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 | October 12, 2018

Crescent Moon over Cochin Harbour

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Posted by: cochinblogger | September 29, 2018

The Pagoda Flower

Purple-rumped sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica) on pagoda flower (Clerodendrum paniculatum; Krishna kireedam). Shot in the front yard of my house.

"Come," she said, "I'll show you a plant that's a butterfly magnet." The path led us away from the well-tended garden in front of the house to the unkempt mass of greenery outside. She came to a halt in front of a tall plant I was seeing for the first time. It was around 8 feet high, crowned by pyramidal clusters of small bright orange flowers. "We call this Krishna kireedam," she said.

This was a resort in Vagamon. The owners, an elderly couple, had been amused by my diligent stalking of butterflies to photograph them, and hence this introduction to the "butterfly magnet."

Thus it was that two cuttings of the plant were taken back to Cochin. The plant is not demanding; it doesn't ask for anything other than what is available in the soil and the air. The first flowering occurred in a few months and was followed by many others. The plant propagates itself vegetatively by suckers, so it wasn't long before the original plants were surrounded by their progeny, brightening up a drab corner of the front yard with splashes of color.

The striking, unusual geometrical arrangement of the flowers is what gives the plant its name. The pagoda flower is all straight lines and sharp angles, an unabashedly male, rectilinear design that is unusual for flowers. The bright orange color catches the eye, and the large dark-green leaves are the perfect foil for the flowers.

The bird perched on the flower is a male purple-rumped sunbird, a tiny hummingbird-sized bird found only in the Indian subcontinent. The purple patch on the rump is visible only at certain angles when the light is right. The female is dowdy in comparison. Years ago, a couple used to frequent the yard and had even built a nest on a branch overlooking the passage to the road. They then disappeared, so I was happy to spot this bird in my yard again.

And what of the butterflies? The pagoda flower is the favorite plant of the Swallowtails, but the city is not a welcoming environment for butterflies. Still, I have seen them around on occasion. Intrepid explorers, after all, are not the monopoly of any one species. I believe they will come.

Yes, come they will, the butterflies. The glad tidings will spread by word of wing — and the fluttering gopis will yet find their way to my Krishna kireedam.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | August 30, 2018

Red Bleeding Heart Vine

Red bleeding heart vine (Clerodendrum speciosum). Shot at Kalamassery.

I was hurrying to the bank after a critical online transaction failed unexpectedly, and my mind was full of the upcoming meeting with the bank manager. A splash of color on my right – a fence festooned with wreaths of flowers beautiful enough to decorate a wedding stage – caught my eye. Intrigued, I paused.

Time was of the essence, and this was not the moment to stand and stare. The voice of reason said insistently: "Move on, move on, you have important business to attend to. You can always come back another day and take a look." The heart won over reason, and I walked over to the fence.

It was an unfamiliar vine, planted in a garden on the other side of the fence. It had climbed over the fence, and the flowers dangled over it in a riot of scarlet, pink, and white. Glossy dark green leaves peeked through the slats of the fence. Climbers, like us, are transgressive by instinct, forever pushing boundaries. I moved forward, took a quick photo with my phone, and resumed my mission.

The next time I passed that spot, a couple of weeks later, all I saw was a bare fence. There was no sign of the vine. It was as though it had never existed.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | July 26, 2018

Prakasam, Auto Driver

As I was settling down in the auto-rickshaw I'd just boarded, the driver spoke: "When you get down, please make sure that you've taken all your belongings." I thought this a little odd, but assured him that I would not leave anything behind. At my destination, as I was handing over the fare and preparing to disembark, he reminded me again: "Please check that you have taken all your things."

Did he think I might leave a bomb behind in his vehicle? He sounded like a man who had burnt his fingers in the past. What lay behind his unease? I asked him: "Why are you so concerned? You sound worried."

He then narrated the following incident. It was night and he was at home when he heard a mobile phone ringing outside. Nobody answered the call, and the ringing continued, insistent. When this went on for some minutes without stopping, he stepped out. The ringing was coming from his own auto, parked in the yard. He found the phone behind the passenger seat. It must have slipped from a passenger's pocket and slid down the gap between the seat and the back rest.

He didn't know what to to do, he told me. Pointing to the side mirror of his auto, he said, "The phone was that big. I didn't know how to operate it, else I would've answered the call or called him. Look at my phone!" He took his phone out of his pocket to show me; it was a basic Nokia model.

The act of paying my auto fare has always been automatic: I step out of the auto, at the same time whipping out my wallet and counting out the fare, which is handed over in an instant, completing the transaction. It is over in a matter of seconds. Today, I had been stopped in my tracks while initiating that action: one foot was on the pavement, my hands held the wallet, and my body was aligned toward the door of the auto. One step and I would be out, caught up in the whirl of scurrying commuters. On my right, the traffic streamed past, a never-ending flow. And yet, I sat there. I could not move. We were no longer driver and passenger; he was the storyteller, and I was the listener. He had not held me with a glittering eye like the Ancient Mariner, but he had reeled me in, alright.

