The Knight’s Reward-a short story.

wizard-1528077_1920

He laid down the black heart at the old man’s feet, it still beat sometimes… but much weaker than when he had cut it out of its body. The old man looked unimpressed, ‘so you killed the monster?’

The knight, still high on the frenzy that comes from blood nodded; he laid his sword down in the Wizard’s shadow… it still shone with the wyrm’s life blood.

‘Tell me Ser, how did you accomplish this feat?’ the knight bowed reverentially, ‘night and day I climbed up the mountain where it stayed.’ it seemed like just now when he finally climbed on the final ledge and came upon the sleeping devil.

‘The wyrm roared and spat hellfire on me!’ it had been sound asleep, its lair reeking of rotten flesh and something much worse. ‘But I was quicker, I ducked behind a stone and waited for it to tire.’ there was a treasure in its lair. More gold than he had seen in all his life. ‘When the beast paused I threw a piece of glass to distract it from Me.’ even a peasant knew of a wyrm’s lust for all that glittered.

‘When it turned I jumped on its back and drew out my sword’ he made a swinging motion ‘and chopped off the devil’s head!’

‘Hmm… so the monster knew you were there when you killed him?’ the knight was startled, he pretended to be offended ‘yes,’ he answered curtly, ‘the wyrm knew who had slain it?’ it wasn’t a lie, you see just before he pierced the monster’s heart the beast did wake up. It’s dying cry still rang in his ears.

The old wizard nodded, ‘and did the monster said anything to you?’

‘My lord,’ said the knight, ‘a wyrm is no being of sentience. It showed nothing more than the low cunning of its kind.’ of course he was not going to tell the man what it said, those words were a curse and he knew for he had heard far too many of them in his years. ‘What you are, is what I was,’ the monster had sighed in its guttural voice ‘what I am… is what you will be.’ no! He cannot tell the old man about the curse lest he thinks him unworthy.

‘very well.’ the wizard agreed, ‘what do you want?’ the knight checked his temper, he had killed the monster on the old man’s order, he had traveled a hundred leagues and back to the monster’s lair and risked his own life in the process. The least he could ask for was gratitude!

‘You seem angry Ser,’ noticed the wizard ‘does it have to do with me?’ the knight remained stoic, ‘ah! You must forgive an old man’s irreverence.’ he smiled at the Knight; sitting on the rock on the hillside he had first given the task to the knight.

‘Ask for anything you want and it’ll be yours.’

The knight went down on one knee ‘to serve you alone is my reward.’ the wizard smiled, broader now obviously flattered. ‘We do not have to play this game young knight.’ the knight frowned; it had been a long time since anyone called him “young”.

‘I have heard of you Ser, and of your quest.’ the knight looked pretended to be confused, ‘it wasn’t a coincidence that you arrived here when I needed you. It was ordained so a long time ago.’

He could already feel the success, just a bit more.

‘My quest could be fulfilled only if I have proven myself worthy!’ he said empathically.

The old man chuckled, ‘you are a cunning one alright.’ he admitted

‘Yet,’ the knight was surprised by the sudden hardness in the old man’s voice ‘you are no different than others. Are you?’

‘I killed your monster.’

‘You killed a monster.’

‘ Because you asked me to!’ the wizard shook his head, ‘you killed it because you wanted to, for the reward and for glory, is it not true? Ser Wyrmsbane?’ Wyrmsbane ! The knight smiled despite himself.

‘Enough jests, let us be honest now Ser Wyrmsbane shall we?’

The knight bowed his head ‘my Lord knows of the reward I seek above all.’ he sensed the change in wizard’s mood, ‘indeed.’ said the wizard, ‘neither treasures nor kingdoms. Neither love nor peace.’

‘I can always gain them on my own.’ explained the knight. ‘indeed.’ agreed the Old man ‘yet, you are afraid.’ the old man’s voice was barely a whisper ‘frightened of what tomorrow holds for you in store.’

The knight stiffened, how much did the old man know? No! He thought he must not do anything foolish not now.

‘You grow weaker with each passing day, closer to your end.’   He was eight when he killed for the first time.

‘You know of the monsters waiting at the end of your road.’ he was eighteen and a young knight, absolved of sins and crusading in the foreign lands. Slaughtering blasphemes and raping heretics,

‘And these monsters you cannot kill with that sword of yours can you, Ser Wyrmsbane?’

