Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Matter of Life and Death

Everything that is wrong with this world circles back to fear.

Fears that possibly developed when we first noticed our parents in an argument, or when our teacher used force to get us to comply, or when a friend first rejected our company for someone else’s, or the first time we realized how important money is. Fears that developed from various lack, watching the news, listening to gossip, being mistreated by people. Fears that were born with us thanks to generations before us that had fear transcribed on their DNA.

Fear that cripples our ability to receive and give love. Fear that holds us back from being who we are. Fear that keeps us in a constant, exhausting cycle of trying to please others and prove ourselves. Fear that, at times, cunningly disguises itself as wisdom and caution.

Fear, the antithesis of Love.

No wonder we fail. No wonder our seeming successes don’t last. No wonder the murder, rape and chaos.

Humanity has in its hands the only weapon that can combat evil and failure and decay. It was given freely and in all its fullness. But we choose, instead, to blame God, fate, the stars, parents, the system, the government, each other, a random earthquake and the devil.

Sit back for a minute and take a good look at your choices – your career, your spouse, your religion, your friends, your attitude, your habits, your children, your hobbies. Why did you choose to have or not have them, why did you choose one over the other? What was the motivation? Fear of lack? Ridicule? Loss? Failure? Fear of the unknown? Fear of being left out? Fear of not being able to live with yourself otherwise?

Or was it Love?

If you’d had a deep seated awareness that you were loved and that you are capable of love, that nothing you are, say or do can nullify that, would that have changed the choices you’d made?

If the world wasn’t afraid, would it go to war, would it hurt senselessly, would it destroy haplessly?

Why would you fight for belonging, space, beauty, happiness, and fulfillment when they are already yours? Any given day, would you make choices that lead to depression, destruction and death? Or choices that lead to Life?

Like John Lennon said, “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.”

Friday, November 7, 2014

Jayamangali Blackbuck Conservation Reserve

Winter is just setting in and the past week had been dazzling us with its clear skies and chilly weather. It being a perfect time for birding, we decided to visit Jayamangali Blackbuck Conservation Reserve on Sunday. But good ol’ Murphy told the clear skies the plan—for when we woke up at the unearthly hour of five in the morning and set out, we were a bit startled to find it pouring rain. Nevertheless we stuck to plan and eventually the rain gave into our determination and stopped, though the skies remained cloudy.

JBCR is a Protected Area about 150 km from Bangalore, and is part of Tumkur district. It was formerly known as Maidenahalli and the closest town to it is Madhugiri in Karnataka and Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh. The drive there was on fairly good roads with clear landscapes, sometimes ringed by rolling hills, through Doddaballapur, Gauribidanur, Nitrahalli, Kodlapura, and Girigondanahalli. The last forty kilometers, after Girigondanahalli, are more potholes than roads.

The vegetation is plain grasslands, spotted with shrubs and the occasional tree, which facilitates easier spotting of birds not to mention the Blackbucks the Reserve is known for. The weather was pleasant, though it is known to get pretty hot. We were overwhelmed with the sheer number of birds we saw once we entered— Green Bee Eater, Long Tailed Shrike, Bay Backed Shrike, Black Crowned Sparrow Lark, Little Egret, Pond Heron, Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Red Wattled Lapwing, Grey Francolin, Indian Bush Lark, Striated Babbler, Black Kite, Brahminy Kite, White throated Kingfisher, Two Tailed Drongo, Painted Sand Grouse, Laughing Dove, Indian Silver Bill, Large Egret and Chestnut Headed Bee Eater. 

Yes, i’m done.

We saw Blackbucks of course—a first for us in the ‘wild’. Through the day, as we kept driving around the Reserve, back and forth, we saw about thirty of them. The male of the species are dark brown with white underbellies, majestic in stance with gorgeous, un-branched antlers; the does are a lighter shade of brown, sleek and graceful. We saw lone bucks, herds, and mothers with their fawns. They are shy creatures and sprint away the moment you try to get closer. It’s a treat to watch them on the move.

Besides being known for its second largest contiguous population of Blackbucks, JBCR is also known for its Indian Wolf, Indian Fox and Jungle Cat. We weren't lucky enough to spot any, probably because of the time of the day we were in there. Early mornings and evenings work best, of course.

The Reserve is peaceful and quiet, the stillness broken only by the occasional chirping of birds or the rustling of  trees in the wind. It’s easy to lean back against a tree, gaze at the grassland and get lost for hours at a time, while occasionally glimpsing a buck chasing after an agile doe, or a fawn nuzzling its mother in the distance.