He decided to go to his daughter's house, which was some distance away. His daughter made contact with the owner of the mobile. He was relieved and grateful that his phone was safe and had apparently found its way into honest hands. It turned out he stayed in Thodupuzha. He was tied up there for a few days with urgent matters, and could someone come down to Thodupuzha with the phone? It was an extraordinary request (Thodupuzha being a good two hours away from Kochi by bus), but my auto driver told him he would be in front of the Thodupuzha police station at 6:30 am the next day.

There, they met. The owner of the phone was profoundly grateful. He was preparing for the Public Service Commission exams, and his entire preparation material was stored in the phone. "My life is in my phone," he said. He took the auto driver to his house and introduced him to his family members. He was served jack fruit and mango as well as a variety of snacks. The phone, he learned, cost Rs. 30,000. The owner of the phone gave him Rs. 5,000 as his reward. I bid farewell to the auto driver, and went about my business. But his story stayed with me.

A few months later, I boarded an auto. It was only when I got down that I recognized the driver. I greeted him, but he stared at me blankly. All I had to do was mention the passenger from Thodupuzha who had lost his phone. At this, he smiled in recognition and folded his hands in salutation.

Last Sunday, I hailed an auto to the Metro station. To my surprise, it was the same driver. This time, he smiled when he saw me. As we sped toward the Metro, he spoke: "Sir, something interesting happened the other day." This is what he said.

"A mother and daughter boarded the auto, asking to be taken to Chennai SIlks. A couple of minutes later, I asked them to be sure to take all their belongings when they left the auto, leaving nothing behind. They replied that they would be careful, the mother adding that she appreciated his warning." They got off at Chennai Silks. A few minutes later, he pulled into a petrol station. Something fell from the passenger seat with a loud noise. It was a brand-new umbrella. The auto driver was crestfallen.

From the petrol station, he sped toward the Chennai Silks showroom. There he had to pay the parking fees for his auto. Entering the building, he found his passengers climbing the stairs. They were surprised and pleased to get back the umbrella, which they had never expected to see again. The daughter said she had put down the umbrella momentarily to take money out from her purse, and forgotten to pick it up again. Our auto driver was given Rs. 50 for the up-and-down travel.

I was struck by his sense of responsibility: if something was left behind in his auto, he felt honor bound to return it to the passenger. Until that was accomplished, the burden of unearned ownership lay heavy on his conscience, denying him peace of mind.

I stepped out of his auto, paid my fare, and was about to walk away when I realized I didn't know his name. I needed something concrete to tag his memory with. "Prakasam," he said. Our paths diverged, as I turned toward the Metro station and he headed into the traffic.Note: The photo above is a representative image.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | June 29, 2018

Rangoon Creeper

I pass it frequently, as it grows in my neighborhood, sprawled over a residential wall. Bewitched, I take in the tri-colored flowers — white, pink, and crimson. The scent, especially at dusk, is heady (a common name for it is Drunken Sailor). I often find myself stopping at the wall, sniffing at the flowers.

This is the Rangoon Creeper, with the scientific name Quisqualis indica. The Latin words quis and qualis mean "who" and "what," respectively, reflecting the bewilderment of the botanist who "discovered" it. What art thou? The plant seemed to defy classification.

It starts life as a tiny creeper, then becomes bush-like, and finally shows its true colors as a liana vine that creeps upward toward the sun, clinging to any support it finds. The buds and flowers are initially white, turning into a light blushing pink before maturing into deep crimson. All three colors are sometimes seen on the same plant, which makes for a spectacular display, as can be seen in my photo.

Shot with love and respect in an alley off Shenoys Junction, Ernakulam.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | May 31, 2018

Exposed to the Elements

During a factory visit in Edinburgh, Prince Philip (notorious for his bluntness) said a fuse box in the premises was such a crude piece of work that it “looked as though it had been put in by an Indian.” Indian feathers were suitably ruffled. However, one can understand where the prince got this impression from. All it takes is a stroll down practically any street in India to see electrical junction boxes with wires sticking out of them haphazardly in all directions.

Here is a Swedish blogger’s take on this:

This Is India: You Know It’s Where You Call When You Have a Technical Problem with Your Computer

Yes, this is again calculated to raise Indian hackles, but in a way, we deserve it. We invite this kind of ridicule — with open arms. Nothing, it seem, can cure us of our contempt for public property. We, the Indian public, are OK with this; why else would we allow this state of affairs to persist? Blaming our officials is the easy way out, but we are willing accomplices.

Of course, the Swedish poster’s self-serving logic — that because Indians have such miserable infrastructure, they must be technologically incompetent — is fallacious. It is an argument that may sound plausible to Westerners ignorant about India, but anyone knowledgeable about India will be familiar with the country’s impressive scientific, industrial, and technological track record. Just one example: India’s successful indigenous 2008 Chandrayaan 1 mission, which made it just the fourth country (no, Sweden is not among them) to plant its national flag on the moon. The spacecraft, by the way, carried scientific payloads from other countries too, including from Sweden.