He remembered the last stop he had made before scaling the mountaintop, the sweet young maiden he had lured and deflowered with his sweet words and false chivalry. He promised to take her away with him when he returned, make her his lady… just as he had promised to so many others. All their faces now merged into one in his mind.

‘Why did you not come?’ they ask ‘why? Why?’

‘You have made enemies and betrayed friends so you fear vengeance.’

‘ENOUGH!’ said the knight, his armor grew heavier as his breath raced, and he had never felt as old as he did now. ‘Grant me my wish or let me go.’ growled the knight, the wizard chuckled.

‘immortality.’ mused the old man who had seen five and forty kings in his time ‘to defeat the final enemy.’ the knight remained stoic, ‘to outlive your enemies and all who mean you ill. Is that what you wish?’

Yes! Yes! Yes! That was all he ever thought of… the future, the uncertainty of tomorrow was the only thing that terrified him. Never thought twice the Knight before jumping into the fray of the battle or maw of monster but nightmares of old age kept him awake all night until he drowned them with wine. Neither his armor nor his sword could keep away the chains of time.

The wizard nodded, at the snap of his fingers, raven-clouds turned the dusk into midnight. Thunder rumbled and the storm picked up. Yes! The knight thought, finally.

‘ I give you exactly what you seek Ser Wyrmsbane! ‘ the voice rang with authority; the knight could have felt the magic coursing through him.

‘ Let the bonds of mortality be severed so the true form could be released! ‘ wait! Something was not right… immortality should not hurt this much.

‘ Let the past loosen its grip and the future sees you as you are!’ the Knight screams in agony. His body twists upon itself… his armor stretches and cracks, the jerkin underneath sizzles as his skin cracks and darkens. ‘Noooooo!!’

‘You will live forever, neither age nor die.’ ‘    AAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!’ his voice cracks ‘you can not…’ reduced to guttural sounds of an animal.

There was something cruel in the way the old man smiled, what used to be a knight whimpers in pain… his head was splitting in agony, his body was pitch black as if burnt crisp… when he sighs, he breathes fire.

‘Welcome to immortality, Ser.’ the monster whimpers, why?

The wizard looks down at him, still on all four ‘ why you ask Ser?’ what used to be a knight cowers, terrified of the frail old man.

‘You should know immortality brings out the true form of a man. You have slain monsters all your life but in your core, you were always one of them.’

The wyrm snarls, the old man annoys him with his smile ‘but that’s not all bad, is it?’

‘Soon your memories would fade and you would be reduced to a true beast.’ the monster roars, unleashing a jet of blue flames on the puny thing.

‘ENOUGH!’ sky rumbled and despite himself, the dragon fell quiet. The wizard rose above its fire, untouched.

‘You have caused much pain.’ it snapped its jaws at him ‘go now, back to the darkness. Enjoy your reward as the one before you.’ there was power in the voice; the urge to escape overwhelms it all of a sudden. The wyrm spreads its enormous wings and flies away, away from the old man.

The black dragon found a lair deep in the mountains where he laid himself down to rest.

He still sleeps in the darkness, he dreams about a man killing a monster.

 

sword_daughter__sleeping_dragon_by_kimsokol-d8e17zl
art credit: http://kimsokol.deviantart.com/art/Sword-Daughter-Sleeping-Dragon-507301041

 

 

Why perhaps there’s still hope for humanity

Remember the first time you saw a baby? This tiny being someone you know just placed in your arms to hold.

This tiny bundle of dreams, so weak… so helpless… so unbearably beautiful.

It doesn’t matter how old you were then… this memory never really fades, because there’s something too pure in it. So incredibly aware of this little one’s breaths… the heartbeat, the small sounds the baby is making. You touch it for the first time… tenderly in the tiny hands, and then all of a sudden the baby reaches out and grabs your finger (the thrill of that moment, the adrenaline rush you feel then is unlike anything you would ever feel again.)baby-1681181_1920

in that one moment, no matter what your age, your belief is… all your pain, all your prejudices are emptied out. There is nothing left inside you that is negative. The first time you hold a baby all you remember feeling, is what you knew instinctively when you arrived in the world. To love and to protect.

Today, when hate seems to run the world, and fear grows deeper into the heart, every now and then we hear about instances where people, normal everyday folks like you and I, do the extraordinary for sake of others.

