Monday, February 23, 2015

Wildlife in a City Pond!

This weekend saw another celebration of the dwindling water-bodies and its attendant greenery within the city at our neighbourhood kere (lake in kannada) at the Puttenahalli kere habba. Organized on the lines of a similar kere habba (literally meaning lake festival in Kannada) at Kaikondrahalli lake at Sarjapur Road by Namma Bengaluru Foundation, this festival attempted to draw the spotlight on the importance of conservation of lakes amidst the growing concrete jungle. Though we missed the habba due to confusion regarding dates ( assumed it was to be held on Sunday instead of Saturday), we have been regular visitors at the lake. So much so that my father-in-law’s day is incomplete without his refreshing morning walk around the lake! Puttenahalli kere is also home to many species of birds and a true delight for bird watchers and naturalists alike. But I must say that Puttenahalli lake would not have been the same, if not the continual efforts of Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) to rejuvenate and maintain the lake and the surrounding environs. Further, events and initiatives like these not only help sensitize our kids to the environment around them but also garner support for retention of parks, lakes and such open spaces, lest they get swallowed by land sharks!

So in this background, today we read  a beautiful story titled “Wildlife in a city pond  by Ashish Kothari and vividly illustrated by Sangeetha Kadur, a level 4 Reader from Pratham publications. Narrated in first person, the author is puzzled by a deafening cacophony emerging from below his balcony as he moved into his new home in Pune, only to find the mystery solved the next morning as he discovered a small pond below in an abandoned quarry. Over the next year, he saw the pond undergo transformation through the seasons, especially during monsoon when the pond came to life with a host of plant and animal life finding shelter. What a joy it was to wake up hearing the chirping of mynas, watching brilliant blue kingfishers swoop into the water for their daily feed of fish  …baya weaver birds resting in their tailor made nests…. even flapshell turtles swimming in the pond and finally being lulled to sleep  by the croaking frogs at night!  However one day, the pond and its wildlife were threatened from the so called development plans to the drain the wetland to make space for more buildings. However, thanks to the efforts of the residents who sought help from all quarters from the media and environment protection groups to the city commissioner….the pond was declared off limits for any construction!  So just like the author in the book, we residents of J P Nagar VII phase are lucky to enjoy to a mini sanctuary amidst the bustling city!  Kudos to PNLIT and Namma Bengaluru Foundation for making Puttenahalli kere the pride of J P Nagar VII Phase area!  :-)
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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bangalore's Neralu!

Over the weekend, we attended the second edition Bengaluru Tree Festival “Neralu” .  In its second year, the crowd-funded citizen-driven-festival celebrating the trees of Bengaluru, Neralu which literally means shade in Kannada, had a lot to offer for today’s urban kids, who hardly seem to have the time (or should I say the mindset?) to sit under the shade of a tree and look up at its leaves and dream away….Hmmm.....seems like an apt setting of a Ruskin Bond story right? Neralu provides a great prelude to the coming summer when Bengaluru’s trees are in their full bloom and splendor……when a walk around  any avenue lined with Gulmohars, Jacarandas or Tabebuia would sure be a treat to the eyes… of my favourite activities while growing up.
Though there were plenty of activities for tree lovers over the last few weekends at different locations, we managed to catch the final event mainly for kids near Bal Bhavan, Cubbon park. So Abhay accompanied by his daddy,  eagerly participated in a number of events like painting, stitching, puzzle solving and creating tapestries that were aimed at not only engaging the children’s creative side but also spreading awareness about trees and inculcating an appreciative mind towards the environment around us. Indeed, ‘Neralu’ turned out to be a green and cool “V-day” outing for us! J  
While I always believed that Abhay has been a lot more exposed to trees and nature than many other city kids, considering our frequent visits to my parent’s farm “Shristi” at Dharmasthala which houses a wide variety of flowering and fruit bearing trees, besides the usual farm plantation, we were quite dismayed to find that out eight year failed to think of any specific tree, when asked to name his favourite tree to draw! So much so all my ravings about our close-to-the nature vacations at Shristi!  Anyway, I always have a book-up my-sleeve to fill any gap…right?? So we picked up “The World of Trees” by one of my favourite authors Ruskin Bond and illustrations by Kollol Majumder brought out by National Book Trust publications.

