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”

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,

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!

Blue Moon Above the Sea

I have not seen the sun set so peacefully like this evening

Receding from this sea shore with slow valediction.

Here you stand with wide eyes

And gaze at the rising waves, your hand in mine, warm still.

How many dawns have we seen from this tiny corner

Of our world slowly climb up the mounting waves

And close in over the darkening hills! It is all about

Light and shade: nothing more. But I have seen it all

In these wondrous eyes. Day and night, sun and star.

Now the dark closes behind your floating hair. And then

With the suddenness of a flickering star your eyes widen

Again and again: the village by the sea floats up in a sea of light.

Fireworks lighten sky and night—their flares swell

With the sea’s delight as you break into sweet laughter

Letting the night slowly merge with the palm leaves and sand

Your hand in mine, warm still, and a blue moon above the sea.

Dr Murali Sivaramakrishnan

The Flight of the Peacock

The highway stretched purple and steely blue under the fabulous spread of a blue sky. Wisps of clouds hung around wafted in the strong breeze, turning grey and greenish blue sometimes even a darker shade, but mostly tendering into grayish white as they  twisted and split, sheared off by the force of the breeze above. Through the windshield of the car I could see the road below quietly spreading nonchalant and unending. They have widened almost all the highways than run through Tamil Nadu.  And in the process changed the landscape of the Tamil country. My hands rested lightly on the sturdy wheels. My eyes were focused on the fast shifting landscapes shaped and sculpted by the roads. The car sped at an amazing speed, wheels perhaps barely caressing the road.

I recall those days when we drove through the plains of this part of the world with shady tamarind trees lined on either side of the dark bumpy road –bullock carts tottering along with men with reflective shiny eyes and creviced faces in white dhotis and large turbans. And women in multicoloured saris scrambled across with bronze water pots balanced over their covered heads. They had such wonderful heavy gold coloured ornaments that dangled on their ears and noses. Their dark smiles spread a natural charm over the golden land blessed by the yellow sun overhead. Life was peaceful, silent, and pleasant.  Deep crevices split the red soil on either side of the road on the undulating softness that touched a steely blue horizon. And straight grayish palms shot upright into the relentless blue of the skies. An occasional black-winged kite hung wind-treading overhead.  The skies always held floating clouds that never rained.  All this is now changed. The road bifurcated a flat land smooth and indifferent to the traffic that flowed at break-neck speed unmindful of the carts and bullocks and the sleepy-eyed stray dogs that barked away at the strangeness of it all. In between the binary roads ran a parallel patch of greenery with rose-pink flowers, as though to break the monotony of the steely blue of the road.  There were several breaks in the highway between miles to allow for the villagers to greet each other across this great divide.  At any point any day or night one can easily sense the indifference of the motor- world  blaring by,  and come across the mashed carcasses of unfortunate dogs cats and squirrels, which even the hungry and adroit jet-black crows or pariah kites, however nimble they be, couldn’t get at on account of the increasing traffic.  Life in these parts has changed and so has the sky-scape. It is as though all of a sudden someone has opened a huge hole above and let in the massive spread of the sky dominating everything below.

Inside the car we were relishing the exotic nuances of a rare Dhumri of Swati Tirunal rendered in the amazing voice of Ramesh Narayan, disciple of the maestro, Pandit Jasraj. All of us were literally transported to another world another time. It was near perfect.  And then, the peacock flew across from east to west.  It was just a flurry of colours and forms plastered on the windswept terrain. With the large tail drooping, with the heavy wings flapping, desperately straining against the tearing wind and the onrush of the charging motorcars, the bird flew.  Its mate followed close by. The magnificence of it all! The moment that remains frozen in all eternity. If I could rewind time slowly and unwind it leisurely I could stay frame by frame and relish the moment. Nevertheless the moment has lasted in its long-drawn-out, lingering, lasting, enduring.  The sky, the wind, the song and the flight, all in one unending thread of being. Nothing lasts forever in nature, as everyone knows, but all things move and in their movement there is a design. The design of life, existence, and meaning. The road had taken us so very far from the point where our vision was bisected by the flight of the peacocks. We had left an experience so far behind in time and place. And yet the road was never the same again.  It was as though the land had closed in all of a sudden and a moment frozen in all eternity.

