Just Another Wake-up Call

Murali Sivaramakrishnan[Professor of English at Pondicherry University, India. He is also a poet and painter. His recent publication includes the poetry book Silversfish.                     E-mail: <smurals@gmail.com>

It had rained so heavily last night. But now the dawn has brought so
much soft light on the wet boughs and silken flowers. Everything appears
fresh and clean. The sky bears an amazing touch of blue. From where
I sit on the low balcony of my house I can see right up to the end of the
street where it turns sharply to the left and right hiding beyond the heavy
laden trees. Now there is a shower of insects. There are termites all over
the place. Crows, mynas, drongos and magpie robins are dashing in and
out of the strange volcano-like eruptions from the ground. Millions and
millions of tiny winged creatures zoom about only to be devoured in hundreds
by these birds and other little lizards and hairy mongooses which
join them. This is certainly a protein rich repast for them. Nature is so
strange. Each one thrives on the other. Life is one long unending chain.
And yet the survival of each species is ensured through different means.
The termites might be food for the birds but their sheer numbers makes
them outlive their predators. It is not the time span or specific niche in the
food chain that ensures this, for after all in nature time means different
stuff for different species.
They say that the Mayfly has the shortest life span of all living creatures.
It lives barely for one day. And within this short life circuit the entire
drama of birth, growing up, reproduction and the ensurance of the species
and death comes full circle. Some moths and butterflies live a little longer
and dragon flies live up to a week. While on the other hand, the longevity
of elephants and tortoises takes them close to a century and beyond
sometimes. All life forms on earth have their own intrinsic space and time,
and one significant point we have to bear in mind is that they are there
for themselves and they play a significant role in the biosphere and ecosphere.
We can say they have intrinsic significance which means they have
essential rights to exist independently of what we humans might consider
their worth. Of course we human beings have the definite capacity to decide
their fate and destiny because of our might and forceful histories. We
have become the dominant species on earth the masters of all our universe
(until we encounter such superior alien creatures in other planets or stars
which is a future possibility). But for the present we humans have absolute
right of control over all of this planet earth, this third rock from the sun.
I once heard someone state over the television that Americans have
such superior weapons nowadays that they can destroy the entire earth
nine times! This immediately made me wonder how such a threat is feasible!
Simply because once the earth is destroyed there would not be another
to destroy a second time let alone till the ninth! But the threat is obviously
a bit exaggerated for the sake of its magnitude! Of course humans do have
the power to annihilate all life forms including ourselves. This is certainly
a potential threat to all nature.
But nature thrives through creation and destruction. Even the giant
reptiles of the Jurassic age had to face extinction through the great ice age.
Nevertheless nature did find a continuity in ensuring the success of life by
permitting new and newer life forms to germinate even after such a massive
catastrophe. It is said that even after a horrendous chemical warfare
cockroaches can survive to live another day! Perhaps they have evolved
their own biological adaptations after encountering repeated attacks from
us humans inventing and reinventing several chemical and biochemical
atomisers and such stuff to eradicate what we hold as pests from our domestic
spheres! Life does find new ways!
We humans are indeed great consumers. We gorge on our planet. And
down the centuries as we read in our history books we have been exploring
and conquering new territories inside our earth as well as on the surface
and even above our earth. We have created cultures and civilizations,
languages and technologies that have helped us spread all over the globe.
There is virtually no place on earth which has not felt the shadow of a
human being! Our great creativity and adaptability has ensured our survival and success. There is little doubt that us humans are the sole owners
of this mass of rock from the sun. We might defend ourselves by saying
that we have every right to ensure our own survival because we are the
dominant species on earth. We can command the fate of all else. And now,