This is a book of short stories introducing the young readers to various tree species of India, not only from a naturalistic point of view but also from a societal and a cultural perspective. For instance, in “The Mighty Banyan”, the author takes you through the massively spread out banyan tree with its aerial roots that is home to a wide variety of birds and insects and plays host to various Panchayath meetings; or in “The Mango Grove”, he touches upon the story of a Garden of a Thousand trees in the town of Hazaribagh; or what the Semal tree (silk cotton tree) means to the tribes of Madhya Pradesh in “A Feast in the Semal tree”; or the mention of powerful spirits that are believed to dwell in some trees like the neem tree or the champa tree; or as he offers an armchair travelogue/trek around “The trees of the Himalayas” ……all narrated in his characteristic style that is sure to make you smile! Believe me, you cannot help but chuckle when the opening line of “The Sacred Peepal” goes like is “In some ways peepal trees are great show offs! J

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Seaside vacation!

Over the previous long weekend, we were on a seaside vacation in Pondicherry, also known as India's French Riviera. Vacations by the sea have always been special as one can spend hours together gazing at the vast blue expanse that lies ahead!  No surprises that we stayed at the Promenade, right on the edge of the coastline facing the Bay of Bengal!:-) Not only did the sound of the lashing waves lull us into sleep at night, but we woke up to one of the most beautiful sunrises over the sea! It was my first time on the eastern sea front as most of our beach vacations in India or the US have been on western seas! We explored different facets of Pondicherry, from the heritage French villas to the bustling Tamil quarters, it's Ashrams and spiritual centers and it's museums and memorials.... but what we liked the best were it's beaches that we visited every morning to soak up some good amount of Vitamin D! :-)) 

Among the couple of beaches in and around Pondicherry that we had been to, we found some fishermen communities living near the shores. As Abhay headed out with his beach toys, he saw a couple of fishermen boats return with their nets and their early morning catch. As he seemed quite curious as to their work and lives in general, I picked up "My friend, the sea" by Sandhya Rao and photographs by Karuna Sesh and Pervez Bhagat. This is a story of young boy from a fishermen village along the Indian coast in Tamil Nadu  who recounts his association with Kadalamma, the Ocean mother. The best part about living near the ocean is hopping on to a kattumaram ( A fishing boat in Tamil Nadu) and going pretend fishing .. ...just like his family has been fishing for generations together. He even recalls the day  when the sea rose like a mountain to drown most his of village including his father who has never returned since then. As his sister explains the cause of the Tsunami that deluged  the Indian east coast on December 26th 2004, he sees its impact on his own family, as they become homeless and now live in a shelter with a grieving mother who hardly ever smiles. Still, the sea will always be a part of his life and he is seen looking forward to a new Kattumaram that his brother has promised to build for him. Aided by striking photography, this is a  beautiful story that poignantly describes the life and loss of the fishing community from the eyes of a child. A seaside story makes a perfect ending to our little seaside outing! :-)

Monday, January 26, 2015

We Indians!

This year's Republic day has been probably the most talked-about public events in recent history, thanks to its high profile chief guest, US President Barack Obama! With India's military might and cultural diversity being witnessed for the first time by a US President,  no stone was left unturned to make Republic day parade 2014 truly special! But whether you consider this year's Republic day as special or not, you cannot but deny feeling patriotic while watching  the  spectacular parade of the armed forces showcasing the best of Indian defense ammunitions and equipment, or the first-ever all-women contingent of the three forces marching across Rajpath, the cultural tableaux  from all the states, or the awarding Ashok Chakra medals , or the bravery medals for children - all part of Republic day extravaganza of the one of the largest democracies of the world! 

