Thursday, 11 January 2018

A tiger for every season

Tigers, as a friend had once put it, have found a way to silently pad their way into a million hearts. She may be right, for how else can you explain, why people bundle up in layers and layers of fabric in the coldest of seasons, putting themselves through an early morning routine in wretchedly icy cold conditions 'companioned' often sadistically by cold winds to get a glimpse of the stripes? or, why else would people travel in 45 degrees of pure hellish heat routinely getting scorched by the sun to yet again watch this magnificent cat in it's realm?

It has to be a certain degree of charisma with a spoonful of mystery and of course a tumbler full of beauty and sheer majesty that shimmers down to the tail, whiskers,  a shade of ochre and stripes with rippling muscles that is the tiger.

Tigers are beautiful yes but during my time spent in the forests I have come to realise that the way they look seems to change with the change of season. This, however is not a scientific observation or may not be accurate too for that matter, but it is how I have perceived the tigers in certain seasons.

In the winter season a tigers' coat seem to turn a rich shade of orange, a combination of orange with a hint of red, especially when the sumptuous winter sun (when it finally does emerge) strikes the cat with the first of it's un adulterated rays, making it gleam like silk and creating the delusion of the animal seeming bigger as it envelopes in a few strides, the entire length of its foggy, mist kissed meadow territory. A symbol of pure grace and a refreshed demeanour.

In the summer season, the tiger's coat seems more subdued, more in sync with its territory and its surroundings as if a said understanding with the rules of camouflage to hide among the drying blades of grass. It takes on a more yellow form this time of the year, often blending with the colour of the leaves on the forest floor or with the rays of the tyrannical sun beating down on un- suspecting spectators.

The white on the belly and the face seem more pronounced and the stride appears more delicate or languid as if challenged by the blazing heat. The coat a paling yellow, as if waiting much like the trees and vegetation around for the rain to beat down upon the parched for a renewed display.

In the monsoon season the tiger even though soaking wet much like its surroundings and the habitat it inhabits, seems darker. The stripes seem to be a darker shade of black while the ochre seems more pronounced. As the coat soaks in the downpour the fur with the sudden evening light, lights up with the raindrops like a bejewelled statue worthy of the every divine status it enjoys.

Lastly, at night or late evening, the tiger exhibits a more supernatural disposition. A game of light and shadows, the presence of the animal seems to own all in its path and whatever his lengthened shadowy figure touches which follows it noiselessly, except when projected on a wayside bush, the presence is heightened and appears tenfold re- iterating it's magnificence and power, warning all of the icon and symbol that is the tiger.

* (For monsoon and night sightings, have had the privilege outside of the park boundaries)

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Maximus the explorer

In the deep, dark, sultry forests of Southern India, the weather had changed, the usually still forest, started swaying to a steady breeze and the forest floor was hit with tiny drops of rain. Unusual weather thought the herd, but then it was a special night, for the herd’s favourite female was due to give birth. 

By the time he was born, the forest was drenched with rain, with the trees looking happy and green and everything in the forest seemed to be either singing or calling or croaking with the prospect of a lovely new day. 

That’s when the sun too decided to make an appearance to bathe the freshly washed curtain of green. And as the sun hit a dense clump of bamboo, that’s when she saw him for the first time, but what caught her eye, was not the tiny trunk or the perfectly formed round ears or the tiny eyes. What made her trumpet with amazement were the objects on her son’s feet, shining in the morning light. “ Come here, little one,” she said calling softly, while the newborn calf yawned and struggled to stand. 

But every time that he would attempt to stand, the shining objects would move too fast and unable to balance, the calf  fell. “Here, hold my trunk” said the mother. Standing up while, holding his mother’s strong trunk was easier but as soon as he stood up, all the little calf wanted to do was move forward! Staying put in one place even to drink milk was not an option! So while the calf zoomed around in a merry go round like circle, all the mother could do was wait patiently and trumpet enthusiastically whenever her calf passed her by, who was now squealing with excitement.  “What is that commotion?” grumbled the feeding herd. As they parted the grass what they saw amazed them. Now the herd had not known a fast moving Elephant, hence when they saw a calf that moved so fast, they grew worried. 

The calf must be sent for inspection to the herd head.The herd head, a wizened and experienced Elephant who was known to make hard decisions inspected the calf  “A funny one this, with silver feet and wheels, can’t be trusted as he goes against the physical norms of the herd. He can only be part of us if he promises to move as the herd does and not use those silver beasts. A murmur broke through the herd, even as the mother protested.  The decision has been made. “Now mother, have you thought of a name for the child? “ “ Yes, smiled the mother as she fondly looked at her calf who was currently skating around a bamboo clump. “He shall be called Maximus.”  “Maximus the greatest."

