Friday, March 24, 2006

Naayee Nerallu

2pm, Cubbon park, Bangalore, 24th March 06.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia Linnaeus

Kan: Chamachadha kokku
Tamil: Karandi mukh narai
Tamil (Sri Lanka) Chappai chundan
Telugu: Gent muku konga
Hindi: Chamach baza
Bengali: Chinta, Khunte bak

The long flat spoon shaped beak/bill catches your attention. This bird preys in shallow water. It moves mining the area in front in semi-circles. It rakes up the matter with the bill tip and uses its wide flat bill as a sieve. Feeds on tadpoles, frogs, molluscs, insects & vegetable matter. Mmmm, interesting menu card.

Both sexes look alike. This guy stood on one feet for a long time.


  • Snow-white body
  • Long black legs
  • Yellow-buff patch on lower neck (prominently visible)
  • Yellow throat patch (seen in the pic below)
  • Long white pointed plumes during breeding
  • Long flat spoon shaped black bill with yellow tip

The calls are low grunt and clattering of the mandibles.

Found throughout the Indian sub-continent. Nests July to Nov (later in South India). The eggs are 4, dull white, spotted and blotched with deep red.

All snaps at Ranganthittu bird sanctuary, Dec 31st 2005.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sun-nu Moon-u

Recently, DSF did an assessment of it kids. We have adopted 6 primary govt. schools. And, at each of these schools (except the urdu school), students of 2nd, 4th & 6th std were evaluated. Language (Kannada) and Math skills were checked, tests were carefully designed by Megha, & Vinay, with expert support from Juveena of NEEV. This assessment would help us in knowing the kids better, and point to where we stand, & which way to go.

Herz an account of it by Kavitha, a DSF volunteer, who moved out of her familiar turf to join the team at Murphy town, Ulsoor.

February 25th was the day set for evaluation for the kids at Ulsoor School. I wasn’t expecting anything more than a small room besides a garbage-dumping yard with little or no furniture. I had imagined a mud road with lots of potholes that would lead to this small room that might perhaps have either a leaking roof or crumbling walls. I was also concerned that the volunteers might not be able to locate this tiny little room, as there might not even be a board to display the name of the school.

The auto driver who drove us to the school seemed to be well versed with the locality as he took us to the school without having to ask anybody for the directions. When we arrived at the school I was pleasantly surprised to see a single storied neat building located in a decent neighborhood. There was a board with the name of the school and that confirmed we had indeed reached the right school. Some kids peeping out of the classroom windows waved their tiny hands at us and called out aloud “aunty”. This was a welcome sign to the volunteers. The children greeted us like they had known us, though it was our first visit.

We took the stairs to the first floor and I was rather too impressed with the painted boards in the corridor displaying the English months of the year, “Kaagunita” etc. The classrooms also had a few hand made charts. The two teachers in the school greeted us and informed that the principal wasn’t around. They appeared excited that their kids were being evaluated. They were very co-operative and gave us complete freedom to assess the kids in the manner that we thought was apt. They were also very enthusiastic and enquired if they could help us in any way. We assured them that we would only need a classroom for the assessment exercise and some time alone with the kids.

Vishwas, Thiru and I opted to evaluate the second standard kids. Vinay and Arvind chose to evaluate the fourth standard kids. Our first task was to make the kids comfortable and not give them a feeling of being “tested” or “evaluated”. We introduced ourselves and the kids who initially seemed shy and hesitated to tell their names later sang a few Kannada songs for us! They only needed a couple of minutes to feel comfortable and then they were their bubbly, cheerful selves again. The people in the neighborhood were celebrating a festival and a loudspeaker was blaring loud music. The children seemed to be least disturbed with this. It appeared to me that they were so accustomed to such disturbances they had learnt to live with it. The teachers expressed their concerns about such disturbances occurring frequently. Their repeated requests to reduce the disturbance didn’t seem to have much effect on their neighbors. They had requested the neighbors to turn down the volume of the music when the “volunteers” would be evaluating. But the neighbors felt it was more important to celebrate the festival with loud blaring noise than children learning to grow up to be responsible citizens contributing to the welfare of the society. But this did not deter either the teachers or the children. The teachers wanted their children to learn new things. Dedication in teachers is a rare quality even in some private schools. But this seemed to be in abundance with the teachers in this little known school at Ulsoor. Teachers in Malleswaram Government School sometimes personally go to the kids’ homes and bring them to school.