Dar Yasin was on duty as he had been for a couple of years now, as a photojournalist covering the social and political turmoil going on in the Kashmir valley, that particular day he was covering protests in Srinagar. He noticed a group of school girls caught in the crossfire between military and locals, one of their friends, 18-year-old Khushboo was struck with stone already bleeding. Now what he did next was important, he dropped his camera on the ground and picked up Khushboo; carrying the unconscious girl and leading her friends to safety. Khushboo was taken to a nearby hospital by a cab and one of Yasin’s colleague photographed him in the process. st_1492877626Think about it for a moment, Yasin wasn’t the only onlooker… he wasn’t fighting for the “Azadi”, the liberation of all Kashmiris as the protesters claimed they were doing nor was he one of the army, the ones who tried to maintain and peace and order in the state. He was working as an observer, his job adventurous as it was involved no such heroics but he became a hero anyway because in the heat of the moment he chose the greater good.

_b3eb5960-30b5-11e7-9a19-4de5eae5ad18Debendra Kapri, on May 4 walked into the Police station near IGI Domestic Airport in Delhi. He was there to deposit a backpack some passenger had left in the backseat of his cab earlier that day. With gold, an iPhone and foreign currency worth 700000 rs (roughly 11000 USD); he comes from hinterlands of Northern India with a chip on his shoulder to bear expenses for a large family and to pay back a loan of roughly 1000 USD. It’s not that he didn’t know what the backpack contained; in his statement, he admitted opening it before depositing it to the cops… that single backpack could have been an answer to all his problems and then some. Only, the 22-year old did the impossible, choosing to do the right thing.

Yasin… Kapri… Abdlkar… these are a just handful of names we know, every day out there unnoticed and unseen there are ordinary people at work doing extraordinary for others.

Their deeds may not seem to make much difference not when you put in perspective against the horrors people fueled by hate and fear do every day.

But their deeds inspire people… ordinary people around them to do similar things. Simple deeds, seemingly insignificant favors to others. A chain of goodness that goes on, slower but steadier in-deterring in the face of crisis, sometimes even enhanced by it.

Maybe people are inherently good maybe we all meant well when we started out but lost our ways somewhere down the road, or maybe we are all dark deep down and only good we do is a pretense for acceptance from our peers. Or maybe humans are entirely amoral, the notions of good and evil are constructs entirely in the mind of the judge… there is evidence supporting every perspective.

Only when you think about it this way, that a five-year-old child won’t hate another because they are of the different cast or because they belong to different regions and follow different religions. The child must be taught this… hatred must be learnedbaby-1150109_1920.

In phylogeny, an acquired trait is something every organism learns in the course of its life to assist better chances in its survival but unlike the inherited traits, these cannot be passed down the line and each individual must learn it from the start.

Thus we can assume hatred and prejudice are very loosely analogous to acquired trait, I say loosely because neither of two does anything remarkable to improve the quality of life either for the perpetrator or the victim. Love, on the other hand, tendency to safeguard young ones and helping the helpless are not only common in all social animals (ants, termites, bees right up to elephants and apes.) but has been coded into their genome and passed down through generations, why?

Because love is evolutionary advantageous… loving and protecting someone ensures increased security in future(read up about Altruism in the biological sense). So logically speaking at this point love becomes selfish. Protecting others and overlooking one’s own good for sake of others are inherited down the generations only because it’s beneficial to the parties involved either as direct fitness or indirect security.

However, in an interaction where both parties are benefited even if for a selfish reason is better than when one of the two involved ends up harming the other.

So where do we stand in the end? I do not really know… call me a skeptic, but here’s what someone told me not too long ago

“true that world statistics about population etc are bad… but true nature of humans is to love and be kind…and till how long do you think anyone can run away from their true nature?”

well, Spes! I give you this one. Maybe not all of us are bad, maybe not all of us are good… maybe most of us are just lost and scared… logic dictates there’s always an equilibrium in-universe, destruction and creation… extinction and evolution… order and chaos… safe to say therefore, for every terrified jihadi doing horrific atrocity there must be at least ten ordinary people doing unbelievable feats of goodness, none of them as large in magnitude as the single act of terror individually, but combined together these acts of kindness give us hope that perhaps someday world would be a better place. Maybe Gandalf got it right

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love… small acts of kindness and love.”

Thinking out loud

Whenever I am in wild, I always find time to walk and wonder

and this is what always comes to my mind.Blog entrypoem

What if the mountains could speak

and tell all that they had seen.

Blog entrypoem3

Or if we could understand the river’s murmur

about the places, she had been.

