Such behaviour is called brood parasitism. You can view an animated description of the same in the Indian movie, 3 idiots).

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Days went by and the young ones of the Jungle Crow were now visible in the nest. Whenever they were awake, they always seemed to have their mouths open. Doesn’t it ache, we wondered! One of the parents would come with some food every now and then, regurgitate and feed them.

Common Lime on the tamarind tree

Common Lime on the tamarind tree

We did not see the myna chicks as we were travelling during that time 😦 However, the White-cheeked Barbet couple used to sit on the nearby gulmohar and tamarind trees. They would call almost all day, going ‘Guturu, guturu’. Did you know these barbets call without opening their beaks?  We never saw the young ones and the sound of the barbets gradually reduced over the months.

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Meanwhile, the Jungle Crows grew up healthily. There were a couple of torrential rains and heavy wind, but the family and its nest survived all of that.

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Gulmohar tree in full bloom

A couple of months went by. By now, the gulmohar (Kattikai mara) was in full bloom.

It was one of these days when we were in the middle of some ‘serious discussion’ at around 11 AM.  We heard a shrill scream. All discussion abandoned, we ran to the balcony and saw a rather small raptor fly onto a ledge on the adjacent building. It was a Shikra!

It is not rare to see one in places where people stay, but amidst all that traffic, all that noise, here was a Shikra, ready to enjoy a nice midday meal. And just what was its meal ? One of our young neighbours, a tiny little barbet chick. We hadn’t seen the young ones before – and we got to see one of them now, as a meal. The barbet continued screaming for some time, while the Shikra pecked and plucked at it. Despite knowing it had audience,  it went about eating. After some time, it decided to have a change in venue, picked up its meal and flew onto the Gulmohar tree.

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Two days went by and the air was filled with the same shrill screams. It was a young barbet, again ! But this time, two Jungle Crows had caught hold of it. They didn’t want to have audience and flew away to a different tree, to enjoy their meal in peace and privacy.

The Shikra was one of the birds used for hawking or falconry (natives used to train birds of prey for their sport of hunting). It is rather slow compared to others birds used in a falconry. Apparently, a tame Shikra cannot even attempt to catch a bird, unless someone ‘throws’ the Shikra at a prey it is supposed to catch! However, falconers (hunters) usually have shikras with them, because shikras are very brave, can catch big birds now and then and can be trained easily.

_46A3097A Shikra’s normal diet contains lizards, mice, insects and small birds. Of late, there are bats visiting our African Tulip tree. I have read of instances where Shikras have fed on bats. Will it come to feed on the bats, I wonder.

Rana

References:

  • Notes on the falconidae used in India in falconry
  • Wiki notes on Shikra
  • Stray bird notes from Rishi Valley
  • Muni, M. and Hegde, V., 1998. Indian Shikra preying on Short-nosed Fruit Bats. Bombay Natural History Society, 95(2): 338-339.
  • Zarri, A. A., 2001. More information on shikra Accipter badius (Gmelin) feeding on shortnosed fruit bats Cynopterus sphinx Vahl. Bombay Natural History Society, 98(1): 106-107.
  • Agoramoorthy, G., 2001. Predatory attack on bats by barn owl Tyto alba and shikra Accipiter badius in Tamil Nadu state, south India Bombay Natural History Society, 98(1): 107-108.
  • Yahya, H. S. A., 1989. Breeding biology of barbets, Megalaima spp. (Capitonidae- Piciformes) at Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala. Bombay Natural History Society, 85(3): 493-511.

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