Bird Watching

My garden story

My garden story
-Shakti Bishnoi and A.S Bishnoi

   Our ground floor house holds more treasures than one. Apart from the wonderful feeling of the earth beneath our feet, we find pleasure in viewing a healthy mature peepal tree, fig tree, tamarind tree, mango trees, sandalwood trees, amla trees, hibiscus plants and huge neem tree in the front garden area. These are the plants needed for providing food to the birds. We shifted in the house just before the fruiting of peepal and fig tree.  
Tickell's Blue flycatcher
We don’t have to travel across the country to be a birder, but just take a close look around our house to see a variety of birds. Their melodies and vibrant colours will fill your heart with wonder. Birds are wonderful creatures like us, the only difference is … they can fly. When you observe them, the awareness of how intelligent and sensitive they are is evident.  And the more you observe, the more you learn how important they are for our environment. 
Yellow crowned Woodpecker

Our home is home to a wonderful array of birds, the coppersmith barbet, the white cheeked barbet,  the lineated barbet, the white bellied woodpecker, the greater flameback, the speckled piculet, the lesser flameback, the red vented bulbul, the whiskered bulbul, the plum headed parakeet, the alexandrine parakeet, the orange headed thrush,  the spot breasted fantail, small minivit, common myna, jungle crow, oriental magpie robin, Indian robin, the purple-rumped sunbird, the purple sunbird,  the ashy-wren prinia, spotted owlet and yellow wagtail. Black shouldered kite is seen through a clearing from our rear garden hovering for prey. If you are an early riser, and enjoy walking around in your garden or on the roads of Military Institute of Technology, you may have heard the melodious tweeting of the oriental magpie robin, which is also the national bird of Bangladesh. They sing loudly and love audience. So does the Indian robin. 
Plum headed parakeet female

Plum headed parakeet

Plum headed parakeet displays unparalleled etiquettes when it comes to eating food. It holds the ripe fig in one hand and eats bit by bit standing on one leg. Its feather colours matches with fig tree  and its subtle movement makes it impossible to spot it, unlike the barbets which are flying all over the fig tree and peepal tree jumping and dropping the ripe fruits on the grounds. The figs which fall on the ground are enjoyed by myna and squirrels. The peepal fruits when got wet with our sprinklers were so juicy  and tasty for honey bees that I never got them removed from my garden floor.  The robin and its other feathered friends are also responsible for controlling the insect population of the cities and keeping life in balance. Gorgeous as these creatures are, it is tempting to adopt them as pets, but remember that all Indian birds are protected under the wildlife protection act of 1972, and it is illegal to cage any of them.
Coppersmith Barbet
This was my experience with the avian representatives of nature, and I am sure you can too add colour to your life especially when we are going through pandemic. They sure will inspire you on a daily basis and keep you glued to their daily chores as our chores are not interesting anymore.  And most wonderful is to see them enjoy everything  they do, whether they are enjoying their food or afternoon siesta.  They are always aware of their mortality and dangers around them but they don’t lament rather they cherish each flight and every morsel of food and live fully.  

Photo Credits
Miss Kanan Bishnoi

Burning Issues


-Ms Shakti Bishnoi
Corona pandemic did a surprise check on us. We were so busy with our shopping and in accumulating things, with our target of turning this earth into a concrete jungle, as one house is not good enough to brag about in social gatherings. Suddenly humans were scared! The metropolitan people were caged in their pigeon holes. Rural Indians were about to harvest in March end when lock-down happened.  As per the capacity individuals, they made changes in their lives.  Everything came to a standstill.  However, things required for sustaining our lives were available to us.  
Every family member was at home, of course many were separated due to different reasons. Everyone observed each other in detail. Children who knew life more than electronic gadgets, rejoiced. Children whose life revolved around gadgets needed psychologists to help them come out of the trauma. Homemakers had to look after every family member 24X7 without a break. Men could no longer take office as an excuse for not contributing in daily chores. Rural Indians have their jobs defined since ages, so they continued same way joyously. 