even if we do produce a mass of garbage which might pollute our earth and
water and air around us we can eventually find new scientific means to
get rid of all that. There are many among us who would strongly advocate
for human beings alone as the apex creations of god – after all we are the
direct decedents of god – he or she produced us in their own image (this is
what our religions would teach us).
This I have heard: humans are not the only creatures who leave debris
behind. Large herds of wandering elephants pull down and destroy
innumerable trees, thorny shrubs and bushes. Aren’t they then culprits of
destruction of nature and habitat? With the discovery of fire human tribes
have torched and scorched miles and miles of bush and terrain down the
history. So then, why only blame our present day generation solely for habitat
Having said that, we come to realise that the axe and the fire have laid
waste miles and miles of living land through countless generation. But the
point is simply that now we have reached such a pass that we do not have
any more chance: we have reached a cul de sac in our history and the history
of our planet. We have the first wake up call.
We have built up our civilizations and cultures with us humans as the
centre of it all. When we put our interests in front of everything such a
view is called anthropocentricism – human centred world views. Little do
we recognise as the intrinsic rights of all other non-human stuff to exist.
But nature as we have come to realise through all our learning and pursuit
of science, is something that cherishes what is called biodiversity. There
are innumerable living and non-living things that are besides the human
existence and they too have a need and necessity to exist side by side. In
fact it is through the continued preservation of this vibrant harmonious
web of life that we can also aid in our own survival. Ecology teaches us
that everything in our universe is interlinked with every other thing else.
We break one and it makes a dent in all others as well. When each animal,
each bird, each amphibian, each insect is deprived of its survival space – its
biological habitat – we also are making dents in the other interconnected
chains. We are locked in with everything else that exists. Some we can see
and make out, others are invisible to us but nevertheless exist. We have
so little right to assert our own right over everything else. But yet, this is
exactly what we have been trying to do so far. Our history, or rather our
environmental history is so full of our own footprints and finger prints.
We are the culprits.
Our second wake-up call is one that tells us our earth is not a garbage
dump! All the nations of the world produce waste and they are of several
levels from chemical to bio-chemical to nuclear waste. What do we normally
do when we are left with some waste? We simply dispose of it over
our wall; if it is in our neighbour’s yard it is safe beyond our sight. Now that
we have come to realise that all of this is our home where shall we dump
our waste? Is there space beyond stars? Can we find a distant galaxy where
we can heap all our waste?
These are not mere lists of facts or a fanciful array of fantasies – but
his could be a clarion call to stay awake and recognise our responsibilities.
We should not reach out for the snooze button
There has been no time in our histories as in the present when our
wake-up call has been so persistent. It is screeching. We have so polluted
our earth, our waters – including fresh water lakes, rivers and the seas –
and our air. We have to change our ways of living. Before that we need to
wake ourselves up. Do we need to wait till the last and final call has to go?
Was it indeed Mahatma Gandhi who said that we have not just inherited
the earth from our forefathers but simply borrowed it from our children!
My reverie is rudely broken by the door-bell. Someone is at the door.
I need to go and get the front door. The sunlight outside has become warmer
and shadows have started to shrink. The sun is moving beyond the tree
line up into the blue skies. The termite volcano appears to have subsided.
The crows have already left. Satiated no doubt with their fill of sumptuous
protein-rich meal. Only a couple of stray mynas still hang about pecking
at this and that. A couple of squirrels dash in and out of the bushes. Probably
the late comers. It dawns on me suddenly that I have left the lights on
inside my rooms. It is imperative that I conserve whatever is left, including
our electricity. I definitely do not want that doorbell to be the third and
final wake-up call. I am up and about in no time!