On the way back, we decided to try a different route and came through Koratagere to Neelamangala to Bangalore. But on any route the forty kilometers or so to and from the Reserve promise to be bumpy.

The Reserve is open from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. To stay overnight prior permission is required from the DFO at Tumkur. There is a Forest guest house with pretty basic amenities. There are no shops or restaurants and the nearest village is about 8 km away. The government has done a good job of making these 800 acres a Conservation Reserve. However the area still has instances of human-animal conflict, thanks to cultivation encroaching on the grasslands.

JBCR made for a memorable one day trip thanks to the sheer beauty of the flora and fauna of the place. We are definitely visiting again, this time for an overnight trip.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Of the Creepy Kind

Curiosity about new news on the Pogeyan led us to Janaki Lenin’s My Husband and Other Animals. We did find what we were looking for, but this post is not about the Pogeyan. Certain incidents she’d mentioned, like her many close ups with snakes and other creepy crawlies over the years—what else would you expect, being married to Rom Whitaker?—reminded me of my own brush with some of them.
Growing up where i did, snakes make for an interesting chapter (of a book probably titled “Wild Encounters” or something equally predictable like that) of my life. Sadly, the instinctual reaction to a snake then, born of ignorant fear, was to pound it to death.
For instance, there was this rare sunny afternoon, one monsoon season years ago, when mum walked into the storage room next to the kitchen to find a snake coiled up on the window sill, blissfully sunning itself. None of the men were around, and mum and a friend, who was visiting, were understandably terrified. It fell to me to at least attempt to cajole the snake out, if not kill it. Armed with a spade, i went as close as i dared to and, heart thudding furiously, nudged it. It wouldn’t budge. In fact, it looked like it was fast asleep. After a few nerve wracking moments of prodding it, when fear at the thought that the snake might suddenly come to life and make a lunge for me began to freeze my limbs, i gave up, and decided to go fetch help. I walked down to the gate and called out to the first guy who walked by to come help get rid of the snake. Without any show of reluctance, he followed me to the house, took the spade, and knocked the snake, a viper he said, off the ledge. It thrashed about madly, poor thing. With fierce determination, he thwacked it till it stopped moving, took it out, and with mum’s help, poured kerosene on it and set fire to it amidst the coffee shrubs. Though dead, it kept writhing for a long time as it burned up. Even now, i cringe when i think of how heartless and fear driven the whole thing was. I’m ashamed to say we’ve killed a number of snakes—and not always out of fear or ignorance. Sometimes it was purely for the joy of killing something because we could, i think. Sorry excuse, that.
Quite recently, here, in the little gated community we live in now, a few kilometres away from the city proper, a couple who live two houses away from ours were returning home late night, and when they drove through the gate, saw a big snake on the walkway bordering the hedge, just past the gate. Acting on the assumption that it was a cobra, they ordered the watchmen to kill it, and as a considerate afterthought, called to let us know there was a Cobra, would we like to come see it? VC and SC both promptly cautioned them, “Whatever you do, don’t kill it!” We raced up to the gate, with AL wondering why he had been rudely woken up by these overbearing adults and hauled out of the house in the cold of the night. But we were a tad too late. In the two minutes we took to drive up to the gate, the night watchmen had smashed its head in at the insistence of the couple, who by now had decided that it was a King Cobra. It wasn’t. It was a kickass specimen of a nine foot long Indian Rock Python. Gorgeous skin, body thicker than both my wrists put together, small head. Heart-wrenchingly defenceless. Very dead. As we stretched the snake out, running our hands over its unreal skin, I wanted to grab the clueless couple by their collar and shake them senseless; and rant and rail at them: How can you not know the difference between a cobra and a python? Why couldn’t you at least wait a couple of minutes? Cobra or not, why couldn’t you just let it go through the hedge into the scrubland beyond, which was what it was trying to do in the first place? Why can’t we simply live and let live? Until i remembered i would have done the same if i hadn’t been better informed. That i had done the same till i was. Kill first, ask questions later. The image of the beautiful, dead python we were two minutes too late to save will always be miserably stuck in my head, i suppose.
Recently again, a rat snake that had the misfortune to enter the house opposite ours was beaten to death by a guy who’d been called to help oust the snake despite the lady of the house, who has a two year old, insisting that she didn’t want it killed.
But some are more aware. Still more recently, the house flanking that of the aforementioned couple had an afternoon visitor. This time it was a cobra, a juvenile. Instead of panicking, the couple there called up a guy from Friends of Snakes, who efficiently bagged it and let it loose in the wild just beyond the residential community.
Of course, i’m scared of snakes. I also have more than a faint aversion to them. I believe it has been ingrained by years of conditioning: Snakes kill. Snakes are disgusting. And the most pathetic of them all: Snakes are evil; they ought to be killed on sight. I’m not trying to champion the cause of snakes—should one pose a threat i would, without hesitation, kill or have it killed, if i see no way out. That said, ironically, the fact that i feel insanely sorry for those i see killed gives me hope for the future of snakes here. That an ordinary person like me, with a fear of snakes, could overcome years of conditioning and think twice about killing a hapless snake that’s wandered into my territory might mean that that there are more like me around. Hooray for National Geographic Channel and the like, i’d say.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thing is, that IS pretty damn good!