Majority of the children attending this school speak either Tamil or Urdu at home and hence they spoke with either a strong Tamil or Urdu accent. Some kids couldn’t differentiate between the two languages and they liberally mixed Tamil words assuming they are Kannada words :-)

I pointed at my ear and asked a kid what it was, he innocently replied “Kaadhu”. “Kaadhu” is the Tamil word for “ear” and its Kannada equivalent is “Kivi”.

I pointed to the picture of sun to another kid and asked him “idenu putta?” meaning, “What is this child?” He replied “Sun-nu”. When I asked him “Kannadadalli enantaare putta?” meaning, “What do they say in Kannada child?” He replied “Moon-u” :-)

I asked another girl “ ‘Aa’ inda shuruvaago yaavdaadroo ondu pada helu putti” meaning “tell me a word that begins with ‘Aa’ “ she sang a song that begins with “Aa” :-)) Apparently the kids cannot differentiate between “word” and “song” as the word “pada” means “song” or “word” in different contexts.

I pointed to the word “Rajanikanth” on a flash card, to a kid and asked him to read it. He was struggling to identify the alphabets and I turned the flash card and pointed to the picture of “Rajanikanth” on the other side. He smiled and said “PASHA” or perhaps it was “Basha”???

We then asked the kids to read a sentence from their Kannada textbook. One sentence read “avaLu ondu dhoni maadidaLu” meaning “she made a boat”. When Vishwas asked a kid what it meant, the kid very innocently said “cricket-u, dhoni”… J . Apparently the kids thought Dhoni referred to the Indian cricket player Dhoni!!!!

Language did not seem to be a favorite subject with the kids. So it was now time to move on to the next subject Mathematics. Most kids dread mathematics. They do not get the fundamentals clear in their elementary school and it wouldn’t be surprising if these kids didn’t fare well in this subject. I wasn’t expecting them to fare well either. I announced “sari eega ellaaroo lekkha aata aadanva?” meaning “shall we all play a game in mathematics?” I was expecting a couple of kids to groan or make it evident they didn’t like what they heard or look disinterested. How wrong I was! The children smiled and very enthusiastically said “sari. Naanu barla aadakke?” meaning “Ok. Shall I play?” almost instantaneously.

I held a few different colored objects (building blocks) in my hand and asked a kid to count them. Next I divided the objects into two equal portions and asked him to tell which had more number of objects. He smiled at me and said “eradralloo ashte ide. Yaavdu jaasti anta helodu?” meaning “both the heaps are equal. How can I say which is greater?”

I held the objects in my hand and then asked a girl to count them. She happily counted them for me and then I placed the objects in her hand and asked “eega helu putti eshtu ive?” meaning “Tell me child how many objects are there”. She said “Nim hatra ZERO nan hatra entu” meaning “you have zero objects in your hand and I have eight”. This was very impressive! The kids knew the concept of ZERO! After all we Indians taught the world the concept of “ZERO” :=)

We finished our evaluation exercise with the second standard kids and helped Vinay and Arvind evaluate the fourth standard kids. The kids could all read simple alphabets, but they had some difficulty reading the compound characters (othakshara). Also their comprehension wasn’t very good. This definitely causes some concern. If they are not good in Kannada, which is the medium of instruction, they cannot learn the other subjects like social science well. It didn’t surprise us that the girls fared better than the boys. There could be a Kalpana Chawla, Shakuntala Devi, Sudha Murthy, Indira Gandhi, Arundathi Roy or a Kiran Bedi among these kids. I would have loved to stay a while longer and find what they dream about. But a glance at my watch said it was time for the kids to have their afternoon meals. We distributed chocolates to the kids, waved bye to them and returned home.