Revista rile, joão pessoa-pb, v. 1, n. 1, p. 289-292, jan – jun 2018 

Thattekad Diary

Sri Lanka Bay Owl

The forest closed in all around us as the sun was infringing the western-ghats in a halo of orange and red. And it was not just another evening for the four of us who treaded softly over the drying cluster of leaves that carpeted the jungle floor: it was so eventful. The guide who led us all the way here was suddenly waving excitedly for us to troop over—he was pointing out something up in a broad leaved tree. I looked and could barely make out the bird’s shape in the evening glow. It was the Sri Lanka Bay Owl. The excitement was visible on all four of us and our guide was just as equally excited. He was gesturing like a magician and practically dancing in his glee. It was a moment to freeze for all eternity. We were on a forest track that branched off Urulan Thanni near the well known Thattekad Bird Sanctuary. Earlier in the day Usha and I had driven up from our home in Trivandrum. This was strangely enough my first visit to this famed part of the world—a haven for all bird lovers.

Continue reading “Thattekad Diary”

Peaks of human success

Peaks of human success


SHARE  ·   COMMENT   ·   PRINT   ·   T+

Chennai: 30/04/2013: The Hindu: oeb: Book Review Column: Title: The Summits of Modern Man. Mountaineering after the Enlightment. Author: Peter H. Hansen.

Chennai: 30/04/2013: The Hindu: oeb: Book Review Column: Title: The Summits of Modern Man. Mountaineering after the Enlightment. Author: Peter H. Hansen.

Facts, figures and theory combine into a tale of trekkers who sought solitude and success at the mountain-top