Several years later, as Maximus dragged his feet  through some thickets behind the herd, the silver object on his foot got stuck in a gnarled root. Rusty due to lack of use, he sighed as he struggled to get his foot out.” You weren't born  to followthe herd Maximus" said his mother nudging him with her trunk gently, helping to release him. "You are destined to do far better things, see far better places none of us have us even dreamed of. Move away, leave, live up to your name, and make me proud. Its’ not  everyday that you find an Elephant with wheels for feet!" "But what about you? And the herd ? A herd never understands one who is different Maximus and as far as I go, I will live through you, your stories and maybe one day I can join you on your adventures, Maximus the explorer!”

Maximus soon packed his things and  with his mother's heart for company left the herd and is  on now a journey to meet people, to know stories and to explore the world. Would you like to meet this Elephant on wheels? 

Illustration : Samantha Nazareth 
Story: Bhavna Menon 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

How the summer compliments a forest

Bandhavgarh is a riot of colours and calls right now. True to it's nature, the summer has turned the grasslands yellow, the Mahua has turned a delicious red, the sun and dust play havoc, while the Sal appears as green as a tree would after a heavy downpour. The leaves which the Sal has shed, hit the Earth noiselessly, a beautiful brown, trod upon by the magnificent chital, with the male calling out incessantly announcing a summer worth mating. The langurs observe interestedly sitting in a sheet of cotton offered by the Silk Cotton Tree, the white of which blends in with the silver appearance of the langur.The Brainfever bird, whose call is symbolic of summer flies calling hysterically from the safety of the 'mahul' and perches on the liana which looks gnarled with the heat. With the call of the Peacock and deer echoing through the forest and the changing colours of the trees, water seems to be the only constant till we chance upon it now covered in a haze of green, politely dappled by the leaves of the tree overlooking both the water and the statue, a shade lighter after all these years. A gurgling stream complimenting the setting, is an assurance that we understand that change is indeed set in stone and whether we like it or not, is inevitable and probably the only constant.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Divine vehicles (Part 2)

In continuation to the deities and their spectacular 'vahan's worshipped in India.

The Blackbuck, 'vahan' of the wind god or 'vayu'. The Blackbuck is probably associated with the wind god owing to it's speed and agility. The buck looks like it's flying through the air when in motion, thereby posing as the 'vahan' for 'vayu.'

The Ram, 'vahan' of the fire god or 'agni'. A powerful god in Hindu mythology, agni is considered to be as powerful as Indra some texts even pronounce him to be Indras' twin. A messenger of gods, agni is usually a symbol of  important rituals be it a wedding, a havan or a normal religious ceremony in a Hindu household.

Considered to be the mouth of the Indian gods and goddesses, a lot is given to agni for well being and new beginnings also known as a sacrificial fire. It is probably due to the sacrificial nature of agni that the Ram is associated with him as it is considered the ultimate animal of sacrifice.

The Eagle, Vulture or the Crow as the 'vahan' of 'shani dev.' Shani Dev is said to be a messenger of bad luck. Potrayed as a dark coloured deity with a  displeased disposition, he sits  atop an eagle, crow or vulture who as scavengers are considered bad omen.

The vulture in particular being a bird who only consumes carcasses is said to be a harbinger of death to one who chances upon it. In Orissa, if a vulture is seen sitting on top of a house, death to one of the family members of the concerned household is said to be inevitable.

The cat as the vahan of 'shasthi' or the feline goddess. A goddess worshipped mostly in Eastern India (Bengal), Shasthi is said to be the protector of children and said to auspicious to those who want to have children. Often worshipped under a Banyan tree, the depiction is that of a motherly figure cradling an infant.

Locals believe that ' Shasthi puja' will bring them a male child and protect children against all evil and diseases. The association of a cat with the goddess could be possibly due to the cats nature as a fierce, protective mother. The other explanation could be the longevity of a cat (9 lives) which should be passed on to the child born giving him/her a long, healthy life.

The cows as the 'vahan' for usha or the dawn goddess. Depicted as a radiant, adorned maiden, Usha is worshipped as the bringer of the light of a new day, away from darkness and evil. She is said to bless humankind with strength, awakening and the need to be useful through the day, benefitting not just self but others as well.

The cows are probably associated with Usha as a symbol of purity and benefit as the udders of the cow not only benefits the calf (for milk) but all those in need of it.

The donkey as the 'vahan' of Shitala Devi or the Goddess of small pox. Known to heal diseases like small pox and fever  and keeping the environment pure and clean, Shitala translates as one who cools. The goddess is worshipped to cure children of diseases and she is said to fight demons who spread illnesses, in this case a demon called 'Jwarasur' with 'Jwar' translating as fever and 'asur' as demon. According to legend, She is said to have fought him and protected children.

She is depicted as carrying water in an earthern pot, to cool places she visits and she propagates the love for everyone equally, which is why she has chosen the donkey as her 'vahan' to show that the most spurned of animals can and should also be respected. No one should be shunned based on illnesses or their position in society.