Responsibility got a new meaning.  Life skills became the most important part of our daily routine. First lock-down was a turning point and it helped many people to turn inward and realized our role in the universe and at home. Some people could understand how they were wasting their time in doing useless things. Those who could not,  keep cribbing about their limitations now.
The cosmetics industry in each household is looking at their madams with surprise and cannot enhance their beauty anymore. Masks are the most fashionable item at home. Eye makeup with the mask is reminder of Arabian nights in its full glory. 
Rural Life Style - Village(Chaberwal)

 I m from a small village in Haryana which is not even recognized by google maps. I studied in a boarding school from fourth standard and before I could realize my dream of forever staying with my parents, I was doing my degree for four years. As if that was not enough I went to London to pursue post-
graduation. My dream of staying with my parents in the village was fulfilled due to corona virus. I stayed for the longest time in my village and observed it closely. My parents have a kitchen garden to provide more than what we can consume. They have fruit trees which provide us with different fruits round the years. Although sometimes group of parakeets and hornbills loot the produce in a few hours’ time. Peaches, guava, mulberry, Aloo Bukhara, Mosambi, Lemon in four acres, Ber of five varieties, Jamun, Mango and  Kinnu in ten acres are the fruit trees in my house. 
My parents have placed earthen water containers at different places in our compound. Many bird species visit more than once on these water points for drinking, bathing, and normal chit chat on the changing human behaviour in corona times. Two spot billed ducks decided to stay in my village pond as they sensed the seriousness of flying to Russia in corona times. Warmer climate is better to deal with the virus as the story goes told by some self proclaimed experts.  Had it been bird flu or swine flu, they would be cautious but not scared. They are aware that, they are dealing with lab created mutated virus from China. And if the cheap Chinese goods were easy to deal with, they have given everyone the million dollar researched virus for free. 

As they say, all wonderful things are free”...I was just counting on my blessings to enjoy the abundance....  lab leaked corona virus entered my life for free.  I am yet to realize it as a blessing.   Daily we all will sit together and talk about the virus, about China, about Italy, about USA allegations, about our PM’s next request.
Of course we didn’t talk about ourselves, as elders in my house declared it as severe pneumonia.  And they said Indians who are Desi, will survive this virus as their diet is good and hence gives high immunity.  However, they did mention the dietary habits will decide the fate of people around the globe.  But somehow we felt safe talking to each other whenever anyone felt curious or scared. Someone from my joint family which comprises of all age groups will say something brilliant to mellow down the pressure created in one of the brains.

Activities during Lock-down(Rural)

Our house has two angans, one acre area for cattle, and two acres area for playing with trees and half acre for vegetable growing. Children in our house never felt we are going through restrictions and are locked inside the concrete structures. Cycling, kite flying on the days when it was windy, playing daily morning and evening with sand, badminton, kho kho, pithoo, pakdam pakdai, lukam chupayi, tree climbing and falling,  jhula, teen taali, paheli sessions, story telling, dancing, watering plants, kept all of us including our elders in high spirits. Playing was the main aspect of our daily routine and everyone looked forward to it.

Ancestral Databank

Tai aassi (elderly woman) is the healer of my village and she is 101 years old. She is fit in all terms and my daughter’s best friend. My daughter when not found in our house is found sitting in tai aassi’s home simply observing her finish her chores with ease. My daughter has high regards for her because of who she is.
Tai aassi is the best friend of my mother, myself, and my daughter. The only common friend for all three of us. She is a real treasure and knows all folk songs for all the occasions, all the songs for our local deities.  She is an excellent dancer and performer, she is full of humour and that is why she is omnipresent.  She fully understands the human body and for minor ailments  our villagers have never visited doctors in the town.  In so far as bones related problems or muscle spasm is concerned.she prescribes natural remedies available in our kitchen or around our house.

Creative Approach (Rural)

As we had ample time at our disposal, we planned for our creative adventures and made list of items we could not learn from our elders earlier. We learned basket making with wheat sticks from my eldest maasi, rug making with cloth pieces from my second massi, charpai making from my mother, spun cotton for making threads which we later send to weaver to make khes for us, embroidery, bag making, plantation of vegetables and caring for it.   We did star gazing and looking at milky way while sleeping outside as best time to see it is from April to June (Corona made sky clear as there was neither  noise pollution nor air pollution in lockdown).  We listened to all the wonderful funny stories from our elders and doing all these activities was very enriching. Humour runs in our family and all age groups have their own storytelling and one- liners to keep us laughing.