17917948_1379735735406282_7190722758754785062_o.jpg

Or the small ones around us who scuttle and hiss

imagine what of their view, of all that we miss.

Blog entrypoem2.jpg

Or how about the green, out of earth which grows;

of all sort of secrets, I am sure it knows.

Whenever I am in wild, I always find time to walk and wonder

and this is what always comes to my mind.

Safe Places

“A Man is least himself when he talks in his own person, give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.”

growing up Oscar Wilde was an enigma for me because even though I loved his style and words, it was like listening to a song in an unknown language. You feel the beauty of the music and you listen to the melody but you can’t ever fully appreciate the true beauty of the song because the words of it don’t make sense to you.

Though I am older now I still can’t claim to understand all his works, I can appreciate him a lot more than my younger self. His quote about masks being my favorite.

As we grow older and the romantic idealism fades, we begin to realize the world is not black and white, there are far too many shades of gray (way more than just fifty) so in order to protect ourselves and the people around us we pick these masks and cover our true faces with them.

These masks are shades of what we really are, their sole function to let us walk in the world outside full of ideas and/or people our real selves can’t possibly get along with.

These masks help us accept things we would never otherwise.

These masks are a token admittance of our defeated attempts for individuality, for originality.

These masks allow us to be accepted by a world that won’t accept our true selves.

These masks are sometimes results of bitter experiences, the times we did try, to be honest with ourselves and the world; other times they are proofs of our cowardice, the times we were too scared and chose to take the easy way out.

Masks are really important for survival in everyday life, to go through the monotony without losing our sanity. Sometimes people suck at keeping appearances and they spend their lives resigned to be outcasts… sometimes bitter, other times sad about their peers. Other times there are people who get so good at wearing masks that they could be completely different person depending on their company.

row-of-white-masks

Most people, however, are mediocre and spend their lives shuffling between a handful of masks and fistful of roles until the curtain falls and the people they left behind are doomed to wonder which was the real person and which were the masks?

Here’s the deal with masks, though, wear them long enough and you forget where the appearances end and the real you begins.My masks were pretty simple,

a) the polite guy-next-door

b) the gentleman who tried to keep everyone happy even if it ended up biting him later.

And so would the masks have stayed if I hadn’t gotten out. My trip to mountains happened three years ago around the last full moon of autumn. A couple of my friends, a couple of friends I thought I was friends with and a couple of people I didn’t know I’d end up being friends with, asked me if I’d like to go out. we took the night bus from the city to Rishikesh, this small beautiful place nestled in the foothills of Himalayas besides the Ganges. The late night bus we took was supposed to get us there at six a.m. You can understand thus the kind of driver we had when I tell you we got there at two a.m.
The following morning I woke up to the most beautiful scene I’ve ever seen in my life (yet!) it was at that moment that I knew I was in love with the mountains. At 6:12 on a chilly October morning of 2014.IMG_20141007_061214

I spent three days there… they’ve all merged into one long memory of one thing after another and I can’t separate the days for the life of me, what I do remember is the fact that I slept for 10 hours in those three days. Never tired and hardly ever exhausted.

One of those memories was when a friend of mine drove us up the mountain road at 3 in the morning in the pitch black darkness to what must have been five or six kilometers from the city to this small secluded place, too small to be called a “beach”. Lying down there though you could see the sky.

IMG_6573
Faintest trace of milky way flowing across the sky… the bright gold full moon settling down for the night, in the wispy dress made of mountains’ mist. The pitch black night across the river grew lighter as it moved upwards and ended in the crown of conifers blue-green in the dazzling moonlight. The only sound (other than our voices) being the soft gurgle of Ganges already massive and deep. I can say for sure that it was that night I finally let go of my masks. The person I am underneath must’ve not been that likable after all because ever since I’ve lost more people than I’ve found but whatever few I did keep can see through my pretense for who I am.

The point of this rant is… to separate yourself from your masks you need safe places. These safe places can be people, the ones you can be brutally honest and utterly yourself with, safe places can also be literal places, places where you no longer felt the need of wearing masks. In order to do that however, you must take risks…

let people in, let yourself go out. Explore your surroundings, your neighborhood, your city. You don’t always have to leave everything behind if you are to find something new (because what’s the point of rediscovering yourself if not be a better person than before?) Take chances with people, more often than not they’ll disappoint you, more often than not you’ll end up picking the pieces of your broken heart but isn’t that the point? To find a person who’ll help you put the pieces back together. Drop your masks in front of those you love, those you trust. If they really love you back, they’d stay no matter how ugly the face underneath happens to be.