In a way, this is what makes the situation even more infuriating: the technical capacity to build and maintain public infrastructure is there. It is the will that is lacking. There is a fatal flaw in our national psyche that I’m unable to put my finger on.

It’s a multi-stranded problem, but I think I’ve been able to tease out one strand: an exaggerated and unhealthy respect for authority that is foisted on our kids in school — and in our homes. We need to inculcate the opposite: a critical attitude to authority. It’s true that East Asian countries are similar to us in this respect (pun unintended), and their public spaces are in general well maintained. However, they have one quality that we lack: discipline. If we had a basic sense of discipline, we would be horrified by the ugliness in our public spaces. And if we learned in school and in our homes to question authority figures, we would be able to stand up to our public officials, demand accountability, and shame them into action.

An outside perspective does help us gain insight into our weaknesses. They see clearly what we are blind to through sheer overexposure. A German friend who visits India fairly frequently once told me: “It’s not that you are unable to make trains run on time; it’s not important enough in your scheme of things for you to bother yourselves about it.” Let’s also revisit the Swedish blog post again. The comments below the post are interesting. A couple of Indians have tried to defend the indefensible; one even goes so far as to say that we Indians are geniuses because only we can manage our self-inflicted chaotic electrical wiring! How’s that for chutzpah! However, he is shown his place by the last commenter on the page: ”Interesting comment defending the mess. What it tells me, is that rather than consider the visual appeal of that particular neighborhood, the utilities simply “pull” another wire to replace or add to the current network. It has nothing to do with genius and everything to do with laziness and contempt for the environment, regardless of where that environment is.” Hard-hitting words, but true. “Laziness” and ”contempt for the environment” hit the nail on the head.

I took the above photo on Chittoor Road. Does it work? If it does, it’s a miracle, not genius. And if it doesn’t work, what is it doing there on the road?

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Posted by: cochinblogger | April 30, 2018

The Handmaiden Moth

The handmaiden moth (family Arctiinae) is primarily diurnal, which is unusual — most moths are nocturnal. They resemble wasps on account of the colored bands across their bodies, which deters some predators. This is an example of what is called Batesian mimicry. Their bright colors signal that they are unpalatable. They look two-winged, but they actually have hind wings that are much smaller than their forewings. They are found in India, China, and South Africa.

I found these moths on my garage wall, and lost no time in fetching my camera from the house. Needless to say, they were still there when I returned. I have seen these moths before around my yard, and they have always seemed rooted to the spot. Yes, these are navel gazers, alright.

Which is the male? Well, I'm not sure, but using the rule of thumb that in the insect world females are generally larger than males (contrary to what we see in mammals), I'd say the moth on the left is the female.

Lastly, to identify the moth, I had to use Google Image Search. You can upload your photo, and Google will show you similar images. I clicked on a similar image, which led me to a website that had the name of the moth.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | March 31, 2018

Music at the Krithi Book Festival

The Krithi International Book Fest held earlier this month was unusual in that it was as much an art festival as a book fair. Apart from literary events at a separate venue on Bolghatty Island that featured eminent writers (including some from overseas), there were music programs every evening. Below are pics I took when I attended three of those concerts.

I do not know anything about Carnatic music, but I know the Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna through his writings. He is a prolific and sometimes controversial writer. The first piece of his that I read was an in-depth profile of the famous singer M.S. Subbulakshmi in Caravan magazine, which created a storm because the writer suggested that MS had to Brahminize herself to find acceptance in the rarefied world of classical Carnatic music, which is something of a Brahminical preserve. Anyway, I had to see him in the flesh. His singing was mesmerizing, and I was happy to have captured the photo below, which gives some idea of the intensity with which he sings, though conditions were far from ideal, especially the weather.

The next day there was a Dhrupad sarod concert by Debanjan Bhattacharjee, seen below. This was much too technical for me, despite the musician’s occasional explanations — but as a non-musician who listens to mostly rock, classical music was a pleasant change.

Debanjan was accompanied by Nishaant Singh (below), who has a magnificent stage presence, on the pakhawaj.

And on the last evening, there was a concert by the Carnatic progressive rock group, Agam. I’ve been a fan since I heard their debut album, The Inner Self Awakens, which is a masterpiece and a favorite of mine. I even got Harish, the lead vocalist, to autograph my copy of the album, which made my day.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | February 24, 2018

Early Morning outside Little Flower Church

Very early one morning last month, I was passing through Elamkulam in a taxi, when I was brought up short by this sight. I stopped the taxi, got out, crossed the road, and took a few shots.

And I’m glad I did.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | January 17, 2018

Caps of Tradition

Caps of tradition_cr_edited.jpg

Shot at Kacheripady.

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