There is certainly much more to mountaineering than a mere act of scrambling up rocks, hills, and vales. It is an act of deliberation, a recognition of the strong will to succeed, to ascent and ascertain the self. Anyone who has scaled a peak would have felt the rush of adrenalin, the surge of excitement, that unmistakable outpouring of thrill and exhilaration as the strong wind gushes past and the land below heaves and flows with the undulation of the horizon and skies. In his monumental work on mountaineering Peter Hansen explores the intricacies of climbing and theorises on the act’s social and psychological significance. The book under review is a serious engagement with men and mountains from the vantage points of social history, eco-critical theorising and cultural geography.In the early 19 century Mont Blanc became a temple and the Alps were viewed as cathedrals of the earth. Alexander Dumas recounted the first ascent of Mont Blanc as the triumph of the sovereign individual. As a young man he himself was in a state of hurry. The son of a Creole general in the Napoleonic army, he ascended from the position as a clerk to become a playwright and successful author of bestsellers like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. In his Impressions of Swiss Travel, Dumas published his interview with Jacques Balmat, “the intrepid guide who amid a thousand dangers had been the first to attain the highest summit of Mont Blanc.” Dumas portrayed him as the King of Mont Blanc, and the image of the lone conqueror, proudly waving to his subjects below. In actuality this would befit the image of the author himself. Dumas appropriated Balmat’s story of the ascent to place himself in the summit position. It has been remarked that The Impressions of Swiss Travel, rejuvenated the genre of travel writing as “an epic of the self… an affirmation of subjectivity.” The ascent of the tall peaks signalled the ascent of modern man who represented the triumph of the will to achieve and to conquer.For the European Romantics the mountains signified the sublime and the snowy heights were associated with religious awe and faith. However the image often shifted between impossibility and despair. Also, it was not unusual for women to scale up mountains and ascertain their individual selves, as the ascent of Mont Blanc by Marie Paradis in 1808 and the narratives that ensued thereon would show.In search of solitudeThe Summits of Modern Man is a phenomenal achievement; it links facts, figures, and theory into one powerful and intriguing tale of the trekkers who ventured in to the vertical heights of mountains in search of solitude and victories. The spring-board to encounter risk, danger and death was mostly that desire to conquer and dominate the wild and tame nature. The impetus of Natural history and theology also has contributed to this will to excel. As Hansen notes: “Mountain climbing did not emerge as the expression of a preexisting condition known as “modernity,” but rather was one of the practices that constructed and redefined multiple modernities during debates over who was first.”However as he concludes, when seen from the longer perspective of geological history, or deep history, to view anyone as first would be to “privilege the moment of beginning, not the process of becoming that precedes it and unfolds within it.” The verticality of mountains locates us in a continuum of past present and future. To conquer its summit is to exist briefly in time and space and feel the ephemerality and evanescence of being.Hansen’s book covers so much ground in terms of history and narrative, examining extracts from many sources. When perceived from the point-of-view of Euro-centric history the disputed chronicling and accounts of the first ascents of Mount Everest and Mont Blanc suggest the intertwining of a colonial dynamics entwining subjectivity, sovereignty and the natural world. Nevertheless, as he argues, “modernity rather than empire serves as the analytical anchor for the belay that is this book, which could have been written only in dialogue with postcolonial and subaltern studies and the cultural and imperial turns of the last few decades.”Multiple modernities illustrate tensions among self, state and mountain. Petrarch, representing the Renaissance individual, is dubbed the first modern man by the mid-19th century — his account of the ascent of Mont Ventoux came to be recognised as a struggle toward the formulation of a political and historical category — the paradigm of the individual self and identity of the modern individual man.King Charles VIII was on a pilgrimage in the mountains when he spotted Mont Inaccessible and he ordered his artillery officer Antoine de Ville to climb it. Eventually after dominating the peak and learning that it had another local name — Aiguille — Antoine de Ville baptised the peak Aiguille Fort in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for the love of the monarch. For more than three centuries the ascent of Mont Aiguille was satirised or celebrated as a symbol of monarchical sovereignty, while the ceremonies of possession varied over geographical territories.Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac celebrates the notion of thinking like a mountain, as a metaphor for the network of inter subjective relationships between humans and the natural world — as an alternative to anti-ecological activities of science and technology — not reducible to the solipsism ofthinking like a self or the system building abstraction of thinking like a state.First on EverestOn the day of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the news of the British conquest of Mount Everest was relayed to London. Edmund Hillary, the New Zealander and Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa had reached the world’s highest summit on May 29, 1953. The British had an aggrandised sense of having got there first. However, as recollected by Sir John Hunt who had led the expedition, a few years later when they returned, the illustrations that adorned the triumphal arches along the road, depicted inglorious pictures of an almost unconscious Hillary being dragged hand over hand by the rope to the summit of Mount Everest by Tenzing the Sherpa, who had very little sense of a conquest in this act. While Hillary was knighted Tenzing was deferred any special mention on account of his dubious nationality — whether Nepalese or Indian. It was debated renaming the peak as Mount Elizabeth. An Indian newspaper poll went against this in favour of “Mount Tenzing.” The Statesman published a photograph of a street in the Sherpa neighbourhood with the caption: “Not Fit for Heroes — it is to homes like these that some Sherpa porters return from their mountaineering.”Tenzing’s poverty before the ascent was an important symbol of his incorporation into a prosperous new India on his return. He was awarded a radio, gramophone, electric stove, wrist watches, pieces of gold, 180 square yards of land, and a Gandhi cap, while his wife received a sewing machine.Jawaharlal Nehru handed over a whole wardrobe of old clothes to Tenzing which fitted him to a tee. But he refrained from handing over his white Congress party hat because he thought that the grand adulation Tenzing received might spoil him and make him unfit for social work!The significant question that troubled quite a few with regard to mountaineering as a challenge waswho was there first? And while versions of “thinking like a state” dominated the Everest expeditions of the mid-20th century, the act of conquering nature began to appear more and more ambivalent in the post-technological world of the present.To conclude, The Summits of Modern Man is not just another book on mountain climbing. It is an inquiry into the making of the modern world, and takes up various issues of current relevance reviewing historical periodisations like renaissance, enlightenment, romanticism, nationalism, fascism, decolonisation, globalisation and climate change. As Hansen notes: “Mountaineering did not emerge after enlightenment, they arrived together.” Thus history, philosophy, cultural geography, literature, natural history, and personal narratives configure the warp and woof of Hansen’s book on mountaineering after the enlightenment. It would delight the reader through erudite observations rather than arduous arguments, recalling the efforts and thrills of mountaineering at every stage.(Murali Sivaramakrishnan is Professor of English in Pondicherry Central University)