At the end of my trip to Rishikesh I ended up finding both sorts of safe places for myself. Even now, when things get too much and people begin to fray my nerves I go back to that chilly night in the mountains, where moon still waits and mother Ganges sings me a lullaby.

10700129_10204827880765170_8863788216910684717_o
(picture credits. The kabuki masks are borrowed from, http://blog.mcbridemagic.com/reinventing-yourself/. The second photo was captured by yours truly.Third and fourth photos were clicked by Rohit, a budding photographer and currently working on Wildlife in foothills of Himalayas. An easy to get along person and one of my safe places)

Claustrophobia of open spaces

the-gaps-1525191_960_720

As long as I can remember, closed cramped spaces have always made me uncomfortable. Pre-school classrooms, “cozy” houses, modular cars, elevator cars… there were no exceptions to it. As I grew older, the obvious panic I used to have I buried under the voice of logic until the only thing left was the deep unexplained discomfort that just appeared on the thought of being in cramped spaces. Even as a kid I always preferred outdoors, large airy spaces and the only time I ever spent indoors was when I was home. Nowhere else could I sit still for long unless I could see the sky or ground outside (I’d scream like a feral cat if you try to put me in the basement back then.)

so it’s easy to understand even in higher studies I chose to work in the field with all the assorted occupational hazards than being cooped in a lab under artificial lights staring down a microscope. (now don’t get me wrong, major breakthrough of biology usually do come from these people working in the labs on things too small to be seen with a naked eye but I’ve done enough lab work in my college days to understand that this was not my cup of tea). My first trip in the wild happened to be also the most liberating one. Up until this point, the wildest places I’ve been to were scrublands and parks gone wild (in the city these passed for forests really) being there after the dark was an adrenaline rush. Have you ever noticed how dark stimulates your imagination? Every stray branch feels like fingers clinging, every thorn a fang digging into your flesh and do I even need to start with the wind?

DSC_2958

In the forest, the true one, however, it’s the quiet that hits you like the jackhammer. On the nights after working, late into the dark, it was always unnerving how the chaos of dozen callers would simply go quiet, almost like clockwork. On the nights like these, we would just walk in the dark, conquistadors in amazon (just with torches and recorders instead of swords and flames) looking for gold we knew waited for us to spot.

DSC_6344

On nights like these, I would let my companions walk a bit ahead and turn off my torch. The sudden darkness would always nearly choke me, gloom closing on all around me. The canopy 20 meters above our heads would be gloomy with the waning moon but down on the floor for all intents and purpose it would be pitch black and I’ll be blind as a mole (I know the saying is a bat but moles are more suitable, believe me.)

in the dark like this, I’d walk a little at first, farther and longer at least until someone would notice the dark and call me out and I’ll have to turn on the lights.

The towering trees all around me were like giants in the dark, waiting …

watching…

little by little, night after night the claustrophobia in me disappeared. The fear of closed spaces faded away, though I am not still comfortable in cramped spaces it takes me longer to start screaming and run away shaking my head.now I don’t expect you to travel all the way to your nearest wilderness to get rid of your fears (though that’s a perfectly fine idea!)

I do however suggest that in order to overcome your fears you first must admit to them. only after accepting your flaws can you start working on overcoming them. afterward, it is all about working to overcome it… baby steps, of course, simpler things. having understanding friends and family does wonders to your improvements though that’s not an essential thing.

it took ten years and three months of nocturnal field work for me to get rid of my fear of darkness and closed spaces, now darkness holds no fear for me (apart from an occasional panther or a group of elephants but that’s another story.)

Why Humanity is doomed.

dsc_4870_1let me start off by saying this isn’t one of the prophetic or religious cry-for-help.

Rather a set of observations and consequent deductions made purely by logic on the writer’s part.

If there are parts which may appear offensive, and though the offense is not intentional your forgiveness isn’t sought. I’m an atheist but I respect all forms of faith even if I don’t relate to them.