Birding and Butterflying
Daily morning and evening bird and butterfly activity was quite attractive so I decided to indulge in photography with tripod and children gathered to enjoy the phenomenon. The life cycle of butterflies discussion was full of curious questionnaire by the young minds. Lime Butterly and Mormon frequently visited due to lemon and curry leave plants near our house.  I had all the time to photograph the avian representatives of nature in all moods.  Now I could  truly understood the meaning of tripod photography. We spotted Yellow Throated Sparrow, Rufous Treepie, Hoopee, Peafowl, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Indian Grey Hornbill, Green Beeater, House Sparrow, Spot Billed Duck, White Throated Kingfigher, Shikra, Indian Robin, Asian Koel, Yellow Footed Pigeon, Spotted Owlet, Partridge, Spotted Dove, Rock Pigeon, Babblers, Oriental Magpie, Oriental White Eye, House Crow, Scaly Breasted Munia, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Median Egret, Glossy Ibis, Pond Heron, Drongo, and few more.  Never had I imagined that the state bird of Haryana the Black Francolin resides in our farmland situated one km away from our village home.
It is beautiful but the bird call is what i think, made it the state bird of Haryana.  As we all know Haryana has 36 communities in it,  but the dialect all over the state is on a high tone and that is what matched with the call of black francolin. We were in time for their nesting, which is from March to September. Our farmland has scrubby areas around its periphery and plenty of cultivated crops tall enough to offer shelter.  The farm land and hedges provided escape routes for them and made navigation easy for these ground nesting birds.  Just the way they like it.  Most interesting aspect of the state bird is its choice to run rather than fly when disturbed.  All the children of my family found this phenomenon very funny and laughed while saying “ I wish I could fly rather then walk when in danger”. 

Rural to Urban –Phase Shift

After spending wonderful 90 days at my village my husband drove from Pune during the relaxation phase to my home and took us  to Pune safely.  Enroute we were exposed to scenario of pandemic in four states namely Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. 

Although MILIT, Girinagar (Pune)  is in seclusion and environment  is full of greenery and open spaces, rules of pandemic are still applicable and are different here due to corona virus. Our daughter was perplexed and immediately told us to go back to Haryana. In our hearts we too wanted to go back, and told her we feel the same.  Children have a great sense of care for their parents and she consoled us and empathised with us and overcame her sorrow.

Urban Life Style

We remained in quarantine for 15 days for safety of everyone at MILIT and spent time with each other. We have deliberately removed TV from our house since our daughter was born 7 years ago, but now in our guest room we found a working big TV to our amusement.  We unanimously decided to watch a film daily. The movies which were kept very safe in archives by production houses were telecast due to corona. 
I am yet to decide whether free corona is a blessing for me. We watched selected films of Disney, few animated films, and three idiots. As the shock of leaving our village and being in city was slowly wearing out, we indulged in another daily activity of paper plane flying competition amongst us. On any free day we would head out for trekking, cycling, or photography but this was the first time we three were at home. It was excellent adventure even in the confines of our guest room. We clicked pictures of all the birds and butterflies who visited around our guest house. Our daughter found an excellent spot to sit in the window and observe them as there is no balcony at rear side of our guest rooms.
Nature at its Best
Scaly Breasted Munia collecting grass strands and communicating with each other was a daily sight. Spotted owlet would stare at us from the electric pole after sunset. Jungle Crow would jingle every evening and eat delicious food from the crevices of sloping roof of double storey building right opposite to us. Purple sunbird would drink the nectar from flowers. Oriental white eye would play peek-a-boo with our daughter. As if avian were not enough to mesmerise us, mongoose showed himself and due to no humans around felt like a king and remained in front of us for some time.

Our quarantine was over and we shifted to our small house. We were very excited as if we are free to do whatever we want to do now.  But by then Pune was declared hotspot for corona and there is no point going outside so we remained confined to MILIT Campus. There were strict restrictions for everyone’s safety and we three idiots had fewer ideas to do mischief as the situation is very new to us, else we have never been short of ideas.
Family Values
We looked at each other to feel the despair and sat hopelessly staring at the unknown. Within few days we realized this is the new normal for our future life , of course if we make it to the other side. Looking at me and my husband struggling through the day to keep ourselves safe, our daughter sat muted for sometime gazing at the windowsill. We immediately understood the meaning of the famous phrase lets talk. We asked our daughter and she went on smoothly with her suppressed fears regarding the situation. “I have not even fulfilled all my many dreams, I have not even seen the world.  She looked at us after finishing.
My reply may not be valid for others but whatever I understand from my experience and my ancestors knowledge sprouted from me. “if you are suppose to survive , you would and if not, then there’s no way you could. Death can happen anytime, but ‘beta’, before death you can fulfill the dreams which are possible in this situation.” I smiled at her and she smiled back to us. She got up and bought her notebook to make list of things she can do and was bubbling again.