Volunteering with Govt. primary schools is a lot of fun. Kids from 1st std to 7th std. Shy & Cheerful faces, calling you 'Uncle', 'Aunty', 'Anna', 'Akka', 'Sir', 'Miss'. Childhood stares & smiles at you. Itz Heaven. Help the kids realise their dreams and keep their smiles on. Interested ? write to Mrs Maitreyee, our DSF co-ordinator.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Openbill Stork

Openbill Stork Anastomus oscitans

Kan: Baaikallaka
Telugu: Galu konga, Pouna konga
Tamil: Naththai kuththi narai
Mal: Cherakokkan
Sinhala: Gombelle kokka
Hindi: Gungla, Ghonghila, Ghungil
Bengal: Thonte bhanga

The first set of birds that greeted us, as we took the boat ride at Ranganthittu on Dec 31st '05. Apparently, the smallest stork found in India. Sexes alike.

Observe the gap between the beaks - openbill - thats the identifying characterisitic

Around 80cm high, seen all over the Indian subcontinent (includes Pak, Bang, Lanka, & Burma). White or greyish white with black in the wings.

Breeding season is Nov to March in south India, and July to Sep in north India. Breeds in colonies, as seen here, along with cormorants, egrets, painted storks etc.

Infact, Ranganthittu has lotz of very small islands. And, one such housed all these birds. They seemed oblivious to our proximity. It was exciting, getting so close to birds & crocodiles.

The blackness at the base of the beaks seems to be another characteristic.

Why the gap between the beaks ? Salim Ali's suggests that this is an adaptation for grasping large fresh water snails. Voice apparatus doesn't exist in the stork family, hence more of the beak chattering and some moaning sounds are heard. Strong flight with neck & legs stretched - would be a lovely sight - Domestic duties shared by both sexes. Eggs: 2-4. Food regurgitated by parent into the nest and eaten franatically by the nestling.

Openbill Stork: Tall, white, long legs, black on wings, black at the base of the beak, and the gap between bills.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Well guyz here I go.
This is a blog I wanted to write for months. But, somehow Disha, the event has been overwhelming, it was not easy getting to put the ink on the paper ;-)

Disha is a workshop and an exhibition of science experiments for high-school children, predominantly from Govt. schools. An annual event for the last 3 years, initiated and pursued by the volunteers of Friends of Children and sponsored by Synopsys India.

The idea was to encourage science at govt. schools. To get the students & teachers involved. So, we decided on a workshop for the students by a professional, soon followed by an exhibition of science projects done by the students.

We invite one or two teams of 2 students each from schools with emphasis on larger participation from the govt. schools.

Mr. Hari Paramesharan of Dynam has been conducting the workshop for us. Very lively, every student gets a kit. Lotz of experiments are conducted over the day. And, science is introduced/illustrated in a simple, thought-provoking way. Mr. Hari leads the way, explaining, asking, & demonstrating it. And, the students find it very interesting.

Usually, a science teacher accompanies the students. And, this year, we wanted to have a workshop exclusively for them too. In came Mr. Balluragi, a retired college lecturer/reader from Dharwad. He is known for popularising science amongst schools, has authored a few books, and is known for his simple experiments, explanations & low cost science kits. It was such a privilege to have him with us. Volunteers, who witnessed his workshop were bowled, and the teachers impressed. Ravi thanking Shri Balluragi.

Disha 2003: 12 schools; 7 govt+5 aided; 40 projects; 80 students; 14 teachers
Disha 2004: 35 schools; 17 govt+18 aided; 75 projects; 154 students; 38 teachers
Disha 2005: 31 schools; 27 govt+ 5 aided; 31 projects; 67 students; 31 teachers 2003 & 2004, the events happened at St. Theresa School, Chamrajpet. This year, we moved it to St. Josephs Indian High School.

Organising an event like this is a huge challenge. Visiting schools, talking to the head-master, science teacher, etc. Getting their confirmations. Then the workshop happens. Usually, we have had problems like unconfirmed schools dropping in, throwing the planning out of gear. Its fun, and very challenging.

And then the exhibition day, which is typically a fortnight after the workshop. The teams are re-embursed up to 500rs for the project. The students arrive with their projects, set up stalls, start explaining, crowds pour in, mostly students from host & neighbouring schools.

Judges. Yes, we have had some very fine judges, some of them from Synopsys, and the rest mostly with IISc connections. The judges go meet the teams, and then arrive at a decision. Here, the judges being introduced to the students and then they meet the students, and finally they are discussing.