There are exactly 100 Darwin’s Mangrove finches in Galapagos islands. All of them on one tiny island, Isabela. The population is divided in two community, one of 80 on the west coast and other of 20 on the eastern side. The populations are separated by 40 miles of volcanic plain and lava deserts, as effective a geographical barrier as an evolutionary biologist could ask for. The biologists are pretty sure the two communities have not interacted with each for at least a century. Recent observation showed slight deviations in appearance between the two populations more interestingly, however, is the behavior study showed the females on the west no longer respond to songs of the eastern males and vice versa; a pre-mating reproductive barrier, how the Biologists call it. A tactic evolved by animals to avoid crossbreeding and the consequent waste of effort in raising progeny. The populations on the west and east side of the same island have been away from each other so long that their calls have had time to evolve differently and the evolution is so thorough that the two populations can no longer recognize each other.

Normally that’s a good thing, divergence and genetic drift are few of the reasons why there’s such a diversity of life on planet earth, however, one important factor that always plays a role in speciation by genetic drift is the size of gene pool which is the total genetic diversity available within a community of interbreeding individuals and time. In the case of moderate size populations, long time and a little bit of luck (read mutations) work the magic and we end up with a subspecies or a whole new species, usually a sub-species. But here’s what happens otherwise:

A Smaller number of effective breeders=smaller number of possible genetic combinations that could be inherited=increased in-breeding with the passage of time=increased congenital defects/ increased susceptibility to diseases/lesser overall fitness=increased mortality and eventually extinction. You can look it up, this has happened all over the world over the years. Even though in the case of Mangrove Finches the evolutionary dead-end came due to anthropogenic factors as well as natural ones there are others where logging, hunting or sometimes sheer carelessness on part of humans have driven species to extinction.

Back in 80s FAO determined we were removing the rainforests at the rate of 170,000 km2 , annually. Lake Victoria cichlids, pretty fishes all having evolved from a common ancestor 200,000 years ago were out-competed by Nile Perch introduced to the water body by Ugandan officials in 1920s. Imagine that 200,000 years worth of trial and error; survival of the fittest; blood, sweat, and tears all gone in less than hundred years.

But this isn’t about the harm humans have done to others, you’ll find plenty of better-suited people telling you more about that. This is about how humanity is doing the same to itself.

The quality of medical services has improved exponentially in last one hundred years but at the same time so has the case of cancers and other serious ailments.

Yes, the quality of life has improved, education is more easily accessible, we’re raising awareness but at the same time, there are countries where population growth is rampant.

Yes, there hasn’t been a WW3, but ever since 1945, almost an equivalent number of people have died in Geopolitical and community-related violence if not more.

Yes, Apartheid and Slavery has been abolished and abhorred but racism and casteism is still a major cause of global violence.

Humanity has reached a dead-end of evolution because there’s nothing more for us to do. Evolution in nature happens to make the organism more adept to its habitat, to increase the likelihood of their survival. Humanity with its nasty habit of homogenizing their habitats have ruled out the necessity of new adaptations, the only “adapting” we do these days is when we don’t have WiFi and have used our own data to check social networks.

As millennial, We’re a generation of boys and girls pampered and raised with best of both worlds, perhaps the last kids to play outdoors and have real-life experiences. We’re the decision-makers of the today, we have seen enough of the world… we ought to be responsible enough to be trusted to take a right decision and what exactly do we do?

We google “Brexit” on google after voting for it.

We whine and cry as homeless refugees try to bring some resemblance of order back in their lives on the expense of our comfort.

And we choose racists, homophobes, and bigots into power. But, here’s the thing, we can’t blame the people in power for them being racists, homophobes, and bigots! We knew exactly who they were before we gave power into their hands so the fault lies in us.

Humanity has reached the dead-end of evolution because even in humans we have established a mating barrier, only these barriers are purely psychological. Sometimes castes, other times social status and even based on as trivial as the total concentration of Melanin in one’s skin humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) or at least some of them have tried to segregate themselves into smaller groups. One reasoning suggests the practice offers them a sense of supremacy over the other so-assumed inferior races. However, here’s the deal Mother Nature is as benevolent as you might think; rules of genetic drift applies to humans just as they do to Mangrove finches and inbreeding and assorted defects are much more plausible results than the supremacy of race over longer periods of time.

We’re in a world today where Television and the internet mold us like clay, our opinions shape and change sometimes quicker than our clothes. To love and to sacrifice oneself comes naturally to us, however, we must learn to hate and sadly enough learning hate is much too easy these days. So

  1. homogenized environments leading to the lesser necessity of survival-promoting adaptations
  2. shrinking gene pool due to sociocultural perspectives.
  3. sociocultural barriers effectively analogous to geographical barriers.