The Rhino as the 'vahan' of goddess Dhavdi. Do not know much about this goddess except that she is largely worshipped in Gujarat. her choice of 'vahan' could be based on its brute strength and power but it would be interesting to understand, why the Rhino, considering they are not found in Gujarat.

Dog as the 'vahan' of Bhairava. Bhairava is the most terrifying form of Shiva. However why would such a strong deity need something as friendly as dog as the vahan? dogs are said to be forever seeking validation.

 Whether in terms of affection, territory or even guarding its food. Bhairava is said to be symbolic to controlling this need for validation, so as to not be territorial, seeking attention or even seeking material pleasure.

The bull Nandi as the 'vahan' of Lord Shiva. Shiva is said to be the most humble of gods and  more down to Earth than the rest of them. The bull therefore is said to be associated with him as the mark of  his grounded disposition.  Another probable reason for the Bull to be associated with Shiva is because the Bull is a symbol of rural India with who Shiva shares a close connect.

Photo credit for all images:,, 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

An illustrated guide of the Pantanal - Part 1

Illustrations are the best form of visual observation. I feel that  they help us best understand the subject in question. In humans it may help us understand  body language,  expressions and emotions. In animals, it helps us understand every muscle, colour, texture  and sometimes even their behaviour, camouflage and habitat. To that effect, I have tried to bring out an illustrated guide to different forests, starting with the Pantanal in Brazil, where I was lucky to observe a whole range of biodiversity, the true nature of which I was only able to appreciate once I had outlined them in my sketch book.

Toco Toucan 
Be it the colourful disposition of a Toucan 

Yellow Anaconda

Or the molten presence of an Anaconda 

Tiger heron 
To the brilliant purple-rust plumage of a tiger heron 

Giant River otter 
The unhurried gait of a river otter 

To the gorgeous Caiman 


  To the gentle nature of a capybara 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Divine vehicles!

Nature worship has always been an important part of Indian culture. With 'Peepul' trees being worshipped as the epicenter for learning and knowledge, they are also regarded as the abode of the god ' bada dev' worshipped by certain tribals in Central India. However the most important instance of animals in Indian religion, more specifically, Hinduism has been the role of animals as the 'vahans' or vehicles of the Indian gods and goddesses. While the reason for why the concerned animal is associated with the  particular god/ goddess may not be always known, some of them have beautiful logic to them.

For example, the Goddess Durga also known as 'shakti' is associated with the tiger or lion ( the cat species varies according to region) as the big cat epitomises strength, power and a protector against all evil. Which is where the concept of 'baghesur' or the tiger god also comes up. Wherein a lot of villages worship the cat in form of a tiger/ lion to protect them from all evil and hence the goddess is celebrated along with the cat.

L- R : A tiger temple at Bandhavgarh, Goddess Durga,Photo credit:,Tiger dancers celebrate Muharram 

Another Goddess who forms an important part of Hinduism is Goddess Saraswati who is more famously found in educational institutions as she is associated with education, learning, music, purity and beauty. Which could also be the reason, why she is associated with two beautiful birds, namely the swan and the peacock. In some regions, the swan is replaced by a Heron or 'bagula'. Purity in form of the swan and beauty in form of the peacock. In central India, the Peacock feather is also considered very holy and any fallen feather also known as 'vidya' is collected by the students to keep in their books to help them learn better. Saraswati's depiction as riding a Peacock also translates as taking control over arrogance and not giving precedence to materialistic beauty. 
Goddess Sarawati. Photo credit:,

Moving from terrestial to the more acquatic, two important gods associated with the 'makara' are the Goddess Ganga and lord Varuna, the god of seas and oceans. Not entirely a crocodile, the makara is said to be half crocodile and half elephant, with some statues even depicting a trunk on the head of the crocodile. The crocodile is associated with water gods as it is said to be the protector of the waters and keeps the water clean of any contamination. At times, however,there is a debate on the mount of the goddess Ganga as the Dolphin. This association of the Goddess with the Dolphin is owing to the fact that the river Ganga is supposed to be a happy, fast flowing river, thereby reflecting the traits of the Dolphin who is a fast swimming mammal. 

God of the seas and oceans, varuna, photo credit:, goddess Ganga, photo credit: .jpg

 Taking a more aerial route, we come to the goddess Lakshmi who is associated with the owl, more specifically the white owl which people believe to be the Barn owl. According to some beliefs, the Owl is her sister Alakshmi who is often  said to accompany the goddess of wealth, but if logic intervenes, she is associated with the owl because owls feed on rats, keeping their population under control and thereby protecting farms and crops which aid in yielding a good harvest which in turn brings wealth to the owner. Since Lakhsmi is the goddess of wealth and fortune she is celebrated with the owl. However, a sad turn to this belief is that a good number of owls are caught and sacrificed during Diwali owing to the belief that it will bring people wealth and prosperity.