In the Mahabharata there is a minor episode of the famed Nala-Damayanti story narrated during the Pandava’s Vanavasa, jungle days and nights. When Nala in his transformed state as Bhahuka rides the chariot with the King enroute to the professed marriage of Dhamayanti, the angavastra, or the upper robe of the King slips off and is caught in the fleeting wind. When the King asks Nala to retrieve it he is informed that they had moved miles by then because they were riding at the speed of the wind! Nala as Bahuka was supposed to be the master of aswahrdaya, or a special knowledge of the horses that enabled him to ride at breakneck speed. The angavastra that flew in the wind had disappeared the moment it left the chariot, like the peacocks that fleeted across our dreamy eyes. We were all in the epical chariot for a brief moment that transformed us. The birds, the car, and the song all trailed in the timeless flow of being. Myth and reality had become one. Fable and fact were frozen in time and place.

All birds live in the air of their own spaces. Big birds like the peacock need large spaces to dwell and fly. They described their time and history only between the sky and earth, inscribing their lives in the space of timeless life. The Dodo and the Passenger pigeon had passed without trace through the history of life on this planet. The Ostrich could always duck its head under the moving sands and lurk within the confines of its own biology. But the peacock is the national bird of India and painfully preserved in its fast depleting natural habitat. In our hurry to conquer new spaces and reach against the rush of time, we have very little space in our minds and hearts for the soft swell of its usually lazy unhurried flight.

When our roads become wider and wider and the huge spreading tamarind trees uprooted perhaps for a better cause, no doubt, uncaringly we have deprived the innumerable other forms of life with very little choice but to flee at our approach. The birds had so little time to reach across to the other side.  When the first venturing seamen arrived at the isles of Madagascar, we have known, the innocent Dodo driven by inquisitiveness and curiosity came by to investigate only at its own peril. Having had little or no competition or natural predators these ground dwellers had become flightless. They found new danger—in the human being. What began as mere easy pickings for food came to be slaughter eventually. Perhaps humans were innocently unaware of the consequence of their actions.  Just as what happened to the Passenger Pigeon in the great lands of the North American continent. At one time, we are informed by researchers, large flocks of these birds used to flood the skies to the extent that the sun threw huge floating mass of shadows down below. They would block out the sun! Such were their numbers that anyone could easily bring a few down by a merely flinging a casual stone up into this cloud!   It really didn’t require a Billy the Kid or a Mad Tex McGraw or any other famed shooter to drop a dead pigeon down. Anyone could have with the mere fling of a stone done that! Such were their numbers so that no one expected them to vanish as a species completely. We humans are used to thinking only around ourselves at any given time. We think of silently and secretly disposing of one plastic bag or a beer bottle or some such environmentally-unfriendly garbage so naively over our neighbour’s wall or fling it across away from our own walls. Little do we think of the consequences. It happened: A certain guru was to celebrate his birthday and so he ordered his disciples to bring buttermilk for the lunch get-together the next day. One little fellow went home and consulted his mother about what to do.  His mother told him: Look, everyone in your class will be bringing butter milk and pouring it into the big vessel in the corner.  They will only notice each other in the act of just pouring. So then why don’t you simply carry water in a bowl and pour it innocently into the buttermilk vessel! The boy did just that.  And what happened is anyone’s guess. The big vessel held nothing but water. Each one of us thinks that our little actions will go by unnoticed and their consequences would be so very negligible. Of course we would outsmart others! However, all of us apparently think so very alike when it comes to deception and wrong doing as this tale proves! More than everything, there is something of a collective responsibility that we humans have to share. Seldom do we think on these things.

There are many instances in the environmental history of the earth when many species of life forms—birds, mammals, insects, reptiles—have disappeared due to human intervention and what goes under the name of habitat destruction. Living things no doubt are dependent on the land they inhabit, and when we change that landscape those which can easily adapt to the change survive as a species; others die and disappear. Every little act has its consequences; even our casual deeds have their reactions whether we are aware of these or not. In Chaos Theory they speak of the tremor of a tiny butterfly wing causing huge ripples in the cosmic dimensions eventually.  All things are connected—the living the nonliving and what we usually consider as empty space. The earth is just another extension of this emptiness. Just as we move through our roads on the face of the earth, the earth traces another invisible path through space.

Our roads are our signs of progress and development. They are our nerves in our great cultural and civilizational structure. We cannot do without these anyway. Our history is scribbled all over the globe through the ever expanding network of roads and highways.  The landscapes that we saw in our childhood have definitely changed for they have to change. The birds and animals insects and reptiles, trees and bushes we cherished as children have disappeared, no doubt. Some that remain are transformed completely. After all, nothing remains the same forever. However, when the land disappears like the Dodo or the Passenger Pigeon it leaves traces of nostalgia, of tragic sadness. The innocent trail of the peacock’s flight hopefully has not traced this path! Perhaps it has found its other-side of safety!