All three conditions that effectively ensured the eventual extinction of any species.

And if you ask me, that might not be a bad thing for mother nature after all.

(the case study of Mangrove finches is available online if one feels inclined to read about them. The data about deforestation and example of Lake Victoria cichlids is taken from exceptionally informative book by Edward O Wilson, an ecologist, taxonomist and prolific writer called “Diversity of Life”)

My First night in the wild

Whoever said that city folks don’t have superstitions, hasn’t really grown up in cities. In the concrete jungle, we have our own share of myths and old wives tales. Growing up us, the children are taught to be wary of strangers, of the night and all the sounds that come with it. Granted these aren’t vehement as some, they actually make sense most of the time but their impact on the psyche is often so deep that even after growing up there always remains an unease you feel walking back home late one night with no familiar sound to keep you company. Then we pause at every stray sound and walk a bit faster when we fail to make out its source because in our mind all the stories come flooding back to life and all the nameless horrors that go bump in the night we see them lurking just beyond the corner of our sight. Safe to say we are not all the brave in the cities.
For the people who have been to the wild, they always remember fondly the sights even if most of them hardly ever seen anything. However, only a very precious few could ever recount all the sounds they had heard. My story concerns with the ones who make these sounds, especially in the night. Those who wander in the forest after night would clearly remember how the night comes alive in the wild. Hundreds of sounds go on all around one, enough to overwhelm or even unnerve an unwary wanderer. The singers of night are a varied bunch, piercing whistle you can hardly hear are the bats locating their prey in the night, more understandable ones are frogs, dozens of them calling from trees, waterholes and any other place they feel safe from then there are more unreal sounds in the wild too. A low whistle, train and even chainsaw, sounds which clearly have no business being in the forest at night. Most of these sounds are insect-made, particularly by insects of family Gryllidae and Tettiigonidae; crickets and katydids. The male sings a mating song which is unique for a species and is only recognized by the conspecific female who then finds the singing male (an ingenious evolutionary adaptation to prevent interbreeding, females can only clearly listen to the song of the male of same species, like in room full of loud people you have ears only for your own partner.)
Their body size prevents them from communicating at lower sound frequencies and hence katydids sing on frequencies that are usually beyond human hearing range leading to an effect that they produce most unnerving of sounds which could sound anything from a crying child (Hexacentrus sp) to a chainsaw (Mecopoda elongata) to a low whistling (Onomarchus sp) which for us who choose to study them is source of endless pleasure. Katydids are primarily forest creatures, also found in undisturbed grassland, extremely picky in their singing, a katydid won’t call if it’s disturbed too often, if it’s too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold or even in too bright light(Lang et al 2006), which makes them a nightmare really to study in lab. Their body size and loudness of song depend upon their food and level of disturbance to their homes and since they are extremely sensitive to changes in their habitat katydids can serve as an indicator of their ecosystem’s health. A katydid in the process of singing is the most beautiful creature in the world, they sing by rubbing their wings against each other.
It rubs the right wing over left to-and-fro at mind-boggling speeds of anywhere between 7000 to 12000 times in a second (number of times they make rub their wings in a second gives us roughly the frequency of their call) in a manner similar to playing guitar where you pluck individual strings with a hard-surfaced pick, the sound made from the rubbing is tuned and amplified by the mirror before it spreads out into the surroundings . A viewer can only barely make out the movement of wings against each other.
To avoid competition between different species these creatures have followed a number of adaptations that they sing in different time of the year, some call at different times of night, other calls from different parts of the forest or even different heights within the same patch of vegetation all have been distinctly studied and documented. Unlike us, they’re even polite enough to stop calling if males of some other species sing too nearby. When I chose katydids as the subject for my Ph.D. I had a little idea of how this would change me. In M.sc I had worked on tree crickets (Oecanthus sp.) and did a little work at night in what passed for wilderness around Delhi. So going in I had no idea except the fact that it would require me to work in the forest. My teacher joked about how to teach swimming in the army they push the trainee in deepest part of the pool and how it was similar to my case where I on my first trip, went to Hoollongapar Gibbon Wildlife sanctuary, a 20 km2 patch of rainforest in Assam surrounded by tea gardens and villages on all sides and still a habitat for three families of elephants and of only Indian apes, the Hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock), gibbons are curious beings even by standard of apes. They’re the only apes to be monogamous, a gibbon mates for life and a group of gibbons consist of mama and papa gibbons and two to four of their children. The dawn in Hoollongapar was greeted by