Posted by: cochinblogger | July 10, 2009

The Blue-Veined Beauty

Hi, this is Cochin Blogger at your service. I’m based in a town called Cochin (officially, Kochi) in the state of Kerala, which is perched at the southern-most tip of India. It’s just a stone’s throw from Sri Lanka, and is famous for its unique natural beauty. Kerala is a slim, blue-veined beauty, with canals, backwaters, lagoons, rivers, lakes, ponds, and puddles galore, a thin strip of land caressed by the waters of the Arabian Sea.

Kerala’s trademark is tropical fecundity. It’s a paradise that is still largely unspoiled because of the low level of industrialization. Kerala first hit the international headlines when it voted the communists to power in 1957, this being only the second time communists anywhere in the world have formed a popularly elected government (the first time was in the tiny republic of San Marino).

Right, I’m signing off now. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. 🙂

Posted by: cochinblogger | January 31, 2021

Magpie Robin Outside My Window

The sparrows in the yard were first displaced by the red whiskered bulbuls. And they in turn were shut out by the magpie robins. It is the magpie robins that hold court in the yard now. Not even their mothers would call them pretty, but they have great character. They are bold and lively, unafraid to appear in the open. They can be observed hunting insects on the ground or perched on an observation post such as a low branch, the wall, or the clothesline. They are not intimidated by humans.

The name "magpie robin" deserves attention. It was the British who came up with the name, as the bird combined features of the European magpie and the European robin. Their common name in India is Dhyal. The magpie robin is the national bird of Bangladesh, where it is known as doyel/doel and appears on their currency notes as well.

Their typical call, which I hear often, is a swee-swee whistle, repeated again and again. I've also heard the harsh hissing krrshhhhh, their mobbing call, used against a cat in the vicinity. It worked; the cat, which was taking a nap on a wall, got up and walked away, disgusted. The magpie robin is quite a songster, and used to be trapped and kept in cages for their singing ability, a practice that decimated the birds in Singapore by the 1970s. Magpie robins began returning to Singapore in the 1980s, thanks to determined efforts by conservationists. They used to be captured in India too, for their singing, until the legislative ban in 1972.

The magpie robin was the favorite bird of the Indian conservationist Zafar Futehally, who titled his memoir (edited by Ashish and Shanthi Chandola) The Song of the Magpie Robin. The bird is featured on the artistic cover of the book, a beautiful painting by the reputed wildlife artist Carl D'Silva. Zafar writes: "After months of silence in the non-breeding season, it attempted to sing amateurishly in early February. Slowly and steadily its initial twitterings coalesced into a powerful melodious song, which was also its weapon to keep away intruders who tried to share the resources of its domain. By mid-April the song of the maestro consisted of almost seventeen notes. Delivered early morning from the topmost branch of a casuarina tree in our compound, this was certainly the delight of the season." The songs apparently have dialects that vary by region. (While on the subject of books, I must mention that a lot of the information I present here on the magpie robin is from the splendid Wildlife Great and Small of India's Coromandel by Tim Wrey.)

It's on my to-do list: locate a YouTube video that presents the complete musical repertoire of the magpie robin. There are many bird calls I hear in the neighborhood that I suspect are made by the magpie robin.

The photo that tops the post was taken from a first-floor window. The blue-gray coloration indicates that it's a female; the upper area of males is entirely black. Click on the photo to enlarge it.


Book cover photo source: Goodreads

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Posted by: cochinblogger | December 31, 2020

Green Bee Eaters on Christmas Day

This is the first thing I saw when I opened a window on Christmas Day.

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | November 29, 2020

Professor Papali of Maharajas College

I found this newspaper cutting among my father's personal effects, some time after he passed away in 2016. I was reminded of a couple of anecdotes he had told me (on multiple occasions) about Prof. Papali, who taught English Literature in Maharajas College when my father studied there in the 1940s.

One day, the professor posed a question to the class, and pointed to a student. The student stood up. He was unable to answer the question, and so he remained standing while the professor pointed to another student. The question must have been a difficult one, because no student could answer it. Prof. Papali surveyed the class — now a sea of standing students — in silence. Finally he spoke: "Sit down, monuments of ignorance." During his narration, my father used to dissolve in laughter after delivering the final line.

On another occasion, Prof. Papali asked the students to write an essay on a poem. I have forgotten the name of the poem. The corrected essays were returned to the students after a few days. One student became very upset on reading his corrected essay. He (I think his name was Thomas Manjooran) complained bitterly to my father, showing him the corrected essay.

The opening line of the essay was "I am miserable and grieved in my life." Against this line, Prof. Papali has written with a flourish: "What a pity!"

The next line of the essay was "I wish to fulfil the purpose of my life without wasting my energy." Against this, Prof. Papali had written: "By writing without understanding the poem, you have already wasted both your time and energy."

The student declared to anyone who would give him a hearing that he would never write an essay for Prof. Papali again.