Since he words these things way more awesomely that i would, and since it resonates with me on so many levels, i've just got to share this here:

People read the "let Him who is without sin throw the first stone" verse as saying that only Jesus can throw stones and judge people because He is the only one without sin.
The point of the verse is not to specify who can throw stones and who cannot, it's to specify that, although the Law was broken, nobody got stoned.
I see Christians do this thing where they won't blatantly judge or condemn people with words, but their hearts are still set in judgment against them when they say things like, "Don't worry, they'll pay for that one way or another! Either in this world or the next!"
So to all outward appearances, we get to play the part of the hero, and look sympathetic for the sinner, and look like we desire mercy for "sinners" more than God. "I'm so heartbroken that a tornado killed 12,000 people, but God is just!" We look like we are "loving the sinner and hating the sin," and we get to feel spiritual and puffed up... while putting the murder weapon in Jesus' hand and telling the world that HE'S the one who wants to stone them, not us! God forbid! No! We would NEVER stone a sinner! Jesus on the other hand, He has the right to, and if we don't shape up... boy, I'll tell you...
You can easily tell who is still under the influence of law by how anxious they are to see people pay for their sins. Whether that be them holding the stones themselves, or continuously implying that God is the one with stones in hand whenever they throw sinners at His feet and expect Him to carry out their death sentence.
Yet it's ironic that when it comes time for people like that to pay for their own sin, they are pleading the blood of Jesus every which way and proclaiming the absolute uncompromising grace of God that has washed away all of their sin.
Even if that verse was to specify who has the right to throw stones and who doesn't, how many stones did Jesus throw?
Exactly none.
So when God encounters "sinners," and law breakers, and homosexuals, and abortionists, how many stones (or hurricanes, or tornadoes, or earthquakes) does He throw at them? The same exact amount that Jesus threw.
"Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." - John 14:9
Under the law you cannot comprehend how God deals with law breakers without punishment, and that's why people get upset when you try to take the Law out of the equation, because they think you are also taking out God's justice. "Well, how is He supposed to deal with sinners and law breakers now?!"
The same way He dealt with the adulteress when she was involuntarily thrown at His feet. The same way He dealt with you when you voluntarily threw yourself at His feet.
"I don't condemn you, go and sin no more."
The gospel is actually a beautiful message, and it's very good news.

- By Daniel R. Silva

Monday, November 12, 2012

Constant Change

When Everett Dirksen said, "I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times", he could have been describing me.

If i have to grow up, thrive, move on to greener pastures, find answers to life’s greatest questions (what are they, again?), get to know more about the infinite being that is God, be myself, be a light in this world and so on and so forth, i need to be flexible—rolling stone not gathering moss and such, being the idea.

And yes, i get it: the line between being flexible and being fickle can get conveniently blurred at times, which, probably, is why i might need to have at least one or two of those ‘fixed and unbending principles’ firmly, er, fixed. I’ve decided that mine will be these: God exists, there’s just one of Him, He is good and He loves me. As long as i don’t deviate from this, i’m pretty comfortable with flexibility running stark raving mad in my life.
Recently, I came across this when foraging through Facebook: ‘I see some more States have legalized same sex marriage and marijuana use. I thought this was unusual for such a conservative, Christian country—but then i remembered that the Bible teaches any man who lays with another man should be stoned.’
After the amusement wore off, i was struck with how much i’d changed in the past two years. Back then, i would have still laughed over this but there would have been a niggling thought that it was vaguely irreverent in some way. Now? Those pathetic religious fetters are no longer there. Because He happens to be good He taught me how to dispense with all the sanctimonious drivel, one stinking garbage bag after another. And trust me, that’s a big deal for someone born, bred, marinated and deep-fried in religion like me. It is, among other things, marvellously liberating.
Then i got to wondering under which rock others like me—you know, the marinated, deep-fried sorts who broke loose—are hiding. Besides VC and EM, i can count on the fingers of one hand the ones i’ve crossed paths with in this country (though, i'd bet that that's about to change soon). So i’m understandably thrilled when i come across trail blazers like Kirby in Sri Lanka; or pages like Breatharian on Facebook; or blogs like Saints not Sinners; or articles like God's Love Vs.Inordinate Affection; or books like Raptureless, An Optimistic Guide to the End of the World, to name a few, that echo stuff already running through my mind. It is not about rebelling and going your own way. It’s about Truth, if you will.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