howling calls of Gibbons warning off trespassers and dusk ended with callers of night coming out of their perches and sing, the towering giants of the namesake Hollong trees (Dipterocarpus macrocarpus) had the canopy so dense that even in afternoon you’d hardly ever feel the sun on your face. The first night there, it was an assault to my senses, the sharp clean air was acid to my city-bred lungs, the pitch black of night had me all but blinded and the sounds… oh! The sounds! It’s a humbling experience for your ears, being in the forest. It was September when I first went there, the monsoon was all but done though rains in Assam are a fickle thing, one moment the sky would be blue, the sun would be shining like clouds have no business here and a moment later it’d be raining and when it rained it poured! The water chills you to the bone and even after rain disappears the lingering chill and mist would turn the jungle into something right out of a fairytale so humidity never went below the ninety percent mark; leeches were in plenty and mosquitoes larger than anything I had ever seen happily feasted on me every night I was there. Once the sun sets and calling for the night starts, it was my job to locate a singer, record it, it was easier said than done really. The largest katydids are 13 cm in length and exceedingly rare, most of the time a katydid is somewhere between three to five cm, it would be singing right under my nose and I won’t find it until my teacher actually point it out for me. Not only because their small size but also because katydids are the masters of camouflage in the animal kingdom and when inactive during the day suspend themselves like leaves from branches.
Once spotted, I had to stand there and wait for the singer to sing at peace before beginning to record them, a frustrating task for body and mind; to wait sitting on haunches in bushes or beside them on the track with a red-light trained on a katydid willing it to start singing because you had disturbed it once already when in joy of finally locating one you had its perch shook and now you have to wait until the katydid feels safe enough to sing again if it hadn’t altogether decided to fly away; I had waited once for an hour before giving up on a particularly stubborn one, katydids, as I said are picky about their singing. By the end of a week, I found eight different species occurring together in that small patch, there could be possibly more which would be found when looked more extensively. I keep going back again to the same place and have never found the same katydids singing twice, the last trip brought the final count to 12, 12 species all occupying the same habitat with little or no competition! A lesson about sharing if there ever was one! In the weeks I spent there one by one all the fear the darkness held for me since boyhood disappeared to the point that even in the city now when I happen to hear an unfamiliar sound I usually find myself going towards it rather than away. I grew calmer, learned to have more patience (an occupational requirement one must have in order to record them.) and to a certain extent got rid of the false notion of human supremacy to nature. By being blind in the dark I had my eyes opened to the glory of nature. The sad part, however, is that forest is still being encroached upon by tea-gardens and villagers, illegal logging every once in a while reduces the already too little area to worse; who knows how long the forest or their night singers would stay there for someone to look for them or listen to their songs. One may ask as cynics often do, why should we protect these insects? Katydids and crickets don’t produce commercial products, they don’t pollinate flowers, and they’re not nearly as charismatic as Tigers or Elephants to appeal to the masses so as to generate funds for their protection so in light of conservation these insects are as good as useless! To them I only say this; I spent the most memorable night of my life, my first night in a jungle stumbling from one tree to another looking for singers I could hear clearly but hardly see. That experience only made me realize that all I knew about nature, forests, and ecosystems was nothing, nothing compared to the experience I had in that single night. Conservation can’t be done in isolation, one cannot simply protect one species and let other go to oblivion, Nature doesn’t work like that. We’re all joined together, sometimes in a manner, we cannot even begin to comprehend. In Gibbon Sanctuary people don’t yet realize truly the treasure trove of nature they’re surrounded with. Things might be changing but not speedily enough, perhaps not today or in a year or five but someday they might realize the only question would it be too late to do anything by then? How long before we realize that this must stop? A saying in Hoollongapar goes like this “the louder sings a katydid, rowdier would the river flow” to an untrained mind this would sound like superstitions often heard among villagers but to one with slightest of ecology to their training would understand that the saying illustrates the close bond these insects share with their surroundings. The health of the forest depends on the availability of water hence the flow of the river and katydid can only sing as loud as healthy his (I say his because in katydids only males usually sing) home is. It’s not hence an overstatement when I say every person should spend a night in jungle at least once in their lifetimes; not the assisted, pseudo-safari that passes for it these days, but to be truly in the jungle alone or at least so they must feel surrounded by darkness of the wild and by songs of the unseen night singers just to understand their place in the scheme of things.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