And, finally, certificates for all, and prizes for the first few are given away. Apart from the first three prize winning trophies, we have had other sponsorers pitching in with gifts, from books to NIIT courses. Bhanu Kiran - the spirit behind FoCh - giving away prizes.

Yes, apart from Science experiments, this event has had an equally important goal for us. Passing the message to students that, if you are interested in studies and are unable to continue it for financial reasons, we are there to help you out. The Friends of Children gang has been sponsoring college education for quite sometime now. An informal group of volunteers, we sponsor their education and mentor them on weekends. Mentoring/academic doubt clearance happens at St. Theresa school, Chamrajpet.

Another issue of concern is rationalism. Science should imply rationalism. Unfortunately, in our country, Science is just another subject. A curious mind, understanding the science behind, can all happen. But soon, we start having a whole lot of superstitions in the name of personal faith & tradition. Especially with impressionable minds and coming from under-previleged societies, it becomes necessary to talk 'bout rationalism, to talk 'bout the science behind 'miracles'. A gang that has worked hard towards pushing rationalism in our society has been the Breakthrough Science Society and herz a news article on them. For us, they have been conducting 'miracle bursting' programmes: expose the 'miracles' performed by false swamies. Hope to involve such groups in Disha.

Yes, Disha for us has been taking the excitment of science to govt. school children and teachers. Telling the children that higher education is possible. And, someday hope to talk 'bout rationalism as well. Here, Shrikanth talks 'bout the options available after 10th std.

Disha also means event management of the highest order. The number of schools, teams, children, teachers, judges, prizes, certificates, VIP's. Its a challenge. We have reached out to less than 30 govt. high schools in Bangalore. There are hundred's of govt high schools in Bangalore alone. Can we reach out to them ? And, what about the rural schools, can we think on those lines, reaching out to smaller towns, away from Bangalore. Can we replicate this model elsewhere ? Thats the challenge. Money is not an issue, but dynamic volunteers to make it happen.

Special thanks to Synopsys India for sponsoring the event all these years. And, if you are interested in volunteering for Disha 2006 (Nov-Dec) or with Friends of Children, dash a mail to Ravi.

Snaps from various sources cover Disha 03, 04 & 05.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Dhobi's Kerchief

Dhobi's Kerchief Mussaenda glabrata

Kan: Billoothi
Tam: Vellaiyalai
Mal: Parthole
Hin: Bedina
Beng: Nagballi
Mar: Bhatkes

A flower with a strange name and looks. It was again on the Kumar-Parvatha route I saw this flower. Western ghats, May 2005. The yellow & red flowers, and white bracts (??) stuck me. I wondered 'bout it for a long time and still do. Whats the significance ? of having a red-colored, yellow-colored and white leaf like bracts.

Yes, distributed in western ghats. Flowers during mid-monsoon & early winter; but the white bracts are seen all thru the year.

Flowers are eaten as pot herb. Leaves & fruit in traditional medicine. And is the food of Commander butterfly.

Source: BNHS book ' Common Wild Indian Flowers - Isaac Kehimkar '

Friday, March 03, 2006


Malabar Blackmouth Melastoma malabathricum

Kan: Ankerki
Tam: Nakkukaruppan
Tel: Pattudu
Mal: Kalampatti
Mar: Palore
Beng: Gongai

The flowers caught my attention while I was walking on the Kumar-parvatha trek route(western ghats, near Mangalore). I had hardly reached the forest, this was on the road-side, in the month of May. Now, the BHS book has helped me identify it.

The plant is found near hills & forests along the streams. Notice the long, wide & glossy leaves.

Flowers may be pink-magenta, purple or white. And have alternate yellow & reddish-purple anthers.

The edible portion of the fruit stains black, hence the name blackmouth. Infact, Blackmouth is a family with trees, shrubs & herbs all promising to stain your mouth black. Melastoma in latin means blackmouth.

Yes, these insects caught my attention. The bee flew-away, while the cricket stay put despite all my attention. Infact, it is said (in the book) that this flower feeds the atlas moth & grey count butterfly.

Note the yellow streak of the cricket, matches so well with that of the anthers.

Yeah! read somewhere that this plant is a potential source for the extraction of natural colourants.

All these, Thanks to Isaac Kehimkar for writing 'Common Indian Wild Flowers' and to BNHS.