We always make it a point to watch the Republic day parade on television along with our son with our own live commentary though the program. Though we managed to catch only the first half of the parade this time as we were travelling back home, our eight year old sure seemed as fascinated as ...may be ... Obama!:-))) Anyway, for Republic day, I picked up a book meant more for younger kids - "We Indians" an NBT publication  by Mehroo J Wadia. This book serves as a nice little introduction for young kids to the cultural diversity of our nation. Each page features children of different states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Bengal, Rajasthan, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, etc and offers a quick guide to its unique culture, throwing some light on the intrinsic differences like names, dressing style, and the state's cultural symbols. Aided by suitable illustrations, each page also carries a question for your little one to ponder over. For instance, Amarjeet Singh from Punjab who dances the Bhangra asks "which dance form do you like ?" or Unnikrishnan Nair from Kerala who likes coconut tree the bests asks "which tree do you like best?" "We Indians" is an ideal book to acquaint the younger kids with the Indian ideal of "Unity in Diversity"! Happy Republic day everyone! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Kite filled with hope!

Makara Sankranthi, also known as Pongal, Bihu, or Lohri  across  different regions, is the harvest festival of India that  also heralds a new phase in solar calendar.......bringing in new and auspicious beginnings in the year to come.  Sankranthi also marks  the end of winter ...however I am not sure of the same this year as its been unusually cold in Bangalore over the last few days!  Though personally our celebrations are pretty much low-key for Sankranthi, the first Hindu festival of the calendar year always takes me back to the days when as a little girl I would go door-to-door along with other girls distributing  the sesame seeds  mixture and sugar treats amongst our neighborhood.....almost like a "desi" version of trick-or-treating circuits that kids go during Halloween in the  US. However, distributing "Ellu-Bella" (as it is  traditionally called ) being a "girls only" activity, my eight year old son has never had that experience ....which explains the absence of Sankranthi-related posts on Onestoryaday so far!:-) Hoping that the year 2015 would be a special year in as much as signaling the arrival of someone to carry forward the "ellu-bella" legacy in our home..........  So, I decided to key in a post for this year's Sankranthi..... one filled with hope!:-) 
 In some parts of the country, the harvest season is celebrated by flying kites, with people roaming around streets and converging on roof-tops to engage in good humored battles with others' kites. This week's "Young World" a children's newspaper from "The Hindu" has a special on the kite flying activities in Gujarat. Going by the said tradition, we decided to pick up a kite story from Tulika publications titled  "A Kite called Korika" by Sharada Kolluru and pictures by K.P.Murleedharan. This is a story of a nine year old boy named Yellaiah who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh. Sensitive to his surroundings, Yellaiah is fascinated by the sounds emanating therefrom – “Gala, Gala sala sala" of the river, “tingu tangu” of the bell over Lakshmi, the cow’s neck or “hrrrr prrrr hrrr” of the bees that trouble Rajamma sitting under the peepal tree. Yellaiah has little brother named Mallaiah who he feels is always trying to pocket his older brother’s belongings. One hot day  when Yellaiah sat with Rajamma under the peepal tree, a beautiful black kite descended from the sky. The kite had the sun, moon, stars and the blue waves painting on its four corners – in short it had the whole universe on it! Rajamma believes that it’s sent from God and felt it was best left in the sky. But when Yellaiah had no plans to letting it go, she told him to keep it but send it back with a wish for God to fulfill. So Yellaiah had to decide what to ask for – a cycle? But soon everybody had a wish for the “korika”, the kite’s new name. His friends had their own wish list – marbles, bangles, new shirt, new ribbon, etc. Mallaiah meanwhile wanted a school bag with his name on it. But before anything, Mallaiah fell sick with fever which many villagers believed that would take him to God. The doctor too had said that Mallaiah may not get well because he was scared and had to be brave to recover. So Yellaiah just knew what to do, and  decided to send Korika with a message to God to help Mallaiah get well soon. But what about the cycle - Mallaiah wondered, to which Yellaiah assured him that he could get a cycle from another such kit. So the next day, his father carried Mallaiah in his arms and both of them watched as Yellaiah wrote on the kite and tossed ‘Korika’ gently into the wind. That night, Mallaiah slept soundly tightly clutching his older brother’s hand. The next day Mallaiah woke up feeling better with his fear gone! Although Yellaiah’s friends thought his wish was not fulfilled, Yellaiah knew that it indeed was fulfilled! Though not a Sankranthi story, this is a heart warming story on sibling love and is in the spirit of Sankranthi filling one with hope and expectation of things getting better or new things to come in the coming year!  Here's wishing everyone a Happy Sankranthi!