Yopam puspam veda
Puspavan prajavan pasuvan bhavati
Candramava Apam puspam
Puspavan, Prajavan pasuman bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanam bhavati.
Agnirva Apamayatanam
Ayatanavan Bhavati
Yo gnerayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovagner ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Vayurva Apamaya tanam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Yova Yorayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati|
Apovai va yorayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Ya Evam veda
Yopamayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan Bhavati
Asowvai tapanna pamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yo musya tapata Ayatanan Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apova Amusyatapata Ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Candrama Vama pamayatnam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Yascandra masa Ayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai Candra masa Ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yo pamayatanam veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Nakshtrani va Apamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yo Nakshtrana mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai Nakshtrana mayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ye evam Veda
Yopamaya tanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Parjanyova apamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yah parjanyasya syayatinam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai parjanya Syayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ye Evam veda
Yopa maya tanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Samvastaro Va Apamayatanam
Ayatavan bhavati
Yassavatsa rasyaya tanam Veda
Ayatavan bhavati.
Apovai samvasara ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam veda
Yopsu Navam pratistitam veda
Pratyeva tistati
Rajadhi rajaya Prasahya Sahine|
Namo Vayam Vai Sravanaya Kurmahe
Samekaman Kama Kamaya mahyam
Kamesvaro Vai Sravano dadatu
Kuberaya Vai Sravanaya
Maha rajaya Namah.

The world is all made of water and forms the basis of everything and is worthy of our prayers. As water is cool so also is the moon –cool like flower and water. He who understands this gets all prosperity [read with progeny and cattle].

Fire is also a producer of water and air is a producer of fire. Sea water rises as vapor in the skies as clouds and falls as rain to give us warmth and prosperity; Sun is also related to water. As we see the star [through astrological position] which determines rain and prosperity, we see the relation of stars for all this prosperity through water. Each year we get rains, and in order to get our rains the year around, the seasons count as equally important. The world revolves on water like a boat sailing in the ocean and he who understands this gets all the prosperity. [read with progeny and cattle].

This mantra is taken from Taithreeya Aranyakam of Yajur Veda. It is normally sung in a chorus by all the priests together after performing any Yajna or Pooja.

In summary, this stotra explains how water is the basis of this universe.

He who understands the flowers of water,
becomes the possessor of flowers, children and cattle.
Moon is the flower of the water,
He who understands this fact,
becomes the possessor of flowers, children and cattle.
He who knows the source of water,
Becomes established in himself,

[Addressed to Charles Lamb, of the India House, London]

Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,

This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost

Beauties and feelings, such as would have been

Most sweet to my remembrance even when age

Had dimm’d mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,

Friends, whom I never more may meet again,

On springy heath, along the hill-top edge,

Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance,

To that still roaring dell, of which I told;

The roaring dell, o’erwooded, narrow, deep,

And only speckled by the mid-day sun;

Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock

Flings arching like a bridge;—that branchless ash,

Unsunn’d and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves

Ne’er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,

Fann’d by the water-fall! and there my friends

Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds,

That all at once (a most fantastic sight!)

Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge

Of the blue clay-stone.


Now, my friends emerge

Beneath the wide wide Heaven—and view again

The many-steepled tract magnificent

Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,

With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up

The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles

Of purple shadow! Yes! they wander on

In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,

My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined

And hunger’d after Nature, many a year,

In the great City pent, winning thy way

With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain

And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink

Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!

Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,

Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!

Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!

And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend

Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,

Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round

On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem

Less gross than bodily; and of such hues

As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes

Spirits perceive his presence.

A delight

Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad

As I myself were there! Nor in this bower,

This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark’d

Much that has sooth’d me. Pale beneath the blaze

Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch’d

Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov’d to see

The shadow of the leaf and stem above

Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut-tree

Was richly ting’d, and a deep radiance lay

Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps

Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass

Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue

Through the late twilight: and though now the bat

Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,

Yet still the solitary humble-bee

Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know

That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure;

No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,

No waste so vacant, but may well employ

Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart

Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes

‘Tis well to be bereft of promis’d good,

That we may lift the soul, and contemplate

With lively joy the joys we cannot share.

My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook

Beat its straight path along the dusky air

Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing

(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)

Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,

While thou stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,

Flew creeking o’er thy head, and had a charm

For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom

No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.



Magpie Robin– Our Own Backyard Thrush– Singer Extraordinary


Magpie Robin-A Tribute


This tiny bird can stir up a storm in my heart

It writes my life

In clear black and white–

In reverse

All the while

Perching on a tiny branch!