So I'm a Mother

Ever heard the line that motherhood is the ultimate fulfilment for a woman? And rolled your eyes at such (antifeministic) tripe? Annoyingly enough, for some of us at least, it appears to hold true. Damn, i hate that they got it right! Though, for the sake of a bruised ego, i would still like to maintain that ‘ultimate’ was stretching it a bit.

Also, ever come across blogs where a mother can’t seem to help herself mentioning her wonder child in every other post? Oh well, brace yourself, you might have wandered into one such blog.
Thing is, this whole motherhood deal gets to you. It feels too hard wired in your system not to.

AL* entered the world in a bit of a hurry, amidst much drama, about eight months ago: smaller than my forearm, all hairy and wrinkled up like an old, old man, or maybe an ape, and cute as a button. There, i said it. The word cute. I used to think it was overrated. Well, he is mine. Of course i’m gonna find him cute beyond belief: The wide, gaping, goofy smile adorably accompanied by twinkling eyes and that mischievously crinkled nose; cheeks that go gobble-ably droopy when tired; the soft, tiny, trusting body that curls into mine when sleepy; the gusty screams that signal an oncoming tantrum when denied something; the tendency to always choose mum over anyone else—for now anyway (causing mum to rightly think she’s the luckiest being on earth). . . Yeah, definitely cute.
VC and i had promised ourselves we wouldn’t at all be like all those parents we’ve come across, splashing countless photos of their dear delightful darling all over Facebook, gushing uncontrollably to friends and strangerswho couldn't care lessabout how he smiled for the first time this morning, upchucked Cerelac unerringly onto dad’s face when force fed that last spoon, could actually wiggle his little fingers and so on. And on. And on. And worse, play the Who Does He Most Resemble game—Looks exactly like his granny, doesn't he? No wait, more like his aunt, in fact. Whoa, did you see the way he just smiled? Absolutely like you. Or is it like his granduncle’s? And that slightly crooked middle toe? A lot like his second cousin’s. Unfortunately, we’ve caught ourselves doing just that way too many times in addition to unashamedly exclaiming over the most trivial things: Gosh, did you notice how he held that dummy with both his thumb and forefinger? Oh look, he said ‘abba’, he’s trying to call you. Or maybe he already has a gift for speaking Hebrew.
It makes me wonder why i’d kept putting motherhood off. Just like i did marriage. And both took me by surprise. Of course, neither one is a bed of roses; each comes abundantly equipped with its share of aaaarrrghh! moments. But, i swear, the rewards far outweigh the sleepless nights.
Seriously, am i favoured or what!

(I can totally hear you thinking, wait till he hits the Terrible Twos. Better yet, just wait for the teenage years to come calling!)

*Thankfully, we didn't have to name him Xorion. VC and i are, of course, waiting with bated breath to see which one of us would turn out to be right when he grows up. Rest assured, if i'm wrong, you will never hear about it from me ;)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Die, you infidel?

While i'm at it (throwing ideas around, that is), let me also put this one out there:

If God is love, and you are of Him, are you made of love, by love, for love?

Does such love, then, wish for or derive grim satisfaction, pleasure even, from the destruction of anyone or anything that doesn't share the same belief system, ideology or views?

If a hurricane happens to hit the U.S of A, is it this God of love 'punishing' the land for the 'evil' in it? And if it hits, would you rather pray for the protection of 'Your children, O God', doesn't matter what happens to the rest, they had it coming anyway, and the 'world' needs to learn a lesson and 'repent'? Would love maybe choose to pray that the hurricane holds off altogether? Would love care to take a break from righteously handing down verdicts long enough to understand that maybe, just maybe, the hurricane is a natural meteorological phenomenon, and not the result of a waved magic wand?

Would love wish the best for humanity, for the earth, for the animals and trees or would it, like a spoilt, impatient child, demand Dad to destroy them to show them who's got it right?