Lock-down Time Invested For Nature

We planted 925 native plant saplings since March 20.(wef 23 Mar 20)  when everyone was indoors due to corona, we were out to fulfill our dream to give better future to everyone. We are looking after them and every new leaf makes our daughter smile.  My daughter took out her camera and roams on the corridors all day long to capture life around her.  She even started writing poetry and dances with us. She finds Alexa magical and enjoys all the love it showers on her. 
23. Looking after the caterpillars on our plants and ensuring they are safe keeps us in high spirits. Every few days adult butterflies fly from our house to 
explore the world. We too fly with them on their maiden flight to feel the cool breeze of heights on our cheeks in our vivid imagination. We have reared more than 656 butterflies since 2010 and lock-down gave us the chance to enjoy and understand them more.

Lessons Learnt And Future 
The world of animals, plants, butterflies and birds can be understood by everyone quiet clearly now. The way we have been treating them and taking things for granted has resulted in global warming. Corona is just the beginning of viruses surfacing from the corpses lying dead under the snow (permafrost) for ages. If we don’t learn to be proactive and protective of our environment, then this is the beginning of the new end.  We need to learn to experience the weather as it is, rather than artificial air conditioning which is leading us to a dead end.  Trees are carbon sinks for our environment, and we can plant native saplings and look after them for minimum four years.
Plant your own vegetables and do not use pesticides and it is possible in terrace and in whatever space available. The only thing required is the will to  do it. Plant butterfly host plants for butterflies to lay eggs. Namely Curry Leaves, Lemon, Milkweed, Haldi Kumkum,  Ficus, to name a few. Don’t throw the caterpillars when they eat your plant leaves. Your plant shall grow leaves again. But butterflies may die.  Plant some food plants which provide nectar to butterflies and makes a colourful garden for your enjoyment. Plant Rangoon Creeper, Red Powder Puff, Ice Cream Creeper, Haldi Kumkum, Ixora, Lantana, Stachyterpita, Hamelia,  Sadafali, Verbena, Zinnia, Cosmos to provide nectar to thirsty and hungry 1320 species of butterflies in Indian subcontinent.
Use cotton clothes and do not accumulate. Textile is the third largest polluter of earth.  Let’s be very careful when we buy. We have reached a stage where humans are in abundance. Try not to produce and if you must produce, please be able parents to give a good citizen to earth. Most difficult job in the world is nurturing a child.  Lets be careful now to live better.
If you understand what is needed, than you can plant a sacred grove.   Sacred groves are decreasing in number due to never ending human greed. We have a number of sacred groves in our country where we practise nature worship and the energy is seven hundred times more than normal jungle .
Access to sacred groves is generally restricted and therefore human impact in those areas has been minimal. This has lead them being important pools of biological diversity and allowed the complex ecological process to remain undisturbed. They have also become important resources for water due to the preservation of springs, ponds and lakes within them. All you need is 200X200 feet or 100X100 feet to plant a sacred grove. Every village has Panchayat land and can use it to plant a sacred grove. All the districts has government land and can be utilised for planting sacred groves and urban forests comprising of native plants. And all this does not cost much as our horticulture and forest department has enough funds to provide plant saplings. The future we create is every individual’s responsibility. We are doing what is needed. You can too.

(Shakti Bishnoi is a postgraduate from London School of Business Management. She is an experienced ornithologist, bird watcher and child counselor)

Climate Change

How green is the electric car? - India and the Electric Car

How green is the electric car?
 - India and the Electric Car

Is the electric car the right solution for India? asks S.Ananthanarayanan.

A variety of electric cars has entered the market in India – priced from Rs 80 lakh to less than a tenth of that price. Charging stations, where the cars can top up the batteries, are sprouting and the plan is to have one every four km in the larger cities. The cars can also use domestic connections and the cost is said to be below Rs 2.00 per kilometer.