The professor was a lover of literature, knew his subject well (like most teachers and professors of that period), and was a passionate teacher. Humor (even if it is sometimes of the cutting kind) is one of the weapons a good teacher uses to slay boredom in the classroom. Prof. Papali must have left a lasting impact on my father (who became a voracious reader as an adult), otherwise he would not have taken the trouble to preserve this newspaper cutting.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | October 31, 2020

Chaya Peediya: Cafe for Tea Lovers

Off M.G. Road, conveniently close to the Ground metro station, it was my go-to place for a restorative — usually a tea — and a snack — usually a cutlet. Its facade was dominated on one flank by an eye-catching mobile tea-making cart. Its name, Chaya Peediya, means a traditional Kerala tea shop, and the variety in the tea department was staggering: masala tea, ginger tea, cardamom tea, magic tea, dancing tea, *badam* tea, butterscotch tea … I would order a masala tea and a chicken cutlet, which was the best in town in terms of size and freshness. It was a busy place, always full, but somehow there was always a seat for me. Customers sat on wooden benches, the ones on the left about twice as long as the ones on the right that are visible in the photo.

Most of the customers were floaters, but after a while I came to recognize regulars like me. There was a group of youngsters, with as many girls as there were boys, who would take a table, order lots of food and drink, and talk — and laugh. Gusts of laughter would sweep the table, the kind that made you want to smile. Sometimes the table would be packed, and two other friends would walk in. A couple of chairs would be found. And sometimes one or two *more* would walk in, and they would sit on accommodative laps. They were a close-knit group, and seemed to meet up daily. I thought they must be college students. I mean, who except a student would sit on someone’s lap in public as though it was the most natural thing in the world? Or perhaps they were newly hatched from college and working in near-by offices. I was reminded of similar scenes enacted on a pair of wooden benches in front of the juice shop, a popular hangout, in my college.

The art on the walls depicts scenes from old Malayalam cinema. You could sip your tea and reflect on a bygone world inhabited by quaint little tea shops, flashily dressed Romeos prowling street corners, and young women in traditional attire pretending not to notice them. Little did I know as I sat sipping tea on my last visit that within a few months, this cozy refuge ringing with the laughter of young free spirits would itself become part of a bygone world. For it has not opened after the first lockdown. And from its shuttered and forlorn appearance today, it probably never will.

I took the top photo on 19 Feb 2018. Bottom photo credit: Kerala Travel Explorer ( Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Update: I have since been able to speak to the owner, and he says he plans to open it in a couple of weeks. We shall see.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | September 29, 2020

The Big Sleep

Subhash Park. November 2018.

Those little pre-pandemic luxuries …

Click on the photo to enlarge the image.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | August 31, 2020

Queen’s Pride of India Redux

The most soothing color in the floral palette, that pale pastel violet.

Shot on P.T. Usha Road.

Note: Click on picture to enlarge.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | July 31, 2020

African Tulip Tree

The virus had not immediately erupted in epidemic form, but it had seeded itself. Then the seeds began to sprout into flowers of flame. — John Barry in The Great Influenza

My first glimpse of this tree was from the Kochi Metro near Edappally. The scarlet flowers held clear off the dark green foliage caught my eye. Unexpectedly, I then found a lone individual near the Kadavumbagam Synagogue on Market Road. Fading scarlet flowers lay scattered on the road. I picked one up and took it home.

I found the tree in Discover Avenue Trees by Karthikeyan. The flower I'd brought back with me helped in the identification. It's the African Tulip tree or Nandi Flame (Spathodea campanulata), called Rugtoora in Hindi, Phaauntanmaram (fountain tree) or Sphathoodiya in Malayalam, Patadi in Tamil, Akash Shevga in Marathi, and Rudrapalash in Bengali. It belongs to the jacaranda family, and its home is Africa, where it is put to a wide variety of medicinal uses.

Try as I might, despite repeated attempts, I was not able to get a clear shot of the flower. One day, the season, the light, and the time of day conspired with my presence to gift me what I wanted. The contrast between the fiery red and soothing green, moderated by the brown of the seed pods, is pleasing.

And, yes, however brightly a flower may burn, it must one day fade.

Note: Click on the photo to enlarge it.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | June 12, 2020

The Bare Tree

My mother said to me,

"When one sees the tree in leaf one thinks

the beauty of the tree is in its leaves,

and then one sees the bare tree."

Samuel Menashe (1925-2011)

Shot from the T.D. Road/Convent Road intersection on 9 June 2020. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | May 30, 2020

Europa in Cochin Harbour

I shot this from Subhash Park on 12 December 2019.

It'll be a while before Europa takes to the water again. Click on the photo for a larger image.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | April 29, 2020

White-Browed Wagtail: Lockdown Encounter

This was one of a group of wagtails I met in a lane just off the arterial M.G. Road. The lockdown due to Covid ensured that the streets were deserted, and the birds had the run of the lane. I paused and watched them for a while. The individual in the photo is a male; females and juveniles are brownish. The white-browed wagtail (Motacilla maderaspatensis) is the largest of the wagtails, and is the only wagtail that has adapted well to the urban environment.

Khanjan is the Hindi name of the bird. "Khanjan-eyed" refers to someone with beautiful eyes, and it's clear from the photo why.

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