Goddess Lakshmi. Photo credit:

Said to be the river of turtles, the river  Yamuna is said to be the best place to sight turtles even today, especially in a place called Bateshwar in Uttar Pradesh which is said to be a safe haven for the shelled beauties. This healthy population in the waters of this beautiful river could be one of the reasons why the Goddess Yamuna has been depicted as riding a turtle. In fact, despite its over polluted state,  in some parts,Yamuna has been considered a sanctuary for fauna such as dolphins and Gharials. 
Goddess Yamuna with her turtle mount. Photo
Labelled as the king of birds by lord Vishnu himself, the identity of Garuda who is depicted as half bird half human, as an eagle or Bhraminy Kite has often been debated. Said to be the ultimate creature of perseverance and determination, there couldn't be a better mount for the lord of preservation. It is said that,Garuda's only demand as Vishnu's mount was to be able to feed on snakes and is till date considered a sworn enemy of the 'nagas'. Perhaps it is Garuda's gastronomical love for snakes that has led many of the modern day birds much like the Crested Serpent Eagle to feed on the slithering beauties!

Vishnu on his mount Garuda. Photo credit:
Loved by all, lord Ganesh is associated with the most unlikely of mounts - the rat. Leading to debates of no one is small enough to deal with issues larger than oneself, the rat or the shrew( depictions again vary according to the region) represents someone who is determined enough to carry the weight of anything larger than itself and should not be considered weak or an unlikely candidate to bear the magnitude of the problem. Another reason for the rat to be the 'vighnaharta's' (remover of obstacles) mount is that the rat can go through any small space or hole which helps the lord in question reach out to any obstacle and eliminate it owing to the flexibility of his mount.

Lord Ganesh on his mount. Photo credit:

From the most loved to the most feared, lord Yama is popularly known as the god of death. Often associated with the Gaur or the Water Buffalo (varies according to region), the animal is so associated with the God,so as to depict the strength which upholds actions or 'dharma' and justice where it is needed. Lord Yama is said to be the most justice of the divine forces in Hindu mythology. 
Lord Yama on his mount. Photo credit: 
Apart from animals being recognised as mounts or 'vahans' of the gods, goddesses in Hinduism, animals have also played an important role as protectors to humankind, whether it was in form of Narsimha the Lion who eliminated an evil thought or king, to Jatayu the vulture who died fighting a wrong deed to Jambavan the Bear who was said to be very knowledgeable, to  the three 'avtars' of Vishnu as a Wild Boar, Fish and Turtle which are said to have protected  the Earth and all those living within.

Thus, it often brings to mind that we have much to learn from our mythology that gave such importance to trees and fauna existing in our forests, always accompanied with a certain message. So why can't we with these similar principles learn to appreciate those we can learn much from? 

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The quest to save, has us fighting each other, everyday.

"How will what you are doing, help save the forests?" - Generalisation of human opinion.

The world already feels somewhat of a battleground what with fights for space, money,  opinions and emotions raining down almost everyday  much like this torrential downpour. The only difference is, the rain, we need. The fights, we don't. So why do I suddenly feel the need to philosophise about fighting? it is because, in my time as a 'wildlifer' I have seen more people fighting each other rather than fighting for the species in question. They fight  about what the other is doing wrong rather than what is going wrong for the species in question. Why is it necessary to pin point loopholes in another person's attempt to save the species rather than mend the loopholes in the system  that has brought  this species to the brink, where it needs to be carefully guarded lest it disappear, appearing only as dusty souvenirs in shops or books where it's shelf life will probably be even lesser than what it is now. Blaming one another, berating initiatives, mockery is  a waste of time.  All this time lost in trying to prove the other wrong, is us, losing time in forming a plan to save the species. When there are so many of us crusading to save the same thing, why can't we ever attempt at doing it together? Will it make us any less of a  human being? if anything, it will make us petty and confined to a bubble that will lose its sparkle and value if any, when we lose what we have all been tirelessly working for, leaving nothing but a carpet of self absorbed opinions and ego centric ideas in its wake, that do no one, least of all the species in question any good.

In our quest to prove a point, and to determinedly announce ourselves as the saviours of the planet, I feel we have forgotten to care or absorb  the qualities that make the forests our muse, so special. The flexible nature of water, the strength of tree roots, the protective nature of an elephant herd, the focus of a tiger, the team spirit of wild dogs or even the grace of a panther these are the qualities we should imbibe. What are we trying to prove ? why can't we work together, why can't we have a less myopic vision that barely extends beyond one's own nose?Why can't we debate or share each other insights? Why can't we talk? Perhaps we will never know or perhaps we are too indifferent to care but either way, in this constant quest to fight each other over something we all love, I hope things don't end in despair.