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 | August 31, 2021

Wall Life

I had a half-hour to kill, and decided to examine the wall next to me for signs of life. There was life aplenty, as the monsoon was upon us, and there was water everywhere. The moss on the walls attracted invertebrates like a magnet. Above is the common garden snail, not to be confused with the invasive Giant African Snail I posted about recently.

And this is a millipede, the long-flange millipede to be precise (Orthomorpha coarctata), thought to be native to Southeast Asia but now dispersed to tropical or sub-tropical regions around the world.

This is a slug. Yes, creatures like this are not much to look at, and therefore remain out of the public eye. I'm sure specialists must be studying it intensively, but I've been able to unearth nothing significant about the slug, except it is a snail without the shell.

Another millipede, I think. Perhaps another form of the long-flange millipede? In my dreams it is the caterpillar of a spectacular moth, but it doesn't look like a caterpillar.

I came away from the wall happy. I had paid attention to creatures I normally would not even notice, and I also learned something about them from the Internet.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | July 31, 2021

Invasion of the Wall Snatchers

The Giant African Snail was first imported into Kerala by a researcher in Palakkad. Not surprisingly, a few escaped; years later, the snails have colonized large swathes of the state. They thrive during the monsoons, as water is their lifeline. They have voracious appetites, munching their way through a variety of plants, with papaya being a special favorite. For the first time this year, I’m seeing them in large numbers in Kochi. Many took up residence in my yard, and had to be evicted. They are very difficult to eradicate, and I hear that Florida spent a fortune to get rid of them, and it took a long time.

These snails are wall huggers, and if left undisturbed, a colony will congregate on walls in public spaces. I took the above photo on M.G. Road.

And in the photo below, try and count all the snails. Did you find all five?

Posted by: cochinblogger | June 30, 2021

The Gray Ghost: The Common Mongoose

The common mongoose (Herpestes edwardsii) is present in all Indian cities, but is rarely seen. It is a fearless predator but is also shy, and avoids emerging in the open. I had caught fleeting glimpses of a mongoose on the wall of the yard from time to time, but it was always on the move and in a hurry. By the time I had returned with a camera, it was long gone. On this occasion, it was in the abandoned plot opposite our house, on the other side of the wall and close to it, eating something it had killed. I got a few shots from an upstairs window.

It is interesting that the mongoose differs from the cat in the way it attacks its prey. The cat is a master stalker; it will sink low down on the ground and inch forward toward its prey. The mongoose, on the other hand, launches a frontal attack upon sighting its prey. And unlike the cat, the mongoose will pursue a rat that has escaped to its burrow, digging it out with its long claws.

My first brush with the mongoose was indoors, within the pages of a school textbook, in Kipling's short story "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," about a mongoose that saved its adoptive human family from a cobra couple. I first thought that Kipling's imagination must have run wild: how could a mongoose kill a cobra? It was much later (those were pre-Internet days) that I learned that it was true: the mongoose will willingly take on venomous snakes like the cobra, and it usually triumphs. This unlikely outcome is enabled by the lightning reflexes of the mongoose, which time and again leaps safely out of range of the cobra's strike. After 30 minutes to an hour of this, the snake tires, and the mongoose moves in for the kill, seizing the snake's head and crushing it between its jaws.

Another factor is also at work during its contest with the cobra: the hairs on the mongoose's body stand erect, making it appear larger and more intimidating, and also, more importantly, disrupting the cobra's calculations, for even when it manages to make contact with the mongoose, all it gets is a mouthful of hair. Gray ghost, indeed! The mongoose may also have some immunity to snake venom: it usually survives a superficial bite, and only a full dose of the venom can kill it.

I think it'll be a long time before I see the mongoose again, though I know it's a neighbor, a permanent resident of the abandoned plot next door.

I consulted the excellent Wildlife Great and Small of the Coromandel by Tim Wrey while writing this.

Note: Click on the photo to enlarge it.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | May 30, 2021

Lime Butterfly in My Yard

After six years (on 1 May 2021 to be precise), a lime butterfly visits my yard again! It was a joy to welcome this visitor, albeit non-human, confined to my house as I was by the lockdown.

The lime butterfly loves to bask, and so can be fairly easily photographed. It's a photographer's delight.

The lime tree is the host plant for its caterpillars, which explains its common name.

I spent some happy minutes clicking away, and was reminded of this quote from one of Tagore's poems: "The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough."

Note: Click on the pics to enlarge them.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | April 29, 2021

Bride’s Tears

This is the coral vine (Antigonon leptopus), which I shot on Market Road in February. It is thought to be native to Mexico. Judging from some of the other common names — ice-cream creeper and bride's tears — this is a plant that sets people's imaginations on fire. The fruit is shaped like a tear, which I suppose partly accounts for the name bride's tears. It is certainly pretty, but do not be deceived: let it have its way, and it'll swarm over and engulf walls and even buildings, as it can climb up to 40 feet.

I sometimes wonder why I like climbing vines. I like cats too; perhaps its their independence that I admire. And the happy memories of climbing trees and walls as a boy.

Note: Click on the photo to enlarge it.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | March 30, 2021

Sleeping an Election Off

It's election season again! The assembly elections, which determine the party that will rule the state, are around a fortnight away, and the enthusiasm is palpable. Processions, speeches blaring through microphones, meetings, house visits by politicians and party workers, screaming newspaper headlines … Not even an alarming surge in COVID cases in many parts of the country has prevented politicians in election-bound states from going slow; no, they seem bent on whipping up emotions to a frenzy.

This photo was taken with my phone on the day people voted during the local body elections held a few months ago. Not the voter in the photo above, though, from the looks of it.

Note: Click on the photo to see an enlarged version.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | February 27, 2021

Indigenous Street Art

Shot on Foreshore Road. Behind the wall is a shop selling goods produced by indigenous communities from all over the country.

Note: Click on a photo to enlarge it.

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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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