The trend in India follows that in most parts of the world, where the electric car is fast gaining ground. The sale in Jan 2020 is reported as over 1,50,000 cars and all major manufacturers are now in the field. The journal, Nature Sustainability, carries a review to see if this is really good for the environment. Florian Knobloch, Steef V. Hanssen, Aileen Lam, Hector Pollitt, Pablo Salas, Unnada Chewpreecha, Mark A. J. Huijbregts?and Jean-Francois Mercure, from Radboud University, the Netherlands, University of Cambridge, University of Exter and University of Macao, compare the ‘life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions’ of using electricity, or fossil fuels, to drive personal transport and household heating, worldwide.

The study covers 59 regions of the world, and they find that in 53 of these, which account for 95% of the global transport and heating demand, the use of electricity can better the use of fossil fuels in the net emissions of greenhouse gasses, even with the existing methods of generating electricity. The troubling part of the finding is that among the six regions where this is not true, India figures as the leader!

The electric car has been actively encouraged and incentivized in India. The Department of Heavy Industry, Govt. of India, under the National Mission for Electric Mobility, has formulated a Scheme known as Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME India) and the Power Ministry has issued guidelines for setting up charging facilities that are efficient and economical. Under the agies of FAME, in 2015, car rallies were flagged off in three cities in India, to promote ‘electrification of automobile transportation’. When the event was planned to take place just a week before the International summit in Paris, to combat climate change, this newspaper (2nd Dec 2015) had carried a piece that questioned whether electric cars in India were in fact economical for India

While the electric car emits no direct greenhouse gases, the electric car can be only as green as the electricity that it consumes. In most countries now, a good proportion of electricity is generated from hydroelectric, wind driven and nuclear sources of energy. In India, however, and Australia and Indonesia are similar, most of the electricity is generated in power plants fired with coal, petroleum or natural gas, the bulk being coal. And the coal in India is notoriously poor, emitting more pollutants, like SO2, in addition to CO2, for every calorie of heat, than better quality coal.

The review in 2015 had noted that while the use of the electric car was environment friendly when electricity came from non-polluting sources, the efficiency dropped when the sources were more dependent on fossil fuels. Comparisons made are shown in the Tables 1 and 2. Table 1 shows that with heavy coal dependence, poor quality of coal, transmission losses, etc., the net emissions when electric cars are used in India were over twice the emissions in European countries, Canada and Japan, over one and half times that in USA and even China. Table 2 displays this information in terms of the fuel efficiency of a petrol driven car, if it were to match the electric car. We can see that in the best cases, the electric car works like a petrol car that runs for over 17 km on a litre of petrol. The same electric cars in India, however, behave like petrol cars that use up a litre of petrol every 8.5 km. As many petrol cars do a lot better than that in India, it seemed that switching to electric cars would result in greater GHG emission than reduction!

The current review in Nature Sustainability has addressed the same concern, to verify if the electric car is more environment friendly, considering the continuing presence of fossil fuels in generating electricity. With improved battery packs and the drop in prices of electric cars, the electric car has become affordable. While the low running costs are because of the electricity tariff being what it is, it was important to know that the low tariff was not leading to greater emissions when petrol users shift to electricity. While there is a relentless drive to ‘decarbonise’ electricity generation, is it premature, in India, to shift to electricity for transport?

[With falling use of the IC engine, world-wide, the cost of the conventional car would rise. Countries like India would then shift to EVs. But would that be good for planet earth? Should the 'rest of the world' not subsidise the IC engine in India (and the like) for the common good? ]
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The Parable of 2020

The Parable of 2020

Nature is not a bouquet of flowers

Left to wilt and die 

In a glass vase. 

Life is not a banknote

We give to a grocery store

And expect the change back.  

Twenty-twenty is not an itch 

To be wished away 

With a scratch. 

It is not a secret

We will take 

To our graves. 

We stand


By an infinitesimal microbe. 

By life

That has handed over 

A small change of our transgressions.

By nature 

That is a force 

A fragrance we can’t trap.

By twenty-twenty

That is not a year

But a parable. 

Will we see the moral of the story?

Wishing us all an enlightening 2021!

Arefa & Aditya
(Arefa Tehsin is a celebrated author and naturalist.  Aditya is a photographer.  They stay in Srilanka)

Click on the link below to see a video interview of Arefa Tehsin in New Delhi

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